Biography of Mason W. Tillinghast

Member of an old American family whose representatives have played an active part in many phases of New England life, Mason W. Tillinghast was long a well-known figure in Providence affairs. The traditions of the family have been carried on in this State for almost three hundred years and always its members have been men of strong moral character, leading useful and constructive lives.

(I) The American progenitor was the Rev. Pardon Tillinghast, who was born at Seven Cliffs, near Beachy Head, now Eastbourne, Sussex, England, in 1622. According to tradition, he became a soldier in Cromwell’s army, and in 1645 left the land of his birth to cross the waters of an ocean and settle in a new land. “He came that he might be free to think what he liked and to say what he thought.” Deciding to settle in New England, he became one of the original proprietors of the Providence Purchase, and in the early life of Providence, was one of the most prominent merchants of the town. Frequently he was called upon to hold public office. He served in the Colonial Assembly for six years, in the Town Council for nineteen years, and as treasurer of the town for four years. Pardon Tillinghast was one of the early preachers of the Baptist Church founded by Roger Williams. From 1678 until his death, January 29, 1717, he performed the ministerial office in the church at Providence without remuneration. During the first sixty years of the existence of the First Baptist Church in this city, there was no regular meetinghouse, but in 1700, at his own expense, Pardon Tillinghast built a place of worship at the corner of North Main and Smith streets. This was the first meetinghouse in Rhode Island, and Pardon Tillinghast was the first minister of the church. In 1711 he deeded the property and building to the congregation. It was later sold and the money used to build the present First Baptist Church, which was erected in 1775. Of him it was justly said: “He was as liberal a preacher as could be asked for, since he preached for nothing, and gave a meetinghouse and lot into the Church Treasury.”

In 1697 Pardon Tillinghast was granted the privilege of building a wharf, which was the first to be built in the town of Providence. In connection with his store he did a big business with it. Pardon Tillinghast was indeed a busy man, filling a place of large importance in the religious, commercial, and political life during the early history of the Providence Plantations. When his death occurred he was in the ninety-sixth year of his age. Pardon Tillinghast was twice married. The first name of his first wife is not known, but her surname was Butterworth. She died and he married (second) Lydia Taber. The children of his first marriage were: Sarah, John, and Mary. Of the second, nine children were born: Lydia, Pardon, of whom further; Philip, Benjamin, Abigail, Joseph, Mercy, Hannah, and Elizabeth.

(II) Pardon Tillinghast, son of the Rev. Pardon and Lydia (Taber) Tillinghast, was born on February 16, 1668. He married (first) Mary Keech, daughter of George Keech. His second wife’s name was Sarah. His children were: Mary, Philip, John, of whom further; Joseph, Mercy, and Pardon.

(III) John Tillinghast, member of his family in the third American generation, was a farmer of West Greenwich, Rhode Island. He married (first) on April 8, 1714, Anne. About 1719, he married (second) Phebe Greene. He married (third) Anne, and died in West Greenwich in October, J 77 0. Children of the first marriage were: Amey, Mary, and Pardon. Of the second: John, Ann, Welthia, Lydia, Benjamin, and Charles, of whom further. Of the third: Thomas and Joseph.

(IV) Charles Tillinghast, son of John and Phebe (Greene) Tillinghast, was born on April 5, 1729, at East Greenwich, Rhode Island. He married (first) Mercy Greene, and (second) Abigail Allen. Charles Tillinghast lived in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, at the time of the war for independence. He was appointed by the General Assembly as an officer to secure soldiers and arms for Washington’s army, and died of wounds received from Tories who had marked him for capture or death. This was in November, 1775.

(V) Of his children we consider Deacon Pardon Tillinghast, born at North Kingstown, of the second marriage, on June 8, 1765. He died on November 20, 1816, at West Greenwich. He was a farmer, and as deacon of the Plains Baptist Church, conducted services there for many years. On December 18, 1785, he married Mary Sweet, daughter of Sylvester Sweet.

(VI) Sylvester Tillinghast, son of Deacon Pardon and Mary (Sweet) Tillinghast, was one of a large family, born on July 24, 1792. He was a farmer of West Greenwich, and married Mary Johnson, daughter of Benedict and Rebecca (Talbot) Johnson.

(VII) Daniel Tillinghast, their son, and father of Mason W. Tillinghast of this record, was born on October 29, 1815, at Voluntown, Connecticut. Much of his early life was spent in West Greenwich. By occupation he was a dealer in lumber, centering his operations in various parts of Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut. At one time, together with Oliver Waterman and Emanuel Rice, he had a contract with the Hartford, Providence and Fishkill Railroad Company for five thousand cords of wood yearly. He was the first station agent at Greene, Rhode Island, and in every way was a most active and enterprising man—a leading spirit and prominent figure in civic and business enterprises of his time. For some eighteen years he was one of the moderators of the town of West Greenwich, Rhode Island. He was a strong Baptist, attending the Plains Meeting House.

Daniel Tillinghast married (first), in 1835, Alma Waite, daughter of Silas Waite. He married (second), Cynthia A. Johnson. His children, all of the first marriage, follow:

  1. Rhoda A., who married (first) Benjamin Barber; (second) Francis Blanding; and (third) Marcus Conners. She died on April 12, 1905, at West Greenwich.
  2. Henry C., who married (first) Elizabeth James, and (second) Mrs. Annie E. (Lewis) Valentine. He was a farmer at West Greenwich for many years, but later moved to Chartley, Massachusetts.
  3. Sylvester, who married Mary Ann Potter. He died at Greene, Rhode Island, in August, 1903.
  4. Abel G., who married Sarah E. Stone; they resided at Edgewood, Rhode Island.
  5. Mason W., of this record.
  6. Susan H., who married Gardner Wilcox, of Greene.
  7. Aurilla Jane, who married (first) James Tillinghast, and (second) Moses G. Leonard, of Putnam, Connecticut.
  8. Lloyd A., who married (first) Sarah L. Corey, and (second) Laura M. Carr.
  9. Emma, widow of Joseph L. Ripley, who was a well-known merchant of Providence for many years.

(VIII) Mason W. Tillinghast, son of Daniel and Alma (Waite) Tillinghast, was born on June 29, 1841, at Coventry, Rhode Island. His boyhood and early life were passed in that town and at West Greenwich. He attended the public schools, receiving the usual educational training of the day. When he was twenty-three Mr. Tillinghast settled permanently at Providence, and for eight years he carried on activities as a cabinet-maker. Then he became associated with his father-in-law, William E. Arnold, in the restaurant business, and a few years later became sole owner of this enterprise, which he continued independently with every success for almost a full quarter century. On October 1, 1900, he disposed of his interests to Benjamin Mumford and retired to private life. Mr. Tillinghast was one of the best-known business men of the city. His restaurant maintained the highest standards of quality in food and service, and was extensively patronized. For eighteen years he carried on his business at No. 12 Weybosset Street, where the Banigan Building now stands. When the building was torn down in 1895 to make way for the new block, he removed to No. no Westminster Street. Mr. Tillinghast was in the finest sense a self-made man, being both the architect and builder of his own fortune. Popular among his fellows, he was active in support of worthy civic causes, although he had no taste for public office or club life. He was, however, a consistent Republican, and like members of his family in previous generations, a strong Baptist, being a member of the Plain Meeting House at West Greenwich.

Mason W. Tillinghast married (first) Laura M. Arnold, of Providence, daughter of William E. and Lucy A. (Cottrell) Arnold. She died on January 12, 1903. They were the parents of one son, William M., who died at the age of eleven months. Mr. Tillinghast married (second) on February 4, 1904, Mary C. Perkins, who was born in North Scituate, but who has been a resident of Providence from childhood. She is a daughter of John V. and Charlotte E. (Tucker) Perkins.

Mr. Tillinghast died on August 7, 1922. His long life was crowned with years and honor, and his passing was widely mourned.

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

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