Christopher and Elisha Hunt Rhodes
Much of Pawtuxet’s 17th and 18th century history was dominated by the Rhodes family. This was also true after the Revolutionary War and into the following centuries. One of the most influential of all politicians in the early 19th century was Christopher Rhodes who lived in an imposing and beautiful home at 25 Post Road in the Pawtuxet section of Warwick. In addition to his early textile mills, a great deal of the success of Christopher Rhodes was due to his ability to recognize the need of adequate financing and cooperation among industrialists. Christopher and his brother William were quick to realize the advantages of a road which would connect their textile mills to Providence and New London. Obadiah Brown, a shareholder in the Warwick Manufacturing Company in Centerville, joined the Rhodes brothers and several others in obtaining a charter in 1816 to establish a toll road which was later called the New London Turnpike. By 1821, the road was completed and stagecoaches were operating on a regular schedule.
Christopher Rhodes' active political life spanned a time period of over half a century. From 1828-31, he was the state representative for the town of Warwick and became well known for his strong stand on prison reform and on abolishing the whipping post and pillory as forms of punishment. He was appointed to the building committee for the erection of a State Prison, which once stood at the northwest side of the Cove in Providence until it was razed in 1921.
He was also one of the most influential men in Pawtuxet when a crisis arose in the 1830s on a social and fraternal aspect of village life. This was when the Freemasonry movement was seriously jeopardized in Rhode Island. The threat seriously affected the lives of a number of Pawtuxet's prominent citizens who were members of Harmony Lodge #9. At the height of the anti-Masonic hysteria, the Rhode Island General Assembly asked the Masons to discontinue and revoked the civil charters that had been granted to the lodges. In Pawtuxet, the Harmony Lodge went underground and much of the material belonging to the lodge was secretly stored in Christopher Rhodes’ house. By 1842, the Dorr Rebellion turned Rhode Island's attention from the Anti-Masonic movement and, within a year, the Masons were able to resume their meetings and the Masonic movement was again strong in Warwick.
Rhodes' political influence extended beyond his official capacities to his business acquaintances and his family members. The house at 25 Post Road was the scene of the marriage of Christopher's daughter, Eliza, to John R. Bartlett and of his daughter, Sarah, to Henry B. Anthony. Both sons-in-law became very powerful political entities and played key roles in the state's development and were influenced by their father-in-law.
Warwick's Powerful Politicians
Son-in-law, John Russell Bartlett was one of the more influential business and political figures of the early 19th century. Bartlett had earned a reputation as a leading writer and politician by the mid-century. He was the Rhode Island Secretary of State from 1855-1872. Among his most noteworthy accomplishments was that he helped create the boundaries for the State of Arizona, and was primarily responsible for the establishment of the Providence Athenaeum.
During the Civil War, while Governor Sprague took leave to command the R.I. troops encamped in Washington and in the First Battle of Bull Run, Bartlett was acting Governor from 1861-62. While Secretary of State, Bartlett became deeply interested in the history of Rhode Island. For ten years Bartlett occupied himself in arranging and editing the State records. The result of this work is the 10-volume reference classic. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
Henry B. Anthony
Another daughter of Christopher Rhodes, Sarah Aborn Rhodes, was also married in her father's house on Post Road. She married Henry Bowen Anthony on October 16, 1838. Like Christopher Rhodes' other son-in-law, Anthony had a brilliant career in literature and politics. After being a frequent contributor to, and editor of, the Providence Journal, Anthony became a joint owner of the paper in 1840.
Henry B. Anthony was elected governor on the Whig ticket in 1849 and again in 1850. In 1859, he was selected as U.S. Senator and remained in that capacity until his death in 1884. Anthony was skilled at using the shortcomings of the R. I. Constitution to control the state. With the help of Charles Brayton, Anthony was, for many years, the "political boss" of Rhode Island.
Another of the very important leaders in Pawtuxet was Elisha Hunt Rhodes whose diary explains much of went on in the American Civil War (1861-1865). The village saw a very definite turning point in its history as often brother opposed brother in the basic concept of the abolition of slavery and cousins were often pitted against each other on the battlefield. Many young men from the town's oldest families once again went to war. O. P. Fuller's history of the town lists at least fifteen Arnolds and six Rhodes men from Pawtuxet.
The Civil War has often been called "the last of the old wars and the first of the new" because of advances in technology and military strategy. The same words can be used to describe the economic and social life in Warwick as tremendous changes resulted from the conflict. Pawtuxet’s Elisha Hunt Rhodes’ diary and letters of the Civil War have been published in the late twentieth century as a best selling memoir, All For the Union, and has been featured in the PBS-TV series, The Civil War. His letters bring forth an insight into the struggle that is unequaled. From these letters Rhodes takes us through the war from the troops leaving from Providence, to the Potomac, to the Rappahanock (which he says "resembles the Pawtuxet very much"), and on to the final victory at Appomattox.
Elisha Hunt Rhodes joined Company D, R.I. 2nd Regiment as a private in 1861 and left the army in 1865 with the rank of colonel.
From the Elisha Hunt Hunt Rhodes collection. (pg 11 in Pawtuxet Images of America –bottom photo.) ,