William Blackstone sold his home and left Boston for the wilderness of the Blackstone Valley to escape the tyranny of the lord brethren, as he styled the magistrates-ministers of Massachusetts. Roger Williams was persecuted because of his advocacy of soul liberty, subjected to inquisition because of suspicion, formally banished from Massachusetts by the General Court for advocating his opinions and asking others to judge the validity of them, and escaped ignominious transportation back to England only because he anticipated arrest by earlier departure for the wilderness in the midst of a New England winter. He was warned away from the remote western frontier of the Plymouth colony, lest his presence there, even by tacit sufferance of the Pilgrims, offend the Massachusetts magistrates-ministers. Anne Hutchinson was tried by the General Court for heresy, banished as a corrupter of the people, excommunicated from the church, and left the latter while the minister from the pulpit pronounced a curse upon her. Of her adherents two were expelled from membership in the General Court, several were banished, others were disfranchised, and more were ordered to deliver up their arms and ammunition in spite of the fact that they lived in communities not protected by police and constantly menaced by wild animals and by an aboriginal population that might rise at any time to avenge the abuses heaped upon it by the same magistrates-ministers.
When John Clarke arrived in Boston he found Massachusetts rent with discord, seething with passion, turbulent with quarrels, darkened by suspicion, almost on the verge of frenzied madness; and John Clarke, staunch advocate of freedom of religion, thought and speech, wondered because he could not understand how men and women in places remote from the centres of civilization and face to face with a wilderness were not able to abide each other’s presence because of differences of opinion. John Clarke joined the Hutchinson party seceding from Boston, because the atmosphere was stifling there for one who loved freedom and who had confidence in the common man. Gorton must have sensed the situation in Massachusetts, keen judge that he was of the superficialities of men and leveler of pretensions; his evil star was his utter unwillingness to curb an impetuous temper that drove him to extremes in controversy. Nor did he remain long at Plymouth before he experienced the narrowness of Pilgrims, though they were far more generous and vastly less intolerant than the Puritans. Thomas Hooker’s petition for removal from Massachusetts was urged in the first instance because land was not available in sufficient quantity; he did not tarry when more land was offered. It is true that in the controversy with Roger Williams Hooker entered the debate on the side of the magistrates-ministers, but his subsequent career and mighty influence in fashioning the Connecticut commonwealth mark him as not of the same type as the Massachusetts Puritans. The theocratic association of church and state established in Massachusetts never was introduced in Connecticut. Instead, Connecticut under Hooker moved steadfastly in the direction of democracy.
Some time between 1626 and 1630 three young English clergymen, graduates of Cambridge University, made a journey together to and from Sempringham, Lincolnshire, England. They were Roger Williams, later of Rhode Island; Thomas Hooker, later of Connecticut, and John Cotton, later of Massachusetts. “John Cotton,” wrote Walter F. Angell,Commencement address at Rhode Island State College, June 19, 1922. “came to the then recently established colony of Massachusetts and speedily converted its government into a theocracy, of which he was the high priest. No man could be a freeman unless he was a member of the church—an arrangement which very soon disfranchised a great majority of the people. The magistrates were governed by the laws laid down in holy writ—as interpreted by Cotton and his fellow clergymen. No dissent from their interpretation was permitted. If a man seeking the truth by the light of his own conscience spoke such dissent, they put a cleft upon his tongue. If he listened to such dissent, they shaved off his ears. And if he ventured to disagree with them upon the question of whether justification came by faith or works, they tied him to a post and laid a lash upon his naked back. This was no soil in which democracy could grow. ‘Democracy,’ said John Cotton, ‘I do not conceive that ever God did ordain as a fit government either for church or commonwealth. If the people be governors, who shall be governed?’ And Winthrop, his associate, said: ‘Democracy amongst civil nations is accounted the meanest and worst of all forms of government in Israel.’
“Roger Williams and Thomas Hooker followed their companion of the Sempringham road to Massachusetts, but from the rigid and cruel theocracy which they found that Cotton was establishing there Williams was banished and Hooker fled. In striking contrast to the sentiment of Cotton and his followers, Hooker declared to his followers in their new settlement at Hartford that ‘the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance’ and that ‘the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.’ There you have the principle of democracy boldly and clearly declared. And, under the guidance of Williams, his followers in Providence agreed to subject themselves ‘in active or passive obedience to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for the public good of the body in an orderly way by the major consent of the present inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together into a township, and such others whom they shall admit into the same, only in civil things.’ There you have both democracy and toleration put into actual operation as the basis of a civil state.”
The Irrepressible Conflict
The conflict that drove Blackstone, Williams, Hutchinson, Clarke, Gorton and Hooker from Massachusetts was the irrepressible and inevitable conflict betwixt Democracy and Theocracy. Democracy could not thrive in the same atmosphere with theocracy. The two may not exist side by side; one must eventually destroy the other, unless, as happened in New England, courageous souls, confident in truth, go outside the gates. In the end democracy must prevail. “If there is to be peace and order and progress among men, they must listen to the opinions of others and be free to express their own. That is toleration. And if the pyramid of society is to be stable, it must rest upon its base, and not upon its apex; men must ultimately be governed in their conduct toward each other in civil matters by the will of the majority; that is democracy.”Walter F. Angell, ubi supra. Had Massachusetts merely cast out the elite of progressives who became leaders in establishing democracy elsewhere, the offence would be serious; it is vastly more to her discredit that she followed them into exile with unabated vindictiveness. Perhaps it was a consciousness of error; perhaps it was a maddening jealousy; certainly avarice and greed for wealth and power urged the Massachusetts magistrates forward in their plan to bring all of New England under control of Massachusetts.
With reference to Roger Williams the record is clear. He was beloved of Winthrop of Massachusetts, with whom he corresponded constantly; of Winslow of Plymouth; of Haynes and Hooker of Connecticut, one the Governor who banished him from Massachusetts and the other the preacher who argued against him; of John Milton, the poet, and of sir Harry Vane, to mention only a few of his contemporaries. He was beloved by all the Hidians, Wampanoags and Narragansetts—the only white man in New England who never lost the complete confidence of the Indians. Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, a Scotch royalist, captured at the battle of Worcester in 1651 and imprisoned in Windsor Castle, was released on parole principally because of the intercession of Roger Williams. In the epilogue to his work on a universal language published in 1653, Sir Thomas wrote thus of Roger Williams: “The enumeration of these aforesaid courtesies will not permit me to forget my thankfulness to that reverend preacher, Mr. Roger Williams of Providence in New England, for the manifold favours wherein I stood obliged to him above a whole month before either of us had so much as seen the other, and that by his frequent and earnest solicitation in my behalf of the most special members both of the Parliament and Council of State; in doing whereof he appeared so truly generous, that when it was told him how I, having got notice of his so undeserved respect towards me, was desirous to embrace some sudden opportunity whereby to testify the affection I did owe him, he purposely delayed the occasion of meeting with me till he had, as he said performed some acceptable office, worthy of my acquaintance; in all which, both before and after we had conversed with one another, and by those many worthy books set forth by him to the advancement of piety and good order, with some whereof he was pleased to present me, he did approve himself a man of such discretion and inimitably sanctified parts, that an Archangel from heaven could not have shown more goodness with less ostentation.”
In a period noted for strong animosities and personal hatreds, in which there might be a reasonable doubt because of an abundant opportunity for choice as to who was the most hated man in New England, there is no doubt that Roger Williams was the outstanding candidate for the honor of being the best beloved man in New England. Yet the hatred of the Massachusetts magistrates never was abated, in spite of the fact that time and again Roger Williams rendered service for Massachusetts that was transcendental, including the saving of all New England, probably, when his intervention turned the Narragansett Indians from an alliance with the Pequots in 1636.
Roger Williams expressed his own expectation that perhaps the edict of banishment might be modified and himself honored for this signal service, undertaken at urgent request of Massachusetts and at the risk of his life. Winthrop appears to have been disappointed that nothing was done. As a matter of fact, a suggestion that the edict of banishment be repealed was made at a meeting of the council, and met with strenuous objection. Some of the contemporaries of Roger Williams in Massachusetts, writing afterward, omitted altogether any mention of Roger Williams’ agency in negotiating the treaty with the Narragansetts which saved New England from extinction. When, in 1642-1643, Roger Williams was entrusted with the mission to procure a charter in England, because of his banishment from Massachusetts he was not privileged to sail from Boston; instead he went to New Amsterdam (New York) to take ship for Europe. While in New Amsterdam, at the request of the Dutch, he interceded with the Long Island Indians, who had risen against the colonists and had slain many, including Anne Hutchinson and her family, and restored peace. On the return from England Roger Williams carried a letter addressed to the Governor and Council of Massachusetts and signed by twelve influential English Puritans, which he presented with his request for permission to pass from Boston to Rhode Island. The request was granted “after some demur and hesitation.” Again, in October, 1651, when Roger Williams was once more on his way to England, his petition for safe conduct was granted grudgingly: “Liberty to Mr. Williams to pass through our jurisdiction to England, provided he carry himself inoffensively according to his promise with reference to the consent of our honored magistrates.” The bitterness of the controversy appears in the exchange of arguments with John Cotton in “The Bloody Tenent of Persecution,” a plea by Roger Williams against religious persecution; “The Bloody Tenent Washed and Made White in the Blood of the Lamb,” an answer by John Cotton; and “The Bloody Tenent Made Yet More Bloody through Mr. Cotton’s Attempt to Wash it White,” a rejoinder by Roger Williams.
Rhode Islanders Maltreated
In instances of other Rhode Islanders reprisals by Massachusetts took even more drastic form. A joint letter addressed by the Governors of Hartford, New Haven and Aquidneck in 1640 to the Governor of Massachusetts inquiring concerning the Massachusetts policy with reference to the Indians was answered in the instance of Hartford and New Haven, but no answer was sent to Aquidneck “as men not to be capitulated withal by us, either for themselves or the people of the island where they inhabit, as their case standeth.” Rhode Island was constrained in 1642 to “treat with the Governor of the Dutch to supply us with necessaries, and to take of our commodities at such rate as may be suitable,” because of the unkindliness, bordering on hostility, of the neighboring colony. Rhode Island’s application for admission to the New England confederacy met “utter refusal” in 1643. An application to Massachusetts for powder in July, 1644, for defense against a possible Indian uprising was refused, and the colony was thus left without defense. In that year the General Court enacted a law punishing with banishment anyone who should openly or secretly speak against the orthodox Massachusetts doctrine regarding baptism, thus effectually barring Baptists. When, therefore, in 1651, John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes and John Crandall, members of the Baptist Church at Newport, visited William Witter, an aged blind resident of Lynn, Massachusetts, also a Baptist, who was unable to go outside the colony to attend church, and John Clarke preached on Sunday, July 20, for the consolation of the blind man, the house was invaded by constabulary and the three Newport men were arrested. The constables carried a search warrant directing them to go to the house of William Witter and search “for certain erroneous persons, being strangers, and them to apprehend and in safe custody to keep.” The prisoners were committed and held in jail eleven days until the next county court, July 31* “Without producing either accuser, witness, jury, law of God or man,” the prisoners were sentenced to pay a fine, in each instance, or to be whipped. When John Clarke asked Governor Endicott, who imposed the sentences, by what law he was punished, the Governor told him he “had deserved death, and said he would not have such trash brought into this jurisdiction.” John Clarke appealed from the sentence, and was set at liberty on August 11, after being three weeks in custody. Crandall’s fine was paid. Obadiah Holmes refused to pay the fine, and would not suffer friends to pay it. When, on being sentenced, he said: “I bless God I am counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus,” Wilson, the minister who had cursed Anne Hutchinson, struck him in open court and cursed him saying: “The curse of God or Jesus goes with thee.” Holmes was beaten on Boston Common, receiving thirty lashes on his bare back from a three-corded whip. Although in many days, if not some weeks, he could take no rest, but as he lay upon his knees and elbows, not being able to suffer any part of his body to touch the bed whereon he lay,” he told the magistrates: “You have struck me as with roses. Although the Lord hath made it easy for me, yet I pray God it may not be laid to your charge. When John Clarke died in 1676, Obadiah Holmes succeeded him as minister of the First Baptist Church at Newport. Obadiah Holmes was one of the progenitors of Abraham Lincoln, whose lovable character, long suffering and martyrdom for a great love of mankind have made him endeared of all Americans.Obadiah Holmes and his wife, Katharine (Hyde) Holmes, came to America in 1638. He was a member of an influential family, a Baptist; he and her brother had been students at Oxford. He left … Continue reading
When Anne Hutchinson walked out of the church at Boston after being excommunicated and cursed by the minister, she was supported on either side by William Coddington and Mary Dyer. William Dyer and Mary Dyer, his wife, were of the first settlers at Pocasset. A great many of those who followed Anne Hutchinson into exile became Friends, or Quakers, among them Mary Dyer. Quakers were tolerated in England. Two women, Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, who arrived at Boston in July, 1656, suspected of being Quakers, were stripped stark naked and examined for evidence; eventually they were shipped back to Barbados, whence they came. Eight Quakers, who arrived a few weeks later, were shipped back to England. The Massachusetts General Court in October, 1656, enacted legislation punishing Quakers. Nicholas Upshall, who protested against the law was fined and banished in midwinter. Like Roger Williams, he was received and fed by Indians, more kindly disposed than his white Christian brethren, and eventually found his way to Rhode Island. When Quakers were permitted to land and were not molested in Rhode Island, the commissioners of the United Colonies protested and threatened that if Rhode Island did not take action, “we apprehend that it will be our duty seriously to consider what further provision God may call us to make to prevent the aforesaid mischief.” The Rhode Island answer, sent by the Governor and assistants, was characteristic, and courageous, considering the fact that 800 were answering the fiat of 24,000:
A Glorious Page in Rhode Island History
“As concerning these Quakers (so-called), which are now among us, we have no law among us, whereby to punish any for only declaring by words, etc., their minds and understandings concerning the things and ways of God, as to salvation and an eternal condition. And we moreover find that in those places where these people aforesaid, in this colony, are most of all suffered to declare themselves freely, and, are opposed only by arguments in discourse, there they least of all desire to come, and we are informed that they begin to loathe this place for that they are unopposed by the civil authority, but with all patience and meekness are suffered to say over their pretended revelations and admonitions, nor are they like or able to gain many here to their way; surely we find that they delight to be persecuted by civil powers, and when they are so, they are like to gain more adherents by the conceit of their patient sufferings, than by consent to their pernicious sayings : And yet we conceive, that their doctrines tend to very absolute cutting down and overturning relations and civil government among men, if generally received.”
The Plymouth Colony at the time was sending Quakers into Rhode Island: “Humphrey Norton, one of those commonly called Quakers, …. was found guilty of divers horrid errors, and was sentenced speedily to depart the government and was forthwith expelled the government by the under marshal, who was required to accompany him as far as Assonet, toward Rhode Island.”
The Rhode Island General Assembly, to which the letter of the commissioners was referred by the Governor and Assistants, answered further that they still prized “freedom of consciences to be protected from enforcements …. as the greatest happiness that men can possess in this world,” and that if and when the Quakers refused to subject themselves to civil duties, Rhode Island would ask advice of the “supreme authority of England how to carry ourselves in any further respect toward these people, so that therewithal there may be no damage or infringement of that chief principle in our Charter concerning freedom of conscience,” remarking that “we also are so much the more encouraged to make our addresses unto the Lord Protector, his highness and government aforesaid; for that we understand there are or have been many of the foresaid people suffered to live in England; yea even in the heart of the nation.” Whether or not the commissioners of the United Colonies appreciated the ironical suggestion of paradox, that the mother country, from which they had emigrated “for conscience sake,” was more tolerant and liberal than the Massachusetts Puritans, they made no answer to either letter.
Hanging of Mary Dyer
Meanwhile, however, the persecution of Quakers and the hanging and burning of witches proceeded. With this Rhode Island was concerned only as it affected Rhode Islanders: Mrs. Gardner of Newport, a Quakeress nursing an infant child, and Mary Stanton, nurse for the child, were arrested at Weymouth, flogged and jailed for two weeks. Thomas Harris went from Rhode Island to Boston; he was flogged, imprisoned for eleven days, five without food and water; was whipped in jail for refusing to work, and was again publicly flogged. Catherine Scott of Providence, who remonstrated when she saw the right ears cut off three Quakers in Boston, was imprisoned two weeks and publicly flogged. William and Mary Dyer accompanied John Clarke and Roger Williams to England; there Mary Dyer became a Quaker. Returning homeward, she was arrested and imprisoned in Boston, and released on bonds given by her husband to take her home immediately and not to suffer her to speak to anyone on the way. When she revisited Boston with Hope Clifton and Mary Scott, the latter were imprisoned, but Mary Dyer was led out to the gallows between two men, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, the three to be hanged. The two men were hanged before Mary Dyer’s eyes; and then the black cap was drawn over her face, the noose was placed around her neck, her hands and feet were tied. When she had thus been prepared completely for execution, an officer read a reprieve, which he had carried in his pocket throughout the proceedings! The Puritans accused the Indians of torturing their prisoners. Mary Dyer was released, but warned that another return to Massachusetts would be followed by the death penalty. She returned in the spring of 1660 to bear witness against an unjust law; she was hanged on Boston Common June 1, 1660.
Commenting upon the conduct of Massachusetts with reference to the Quakers, one of the most distinguished of twentieth century historiansJames T. Adams, “The Founding of New England.” wrote: “That the course which the Massachusetts authorities took was wholly unnecessary was proved by the events in the other colonies. What happened was largely the consequence of their own acts. Rhode Island had shown the just, and, at the same time, the wise course to pursue. As she pointed out, wherever Quakers were not persecuted, they gave no trouble. One of the glories of the present nation is its complete toleration, in so far, at least, as religion is concerned; and its hard-won liberty in no small measure is due to the people of its smallest state.”
Armed Invasion of Rhode Island
Thus far the persecution of Rhode Islanders had been personal and individual. In the instance of Samuel Gorton animosity against the individual and greed for land were combined in what may well be styled the most atrocious proceeding in history. Gorton had been expelled from Plymouth and Portsmouth for contempt of the civil authorities; he was denied freemanship in Providence unless he would retract his outspoken opinion that the government for the time being, resting upon the consent of the inhabitants, was without authority for want of royal sanction. He was as stout a defender of religious liberty as any other Rhode Islander; but he was a stickler for legality in civil affairs. When Gorton and his followers settled in Pawtuxet and began to build houses, four Pawtuxet residents—William Arnold, Benedict Arnold (son), Robert Cole and William Carpenter—submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of Massachusetts, and were appointed justices of the peace by the Massachusetts General Court. Massachusetts also issued a warrant addressed to Samuel Gorton notifying him that the General Court would “maintain” the four “in their lawful rights” and asserting jurisdiction of any suit he might care to enter. Gorton, of course, denied the jurisdiction, and rebuked the magistrates; this brought down upon him the vengeance of Massachusetts. Gorton and eleven associates purchased from the Indians land comprising the present towns of Warwick, West Warwick, and Coventry; and removed from Pawtuxet and the territorial jurisdiction assumed by Massachusetts. Events proceeded so rapidly thereafter that there is some reason for believing that there was a concerted plot to discredit the sale to Gorton and bring him back into the jurisdiction assumed by Massachusetts; the strong inclination that Massachusetts had at the time, as stated by Winthrop, to procure a seaport on Narragansett Bay lends color to the accusation that the alleged plot was laid by the Massachusetts magistrates or was pursued with their connivance. William Arnold was sent by the General Court of Massachusetts into Warwick “to understand how things were” and to bring back a certain IndianProbably Pomham. and a committee was appointed to treat with the sachems of Warwick and Pawtuxet about their submission. Arnold had bought land at Pawtuxet from Soconoco. Pomham and Soconoco submitted themselves to Massachusetts, and Pomham denied Miantonomah’s right to sell Warwick to Gorton. Massachusetts took up Pomham’s protest, and proceeded to treat Gorton as a trespasser in Warwick. A warrant addressed to him was ignored save as it evoked an answer referring to two threats, one that Miantonomah should die because he sold land to Gorton,Rhode Island Relations with the Indians. and the other that Gorton should be driven off even at the cost of blood, and suggesting that Gorton was in Warwick if Massachusetts wanted him, and proferred to stay there to going to Massachusetts on safe conduct, which was scorned. Massachusetts then warned the Gortonists that commissioners would be sent to obtain satisfaction, accompanied by an armed guard. On September 28, 1643, three commissioners and forty soldiers, marching on Warwick, received a letter from Gorton and his followers warning them not to invade Warwick. The answer was an offer of conversations and negotiations, and a threat, if there was no repentance for misdeeds, that the settlers would be treated “as men prepared for slaughter.”
The Warwick men sent their women and children into the woods and to other places of safety and fortified a house. When the Massachusetts troops passed through Providence four men from the town joined the party with the purpose of acting as conciliators. A parley was arranged with the four Providence freemen as witnesses. The commissioners from Massachusetts asserted their purpose to carry Gorton and his followers to Boston for trial for wrongs to subjects of Massachusetts and for blasphemy, or to put them to death and sell their property to defray the costs. The Warwick men objected to an assumption by Massachusetts of the dual role of accuser and judge, and proposed an appeal to England; and when this was rejected, proposed arbitration by impartial men. The proposition for arbitration was referred back to the Massachusetts magistrates; the Providence witnesses urged arbitration to avoid bloodshed, thus: “How grievous would it be (we hope to you) if the men be slain, considering the greatest monarch in the world cannot make a man; especially grievous seeing they offer terms of peace.” The magistrates referred the matter to the elders; and the synod decided against the proposition !
The truce declared while reference was made to Massachusetts was ended, and a concerted siege of the house occupied by the Gortonists began. The cattle were seized, and the English flag hung out by the Warwick men was riddled with bullets. The Gortonists refrained from firing, though holding the enemy at bay by threat. An attempt to set the house on fire failed, and reinforcements were called for from Boston on October 8. On October 13 Gorton and his followers surrendered and were marched to Boston as prisoners, in utter violation of the articles of surrender under which they were to “go along as friends and neighbors.” As a matter of fact, the Massachusetts soldiers drove off cattle and swine and pillaged the houses at Warwick. Ten men had held an army back for two weeks, instead of the honorable treatment ordinarily accorded prisoners after a valiant defense, they were treated with the utmost ignominy. Gorton and his followers declined an invitation to attend church in Boston on the following Sunday, and when threatened with compulsory attendance, demurred until they won the liberty of answering the preacher. Gorton answered adequately John Cotton, who preached.
Gorton and his followers were tried in Massachusetts for heresy, the charge being based upon the contents of letters sent by Gorton to Boston in the course of the controversy, and the trial assumed the form of inquisition, Gorton being required to answer questions involving religious dogma. The trial thus became an incident in the persecution of Gorton because of his religious opinions. His answers varied sufficiently from the views held in Massachusetts to insure a verdict of guilty. Upon this finding all but three of the magistrates favored putting Gorton to death, but a majority of the deputies in the General Court dissented. Gorton and six of his followers were thereupon sentenced to be confined in irons and to be set to work, with threat of death should they break jail or proclaim heresy or reproach church or state. After being paraded in their irons before Mr. Cotton’s congregation for the edification of some and the education of others as to the penalty for heresy, the prisoners were distributed to several towns as follows: Gorton to Charlestown, Carder to Roxbury, Holden to Salem, Potter to Rowley, Weston to Dorchester, Wickes to Ipswich. Warner was kept in Boston. Whether or not these sentences may be construed as life imprisonment at hard labor, in commutation of the death penalty, which the deputies were unwilling to decree, remains a moot question; there was no time limit imposed on the sentences, and Gorton subsequently charged an attempt to starve him to death on short rations. Three other Gortonists—Waddell, Waterman and Power—were not treated so badly as the seven. Waterman was fined; Waddell was restricted to Watertown but not locked up; and Power was dismissed with an admonition, on his plea that he did not participate in the offences alleged. The punishment of Gorton and his followers, as the circumstances gradually came to be known by the people of Massachusetts, caused so much dissatisfaction that a new General Court was summoned to allay the murmuring. On March 7, 1644, the Gortonists were ordered released forthwith, and banished with the proviso “that if they or any of them shall after fourteen days …. come within any part of our jurisdiction either in Massachusetts, or in or near Providence, or any of the lands of Pomham or Soconoco, or elsewhere within our jurisdiction, then such person or persons shall be apprehended wheresoever they may be taken, and suffer death because of law.” Released from their chains, Gorton and one of two of his followers, remained in Boston awaiting the others, planning to make the journey from Massachusetts together. But the people of Boston “showed themselves joyful to see” Gorton and his friends at liberty; and thereupon at ten o’clock one morning the Governor ordered them to depart before noon under further penalty if they remained longer. They left without opportunity to procure provisions for the journey, and, as so many others banished before them had been, were fed by the Indians as they made their way toward Shawomet, where they planned to stop temporarily. It will be noted that the remission of imprisonment included banishment not only from Massachusetts, but also from Providence, Pawtuxet and Warwick. Over two of the three Rhode Island places Massachusetts had assumed jurisdiction by reason of the submission of a few of the inhabitants in each instance; over Shawomet jurisdiction was claimed by the submission of Pomham and Soconoco. Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven might be expected to refuse to receive the outcasts as a matter of comity and amity in view of their membership in the New England confederacy. Unless Gorton and his friends should go to the Dutch, which probably was heartily wished, Aquidneck was the only refuge left in New England. Thither Gorton and his followers went from Warwick, and there they were “lovingly received.’’ Gorton’s earlier banishment from Portsmouth because of contempt for the civil authorities was forgiven now that he had become a martyr for the sake of religious liberty, the love of which grew steadily stronger, if that were possible, in Rhode Island.
The return of Gorton and his followers so impressed the Narragansett Indians that Canonicus and other sachems acknowledged the sovereignty of the King of England and placed themselves by submission under his protection. Gorton and Holden, and John Greene of Warwick were delegated to carry the Indians’ submission to England, and sailed via New Amsterdam instead of Boston, because Massachusetts was closed to them. Gorton planned to present at the same time his own appeal from the proceedings in Massachusetts. The appeal, as it looked for an adjustment for the future, was sustained without hearing Massachusetts, on the general ground that Warwick lay outside the Massachusetts patent and that Massachusetts had no authority to extend jurisdiction beyond the boundaries included in the patent. Massachusetts was ordered to remit further penalties, and not to interfere with Gorton and his followers in Warwick. Still the magistrates were obdurate and stubbornly unwilling even to allow Holden, who returned with the decree sustaining Gorton’s appeal, to land at Boston and to pass through Massachusetts into Rhode Island. They yielded safe conduct as discretion became preferable to valor; but Edward Winslow was dispatched to England to present a counter-appeal on behalf of Massachusetts. While in London, Gorton published at least two editions of his “Simplicity’s Defence Against a Seven-Headed Policy,” in which he related in detail the incidents of his persecution by Massachusetts. The essential details are corroborated by Winthrop’s “Journal,” and Gorton’s tale, outrageous as the conduct of Massachusetts appears to twentieth century intelligence, bears all the earmarks of truth. On his return to America, Gorton found difficulty in obtaining permission to land at Boston and pass through Massachusetts to Rhode Island; he was allowed to do so only on presenting a letter from England guaranteeing safe conduct. Following the decree in their favor the Warwick men removed from Aquidneck to Shawomet and resumed cultivation of their plantations. They had endeared themselves to Rhode Islanders because of persecution by the common enemy. In 1679 the King annulled the sentences of banishment imposed on Gorton and his followers in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts was not content to lose, without a determined struggle to retain it, Warwick and the harbor on Narragansett Bay so fondly wished for. On the theory that possession in fact is weighty evidence in law, 10,000 acres of land in Warwick were granted in 1644 by Massachusetts to inhabitants of Braintree to encourage them to start a Massachusetts settlement in the disputed territory, for which Plymouth had recently asserted a claim. On Plymouth’s objection that title would be challenged, the Braintree people went elsewhere. Her counter-appeal to England against Gorton having yielded nothing, Massachusetts next sought the assistance of the commissioners of the United Colonies. The commissioners were asked to explain, with reference to the question of jurisdiction, the effect of Plymouth’s failure to object when Massachusetts asked for and received the acquiescence of the council to its proposal to discipline Gorton. The commissioners, discreetly wishing to avoid a decision, which if for either Massachusetts or Plymouth would offend the other, were diplomatic and evasive in their answer. In 1649, on further pressure for a decision, they advised Massachusetts and Plymouth to reach an agreement by treaty betwixt themselves, and in 1650 advised Massachusetts to relinquish jurisdiction to Plymouth.
The Parliamentary Patent
Roger Williams, who had gone to England in the fall of 1643 t0 seek a charter for Rhode Island, arrived after the flight of King Charles I; and was successful in obtaining a patent from the Parliamentary government then in control. He returned to America in 1644 with the document known as the Parliamentary Patent or the Warwick Charter for Providence Plantations, which authorized a union of the four settlements, at Providence, Portsmouth, Newport and Shawomet, under one government. The patent, if carried into effect by union under it, would effectually settle the question of jurisdiction. Massachusetts and Plymouth were not friendly disposed, and both evinced an opposition which they tried to make effective. Both warned the Warwick settlers of claims of jurisdiction there antedating the Parliamentary Patent. Plymouth authorized an agent to make a house-to-house canvass in Portsmouth and Newport and to warn the people there that Plymouth claimed jurisdiction, a curious assumption in view of the assurances freely given to John Clarke and others in 1638 that the island lay beyond the Plymouth patent, and of the welcome extended to Clarke to settle on the island as friends and neighbors. This effective interference postponed the achievement of a union until 1647. So late as 1651 Massachusetts warned the government of Rhode Island to refrain from taxing inhabitants of Warwick, threatening to seek satisfaction for such taxation “in such manner as God shall put into their hands.” Not until 1658, when William Arnold and William Carpenter petitioned the General Court for a full discharge of their persons and estates from Massachusetts, did the Bay Colony release its claim of jurisdiction in Pawtuxet and Shawomet. Roger Williams assisted in procuring this adjustment. Meanwhile Gorton and others of the Warwick men persisted in claims for damages against Massachusetts, based upon the loss of cattle, trespass upon their estates, arrest and imprisonment, and incidental losses by reason of interference with their regular occupations. Their claim was presented to the General Court in 1661, and to the King’s commissioners for New England in 1665. An answer to the second petition on behalf of Massachusetts evoked this letter from George Cartwright, one of the King’s commissioners, to Samuel Gorton: “These gentlemen of Boston would make us believe that they verily think that the King has given them so much power in their charter to do unjustly, that he reserved none for himself to call them to an account for doing so. In short, they refuse to let us hear complaints against them; so that, at present, we can do nothing in your behalf. But I hope, shortly, to go to England; where, if God bless me thither, I shall truly represent your sufferings and your loyalty.”
Boundary Disputes With Connecticut
New York is the only state contiguous to Rhode Island with which Rhode Island never had a boundary dispute. With both the other adjoining colonies and states, Connecticut and Massachusetts, boundary disputes were long continued and involved interference by both in Rhode Island’s affairs. The pretext for a boundary dispute with Plymouth, first, and subsequently with Massachusetts as the successor of Plymouth, on the east, appeared in the warning served upon the Portsmouth and Newport people in 1644. The contention then, and others involved in locating the boundary established by the charter of 1663 and in adjusting it, continued until 1861. The western boundary dispute with both Connecticut and Massachusetts, the latter of which was still pursuing its general policy of bringing all of New England under its control, and its particular policy of obtaining access to Narragansett Bay, reached back to the Pequot War, and forward to 1727 when the King issued a decree sustaining Rhode Island, and to 1840, when the line was straightened. The western boundary controversy rested, first, upon assertion of right by conquest, and subsequently upon the interpretation of the charters of Connecticut, 1662 and 0 Rhode Island, 1663. Massachusetts claimed Block Island by conquest and sold it to a land company; the island was assigned to Rhode Island by the charter of 1663, and was admitted to Rhode Island as the town of New Shoreham by consent of the inhabitants in 1664. Massachusetts and Connecticut both asserted ownership of the Pequot country by right of conquest at the close of the Pequot War. The commissioners of the colonies, on the basis of this claim, assigned the Pequot territory east of the Mystic River to Massachusetts in 1658 a decision that affected Rhode Island only as the eastern line of the Pequots rested either at the Pawcatuck River or at Weekapaug Brook, five miles farther east. Other claims affecting the western boundary of Rhode Island were founded as follows: (1) Connecticut’s, to all the Narragansett territory so far east as Narragansett Bay, based on the patent granted to Lords Say and Seal, 1631, extending east so far as Narragansett River; (2) Rhode Island’s, to all of the Narragansett territory, based on the Patent of 1644, which described a tract of land “bordering north and northeast on the patent of Massachusetts, east and southeast on the Plymouth patent, south on the ocean, and on the west and northwest inhabited by the Indians called …. Narragansetts; the whole tract extending about twenty and seven English miles unto the Pequot River and country”; (3) the claim of the heirs of the Duke of Hamilton, based upon a grant by Plymouth Colony in 1635 of all the territory between the Connecticut and Narragansett Rivers; (4) the Connecticut claim, based on the Connecticut Charter of 1662, which defined the eastern boundary of Connecticut as the “Narragansett River, commonly called Narragansett Bay”; (5) the Rhode Island claim, based on the Rhode Island Charter of 1663, which defined the western boundary of Rhode Island as “west or westerly, to the middle or channel of a river there, commonly called and known by the name of Pawcatuck.” In view of the apparent inconsistency in the Connecticut Charter and the Rhode Island Charter, it should be noted that John Clarke presented objections to the Connecticut Charter before Winthrop, who negotiated it, left England, and that the objection was referred to four arbitrators, who decided in favor of Rhode Island that the “Pawcatuck River should be the certain bounds between the colonies, which said river should for the future be called alias Narragansett River.” With this decision the Connecticut Charter could stand without amendment as a grant so far as the Pawcatuck River “alias Narragansett River”; and the Rhode Island Charter, granted subsequently to the decision by the arbitrators, named the Pawcatuck River as the western boundary. Connecticut undertook to avoid the effect of the decision of the arbitrators by alleging that Winthrop’s agency ceased when he had negotiated the charter, and that he had no authority to represent Connecticut in the proceedings before the arbitrators. Aside from colonial claims to territorial jurisdiction, private claims in the Narragansett territory had been established as follows: (1) By Roger Williams, John Wilcox and Richard Smith in and near Wickford, by trading stations dating from about 1641; (2) the Pettaquamscott purchase from the Indians, 1658, of territory embracing approximately the present towns of Narragansett and South Kingstown; (3) the Misquamicuck (or Westerly) purchase in 1660, by freemen from Newport, of land between the Pawcatuck River and Weekapaug Brook; (4) the Atherton purchase, 1659, of approximately the eastern half of North Kingstown; (5) the Narragansett Indian mortgage to the Atherton Company, 1660, of all Indian land not already sold; and (6) the foreclosure of the Indian-Atherton mortgage, 1661. The General Assembly in 1658 had forbidden purchases from the Indians without legislative sanction, the effect of this legislation, if Rhode Island actually had jurisdiction, being to make the Atherton purchase, the Atherton mortgage, and the foreclosure of the Atherton mortgage, all null and void.
Massachusetts in 1658 incorporated a town under the name Southertown, later Stonington, lying on both sides of the Pawcatuck. The earliest actual clash occurred when some of the Newport people who had purchased Westerly were first warned away by Massachusetts as trespassers, and next arrested. Three were taken to Boston, of whom Tobias Saunders and Robert Burdick were fined and committed to jail for failure to pay the fines. Rhode Island protested; meanwhile a border war prevailed among the settlers along the Pawcatuck. In the final adjustment the Pawcatuck River became the inter-colonial and interstate boundary with the Rhode Island town of Westerly on one side and the Connecticut town of Stonington on the other. The Connecticut village of Pawcatuck, directly opposite Westerly, is served in the twentieth century by the United States post office at Westerly.
The Massachusetts claim of the Pequot land on both sides of the Pawcatuck, ignored in the Connecticut Charter and the Rhode Island Charter, was disposed of finally by the King’s commissioners in 1665, who held all grants made under “that usurped authority called the United Colonies” void, and further that “no colony hath any just right to dispose of any lands conquered from the natives, unless both the cause of that conquest be just, and the lands lie within those bounds which the King by his charter has given it.” The King’s commissioners also decided the boundary controversy betwixt Rhode Island and Connecticut resting upon the interpretation of the charters favorably to Rhode Island. Going back to the submission of Canonicus and other Indians to the King in 1644, the Narragansett territory was designated as the King’s Province thence. The boundaries of the King’s Province were defined as extending westward to the Pawcatuck River, and the province was placed by the commissioners under the administration of the Governor, Deputy Governor and Assistants of Rhode Island. The Atherton purchase and mortgage both were declared void. Possibly the controversy with Connecticut might have ended in 1665 had Rhode Island’s enemies lived exclusively beyond the border.
Richard Smith, son of the Richard Smith who came from Taunton to Wickford to set up an Indian trading post there, although he was an inhabitant for many years, never had become a real Rhode Islander. He longed for an established church and a strong civil government. The organization in Connecticut appealed to his notions of “power” and “protection.” Writing to Connecticut in 1668, on behalf of himself and other malcontents at Wickford, he complained that we are “not able to live either in our civil or ecclesiastical matters without government.” Even before the King’s commissioners had decided the boundary issue favorably to Rhode Island, Smith had been active in promoting Connecticut’s interest. When Connecticut seemed disposed to accept the commissioners’ decision, Smith bombarded the colonial government at Hartford with importunities not to desert him and his associates, but to reassert and maintain the Connecticut claim. Governor Winthrop of Connecticut, who had negotiated the Connecticut Charter and had been a party to the arbitration in London to determine the boundary, opposed action by Connecticut at least “until his majesty s pleasure be further known.” Other influential Connecticut men doubted the expediency of pressing the claim in view of the relatively small value of the territory involved. Contrary counsel prevailed, and Connecticut reopened the controversy. An attempt at arbitration failed; agents of the two colonies met at New London on June 16, 17, 18, 1670, and conducted conversations by an exchange of letters and answers, without making any headway toward agreement. Connecticut thereupon proclaimed its jurisdiction at Wickford and Westerly, and the Rhode Island General Assembly prepared to meet invasion by armed resistance. Border warfare was renewed along the Pawcatuck, consisting of eviction of alleged trespassers, and arrests. There was no bloodshed, and no actual conflict of armed officers. Roger Williams laid the cause of the first trouble to “a depraved appetite after great portions of land in this wilderness” and “an unneighborly and unchristian intrusion upon us, as being the weaker, contrary to” the Connecticut “laws as well as ours.” John Mason, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, answering Roger Williams, questioned “whether the territory in dispute was worth the expense of trying to acquire it.” William Harris of Rhode Island, urged the General Assembly not to maintain Rhode Island’s claim, and so angered the people of Rhode Island that he was committed to prison for “high contempt and sedition. Roger Williams attributed the position of Harris to the latter’s hope and wish to profit from the establishment of Connecticut’s claim. Harris specifically opposed sending John Clarke to England to represent Rhode Island in an effort to establish the boundary indicated in the Charter. In the next election, following the imprisonment of Harris, the General Assembly, which had been strongly positive in supporting the Rhode Island view, was replaced by another that was more conciliatory, and the settlement of the dispute was postponed as King Philip’s War loomed on the horizon.Rhode Island Relations with the Indians.
Following King Philip’s War, Connecticut claimed the Narragansett country by conquest and warned the Rhode Island settlers not to return to their homes. Massachusetts, with greed for land still unabated, abetted Connecticut, fondly hoping that if Connecticut prevailed, the Massachusetts claim might be revived. Rhode Island protested Connecticut’s action, and negotiations for settlement of the controversy were resumed. Rhode Island offered Connecticut 5000 acres of land, to be sold by Connecticut, jurisdiction remaining with Rhode Island, but the offer was rejected. Connecticut ordered a survey of the Narragansett lands, and Rhode Island laid out a new town at East Greenwich in the territory. The dispute was next transferred to England. Richard Smith and William Harris went to London as agents on behalf of Connecticut, with a petition asking that the Narragansett country and the islands in the bay to be given to Connecticut. Randall Holden and John Greene were already there, representing Rhode Island in a lawsuit between Harris and Warwick. After argument, the King’s decision, rendered December 13, 1678, restored the King’s Province to its original status, under the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island authorities, until further notice. Connecticut asserted a right to possession under an assumption that the words “present status” as applied to the King’s Province were to be interpreted as applying to the de facto situation existing, rather than the de lege situation established by the King’s commissioners in 1665. The decree of December 13, 1678, notified all persons having claims to present them. Rhode Island reasserted jurisdiction in the disputed territory and Connecticut protested. Rhode Island thereupon gave notice of intention to survey the western boundary line, and invited Connecticut to participate. Connecticut declined the invitation.
The death of William Harris delayed further pursuit of the controversy for nearly two years. Sailing for England as Connecticut’s agent in December, 1679, he was captured by pirates, held prisoner for over a year, and, being ransomed, died a few days after reaching England. Connecticut renewed action in England before the Board of Trade, which recommended an investigation by commissioners in America. The commission consisted of Edward Randolph, English collector of customs in Massachusetts; Edward Cranfield, Governor of New Hampshire, and seven Massachusetts men. The commission notified Rhode Island that it would meet at Richard Smith’s house in Wickford on August 22, 1683, requesting production of documents and presentation of printed briefs. Rhode Island, seriously doubtful of obtaining justice from the commission, questioned the commission’s right to proceed, because the notice was not issued “in his majesty’s name; because they have not shown any commission to this government from his majesty for their so acting; and because his majesty hath not given any information thereof to us by any of his royal letters.” This demurrer to the jurisdiction appears to have been ill-advised, as it prejudiced the commissioners against Rhode Island, if indeed they were not prejudiced from the beginning. Their contemporaries regarded Randolph as unscrupulous and inefficient, and Cranfield as a corrupt politician; Rhode Island might expect little from a commission in which Massachusetts men comprised an overwhelming majority. Rhode Island defaulted practically by failure to present a case, and the commissioners sustained Connecticut’s claim to jurisdiction and the Atherton claim to title, on the evidence presented. Fortunately for Rhode Island the commissioners’ findings were not confirmed in England.
Meanwhile in England plans were approaching maturity for the revocation of all the New England patents and charters, and the consolidation of the several colonies as provinces under a royal governor. During the Andros usurpation, as it is called in America, the Narragansett territory had the status of a royal province. On August 31, 1687, Andros, who had made a careful investigation of the old controversy, reported in favor of Rhode Island on the ground that the grant to Connecticut in 1662 was cancelled by the subsequent grant to Rhode Island in 1663, each being purely an exercise of the royal prerogative, each successive grant repealing previous grants inconsistent therewith, and against the Atherton claims as extorted by force. With the departure of Andros, the Narragansett territory remained under Rhode Island control, although the disorders along the Pawcatuck River boundary continued. Connecticut apparently had abandoned the Narragansett claim for the time being; but the Narragansett proprietors, determined in their opposition to Rhode Island, were not content. In 1696 the English Attorney General, on a petition by them addressed to the crown, sustained Connecticut’s right as prior, but no action was taken, and thus the matter rested with Rhode Island actually in possession. An agreement by Rhode Island and Connecticut reached in 1703 fixed the boundary line in the Pawcatuck River up to the mouth of the Ashaway River, thence to the southwest corner of Warwick, and thence north to the southern line of Massachusetts. When in 1719 it was proposed to survey and run the line, Rhode Island and Connecticut again disagreed. This time Connecticut repudiated the agreement reached in 1703 and claimed as her eastern line the Pawcatuck River to its headwaters in Worden’s Pond, and thence a line drawn due north. The Connecticut proposition, which would deprive Rhode Island of a strip of territory ten miles wide running almost the length of the colony, was rejected, and an appeal to England was taken. The Board of Trade heard arguments in February, 1723, and on March 22 reported to the Privy Council: “Upon the whole, it seems probable to us, as well as from the pretended grant of the Earl of Warwick and others to the colonyThe reference here is to the Parliamentary Patent, which was void in the eyes of the monarchy. of Rhode Island, as from the submission of the boundaries to arbitration by the agents of Connecticut and Rhode Island so soon after the Charter of Connecticut had been obtained, that King Charles II was surprised in his grant to Connecticut, and that his majesty intended to reduce the grievance complained of by Rhode Island by his subsequent charter to them; but the former Charter to Connecticut being still in force and never made void by scire facias or otherwise, it is certain that the relief intended for Rhode Island is of no force in law. However, in justice to Rhode Island, it must be observed that the transactions of the commissioners appointed [in 1703] by the respective colonies of Connecticut and Rhode Island are a strong proof that those of Connecticut did apprehend that the pretensions of Rhode Island were just and equitable.”
Both Rhode Island (November 26, 1723), and Connecticut (October 28, 1723), rejected a proposition that they surrender their Charters and be annexed to New Hampshire; and Connecticut expressed a willingness to abide by the King’s decision as to the Narragansett territory. The Board of Trade on January 25, 1726, recommended that the line be as agreed upon in 1703, and the King issued a decree on February 8, 1727, confirming the boundary as the Pawcatuck River to the mouth of the Ashaway River and thence due north. Adjustments of the line were made in 1840 and in 1887 without controversy.
Boundary Disputes With Massachusetts and Plymouth
The Parliamentary Patent of 1643 established the northern and eastern lines of Providence Plantations by reference to the southern and eastern lines of the Massachusetts and Plymouth patents. Beyond the controversies arising because of Massachusetts and Plymouth claims of jurisdiction in Providence, Pawtuxet and Warwick, already mentioned, the eastern boundary contest was postponed until the granting of the King Charles Charter of 1663, and involved definition of the line three miles east of Narragansett Bay, and the line due north from Pawtucket Falls, the territory now included in the Rhode Island towns of Barrington, Bristol, Cumberland, Little Compton, Tiverton and Warren, and part of the present Massachusetts city of Fall River. Plymouth complained of trespass in 1664, and Rhode Island proposed a determination of boundaries. The King s commissioners, to whom the issue was referred in 1665, waived decision with the suggestion that the matter rest until the King might decide. For the time being the boundaries accepted were the Seaconnet River, the easterly shore of Narragansett Bay, the Providence and Seekonk Rivers, a continuous water line. In 1680 the Mount Hope land, formerly King Philip s favorite home, was confirmed to Plymouth. Plymouth and Massachusetts were united under one charter in 1691, and the eastern boundary line thereafter was an issue betwixt Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In 1719 the northern boundary with Massachusetts was run by agreement. Monuments were placed in 1847; and readjustments were made by agreement in 1883. Both Rhode Island and Connecticut northern boundaries were defined in their charters as the southern boundary of Massachusetts. The charter of Massachusetts defined the southern boundary of that colony as three miles south of the Charles River. Nathaniel .Woodward and Solomon Saffery were employed by Massachusetts in 1642 to locate the boundary line, and made a report showing a map of the Charles River and the location of a stake three miles south therefrom in the plain at Wrentham. This stake was accepted in 1718 as the point from which the boundary of Rhode Island should be run. More careful surveys later showed that the stake placed by the Massachusetts surveyors was actually seven miles and fifty-four poles south of the Charles River, and indicated that Massachusetts by this location had gained a strip of territory twenty-two miles long and more than four miles wide containing approximately ninety square miles. Governor William Greene protested to his majesty in 1752-1753 that Rhode Island had been deceived. Perhaps the Rhode Island commissioners were wrong in accepting the location pointed out by the Massachusetts commissioners, without investigation, in view of the marked propensity shown by Massachusetts theretofore to expand jurisdiction wherever and whenever possible. It was too late in 1753, thirty-four years after the boundary had been agreed to by both colonies, to upset the agreement. When readjustments were made in 1883, consideration was given to the growth of towns and villages along the line.
Rhode Island, in 1733, appealed to the King for a settlement of the eastern boundary, claiming Cumberland, then known as the “Attleboro Gore,” and all of southeastern Massachusetts west of a line three miles east of Mount Hope Bay, and the Massachusetts town of Seekonk (now East Providence, Rhode Island), on the interpretation that the mouth of the Providence River was at Fox Point, where the Providence and Seekonk Rivers meet, and not at Bullock’s Point, now established as the mouth of the Providence River as it enters Narragansett Bay. Massachusetts claimed everything east of Narragansett Bay. The English Privy Council appointed commissioners from New York, New Jersey and Nova Scotia to determine the boundary, and on June 30, 1741, the commission awarded Rhode Island Cumberland by fixing the boundary as a true meridian north from Pawtucket Falls; and also a strip of territory three miles wide from Bullock’s Point to Seaconnet Point. Both Rhode Island and Massachusetts appealed, but in May, 1746, the Privy Council sustained the commission. Rhode Island surveyed the line alone, Massachusetts having refused to participate. Following a suit in equity the eastern boundary line was adjusted finally in 1861 by agreement with Massachusetts under the authority of an act of Congress. Rhode Island ceded the town of Fall River to Massachusetts, and acquired by cession the Massachusetts town of Pawtucket (so much of Pawtucket as lies east of the Blackstone and Seekonk Rivers), and the present town of East Providence.
The prolonged and bitter struggle with Connecticut over the western boundary was due quite as much to inhabitants of Rhode Island who were hostile to the colony as to Connecticut. In the first instance, the hostility centered in Richard Smith and his followers at Wickford, who were desirous of a more absolute form of government than the democracy made the subject of a lively experiment in Rhode Island; later, the strife was fomented by a group of royalists led by Francis Brinley, who were anxious to accomplish the destruction of the republican form of government in Rhode Island. The eastern boundary controversy did not attain to the bitterness that marked the struggle with Connecticut, probably because possession of disputed territory remained with the stronger neighbor to the east, reversing the western situation with the weaker neighbor in control. Along both boundaries there were frequent quarrels, conflict of tax collectors, disputes as to the lines determining the jurisdiction of sheriffs and other officers, and appeals, beginning along the eastern frontier with those of William Blackstone against, taxation by Plymouth after 1663.
The good will prevailing along the eastern boundary in the twentieth century is indicated by the bronze monumentDedicated November 17, 1917. to Colonel Henry Tillinghast Sisson of Little Compton, which was erected jointly by the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It commemorates the bravery of Colonel Sisson and the Fifth Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, who on April 13, 1863, raised the siege of Fort Washington, North Carolina, and relieved the Twenty-seventh and Forty-fifth Regiments of Massachusetts Volunteers, who had been surrounded by an overwhelming force of Confederate soldiers under command of General Magruder. When a force of nearly 5000 Union soldiers had failed to break the Confederate lines in an attempt to relieve Fort Washington, Colonel Sisson asked permission to try to run the Confederate batteries on the Tar River and carry aid by water. His project was at first condemned as foolhardy, but at length he was given permission, if he could find volunteers. His regiment, the Fifth Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, volunteered unanimously. The voyage on the river was made in a small steamboat covered with bales of hay as armor. The steamboat carried the 388 members of the regiment and ample supplies of food and ammunition to relieve the garrison.
Twentieth Century Boundary Problems
The increasing population in New England and the tendency of centers of population to expand in almost utter disregard of artificial boundaries, such as state lines following meridians of longitude or parallels of latitude, or extending in straight lines otherwise between fixed points, suggests other problems. The state of Rhode Island reimbursed certain of its law enforcement officers who during the Dorr War followed fugitives into Bellingham, Massachusetts, and arrested them there, when the Rhode Island officers were prosecuted by Massachusetts, properly, for intrusion. The Rhode Island officers asked reimbursement from Rhode Island because, acting zealously in what they believed to be their duty, they had ignored the interstate boundary line, not knowing its actual location. Bellingham, Massachusetts, and Blackstone, Massachusetts, adjoin Woonsocket, Rhode Island, so closely as to suggest for municipal purposes a cooperation in police, fire, school and other matters which would be mutually advantageous and economic. The interstate boundary line remains as an outstanding obstacle. Toward the southeast boundary Fall River, Massachusetts, and Tiverton, Rhode Island, are continuous as a matter of fact, but separate in law because lying in different states. Along the same boundary line there are other instances that suggest the desirability of adjusting state boundary lines to meet the problems of dealing with population that tends to ignore artificial boundaries. A river is not a natural boundary, so much as a convenient means of communication. The situation at Westerly-Pawcatuck at the southwest corner suggests that the state line there might follow some other course than the river with advantage to both communities. There the suggestion of community interest transcending the state line induced the Rhode Island General Assembly to modify the marriage law, which had limited marriages by clergymen to resident clergymen, in such manner as to permit the conducting of a marriage ceremony in Rhode Island by a non-resident clergyman for members of his congregation living in Rhode Island, provided at least half the congregation resided in Rhode Island.Chapter 1005, Public Laws, 1927. When shifting state boundaries is suggested as a remedy for problems arising in border-line communities, each state involved seeks a consideration for what it may surrender, by cession to it of equal areas, or equal population, or property of equal valuation, and a problem of readjustment, far from being simple and local, tends to become complicated and extensive.
From the struggles with its neighbors involving religious toleration, Rhode Island took renewed devotion to the great principles of Roger Williams. To him Rhode Island, and America, and all the world are indebted for clear enunciation of principles that are fundamental in modern democracy; and to him also and to all those good Rhode Islanders who, with all the intensity of bitter and sometimes vituperative disagreement as to religion and everything else, maintained agreement on the essential principle of toleration, all mankind owes a debt of gratitude which may best be repaid by strict observance of the principle of trusting the common man. Roger Williams had no sympathy with the Quakers, and yet could live with them and shield them from persecution. Roger Williams detested the opinions of Gorton, and yet could live with him and sympathize with him. Roger Williams returned the ill-treatment meted out to him by Massachusetts with many a kindness. What a wonderful world this would be if everyone could be agreeable in disagreement!
Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy; vol 1 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.
|↑1||Commencement address at Rhode Island State College, June 19, 1922.|
|↑2||Walter F. Angell, ubi supra.|
|↑3||Obadiah Holmes and his wife, Katharine (Hyde) Holmes, came to America in 1638. He was a member of an influential family, a Baptist; he and her brother had been students at Oxford. He left Massachusetts and Plymouth. each because of persecution, and settled in Newport. The youngest child of Obadiah Holmes, Lydia. married Captain John Bowne, who was instrumental In founding a successful colony at Monmouth, New Jersey. Sarah Bowne, daughter of John Bowne and Lydia (Holmes) Bowne, married Richard Salter. Harriet Salter, daughter of Richard Salter and Sarah (Bowne) Salter, married Mordecai Lincoln. Virginia John Lincoln, son of Mordecai Lincoln and Harriet (Salter) Lincoln, was born in Southeastern Pennsylvania, May 3, 1711. He removed, in 1768, to Rockingham County, Virginia, taking with him Abraham Lincoln, grandfather ‘of the President, who was then twenty-four years of age. Abraham Lincoln, grandfather, was killed by Indians in the wilderness of Kentucky, leaving his family unprotected and with no one to provide for them. There appears to have been no illiteracy in Abraham Lincoln’s family except in the instance of his father, Thomas Lincoln; and that illiteracy may be accounted for through the untimely death of Abraham Lincoln, grandfather. The Lincoln line from Obadiah Holmes is as follows:|
|↑4||James T. Adams, “The Founding of New England.”|
|↑6, ↑7||Rhode Island Relations with the Indians.|
|↑8||The reference here is to the Parliamentary Patent, which was void in the eyes of the monarchy.|
|↑9||Dedicated November 17, 1917.|
|↑10||Chapter 1005, Public Laws, 1927.|