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Warwick’s Villages & Historic Places

By Don D’Amato

Conimicut Village (and its environs)
The burning of Warwick 1676

While life in Conimicut in the early years was often physically demanding and dangerous the early settlers seem to have reached some of their had hoped for goals. They were able to worship as they pleased and had established a government based upon democratic principles.

Mill Cove
As many of the early settlers in Conimicut and Warwick Neck were farmers, it soon became obvious that there was a need for a grist mill to grind the corn and wheat. Using the power of the tides at Mill Cove, Thomas Safford and a number of other proprietors were given permission to build a grist mill and to grind corn for the inhabitants. Their fee was to be two quarts of grain per bushel and this became Warwick’s first industrial enterprise. It was also the cause of the first complaint. Charges were made by some of the settlers that the mill owners were using too large a measure for their fee. In the 1650s the records show, “It being complained of that the Toll Dish is to bigg: ordered that Mr. Holliman doe gett a pair of skaills for the mill by the sixst of May following.”

Stone enders
Settlers in and around Conimicut Point saw some prosperity in the early years. They erected houses, called “stone enders” and through hard work began to see their farms prosper. These “stone enders” made use of the material that was in abundance in the area, ie: timber and stone. The houses were usually timber-framed, one and one-half or two stories in height, with one room on each floor. One end of the house contained a massive stone chimney, which usually filled the entire end wall, thus giving the dwelling the name of “stone ender.” Robert O. Jones, in the Statewide Historical Preservation Report K-W-1, Warwick, R.I., in 1981, noted that the windows were very small “casements filled with oiled paper” and that “the stairs to the upper chambers were steep, ladder-like structures usually squeezed in between the chimney and the front entrance.” He points out that a few houses may have had leaded glass windows, but that was very rare.


Canonchet

Canonchet, sachem of the Narragansetts, gave refuge to Wamponaug women and children and incurred the wrath of the United Colonies. After the massacre of the Narragansett Indians at the Great Swamp, the Indians sought revenge by burning Warwick.

King Philip’s War
This brief period of prosperity was soon disrupted, however, in 1675 when the United Colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth and Connecticut invaded Rhode Island during King Philip’s War. Rhode Island was not included in the United Colonies and for the period of early hostilities between the Puritan colonies and King Philip, chief sachem of the Wampanoags, the colonists in Warwick felt safe due to the friendly relations between Samuel Gorton and the Narragansetts. However, after the Great Swamp massacre in South Kingstown, the Narragansetts joined the Wampanoags and in March 1676, Warwick was attacked.
Samuel Greene Arnold, in his History of Rhode Island says, “... Warwick ....left defenceless by the retiring army, was abandoned, and the inhabitants took refuge on the island, where their town meetings were regularly held, as if at home for the choice of deputies and jurors. The town was annihilated for the time, but the corporation survived, and continued to discharge its legitimate functions.”

Arnold continues to say, "The Indians fled at the approach of the English, and retreated northward, driving off the live stock from Warwick. The army pursued them but a few miles, and soon after returned home and was disbanded." The settlers fled to the safety of Portsmouth and all the houses in the town, with the exception of Thomas Greene’s Stone Castle, were burned.

The return to Warwick
By October 1676, all the major Indian leaders had been killed or captured and the war was over. In his 1875 history of Warwick, 0. P. Fuller notes, “The war being now over, the people of Warwick in the spring of 1677 returned to their desolated homes, and with hearts undaunted commenced at once to repair their wasted heritage.... The Indians were now timid and suppliant, rather than bold and threatening....”

The move to the west
Once the threat of Indian uprisings was removed, it was possible to settle the lands west of Apponaug and to move into the previously unsettled lands of the Grand or Shawomet Purchase.

With an increase in population and an end of Indian problems, it became obvious that if the town was to grow and supply the needs of its people, the waterpower and other resources to the west would have to be developed. The old sawmill at Mill Cove had been destroyed by the Indians. The grinding stones were smashed as many of the Indians believed that this was a symbol of the power of the English. Once the war was over, however, it was obvious to the returning settlers that the mills at Mill Cove and Tuskatucket Brook (at the head of Brush Neck Cove) were not adequate to meet the demands of the inhabitants and early in 1677/8 a grant was made to establish a sawmill along the Pawtuxet River.

With the Indian danger removed and with an increase in the population, the trend for the younger generation was to move west from Conimicut and Warwick Neck toward Apponaug and the west as there was more land available there and greater opportunities for some of the younger sons. While this was happening, much of the land in Conimicut was being settled by the descendents of the Greene and Arnold families. Both John Greene, Surgeon and Stephen Arnold had large parcels of land and willed much of their property to their children.

When the danger of attack from unfriendly Indians was over, there was no longer a need for the “tenement at Conimicut” or the water fence. Animals were now free to graze along the Four Mile Common between Conimicut and Apponaug. As a result, the land of the old “tenement” was purchased by Stephen Arnold in 1680. This land abutted that of the Greene family. In that same year, 1680, Arnold’s daughter Elizabeth (1659-1728) had married Peter Greene (1654-1723), son of Deputy Governor John Greene and grandson of Surgeon John Greene. In 1659, while still very young, Peter inherited the original homestead of his father, Surgeon John, from his uncle.

Samuel Gorton Homestead

In the spring of 1677, Gorton returned to Warwick and at the age of 85 he built this house at Warwick Cove. A later dwelling is now on the site and a boulder with a bronze tablet marks the place.

After King Philip’s war, 23 year old Peter Greene returned to Conimicut and took an active part in Warwick politics. As there was still a fear of attack by enemies, Peter Greene became very active in the “Train Band” of local militia and in 1697, became captain of the unit. In 1699, Stephen Arnold died and two of his Conimicut lots, including the tenement lands, went to his daughter Elizabeth, and that property passed into the Greene family as a result. By this time, Peter Greene had become one of Warwick’s leading citizens. Peter Greene is also highly regarded as a person who devoted himself to his family. The Greene family history indicates that Peter Greene retired from public life to care for his ailing wife and feared that he would die before she did and he made provisions for that eventuality. In his will he states, “Forasmuch as it has pleased God to visit my well beloved wife Elizabeth with a distemper for many years, whereby she is not in her right senses: therefore, for the tender love I have for her, I appoint that my executors shall carefully provide for her comfort.”

Historians of the area believe that Peter Greene may have built a house on the tenement lands as early as 1714. That house was replaced by the home that now stands at 1124 West Shore Road at the corner of Economy Avenue. It was built circa 1750, and has been accepted to be on the National Register of Historic Houses. It is believed the house was built by either Captain Peter’s son, Major Peter Greene (1682-1767) or his grandson, John Greene (1711-1800). The house is an excellent visual reminder of a basic colonial “5 room plan” with a huge center chimney and for many generations was the center of a prosperous farm.
In 1800, the farmhouse passed to Judge Steven Greene who, like five generations of Greenes before him, was very active in local and state affairs. When Judge Steven died, he left the house to his daughter, Marcy Greene, who had married Capt. James Warner. The old homestead remained in the Greene-Warner family for two more generations. In 1864, it was sold to Cyrus Harris of the Greene Manufacturing Company, ending nine generations and two hundred years of ownership by the “Greenes of Conimicut,” spanning the period of our country’s history from the Colonial Period to the end of the Civil War.

Eventually, the farm passed to Maria M. (Harris) Foster in 1883. It has since been owned by a number of other families, including Michael and Arlene Hebert, who were responsible for much of the work of renovating the building in the 1980s.

Continue the Story Here ----> Smuggling activities and the Moses Greene house

 

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