AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF

THE OLD SISSON HOUSE IN PORTSMOUTH, RHODE ISLAND

Richard and Mary Sisson are thought to have built a house in Portsmouth, Newport County, Rhode Island, perhaps as early as the 1650s. They lived there at times, and at other - safer - times with their son James at "the Head" of Westport, in Plymouth Colony (later Bristol County, Massachusetts). Richard died in 1684 in Portsmouth, probably in this house. Mary died in 1692 in Dartmouth, Plymouth Colony, not far from son James' home in Westport.

During King Philip's War (1685-1687) between the colonists and the Native Americans of southern New England, many houses were burned on the mainland. However Richard and Mary's house on its island of Aquidneck would have been safe. Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport share the island which is also known as Rhode Island. Maybe you remember that the official name of the colony and (later) the state was and is "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations."

Richard and Mary's eldest son George is believed to have built the house that now stands at "Mintwater Brook Farm," in Portsmouth, probably using his father's original foundation. Perhaps George already held the house by the time of King Philip's War. George died in 1718, so the present house must date from very early in the 18th century. George left the house to his son James who also inherited most of George's Portsmouth land.

Carol Sisson Regehr has been attempting to trace the history of the ownership of Mintwater Brook Farm house. It has an address now - 1236 East Main Road, Portsmouth, Rhode Island 01871. It was bought by Roland A. Morgan in 1996 from three siblings: Eloise Driscoll, Harold Phillips, and Adelbert Phillips. How did they come to own the house? Read on.

When the title search was done for the 1996 purchase, it revealed the names of the owners since the mid-19th century. The owner listed first was William B. (7) Sisson. William's ancestral line is Richard 1, George 2, James 3, Joseph 4, James 5, Moses L. 6, William B. 7. His "sketch" appears on page 365 of David and Joan Sisson's "Descendants of Richard and Mary Sisson." (Mary Durfee was William's wife. Her"friendship book" was bought through an eBay auction in June 2000 by Sisson Archivist Carol Sisson Regehr.)

William sold it with six acres to two sisters, his 4th cousins once removed, Susan Eastman Woodman Sisson and Philadelphia Brownell Sisson, daughters of James (7) Sisson, whose line is Richard 1, George 2, Richard 3 (who inherited "some property" from George 2), George 4, Peleg 5, Richard 6, James 7.

In the 1880 census, Susan, Philadelphia, their brother James, and three of his sons including Frederick were all living at the Mintwater Brook Farm house. In 1892 Susan Sisson sold the house to this Frederick Arnold (9) Sisson, James Manning (8) Sisson's son. When cousin Barb Austin visited the house in 1999 she took a picture of Frederick Arnold Sisson and his wife Ella (Sherman) Sisson - or rather of their framed portraits.

In 1921 Frederick willed the property to his two youngest children, Lloyd Sisson and Lillian Sisson (who hadn't been previously known to modern Sisson genealogical study and were not yet entered in the Sisson Genealogy Web Site database until Carol's research found them in the 1920 census!).

In 1984 Frederick's daughter Lillian Sisson Phillips quit claimed the property to her three children: Eloise Driscoll, Harold Phillips, and Adelbert Phillips. We have now made the full circle since Eloise, Harold, and Adelbert are the ones who sold the property to Roland A. Morgan in 1996.

Those who attended the 1998 Sisson Gathering had the very great pleasure of being invited by Mr. Morgan to see the house, inside (but only downstairs) and out. Mr. Morgan has been renovating the house lovingly, with the intention of making it an antique shop. His phone number is 401-683-3954 if you'd like to ask how things are going. Carol Sisson Regehr's picture of the house , taken from the north-east corner of the lot in 1998, shows how many of us remember the house. Thanks, Carol.

Cousin Barb Austin recounts how Mr. Morgan gave her guided tour of the house in November 1999 and how she saw some of its gradual refurbishing process. She took all the pictures whose links you see below. (Thanks very much, Barb!)

Barb describes how she stood facing the house from East Main Road . On the left front as she stood facing the house, she saw the window of the parlor, which was by then already refurbished. The main feature of the parlor is the fireplace with its beautiful paneling. Behind the parlor is the kitchen, still pretty much in upheaval, but sporting its grand mantel and hutch over another fireplace. Through the door to the left of the hutch is the bathroom (recent, of course). The far wall in the bathroom has another fireplace, now blocked off and walled over. At the side of the house the main door leads into the kitchen (on the right in this picture). A back door, on the left in that picture, leads into the "long room" along the right side of the house - as seen from the road. It used to be at least two rooms. That's the location of a fourth fireplace, this one with a beehive oven and a new brick hearth (built with old bricks) and antique andirons (not original to the house). Obviously this room was the original 18th century kitchen.

These four fireplaces downstairs, on the four sides of a large chimney, must have afforded George and Sarah a very "modern" house for the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries! I imagine that a well-stoked fire would keep things tolerably warm overnight in the rooms upstairs too.

In the large room downstairs there is an original 18th century window - at the East Main Road end, and on the door between the large room and the parlor is an original hand-carved wooden door-latch .

Upstairs are a bath and two bedrooms, and another kitchen, its walls revealing a small scrap of (probably mid-18th century) wallpaper , The larger bedroom also shows a bit of old wallpaper . One of the windows in the larger bedroom upstairs probably dates from the original structure of the house.

The smaller bedroom had in November 1999 been stripped to its bare wall-boards. Much of the remodeling done by the two sisters, Susan and Philadelphia, is being removed in order to restore the house to its 18th century appearance.

Outdoors Mr. Morgan showed Barb an old well house and a potash stone . Perhaps, like me, you don't see at first glance the significance of a potash stone, though a well house is clear enough. Potash is simply the fireplace ashes, and when we note the circular groove in the stone, we can imagine a bottomless barrel sitting there, into which the potash was cast. Occasionally someone would pour some of the Mintwater to "leach" out the lye of the potash, and soon thereafter the lye would be used to make soap. Here was a self-sufficient farm indeed.

If you plan a drive to see the house, you will need to know of the land-mark - Raymond's Auto - just north of the house. The 1998 Gatherers will remember it as Sousa's Garage.

If you have any "new" facts about the house or have photos to offer, please email me at dsisson2@rochester.rr.com so that I can revise this article. Thank you. And again, thanks to Barb Austin and Carol Sisson Regehr.

David Arne Sisson