Tories - "King" Richard Greene and Governor Joseph Wanton
During the Revolutionary War (1776-83), Rhode Island produced an impressive number of patriots from among its leading families. It should be noted, however, that there were also a number of Tories or Loyalists in the colony who, for principle or profit, sided with the English King. Two of the most infamous Tories were Richard Greene and Governor Joseph Wanton. Richard Greene, known as "King Richard" because of the extravagant standard of living he adopted, provided the British with valuable information and with scarce and much needed provisions as well. He was a member of the Greene family that lived in the Potowomut section of Warwick. "King" Richard was also related to Major General Nathanael Greene, Rhode Island's most illustrious Revolutionary War hero.
After the Great Swamp Fight destroyed the once powerful Narragansett tribe and King Philip's War was over, the Greenes were un-hampered in their move to Potowomut. In 1684, James Greene, son of Surgeon John Greene, established his home on Hunt's River at what was to be called "The Forge." It was in this house that General Nathanael Greene was born in 1742. Two years after James Greene established himself in Potowomut, his nephew, Thomas Greene, built his home near the mouth of the Potowomut River, near Marsh Point. He built this house for his bride, Anne, in 1686. The house, greatly altered, is presently one of the wings of Hopelands, now part of the Rocky Hill School. Thomas Greene was drowned in the winter of 1698-99 while returning from one of his trading trips to Newport. He left six daughters and one son. The son, John, then only eight yeas old inherited the estate. John became one of Warwick's most prosperous farmers, owning large herds of cattle, sheep and horses. John Greene, twice married, was the father of eleven sons and daughters. He improved his farms and acquired lands in West Greenwich, Coventry and other areas of Warwick.
John's son Richard, who married Sarah Fry of East Greenwich, inherited the Potowomut homestead and for twenty years the Greene "mansion house" was the scene of numerous hunting parties and lavish entertainments. Richard Greene's guest list included both wealthy colonists and British officials. Greene lived and ruled the large estate in a manner surpassing that of many of the royalty of Europe. Because of this, he was called "King Richard."
Potowomut historian, Anna Lawrence, quotes Richard's granddaughter, Lydia Brown Le Baron, as saying, "His furniture and which were imported from England. Servants, both white and colored, were numerous. There was much splendor in his housekeeping for the times in which he lived...." Mrs. Le Baron goes on to relate, "....he was remarkable for great hospitality. A large portion of his visitors were some of the most distinguished personalities of the day." Among these guests were Governor Bradford, the Rev. Mr. Fogg and the Rev. Mr. Fayerweather, General James Mitchell Varnum, Judge Lightfoot, The Browns of Providence, and the Hancocks and Quincys of Massachusetts.
Richard prided himself on being a good father as well as a gracious host. He had fourteen children, eleven of whom survived him. He educated his large family at home by a private tutor until they were of a suitable age to attend private schools. He greatly admired the English nobility and very often imitated them.
When hostilities erupted between England and the American Colonies in 1775, Richard made it clear that he viewed this as a rebellion against lawful authority. Mrs. Lawrence tells us that, " ...he refused to sell the produce of his farms in large quantities.... he never paid a debt in Continental money nor purchased soldier's certificates...." She points out that in 1776, the "Legislature of Rhode Island appointed an agent to purchase of Mr. Richard Greene, the corn, oats, rye, port and sheep he has on his land, for the use of this state and to remove the same to places of safety...."
Richard Greene openly welcomed British officers in his home and furnished them with both produce and information. His estate was easily accessible by the British ships and Richard, much to the embarrassment of other members of the Greene family, gave them much needed supplies whenever possible. Because of his Tory sympathies Richard Greene found himself separated from both friends and family.
As the fortunes of the Colonists improved during the Revolutionary War, those of Richard Greene worsened. In 1779, Greene left his beautiful Potowomut estate and went to Newport which was still occupied by the British. His granddaughter wrote that Greene had been afflicted with a tumor for many years and that in 1779 he went to Newport for medical assistance. Greene, accompanied by his family and physicians, approached Newport with a flag of truce. The British allowed Greene to visit with several doctors in the British employ, but the disease was far advanced and he died in Newport on July 19, 1779.