250th Book

The Warren 250th Anniversary Book was a project authorized by the Warren 250th Anniversary Executive Committee. A small team was formed to write the book in the fall of 1996, and all of its members belonged to the Massasoit Historical Association or the Warren Preservation Society. A call went out to the townspeople for photos, histories and documents to include in what would be the Town’s most comprehensive history book.

The team first met in the fall of 1996 at the old East Bay Chamber of Commerce building on Metacom Avenue. Lombard Pozzi, with Cliff Morey’s help, photographed and described 100 of the oldest houses in Warren. Sarah Saxe unearthed information about the schools in Warren. Walter Nebiker covered the military and maritime history of Warren, including whaling and shipbuilding. Karen Melchers contributed the piece about immigration, churches and cemeteries while she handled the layout and design of the whole volume. Jane Harrison interviewed farmers and wrote about agriculture, past and present. Sarah Weed dug into the histories of the town buildings and into textile manufacturing.

Other pieces came in from Arthur Burke about the Fire Department, and from Tom Green covering the Town’s postal history. Many photographs, including some of the Warren 250 celebrations, were added.Advertising was sold, orders were taken for $20 a copy, 500 copies were printed, and the “Big Book” was released to the public on September 2, 1998, complete with a book signing party at the George Hail Library. The yellow feather on the cover is a nod to the Massasoit, Osamequin (Yellow Feather”), leader of the Pokanoket Nation.

Please Read Below:

Since its publication in 1998, much has been learned about the early history of Warren.  The research work of the Sowams Heritage Area project and the Warren Middle Passage Project give us a more accurate and fuller understanding of that period.   


History of Warren


Warren sits on the east bank of the Warren River, an arm of Narragansett Bay, and is bounded by the towns of Barrington, Bristol and Swansea, Massachusetts. A 1748 census indicates a population of 380 people in the town, 30 of whom were Native Americans. Warren received its name from the British naval hero, Admiral Sir Peter Warren, who had been victorious at the battle of Louisburg in June 1745. 


Sowams and the Wampanoag     


The town we know as Warren was first settled by Native Americans from the Pokanoket Tribe, later known as the Wampanoag. The Pokanoket controlled the land from  Plymouth  to  the  eastern  shores  of  Narragansett  Bay.  Their ruler at the time that the Pilgrims arrived from England in 1620 was called “Osamequin” which translates as Yellow Feather. He was the Massasoit or head Sachem and lived in an area known as “Sowams” along the eastern shore of Narraganset Bay where Bristol, Warren and Barrington are located today.  Today one can find a plaque marking the Massasoit  Spring at the western end of Baker Street in Warren. The Pokanoket land, with its cleared fields, open forests, and access to streams and rivers provided a good home for these people.  Here they were able to hunt and fish, grow corn, beans and squash, and pick nuts and berries. They lived well, as they had for thousands of years before Europeans arrived.    

     For several years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, a great plague had spread throughout the Tribe killing about 90% of the people who lived in this area. The Pilgrims did not get sick because they had become immune from illness from living in Europe. In the Spring of 1621, Osamequin and members of his tribe visited the Pilgrims in Plymouth and established a treaty that said neither would harm the other and they would protect each other from their enemies. This treaty remained in effect for forty years until Osamequin’s death in 1661.   

     In July of 1621, Governor Bradford of the Pilgrims sent two colonists, Edward  Winslow and Stephen Hopkins, to visit Osqmequin in Sowams. Osamequin and the English settlers became friends, visiting each other’s villages and trading goods. Two years after their first meeting, in 1623, the Massasoit became ill, and Edward Winslow returned to help nurse Massasoit back to health. This strengthened the friendship between the English and the Tribe. By 1632, the colonists had set up a trading post on the banks of the Kickemuit River where they traded English goods for furs and other items. The English even used wampum, the Native American currency of white and purple shell beads, instead of English money in some of their trading. 

     As more and more colonists arrived from England, they needed additional land to build houses, raise farm animals and grow crops. In 1653, Osamequin sold a large section of Pokanoket land to the English for 35 British pounds. This section included part of what we now call Warren, as well as parts of Barrington and East Providence, Rhode Island, and Rehoboth and Swansea, Massachusetts. Sixteen years later, in 1669, Osamequin’s son, Wamsutta, sold five hundred more acres “on the west bank of the Coles River” to “Hugh Cole and others.”   At the time, Hugh Cole was a Swansea town official, farmer and land surveyor. The land he purchased eventually became part of the original town of Warren.  

     Wamsutta and his younger brother, Metacomet, were both given English names by the colonists. Wamsutta was called Alexander, and Metacomet was called Philip. Some historians say that the Native Americans wanted these English names; others say that the new names showed that the English didn’t respect the Native Americans’ culture and language. 

    Wamsutta (Alexander) died within a year after his father’s death, leaving his younger brother Metacomet (Philip) as the Massasoit of the Tribe. Metacomet continued to meet and trade with the English settlers, but he never trusted them the way his father did. Part of the reason for this was that he suspected that the English had poisoned his brother. Also, the numbers of colonists were increasing year by year, increasing need for more land and resources. English cows and pigs often got loose and destroyed tribal gardens. The numbers of tribal people, on the other hand, continued to decrease due to disease. 

    Metacomet, who became known as King Philip, grew more distrustful of the English and eventually led an alliance of tribes into one of the deadliest wars between the native people and the English settlers. The war, known as King Philip’s War, spread well beyond the Pokanoket territory into Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine and lasted from June of 1675 to August of 1676. The first attacks took place in what is now Warren, although Hugh Cole, because of his friendship with King Philip, was warned and managed to escape to Portsmouth before the fighting began. However his house, along with all of the other settlers’ houses, was burned to the ground. Cole later returned and built a new house on the east bank of the Kickemuit River. The well that he dug next to his house is now a town landmark and can be found along the Bike Path near the “Broken Bridge”. 

     The War took thousands of English and Native lives, and forever changed the relationship between the two groups. Most of the defeated tribal people were forced to leave their homeland and find new places to live as far away as New York and Maine; others were put on ships and sent to Barbados to be sold as slaves. The English settlers moved into the remaining land and their numbers continued to grow as they built more houses, farms, mills, and roads. Members of the Pokanoket Tribe have since returned to the area, and over 200 now live near Warren. Today, it’s possible to find some of the original houses, farm lands, and historic locations. You can learn about the Pokanoket Tribe on the SowamsHeritageArea.org website.  


Founding of Warren and Maritime Industry


Warren was founded in 1747 with two waterfronts.  The Warren River on the northeast had more than a dozen wharves used by the Town’s skilled shipbulders.  The Kickemuit River, on the southeast, served the farms in the area, which was called Touisset.  From the beginning, Warren residents were involved in maritime trades including whaling, trade with the West Indies and the building of slave ships. (Until 1770, Barrington was a part of Warren and engaged in farming.) 


The Revolutionary War


The Revolutionary War seriously affected Warren's commercial prosperity, as it did the whole state. When the British occupied Newport from December 1776 until October 1779, many of their residents fled to nearby towns, including Warren. On May 25, 1778, a body of British and Hessian troops made a surprise raid of Warren, burning down the Baptist meeting house and other buildings, ransacking dwellings, destroying property and terrifying women and children.  They also took several citizens prisoner.  On the Kickemuit River, a number of boats collected for use in an expedition against the enemy were burned.  Throughout the war, Warren men would serve in both the Warren and Rhode Island militias as well as the Continental Army.  

     Within ten years after the close of the Revolution, however, commerce revived, and ship building became an important industry. For more than half a century Warren was famous for the fine vessels launched from its yards. These vessels largely commanded by Warren men and manned by Warren crews, engaged in whaling, merchant service, coasting, the West India trade and the African slave trade.


Warren, the slave trade and enslavement


Rhode Island was the center of the American transatlantic slave trade, accounting for the majority of American slave voyages from 1700 until 1808.  More than 110,000 Africans were forcibly taken from their homeland on Rhode Island ships and brought through the Middle Passage; 1 in 5 died on those voyages.  Those who survived were sold into slavery in the Caribbean, the southern United States and New England.   In Newport, Bristol and Providence, men, women and children were sold at public auctions, there were also many private sales throughout the state.  


       From its founding in 1747, Warren was home to shipwrights, rope winders, coopers, blacksmiths and sail makers who built and rigged ships, some for slave traders in Newport and Bristol.  In 1789, Warren launched its first illegal slave ship, the Abigail.  Owned by Ebenezer Cole, James and Level Maxwell and Captain Charles Collins, it sailed for Africa on September 24, 1789, eventually purchasing 64 Africans.  Eleven died during the two-month return journey; the 53 who survived were sold into slavery.  

      For nearly 20 years, Warren ships made at least 30 illegal voyages to Africa, leading to the death or enslavement of more than 2,800 men, women and children.  Warren families who invested in the voyages profited directly from the sale of human beings while others made money by constructing, financing, provisioning and manning the ships.  There are historic homes in Warren that were purchased with profits from the slave trade.

     During the 18th century, nearly 100 men, women and children were enslaved in Warren; the 1774 Census alone counted 43.  They worked on the farms of Touisset, in the homes and businesses of the wealthy and at the shipyards along the Warren River.  Their labor benefitted Warren families and the Town itself.

     Six African Americans who were enslaved in Warren fought in the Revolutionary War.  Hampton Barton and Bristol Miller were honorably discharged.  Caesar Cole died at Valley Forge, Warren Mason died while stationed in Rhode Island, Prince Child died from wounds received at the Battle of Pines Ridge in New York and Bristol Luther died after the battle at Yorktown.  

No comments:

Post a Comment