Don D'Amato's History of Warwick


Article Count:
Conimicut Village

Conimicut Village (and its environs)

By Don D’Amato  


Conimicut, a thriving and picturesque area along Warwick’s shore, is one of the villages that can trace its history back to the founding of Warwick in 1643. The story begins with Samuel Gorton and his followers and their quest to find a safe haven where they could practice their beliefs without persecution. Samuel Gorton, Warwick’s charismatic founder, was one of Rhode Island’s most fascinating and enigmatic characters. To characterize him as a controversial and quarrelsome figure borders on understatement.

Upon arriving in Massachusetts in 1637, he quickly antagonized an impressive list of influential and powerful persons in 17th century New England. Gorton, a brilliant, but unorthodox, self proclaimed, preacher severely criticized the religious doctrines of the Boston and Plymouth Puritans and opposed their right to rule in Massachusetts. According to his biographers, Gorton was born to a working class family in England in 1592. Lacking the opportunity to get a formal education, Gorton managed to obtain a most unorthodox accumulation of knowledge. He not only could read English, but became proficient in Greek and Latin, and before being in America very long, had mastered the Indian language. Like many of his contemporaries in the new World, his main interests were in Scripture and in English Common Law. Without the benefit of formal training, he memorized some of the obscure biblical passages and interpreted them without seeking established ecclesiastical authority. This was not uncommon at the time, but Gorton often carried his beliefs to the extreme.

He classified himself as an Ultra-Puritan. He felt as many others did that there was no necessity for bishops to act as intermediaries and believed that people were guided by God’s spirit directly. He preached that all should be able to worship as they pleased and that all men and women, not just the Elders or the ordained, had the right to preach. For this, and for his insistence that there should be a separation of church and state and that the New England Colonies were not correct in their practice of English Common law, he quickly incurred the wrath of the Puritan Elders in Boston and Plymouth. For a time his brilliance and appeal were tolerated, but as he challenged all authority he was banished from Massachusetts and eventually made his way to Providence. His views on government and legal rights soon led him to quarrel with a number of leaders in the community and he made enemies, among whom were William Arnold, William Harris and other founders of Pawtuxet village, now shared by the Cities of Warwick and Cranston.

Mainly because of Arnold, Gorton's attempt to be admitted as a freeman in Providence failed. William Arnold, one of the five "disposers," as the men were called who handled such applications, strongly opposed Gorton, and was successful in keeping him from becoming a citizen of Providence. Arnold, on May 25, 1641, wrote that Gorton, "showed himself an insolent, railing and turbulent person."

Even Roger Williams, usually a tolerant man, found Gorton troublesome. Roger Williams, in a letter to Governor Winthrop, dated “Providence 1640” says, "Master Gorton having abused high and low at Aquidnick, is now bewitching and bemadding poor Providence, with his uncleane and foul censures of all the ministers of this country...and also denying all visible and externall ordinances..."

Williams and a few others refused to admit Gorton as an inhabitant with town privileges. Despite this opposition, Gorton's followers grew, causing Williams to remark to Winthrop, "Yet the tide is too strong against us, and I feare it will force me to little Patience, a little isle next to your Prudence..."

The differences between Williams and Gorton were not on religious grounds but on the question of the concept of government. Gorton, in 1641, again attempted to be received in "town fellowship" and again he was refused. The man who most strenuously opposed Gorton's application at this time was William Arnold, who asserted that Gorton was had divided Providence "into parties aiming to drive away its founders...."
The bitter feelings that grew between Arnold and Gorton lasted for the lifetime of both men and were responsible for many of the disturbing events of the early period.

Gorton and his followers moved into the Pawtuxet area, three of the original Pawtuxet purchasers, William Arnold, Robert Cole, William Carpenter, as well as Benedict Arnold, William Arnold's son, offered themselves and their land to the protection of Massachusetts in Sept. 1642. This move was to keep Gorton from settling in Rhode Island.

Article Count:
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."

Article Count:
Warwick Police

As the municipal center of Warwick, Apponaug was also the center of the early police stations. Whenever old-time Warwick residents gather, colorful stories of the early fire and police departments are told. Time and time again, the names of Forrest Sprague, Theodore Andrews, Elias Cranston, Albert Izzi, Amasa Sprague and, of course, Apponaug’s Lynch family, are cited. For over sixty years now, members of the Lynch clan have had a profound effect on law enforcement in the city.

Article Count:
Pontiac Village

Warwick’s Villages & Historic Places

By Don D’Amato

Pontiac Village

Change comes to the historic mill at Pontiac

Warwick, a modern and dynamic city, is constantly growing and changing. Fortunately, in the last few decades while changes have been inevitable to keep pace with modern needs and wants, enough concerned citizens and leaders have taken pains to ensure that the city's heritage not be forgotten. This is especially true in the effort to keep the historic fabric of our villages as alive as possible.

Now, in the first decade of the 21st century, the village of Pontiac is undergoing a great deal of new development. In addition to the modern shopping malls that have made Warwick a leading retail center in Rhode Island, we are seeing the construction of a modern 161-room hotel on the site of the historic Pontiac Mill.

The mill has long been a landmark in Warwick that remids us of the time when the "Fruit of the Loom" textiles were the most famous in the world and when immigrants from England, Sweden, French-Canada and Italy came to Warwick to find work and a new way of life. Today as the work begins to demolish part of the mill structure, plans are being made to retain the most impressive section of the complex.

A Village of many names

Despite the changes of the 21st century, Pontiac is one of the villages in Warwick that has managed to retain much of its 19th century identity. Dominated by the Pontiac Mill, the village has been the home of a number of ethnic groups that came to Warwick to seek employment in the cotton mills and made a positive impact on the town. Pontiac, while having a number of unique features, is an excellent example of the mill villages that abounded in Rhode Island.

In 1852, at about the time that the mills were thriving in Crompton, Centreville and Apponaug, the B.B. & R. Knight Company acquired the mills of John H. Clark. They also decided to change the name of the village from Clarkesville to Pontiac. Oliver Payson Fuller, in his 1875 History of Warwick notes, "No one of the villages on the Pawtuxet River and its tributaries has been designated by so many different names in teh course of its history, as the one we have now come to." He traces the names back to May 10, 1662, when Warwick records show that it was known by the Indian name of Toskeunk. The Records say, "Ordered that Goodman Hedger is apoynted to give notis to ye inhabitants of ye Towne to repayer ye fence at Toskeunk and he to oversee the work....."

Great Weir

Fuller, commenting on the Indian names for the area says, "Papepieset, or Toskiounke, as it was sometimes called, makes a very good mouthfull of language..." The English settlers in Warwick found the Indian names difficult and, as was their custom, renamed the village, calling it "Great Weir" as many fish, including salmon, shad and herring, migrated here and were caught with "weirs" or water traps. Fuller tells us that these early weirs consisted of:

...a wooden trellis-work, armed with sharp pointed sticks, and sunk upon rocks one or two feet below the surface of the stream, and as the middle of the river by being filled with large stones, was rendered too shallow for the upward passage of the salmon and shad, they plunged by necessity into the deeper water near the shore, where these concealed traps received them with a fatal welcome.

The Great Bridge at the Weir

The nineteenth century brought a great increase in the use of the river to power the cotton mils and dams and made the natural migration of fish impossible. As a result, the weir was no longer in use. Fuller wryly comments, "...the fish took offence...and finally abandoned their old nurseries..." As a result, he says, "...the weir...ceased to properly designate the place..."

The story goes on to say that later, when a bridge was built across the river, the people, "like a drowning man, who is said to 'catch at a straw' the place as 'the great bridge near the weir'..." The man most closely identified with the bridge was Captain Benjamin Greene, also known as "Tobacco Ben Greene," as he raised large quantities of tobacco, according to Fuller. For a number of years the area was called "Capt. Benjamin Greene's Bridge."

Tobacco Ben

According to Henry Rousmaniere's 1859 "Letters about the Pawtuxet," Greene was a captain in the colonial forces in the 17th and early 18th centuries. He had a tannery near the bridge and had married Susanna, daughter of Randall Holden, one of the founders of Warwick. Rousmaniere tells us that, "During a high freshet in the Pawtuxet river it is said he saved his wife by taking her from the house in a boat. He soon after took that house to pieces and removed it to a more elevated location." Captain Benjamin Greene gave his land and homestead to his grandson, Benjamin Arnold.

Arnold's Bridge

The bridge eventually was called "Arnold's bridge". It became especially well known as an important area when Henry Arnold, son of Benjamin, kept a "most noted public house" or tavern there. He became even more famous for his mills when he acquired the Mumford holdings. Gideon Mumford owned land and water rights in the village in 1800. Mumford, according to Fuller, was drowned in teh river near his house and Henry Arnold, along with one of his brothers, Dutee Arnold, purchased Mumford's land and water power rights. The Arnold's erected a saw and grist mill along the river in 1810. Later, Dutee Arnold's son, Horatio, erected another mill and "carried on wool carding and cotton spinning...This building was also used...for the manufacture of coarse woolen cloth..."

Article Count:
Knight Estate

Warwick’s Villages & Historic Places

By Don D’Amato

Knight Estate

Today, the Rhode Island Mall and the Community College of Rhode Island occupy much of what was once the farm of the Knight family, the owners of the Pontiac Mills and many of the most productive textile manufacturing mills in the United States. These buildings and the modern highway that is East Avenue today is a far cry from the "Knight farm" that occupied the site during the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

The change is so great and overwhelming that even those who used the old East Avenue as a regular pathway have to pause to remember that this section of busy road, with its huge brick and cement stores and modern campus, was once a charming rural countryside. Automobiles, lined row after row in black topped parking lots at the mall and the Community College, have replaced prize short horn cattle in open pasture land. Red barns, hay fields, a half mile of track for trotting horses, and the beauty of a country setting are but a pleasant memory.

Looking back to earlier decades brings many fond memories of the way it used to be. The "Knight farm" once covered over 500 acres and extended along the Pawtuxet River beyond the present Mall, along Greenwich Avenue, then down Tollgate Road and Commonwealth Ave. The large open tracts of land are gone, but the magnificent house and many of the farm buildings remain. From the highway, the Knight's house, and the tall shingle style water tower that stands behind it, can still be seen.

The story of the land, the buildings on it, and the changes in their use is comparable to the story of the growth and changes in Warwick from the 17th to the 20th century. The land changed in ownership from the rural farmlands of some of Warwick's early proprietors, to the early industrialists, to the flamboyant and politically powerful Sprague family, and then to the prominent and wealthy Knights.
It was the Knights who owned the Pontiac Mills as well as the mills at Natick and Riverpoint and who were responsible for so much of the paternalism which dominated these villages. The Knight Estate of East Avenue was a symbol of the wealth and power of this family which dominated for such a long period.
The story of the Knight Estate and the impact on Warwick then and now, will be continued.

This beautiful home, once owned by the Knights, now provides housing for the president of the Community College of Rhode Island. It is located on the once significant “gentleman’s farm.”
Photo Don D’Amato (1991)

Article Count:

In 1875, when Oliver Payson Fuller wrote his excellent, informative History of Warwick, he commented, "To the east of Pontiac, a couple of miles on the Stonington railroad, a thriving little village has sprung up with the past ten years, in connection with the establishment of a new branch of industry."

He was referring to Hill's Grove, an area that was then becoming important as the home of the Rhode Island Malleable Iron Works, established by Thomas Jefferson Hill in 1867.  During the next century, Hill's Grove would be changed to Hillsgrove and became more famous for the Elizabeth Mill (1875) and the State Airport (1929 31).

Today it is at the center of Warwick's fast developing industrial area.

Article Count:
Pawtuxet Village

There are very few places in America that can make claim to the charm, uniqueness  and heritage that can be found in the village of Pawtuxet.  Hazel Wade Kennedy and Scott Avedisian, in their The Walking tour of Historic Pawtuxet Village. (1999), noted that, “Whether walking along historic Post Road or strolling through Pawtuxet Park, visitors will easily feel the Village’s sense of pride.

They were, of course correct as Pawtuxet is one of the most attractive villages in New England.  It is unique in the fact that one section of the village is in Cranston and the other in Warwick.  Unlike other Warwick villages, it is situated in an area away from the 19th century mill sites and 20th century major arteries of trade and traffic.  Thanks to its location and a number of historically minded citizens, much of Pawtuxet exudes the charm and serenity of an early 19th century village.  To make it even more special, Pawtuxwet has a number of fine Colonial dwellings and significant historical sites.   

The picturesque sign at the bridge today, which simply states "Pawtuxet River-one of the bounds of Providence mentioned in the Indian deed", depicts a rather pleasant scene of Roger Williams being greeted by the Indians.  The history surrounding the early 17th century settlement, however, tells us that the early years were far from serene.  From the beginning of its long history, Pawtuxet was rife with controversy, deceit, forgery and even treason.  

Article Count:
Warwick Resorts
Article Count:
Rogues and Knaves
Article Count:
Down A Different Path

by Donald A. D'Amato

A novel about the “otherwise minded” of this country’s smallest state to the time of the end of the American Revolution.

For many years now I have been writing about the Greene family of Warwick and of the history of Rhode Island in the Warwick Beacon and the Cranston Herald articles and in my books. It has become obvious in so many ways that the history of that family and of the state parallel each other and, as readers have suggested, now may be the time for combining the two in an historical novel.  While the main characters are fictional, I have used actual episodes in the life of Rhode Islanders who have been significant in the development of the state.

Article Count:

Demo Information

Important: This demo is purely for demonstration purposes and all the content relating to products, services and events are fictional and are designed to showcase a live shopping site. All images are copyrighted to their respective owners.

This is not an actual store, non of the products are for sale and the information maybe inaccurate such as pricing.