A Brief History of Warwick, Rhode Island

Warwick was founded in 1642 by Samuel Gorton when Narragansett Indian Chief Sachem Miantonomi agreed to accept 144 fathoms of Wampumpeague for what was known as "The Shawhomett Purchase". This included the present day towns of Coventry and West Warwick.

In 1648, Gorton was granted a Charter by Robert Rich, Earl of Warwicke and Governour in Chiefe for the Colonies. Because of this, the name of the settlement was changed from Shawomett to Warwick.

In 1772, Warwick was the scene for the first violent act against the Crown when local patriots boarded the British revenue cutter HMS Gaspee.  It was here that the first English blood of the American Revolution was spilled when the commanding officer of the Gaspee, Lt. Duddingston, was shot with a musket ball while resisting the taking of his ship. The patriots then stripped the Gaspee of all cannon and arms before setting her afire.

During the Revolution, Warwick Militiamen participated in the battles of Montreal, Quebec, Saratoga, Monmouth, Trenton, and Rhode Island and were present for the surrender at Yorktown.  After the war, Warwick and the rest of Rhode Island voted against ratification of the Constitution as it lacked a "Bill of Rights" as was found in Rhode Island's State Constitution. Thus, when the newly inaugurated President George Washington left New York City to travel to Boston, he was required to detour around "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" as it was an "Independent and Sovereign Republic".

Abundant supplies of water power enabled Warwick to enter the Industrial Revolution and emerge as a major textile manufacturing center. The "Fruit of the Loom Company" was founded in Warwick at the B.B.& R. Knight Mill on the Pawtuxet River. By the close of the 19th century, Warwick was one of the wealthiest communities in the State.

Warwick's 39 miles of coastline are graced with many beautiful stretches of beachfront. This magnificent shore lured many of America's wealthiest citizens into spending their summers in Conimicut, Warwick Neck, Oakland Beach, and Buttonwoods. Before the Great Depression and the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, more millionaires called Warwick their summer home than any other location in the country.

In 1929, the State of Rhode Island began construction of Hillsgrove State Airport in the center of Warwick. When it was completed, it was called "The Most Modern Airport in the Nation". Now known as Theodore Francis Green State Airport, the airport has recently undergone major renovations and is now a work of art to be seen.

Since the original purchase of land from Miantonomi, Warwick increased in size twice and was reduced in size twice and yet remains the second largest city in the State:

  • In 1654, the Potowomut peninsula was purchased from Taxxomann for grazing of the settlers livestock.
  • In 1696, the settlement in Pawtuxet was added to the town.
  • By 1741, the residents of the western portion of the town felt that communications with those in the east made efficient government nearly impossible and formed the Town of Coventry.
  • In 1913, the bulk of the town's population was centered around the textile mills on the west side of the Pawtuxet River. Local politicians seeking to secure their power created the movement to create the new town of West Warwick leaving the eastern portion of the town to the farmers living there.

Warwick was incorporated as a City in 1931 and elected its first Mayor, Pierce Brereton, in 1932.

By the 1950's the textile industry had left New England and the post-war housing boom was underway. Warwick farms became subdivisions as people left cities for life in the suburbs.

Today, Warwick is "the Crossroads of Southern New England" with a major airport and a modern interstate highway and rail system poised to lead the way into the 21st century.

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