Jacob Greene & Co. in Apponaug
Much of the growth in importance and prosperity that Apponaug achieved during the 18th century can be traced to the family that descended from Samuel Greene and his wife Mary Gorton. Under their leadership, the village became an important center for a number of mills, eventually including a textile mill.
Cousins helping cousins
Very often the Greenes of Apponaug worked closely with their numerous cousins and the result was often beneficial to the entire area. Throughout the 18th century, the many Greene relatives often worked together and complemented each other in various trade, industry and farming activities. While Samuel Greene's son, Governor William Greene, resided in Cowesett, his brother Samuel and his nephew Caleb continued to run the old mills in Apponaug, and the descendants of James Greene operated successful forges in Potowomut and Coventry . One of the most famous of James Greene's descendants was Major General Nathanael Greene, the Revolutionary War hero who did so much to bring about victory for the American nation.
Two of the Greene cousins, Caleb and Jacob, fifth generation descendants of Surgeon John Greene, the founder of that family, became close friends and business associates. Caleb (descended from Samuel) and Jacob (descended from James) were especially influential in developing the business interests in Apponaug in the late 1700's.
Caleb Greene (1737‑1813) inherited the old Fulling Mill, which his grandfather, Samuel, had purchased from Jeremiah Westcott in 1702. According to the research of the late Dorothy Mayor, Caleb Greene of Apponaug, a cousin and contemporary of General Nathanael Greene, married Mary Tibbitts in 1760. Together they raised a large family of ten children, many of whom settled in Warwick . As were his cousins, Caleb was a patriot and during the Revolutionary War was Captain of the Militia. Caleb, sensing the need for other products in Apponaug, added a gristmill and a sawmill to his enterprises. In conjunction with his cousin Jacob, he entered in trade and all his ventures proved profitable during the Revolutionary War and the period following.
While General Nathanael Greene and his cousin, Colonel Christopher Greene, won great fame as members of the Continental Army, Jacob Greene, Nathanael's brother, served in the General Assembly. He, too, played a significant role as he helped to procure much needed supplies for the Continental Army. During the Revolutionary War, Jacob, as the oldest brother, supervised his family's business and operated a store in Apponaug. He worked with his cousin Caleb, who owned the mills in the village, and helped bring trade and prosperity to wartime Apponaug.
Jacob Greene & Co.
Dorothy Mayor’s sketch in “I Remember Apponaug” shows Post Road looking north from Apponaug Bridge toward the Four Corners. She notes: “Ships of the size shown and larger were built at the shipyard at the end of what is now Colonial Avenue.”
From “I Remember Apponaug” Dorothy Mayor
Along with his brothers Nathanael, Christopher, Elihu, William and Perry, Jacob formed the Jacob Greene & Co. business that engaged in a variety of activities, which included the management of two successful forges at Potowomut and Coventry . The brothers also owned a number of sailing vessels, including the small sloop Fortune which, in 1772, was illegally seized by Lt. William Dudingston, the captain of the British revenue schooner, Gaspee.
The significance of this event is noted by the great Civil War General, George Sears Greene, who once lived in the house built by Caleb Greene Jr., which still stands at 15 Centerville Road . He wrote, "This seizure probably hastened the destruction of the Gaspee in June 1772, an event which was sure to come from the determined and energetic people of Narragansett Bay , whose loyalty was greatly impaired by the acts of the home government unjustly controlling their commerce and manufactures." George Sears Greene wrote this over a century after the incident occurred, but his words express the feelings that Nathanael, Jacob and other members of the Greene family felt in the 1770's.
Until the hostilities at Boston in 1775 drew Nathanael Greene from his Coventry home to the battlefields, he was primarily responsible for operating the family forge in Coventry and Jacob Greene maintained the family business in Apponaug.
Jacob Greene makes his mark
During the Revolutionary War, while Nathanael Greene served as George Washington's "right arm," his brother Jacob took care of the family business and served in the R.I. State Legislature. Jacob, who was well‑known in Apponaug, lived much of his later life in the shadow of his more famous brother. As the oldest of the Greene brothers, he assumed the extra responsibilities of operating the Coventry forge, and caring for his brother Nathanael's wife and children.
A cautious, plodding businessman
Henry Rousmaniere's "Letters about the Pawtuxet," written in 1859, describe Jacob in a very special way. Rousmaniere writes, "Jacob Greene was not so muscular in frame, or vigorous in constitution, as his brother Nathanael. His constitution was also less sanguine. In the pursuits of business he was active rather than plodding, cautious rather than speculative. He was esteemed for his ability, and was an affectionate and indulgent man…."
Historians also tell us that, at times, General Nathanael Greene chided Jacob for his pessimism. Catharine, Nathanael's wife, had written to the general in August 1778 informing him that Jacob had informed her that the American cause was hopeless and had predicted certain defeat. In an attempt to allay her fears, General Greene wrote to her on Aug. 26, saying, "I am sorry you wear such melancholy countenances at Coventry , but it is natural to the family. Jacob...is always looking over the black page of human life; never content with fortune's decrees."
Despite this criticism, it is obvious that General Greene and Jacob were very close from the number of letters
During the Revolutionary War, Jacob Greene moved into the Major General Nathanael Greene’s Coventry homestead and conducted his business from there and from Apponaug. This photo shows the house during the dedication as an historical site in 1920.
exchanged. General Greene, on numerous occasions, makes clear the trust and affection he feels for Jacob. Throughout the war, General Greene relied a great deal upon Jacob for advice and continued to work in the interests of the family business. In a letter dated March 20, 1779 , Greene wrote to Jacob from Camp Middle Brook , New Jersey . In it he speaks of attempting to get an interest in the Batso Furnace in New Jersey so that he could send pig iron to Jacob at Apponaug.
In 1779, Apponaug was still known as Fulling Mill and the water in the Cove and at Wood Point was much deeper than it is now. General Greene tells Jacob, "My only motive is to accommodate your Iron Works. Her situation (Batso Furnace) is very commodious for transporting Piggs (pig iron) to Fulling Mill." He goes on to say, "A vessel that will carry 50 tuns can go up within half a mile of the Furnace (Batso); and the same you know can run up to the deep Hole at Wood Point (Apponaug).
A positive influence
The impact of Jacob Greene on Apponaug has been noted by a number of historians in both the 19 th and the 20 th centuries. Oliver P. Fuller in his History of Warwick and the Reverend Henry Rousmaniere in his "Letters on the Pawtuxet," were two notable 19 th century historians who gave Jacob Greene a great deal of credit for being a positive aspect in the business life of Apponaug. One astute 20 th century writer, Ernest L. Lockwood, in his memorable 1937 book, Episodes in Warwick History, wrote, "Apponaug Cove was the scene of considerable activity during the period when Jacob Greene & Co. shipped iron forging to ports throughout the country." He adds, "Apponaug enjoyed the distinction of having been the center of a good deal of activity in ship building. Sloops and schooners that were to play an important part in the commerce of the world were designed and built here. As late as 1800 the cove could accommodate sloops of fifteen ton."
Thanks to this activity, optimists at the time believed that Apponaug would someday become one of the most important ports along the East Coast. Unfortunately, the War of 1812 and a series of severe storms and hurricanes changed much of this by the 20 th century.