A stormy beginning
There are very few places in America that can make claim to the charm, uniqueness and heritage that can be found in the village of Pawtuxet. Hazel Wade Kennedy and Scott Avedisian, in their The Walking tour of Historic Pawtuxet Village. (1999), noted that, “Whether walking along historic Post Road or strolling through Pawtuxet Park, visitors will easily feel the Village’s sense of pride.
They were, of course correct as Pawtuxet is one of the most attractive villages in New England. It is unique in the fact that one section of the village is in Cranston and the other in Warwick. Unlike other Warwick villages, it is situated in an area away from the 19th century mill sites and 20th century major arteries of trade and traffic. Thanks to its location and a number of historically minded citizens, much of Pawtuxet exudes the charm and serenity of an early 19th century village. To make it even more special, Pawtuxwet has a number of fine Colonial dwellings and significant historical sites.
The picturesque sign at the bridge today, which simply states "Pawtuxet River-one of the bounds of Providence mentioned in the Indian deed", depicts a rather pleasant scene of Roger Williams being greeted by the Indians. The history surrounding the early 17th century settlement, however, tells us that the early years were far from serene. From the beginning of its long history, Pawtuxet was rife with controversy, deceit, forgery and even treason.
Controversy over the ownership of the land and the extent of the deed prompted a life-long bitterness between the colony’s founder, Roger Williams, and William Harris, one of the first settlers. In addition, the history of the village and of Warwick was also greatly affected by the animosity between Pawtuxet’s leading citizen, William Arnold, and Warwick’s founder, Samuel Gorton. As the bitterness developed, Samuel Gorton moved into the area near the falls and the Pawtuxet colonists. Many of these Pawtuxet men who had come to the area to escape from the harsh rule of the Puritans in Boston, actually asked to be placed under Massachusetts jurisdiction to stop Gorton from settling there. This decision by the Pawuxet men has prompted many historians to question the reasons and motives of such a drastic action. The Pawtuxet defection to Massachusetts, in addition to causing hardship to Gorton and his followers, was probably the main reason that caused Roger Williams to change his original land policies and for his obtaining a Charter in 1644.
A number of noted historians, including Samuel Greene Arnold, 0.P. Fuller, Sidney S. Rider, George T. Paine, and Howard Chapin, have attempted to gather the facts from early Colonial records in order to explain the controversies and to evaluate the significance of the events. One of the major historians at the turn of the century, Sidney S. Rider, in 1904 charged that the original deed confirming Roger Williams' purchase of the land from the Indians, dated 1638, was altered by William Harris and William Arnold in an attempt to extend their land holdings.
The Early Settlers
The first four settlers in Pawtuxet in 1638, according to 19th century historian, Samuel Greene Arnold, were William Harris, William Arnold, William Carpenter and Zachary Rhodes. They settled in the area close to the Pawtuxet Falls. The leader and patriarch of the early settlement was William Arnold, the oldest and wealthiest of the original 13 purchasers of the Providence Plantations. Carpenter and Rhodes were his sons-in-law. William Carpenter had married Elizabeth, the elder daughter of William Arnold, and he, along with his father-in-law, was one of the Pawtuxet purchasers. Zachary Rhodes married Joanne, another of William Arnold's daughters, and very early moved to Pawtuxet.
In addition, the two sons, Benedict and Stephen Arnold joined the rest of the family in the area. Benedict Arnold quickly developed great skill in the mastering of the Indian languages and aided his father in establishing a trading post near the Falls in Pawtuxet. Stephen Arnold and Zachary Rhodes are credited with building the first grist mill near the Falls and laying out "Arnold's Road" (Broad Street) northward to meet the Pequot Trail.
In 1987, six-year old Charles Heinig got his first look at pawtuxet Village from under the commemorative sign at the bridge. The sign depicts Roger Williams and the native Americans, indicating that the Pawtuxet River was “one of the bounds of Providence mentioned in the Indian Deed.”
From the Don D’Amato Collection.
(pg. 96 in Pawtuxet Rhode Island –Images of America series. )