Post War Woes and Prosperity
In many areas, Pawtuxet’s economic crisis worsened in the closing days of the Revolutionary War. In 1778, self-serving speculators, styled in the 18th century as "engrossers and forestallers," were buying all necessary articles, especially food and clothing, for private gain. The crisis worsened when over two thousand persons had been driven from Aquidneck Island as a result of the British action there. They were "homeless and penniless," dependent upon what little public and private charity was available. Pawtuxet, already suffering, found little hope in caring for those who made their way to the town. To make matters worse, on Dec. 12, the area was devastated by a snow storm. Historian S. G. Arnold reports, "The depth of the snow, and the intensity of the cold, was unparalleled in this vicinity."
Finally, on October 11, 1779, fifty-two transports arrived at Newport and began to evacuate the seven thousand man British Army. The remainder of the year 1779 held both high hopes and bitter disappointments for Warwick and other Rhode Island towns. The joy of seeing the British finally evacuate Newport on Oct. 25, 1779, was counterbalanced by the distressed condition of the economy and the adverse weather conditions, as severe cold once again struck Rhode Island.
On October 18, 1781, Lord Cornwallis, British commander at Yorktown, Virginia, surrendered his entire 8000 man army to the American and French troops. While it is true that the Battle of Yorktown was definitely a deciding factor in ending the Revolutionary War, it did not mark the end of the suffering on the part of Warwick and Rhode Island as the war lingered on until April, 1783.
It was soon obvious that the State's soldiers had returned home not only with their health impaired, but with empty pockets as well. The Continental, or paper, money issued by Congress was considered totally unsatisfactory. Soon the phrase, "Not worth a Continental" began to be used to show worthlessness and contempt.
Many of Warwick's soldiers returned home in 1783 and found the attitude of cooperation with the rest of the Union much changed. Problems quickly darkened the bright days and most of these were of an economic nature. Because of the difficulties arising from war debts, Rhode Island soon found herself at odds with her sister states over raising revenue to support the Federal government which was in serious financial difficulty. Congress asked for the power "to lay a duty of five per cent...on all goods, with certain exceptions, imported after May 1, 1781...." Eventually 12 states agreed, but Rhode Island refused, causing a crisis so severe that it eventually forced the abandonment of the Articles of Confederation as a form of government and brought about the necessity for drafting a new constitution. The arguments and discord in Rhode Island raged on from 1782-1790, with eventual disruption along political lines within the state which nearly caused a rebellion. Much of this discord affected Pawtuxet. It was not until May of 1790 that Rhode Island eventually joined her sister states in Ratification of the Constitution.
The ratification brought an increased prosperity to Warwick, especially to the seacoast village of Pawtuxet. Much of this was due to the fact that shortly after Rhode Island became the 13th state, Congress passed an act, June 14, 1790, establishing two ports, Pawtuxet and Bristol, for the districts of Providence and Newport, respectively. They were named as "ports of entry" or "Ports of Delivery." In addition, there was a flourishing shipyard located just below the mouth of Pawtuxet Cove on the Warwick side where, according to local historians, the firm of Brown & Francis had their ship, Sally.
Pawtuxet historian Horace Belcher points out that to provide the large quantity of rope used in the sailing industry, there was a ropewalk at "the Post Road end of present South Atlantic Avenue, in the rear of the Carr house, ...and extending past North Fair St."
The decade following the adoption of the Constitution by Rhode Island was exciting and promising for the seacoast towns. While Warwick was not directly involved in the East Indies trade, the ports of Pawtuxet and Apponaug benefited from the increased activity in Providence. The Jeffersonian Embargoes of 1805-07 and the War of 1812 dealt the maritime trade a severe blow. By that time, however, some of the profits of the China Trade and from the increased trading activity along the coast were already being diverted to the fledgling textile industry introduced to Rhode Island by Moses Brown and Samuel Slater. This new industry was going to be welcomed by some of Pawtuxet’s leading citizens.
On October 3, 1794, shortly after Samuel Slater and Moses Brown demonstrated that textiles could be successfully produced in America, a company was organized to manufacture cotton by machinery. The site selected for this was on land in Centerville, once known as "Beaver Dam," which was owned by Job Greene who operated a very successful gristmill and sawmill there. By 1807, Almy and Brown had purchased additional land and all of Job Greene's rights to the spinning mill and erected a second mill on the east side of the river. This new mill was called the Warwick Manufacturing Company. The mill was originally painted green and became known as the "green mill."
Shortly after the mill was established at Centreville, the Rhodes family in Pawtuxet became interested in the new industry. Robert Rhodes and his sons had been very successful in the "coastal trade" and by the turn of the century expanded into other areas. Starting with a small gable-roofed mill, built south of the Pawtuxet Bridge, Christopher and William Rhodes made their successful entry into the textile industry. These brothers formed the C & W Rhodes Manufacturing Company and, in 1810, built a three-story mill on the northwest side of the bridge. This company was one of the first to manufacture broadcloth and 0. P. Fuller tells us that this venture, "...succeeded so well that the brothers extended their business to Natick."
A mill was built on the Cranston side of the river in 1830 by Brown & Ives. This sketch was made shortly before the mill was destroyed by fire on January 15, 1875.
From the Henry A. L. Brown collection (Images of America—Pawtuxet RI. Pg. 11 top)