Apponaug Village

Warwick’s Villages & Historic Places

By Don D’Amato

This handsome sign has been added near the Brayton Cemetery to greet visitors as they enter Apponaug from Cowesett. Soon after the sign, a number of historic houses, Apponaug’s four corners, and the City Hall become visible.

Apponaug Village

Apponaug is one of Warwick’s most important villages. Located at a key point in the Old Pequot Path (now Post Road) it has been at the center of much activity from the time of the Native Americans to the present. This is the first of a series on the village.

The Indian Heritage
After King Philip’s War (1675-76), the Gortonites were able to expand to the west from Conimicut Village and Warwick Neck. The area most in use in the last part of the 17h century was the 4-Mile Common, the excellent meadowland between Conimicut Shore and Apponaug Cove. By the turn of the century the second generation of settlers had occupied much of the land around the cove in the area the Indians had occupied for many centuries.

The Indians at Sweet Meadow Brook, Apponaug
Nearly 2000 years before Roger Williams established his colony at Providence, the Apponaug section of Warwick was inhabited by sub-tribes of the Narragansett Indians Nation. Williams first trod the old Pequot path (Post Road) through Apponaug on his journey from Providence to the trading post at Cocumscussoc, near present day Wickford, in 1636.

Place of the oyster
Williams, speaking of approximately the same area we today refer to as Apponaug Four Corners, commented on this crossroads of the Indian paths. He said the Indians called the place, "Oppenenauchack," which he defined as meaning, "oyster." Shellfish were plentiful here and Indians traveling through the paths were welcome to take all they needed. As early as 1663, there is reference to Apponaug by other early writers who often spelled it "Aponahock" or "Aponake."

Sweet Meadow
While Williams, Samuel Gorton, William Harris and other settlers give us a picture of Indian life style in this historic period, excavations by the Narragansett Archaeological Society help provide a picture of life around the cove in the prehistoric period. In 1954 and 1955, archaeologists worked at an area called Sweet’s Meadows. In a very well documented report, written by the late William Fowler, one time director of the Bronson Museum in Attleboro, Mass., we learn that the Indians encamped, "On the northerly side of the town of Apponaug...along a small spring fed brook, which empties into Apponaug Cove." Fowler surmised that at one time the body of water in that area was larger because of a beaver dam at its mouth.

In his report, Fowler noted that, "many beaver incisors occurred in the shell refuse on the site..." The area contained remains of oysters, quahaugs, sea clams, small clams, scallops, whelk, and razor clams. The site, we are told, gave early man a favorable location for a camping place with fresh water conveniently near. Fowler's report adds, "The sand ridge along the westerly side would have provided suitable protection from the prevailing wind. This, together with other advantages, must have made this location a favorite place over a long span of years." It is estimated that the camp was occupied from approximately 100 B.C. to 1600 A.D.
In 1685, after King Philip's War had removed the Indians from the area, a man named Sweet came in possession of the property and the sandy meadow was known as Sweet's Meadow. In time it changed to Sweet Meadow, the name commonly used today.

The Stone Bowl Makers (100 B.C.-500 A.D.)
The earliest discoveries at the site indicate that at one time people lived here who ate very little or no shellfish and made no clay pottery. Fowler's well-documented report says, "Instead, evidence shows that they made stone bowls. Fragments of at least three bowls have been found, one of which," we are told, "...was beautifully finished by scraping and was thinned to an unbelievable 3/32" in some places.…" The discovery of these fragments at Sweet Meadow enable the archeologists to present a picture of life in this prehistoric period.

Fowler's report tells us, "The Stone Bowl makers not only fashioned bowls from stone but made stone pipes...The industry was male dominated, with the floor cleaning of the quarries performed by women. There is now reason to believe that women carried burdens on their heads, and continued to do so through early ceramic times...." The report also says, "From the time when they commenced to make….eating vessels,(of stone) liquid foods had been added to their diet….The Indians, however, apparently had not developed a taste for shellfish, for they left behind no shellfish refuse.…"

The Clay Pottery People (500 A.d.-1600 A.D.)

By the time the first settlers reached Apponaug, the Indians there had traded for some iron tools. Early settlers may have seen a native dressed as in this photo, getting ready to cook his meal.

It is believed that by 500 A.D. the Stone Bowl makers began to gather and eat shellfish, and soon after learned how to make pots from clay. The vast amount of shellfish gathered in this area after that date has served to aid the archeologist as the lime leaching from the shells over the years has helped preserve organic bone remains as well as fragments of pottery. As a result, seven burial sites were discovered. The earliest was that of a "fairly large wolf dog" and was found in the Stone Bowl Period zone in the excavation site.

One of the most interesting finds, dating to a later period, was the skeletal remains of a 20-year-old woman who lived in approximately 950 A.D. From the shape of the skull it was concluded that she had a "life long custom of carrying burdens on the head." This grave also revealed a custom of "votive food offerings." The archeological report tells us this food was placed in front of the skull and consisted of "the remains of a shoulder of venison and the breast of a wild fowl. The latter item apparently had been cooked." William Fowler and his fellow archeologists discovered that, "This food was covered for protection from the sand by nine oyster shells, 8 9"long." The report notes, "They were stacked one over the other like shingles...."
Archeological insights into the early culture

The refuse pits showed not only shells but "bone fragments mostly from deer, while in one pit were the remains of a bear." The various types of pottery found showed "aesthetic modifications...sufficient to indicate the same human impulse at work, as found the world over, to create ever better and more beautiful products."
The archeologists at the site uncovered a number of triangular hoes, which suggest the presence of agriculture. They concluded that, "These implements perhaps more than any other evidence indicate farming activities. Here, as at other sites, agriculture first appears with the coming of pottery making, following termination of stone bowl manufacturing."

William Fowler, in the conclusion of his report on Sweet Meadow Brook says, "Sometime before 1600 A.D. ...Sweet Meadow Brook site was abandoned..." Fowler says the location, "... evidently was not occupied by the Narragansetts during historic times...." As Roger Williams did not arrive in the area until 1636, this was the obvious conclusion.

Apponaug's pawwaw cove and Drum Rock
In 1642, when Samuel Gorton and his followers came to the area we today call Warwick, the natives had already abandoned the Sweet Meadow site in what is today's Apponaug section. With the exception of the discoveries made by archeologists during the 20th century, there are, unfortunately, but few reminders of the long tenure of occupancy by the Indians.

Pawwaw Cove
The individual who tells us the most about the Narragansett Indians living in Warwick is Oliver Payson Fuller. His excellent 19th century History of Warwick, while lacking some of the sophisticated research of 20th century authors, remains one of the best sources available for our local history. Fuller relied upon stories handed down from generation to generation for his material, especially on deriving the origin of place names. According to Fuller's 1875 account of Apponaug, the "arm of the known by the name of pawwaw cove." He tells us that in earlier times the cove was very deep at that place and an "Indian priest or pawwaw was drowned there while attempting to cross it.…"

During the 19th century, long before the archeological digs at Sweet Meadow, a number of bodies of Indians were found in the Warwick area when cellar holes were dug. Fuller tells us of one such discovery "a couple of miles east of the village of Crompton." He says the bones of two persons were found there and, "The high cheek bones, the absence of all signs of a coffin, and the position of the bodies, indicated their race."

The Drum Rock
It was during the late 19th century that a great deal of curiosity arose over a number of "Drum Rocks." Speculation on their uses and their value to the Indians grew and interest in the large rock at Apponaug attracted the attention of geologists and local historians. In 1839, an eminent geologist, Charles T. Jackson, wrote the following, "In Apponaug, in the township of Warwick, there is a curious mass of rock delicately balanced upon two points, so as to be moved with great ease by the hand, and it is said it's even rocked by the wind.…" He goes on to say, " rocking it a sound is produced audible to a great distance, and I was informed it could be heard during the stillness of night to the distance of 6 or 8 miles..."

A signaling device
Fuller's History of Warwick, mentions a Drum Rock "...situated south of the residence of Gen. Alphonso Greene, and not far from Walla Walla pond, (Gorton’s ? Pond) in the southeast corner of what is familiarly known as drum rock pasture. He describes the rock as "about eight feet long by three wide, weighing several tons, and so poised on another that a person of ordinary weight standing on one end of it will cause it to come down upon the under one with a considerable sound...." Fuller concludes that these "Drum Rocks" "...were probably used by the Indians to give alarm in time of danger and to call the people together at their pawwaw gatherings."

Today the rock, which is located approximately 6/10ths of a mile from the Post Road entrance to Cowesett Hills, just before Building 16, is silent. Most residents of Warwick are unaware of its existence as the once famous landmark is difficult to see from the road and is almost totally obscured by the apartment buildings in the vicinity. In 1984, an attempt was made to enrich Warwick's heritage by getting the rock to "boom" again and by replacing the plaque that once marked the rock. The plaque, which had been removed because of vandalism, dates to 1908 and tells us this was once a "trysting signal and meeting place of the Cowesett Indians and their kindred Narragansetts."

A different point of view
At the time of the ceremony and re-dedication, John Brown, Narragansett tribal historian on archeological matters, took exception to the interpretation on the plaque and asserted that the rock was not used by his tribe. He is quoted as saying in August 1984, "Our oral history and oral tradition says nothing about this rock. It has no relevance to us at all." Brown added that while tribal history includes some signal rocks in the Warwick area, he did not believe this was one of them.

Almost immediately following Brown's statement, a number of local historians, including the late Dorothy Mayor, defended the concept that the rock was used by the Indians.

Paul Robinson, as chairman of the state Historical Preservation commission, commenting on why the Drum Rock site was not placed on the national Registry of Historic Places, noted, "We found local historical accounts and newspaper articles, but those were mainly the 19th century. There was no literature from the 17th century...." Robinson feels, however, that the Drum Rock in Apponaug should be set aside and protected as a "piece of local history."

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