Don’t get mixed up between Pawtucket, Pawtuxet, Pawcatuck, and Pawtuxet, They are four different places
Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the town was first started by the William Bucklin house placed there by 1645. Sometimes in Massachusetts, and sometimes in Rhode Island, Pawtucket was two political towns and one economic town.
Pawtuxet, Rhode Island, a different town, which was always in Rhode Island. It’s also the name of the river near the town.
Pawcatuck, Connecticut, a town near the Rhode Island border. It’s also the name of the river near the town.
Pawtuxet, Massachusetts, a different river, near the original Plymouth Colony site.
It has frequently been mentioned by persons in this century that Pawtucket means “Great Falls” and Pawtuxet means “Little Falls”, but the source of the translation seems to be nothing more than oral history of the area. In contrast, Ginny Leslie of Pawtuxet, Rhode Island, expresses this insight, which does make sense.
“It occurred to me a while ago that [Pawtucket, Pawtuxet and Pawcatuck] …. with these similar names (as well as the Pawtuxet at Plimouth Plantations) were located at the point where the freshwater river emptied into salt water. There are several “little falls” and “great falls” along the Pawtuxet and Blackstone Rivers, so those names/translations could apply to any number of locations on these rivers.
When a member of the Narragansett tribe visited Pawtuxet a couple of years ago in connection with the Village and Visions project, I asked her whether the names Pawtuxet/Pawtucket/Pawcatuck did in fact relate to the freshwater/saltwater points and she confirmed that they did.”
Whatever the original Indian meanings of the place names, here is a list of the points you need to know to keep the geography straight during your reading.
Pawcatuck – river, in South Kingstown, Washington County, heading in Worden Pond and flowing west and south into Little Narragansett Bay. Forms part of Rhode Island-Connecticut boundary. (Not Charles.)
Pawtucket – city, in Providence County, northeast of Providence at Pawtucket Falls, Rhode Island. Incorporated in 1862.
Pawtucket – falls, near center of city of Pawtucket, Providence County, Rhode Island, where the Blackstone River falls into tidewater, and becomes the Seekonk River.
Pawtucket – reservoir, in Lincoln, Providence County, northeast of Olney Pond on Stump Hill. (Not Stump Hill Reservoir.)
Pawtuxet – cove, in Cranston, Providence County, Rhode Island. on west shore of Providence River at the mouth of Pawtuxet River.
Pawtuxet – river, formed by union of its north and south branches at Riverpoint, in West Warwick, Kent County, flowing east into Providence River at Pawtuxet.
Pawtuxet – valley, the valley of the Pawtuxet River between Washington, in Coventry and Pontiac, in Warwick, Kent County.
Pawtuxet – village, in Cranston, Providence County, and in Warwick, Kent County, Rhode Island, at Pawtuxet Falls on the west bank of Providence River.
The above place names are from the Official Gazetteer of Rhode Island / Compiled by the Rhode Island Geographic Board in Cooperation with the United States Geographic Board. — Washington, D.C. : United States Government Printing Office.
The Pawtucket, Pawtuxet and Pawcatuk descriptions in a longer form are below.
Pawtucket is northeast of Providence, RI. Pawtucket is on the Seekonk River and the Blackstone River, at the point where coming from the sea and Narragansett Bay — the tidal river from the sea (known as Seekonk River) comes to a falls and thereafter upward the river is called the Blackstone river. In the native language “Pawtucket” means “great falls” and thus the place is named for the significant falls of the river at the settlement. Some early sources also state that “Pawtucket” means , the place where commonly used trails met to cross a river otherwise difficult to cross. (The place where the mill pond dam is now located and raised the water level was a relatively shallow place to cross the river, and the only place where the river banks were relatively low.)
- The first part of modern Pawtucket to be settled was the part that is east of the Seekonk River. In 1651, it was William Bucklin’s 600 acres plus the settlement of Rehoboth, in Plymouth Colony.
- The second part of modern Pawtucket to be settled was the part that is west of the Seekonk river. In 1671, Joseph Jenks, who had been born in England and brought to Massachusetts by his father, settled across the river from William Bucklin’s land.
- Originally part of different political units, the two units, on the opposite sides of the river, were united as a single entity with one governing body in 1874, when the Town of Pawtucket, Rhode Island was established with the boundaries as we know them today. In 1886, the Town of Pawtucket was incorporated as the City of Pawtucket.
The north edge of William Bucklin’s property was at the north edge of the place where it was relatively easy to cross the river, just north of the falls (somewhat north of the present Central Ave area). Bucklin’s property continued south to exactly the north edge of present day North Providence on the east side of the river.
Bucklin-related documents refer to the river adjacent to his property the Pawtucket River, whereas Reverend Newman and his group have documents referring to the area they had (immediately south of Bucklin, which is a point south of the falls) the Seekonk River. Perhaps involved in the difference of reference to the river name is that Bucklin had a huge chunk of land and was a Baptist, and his land was immediately adjacent to the “Pawtucket” area as it was so-called by the Indians (whether it meant great falls or crossing place). Those items would set his area of the river apart from the area of the river used by the Newman group.
Both Bucklin and also the Newman group referred to the area of the river north from Bucklin’s land to where Blackstone lived the Blackstone River.
When Hasels was sued in the Plymouth Court in 1649, (and lost of course to William Bradford who owned it by patent from the King instead of the Indian purchase which Hasels claimed), the land involved in the suite is described as being on the Pawtucket River. In contrast, in two earlier lawsuits in te Plymouth Court, when the when the early settlers in the first two unsuccessful “Seekonk colonies” were sued (and lost), the land is described as being on the Seekonk river.
The east side of the river and Bucklin’s 600 acres that adjoined Rehoboth.
Pawtuxet is a village at the mouth of the Pawtuxet River, and is in the present cities of Cranston and Warwick, to the south of Providence, RI. Pawtuxet means “Little Falls” in the native language. The area was originally occupied by the members of the Pawtuxet tribe, part of the larger Narragansett Indian tribe. In 1638, Rhode Island founder, Roger Williams, purchased the property extending south from Providence to the Pawtuxet River.
In 1642 Samuel Gorton was banished from the neighboring colony of Massachusetts and, along with a group of fellow dissidents, moved to Rhode Island. Shortly thereafter his followers William Arnold, William Harris, and William Carpenter, settled along the meadows of the Pawtuxet and the harbor of Pawtuxet Cove. After falling into disagreement with Roger Williams and the residents of the established settlements in Providence, and Pawtuxet, Gorton and his band purchased from the Narragansett Indians a tract of land south of the Pawtuxet River, in the hope of governing themselves without being harassed by the civil and religious authorities in control elsewhere. The town of Warwick, Rhode Island, was thus founded. [Note: for those in the Midwest of American, where "town" and "village" are legally the same sort of entity, remember that in New England, a "town" can be a larger political entity, midway between county and village.] Some of those south of the Pawtuxet River insisted they were not a part of Providence. Fairly early, the political disputes lead to the line between Warwick and Providence being established as the Pawtuxet River. The southern part of the village of Pawtuxet became a part of Warwick, while the part of the village north of the river remained a part of Providence. In 1754 the town of Cranston was split off from Providence in 1754. Therefore, although in 1772, Pawtuxet Village was a separate entity from other villages, Pawtuxet had its northern section in the town of Cranston, while its southern section was in the town of Warwick.
Pawcatuck is in Connecticut, just over the state line from Westerly, R.I. Connecticut at one time claimed all the land up to Narragansett Bay. Eventually, the line between Connecticut and Rhode Island was established as the Pawcatuck River, separating Westerly and Pawcatuck.