Biography of John Carter Brown Woods

As lawyer and public-spirited citizen, John Carter Brown Woods has rendered valuable service to his city and State, and in the history of Rhode Island has taken a prominent part. A native of Providence, he has spent most of his life there, and has held many important positions in numerous organizations and institutions associated with the best interests of his home town and State.

Mr. Woods was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on June 12, 1851, son of Marshall and Anne Brown (Francis) Woods. He descended from several of the nation’s oldest families. Among his early ancestors were: John Marshall, who came to this country from England on the “Hopewell” in 1635; Lieutenant Isaac Marshall (1736-1813), participant in the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars; Philip Francis, mayor of Plymouth, England, 1644, Royalist; John Brown Francis (1791-1864), Governor of Rhode Island, United States Senator and Chancellor of Brown University. Chad Brown, who arrived in Boston on the ship “Martin” in July, 1638, and who came the same year to Providence, and was a signer in “The Compact,” whereby the participants bound themselves to obey orders and agreements made by the major assent of the majority, “but only in civil things.” John Brown (1736-1803), eminent merchant, distinguished in many ways, who was a leader and organizer of the party that destroyed the British armed schooner “Gaspee,” in Narragansett Bay on June 17, 1772; he furnished military arms and supplies for the Continental armies; he built and lived in the fine brick house at Power and Benefit streets, importing the materials from Europe in his own ships; he served terms in the Rhode Island General Assembly, and Congress. Nicholas Brown (1769-1841), brother of John, distinguished merchant, philanthropist, benefactor of Brown University, that was given his name; like his brother, he contributed similar and other needs to the Continental armies. John Carter (1745-1814), printer, publisher, journalist, patriot, a warm supporter of the cause of independence, one time apprentice of Benjamin Franklin; was owner and publisher of the “Providence Gazette,” the first newspaper published in Providence.

Samuel Woods (1686-1763) came from England to America, settling in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, in 1700; he married, in 1717, Mary Parker, daughter of John Parker. They were the parents of Samuel Woods (1722-1808), father of the Rev. Abel Woods (1765-1850), who was the father of Alva Woods, D. D. (1794-1887), one time Baptist minister in various places; president of Transylvania University, president of University of Alabama, professor of Columbia University, professor and president ad interim Brown University. He married Almira Marshall, a descendant of five passengers on the “Mayflower” (William Brewster, William Bradford, Isaac Allerton, Richard Warren, Francis Cooke).

Marshall Woods (1824-99), son of Rev. Alva Woods, and the father of the man whose name heads this review, was a prominent figure in the financial world, and was a trustee (1856-99) and treasurer (1866-82) of Brown University, as well as a director in the Providence Bank, the Providence Arcade Corporation, and other institutions. He was also United States Commissioner for Rhode Island at the Paris Exposition of 1855, and was a member of the committee on art. Among his other activities, Marshall Woods saw military service during the War of the Rebellion, as a member of the Providence Horse Guards.

John Carter Brown Woods completed his preliminary education at the private school of the Rev. Charles Wheeler, and became a student at Brown University, from which he was graduated in the class of 1872, with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He delivered the classical oration at Commencement. From the same institution he received his Master of Arts degree in 1875. He took up the study of law for his career, going for this purpose to the Harvard University Law School, which awarded him his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1874. In that year he was admitted to the bar in Rhode Island, and later to the bar of the Circuit Court of the United States, and since then has been engaged in the practice of his profession. He soon began to take an important part in the business and professional life of his home and State. In 1884 he was chosen a trustee of Brown University, and has held this place of honor ever since. From 1895 to 1907 he served as a trustee of the Rhode Island Institute for the Deaf; while from 1886 to 1920 he was a director of the Providence National Bank. Between the years of 1907 and 1909, he was a director of the Providence National Exchange Bank; between 1888 and 1925 of the Providence Arcade Corporation; and from 1894 to 1895, of the Rhode Island School of Design, representing Brown University. Into these different enterprises Mr. Woods put that same full measure of energy and enthusiasm that characterized all his work.

But his interests did not end there. He also took part, from a very early period, and still does so, in the civic and social affairs of his city and State. From 1877 to 1885 he was a member of the Providence Common Council, while from 1881 until 1885 he served as president of that legislative body. From 1881 to 1887 he was a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, while from 1891 to 1892, and again, from 1894 to 1897, he held a seat in the State Senate. From 1879 to 1896 he was a member of the Providence Republican City Committee, of which he was chairman from 1886 to 1893; and, from 1890 to 1893, held a place in the Republican State Central Committee.

At all times he was an active and loyal supporter of the Republican party and its policies and principles. From 1881 to 1885, the same period in which he acted as president of the Common Council of the city, he also served on the school committee, and in that field did valuable work. Mr. Woods, among his other public services, was a member of the Rhode Island State Board of Charities and Corrections from 1892 to 1898, and chairman of it from 1895 to 1898. From 1892 to 1895 he was a member of the first commission on Geological Survey of the State, and the Rhode Island Commission to Erect a State Armory at Providence from 1892 to 1923. He was president of the State Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, having served in that post from 1888 to 1900; and was also clerk, from 1877 to 1891, of the Charitable Baptist Society of Providence, and a moderator of that Society from 1891 to 1900.

Mr. Woods is a member of a number of important organizations, some of them having to do with his own professional work and others with the general civic and social affairs of the community and State. He belongs to the American Bar Association, the Rhode Island Bar Association, the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Archaeological Institute of America, the Providence Athenaeum, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Society of Mayflower Descendants, the Society of Colonial Wars, the Harvard Law School Association of Rhode Island, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Rhode Island Hospital, the Butler Hospital, and the Providence Lying in Hospital. He is a member of the following clubs and associations: Hope (a founder, board of governors 1875-88, 1892-98, vice-president 1875-81, president 1892-98), Brown University (Providence and New York), Squantum, Agawam Hunt, Providence Art, Turks Head, East Side Skating, The Players, Newport Clambake, Newport Reading Room, Harvard of Rhode Island, Pow Pow of Harvard.

Mr. Woods has traveled extensively abroad. He has a very unusually fine collection of statuary and paintings, including some of the old masters, and those of two and three generations ago; some that might serve as museum exhibits.

Mr. Woods’ taste runs to photography and research, especially in genealogical lines. He has contributed to the several prominent genealogical publications, and has written up the history of his own, and allied, as well as other families.

Mr. Woods is unmarried.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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