Richard Smith

Little is known about Richard's father, John other than his name and that he was an historian of the Berkley-Berkeley family in tidewater Virginia (i.e., Jamestown). He was born circa 1566-70 and lived in the county of Gloucestershire, England. About 1590, he married Mary Browning. She was born sometime around 1569-72 in North Nibley, Gloucestershire and died after 1667.

Richard is one of my most interesting ancestors and the only one who was both an early settler of Virginia and of New England. Noted as "of gentle blood" and of ancient family, he probably came of a line of gentlemen-farmers long settled in the village of Thornbury. On May 28, 1621, "Richard Smyth" and "Johan [Joan] Barton" were married at Thornbury Church in Gloucestershire.

On the James River in Virginia, between Williamsburg and Richmond, lies one of the first great estates in the New World called the Berkeley Hundred. It later gained notoriety as the home of the Harrisons: the family of a signer of the Declaration, two American Presidents and two Governors.

In 1619, 38 men from Berkeley Castle in Glouscestershire England formed the Berkeley Company and received a grant of 8,000 acres in Virginia. They sailed England on the small ship Margaret. It was an arduous three-month voyage. Finally, on December 4th, 1619 they arrived at their New World destination. Captain John Woodlief and Anglican missionary George Thorpe led the troop ashore and then, followed the orders they had been given in England. And, what were they to do? Observe a time of Thanksgiving to the Lord. A plaque states, "The first official, annual Thanksgiving in America was observed by Berkeley’s brave adventurers on December 4, 1619." This Thanksgiving was celebrated more than one year before the Pilgrims set foot on New England’s shore.

A much larger addition to the Berkeley Hundred was drafted from England in 1622, under the guidance of George Thorpe and Richard Smyth, son of John Smyth of Nibley. The Hundred, with the exception of a boy and girl, who escaped to the bushes, was annihilated in the Jamestown Massacre of 1622, in which so many of the other colonists lost their lives. The "Hundred of Barkley" was not immediately abandoned in consequence of the disaster. Richard Smyth escaped as he chanced to be elsewhere.

Richard appears to have been thoroughly discouraged with his experiences in Virginia. He removed, thence, to Plymouth Colony and settled for a time at Taunton, where he was an original purchaser and settler in 1638, and helped to establish the very first ironworks. But "many differences arising," he didn't tarry there long and soon removed to the Narragansett area of Rhode Island.

Another of my ancestors, Roger Williams came to Cocumscussoc around 1637. (Cocumscussoc. Its meaning and its spelling vary, it is tricky to pronounce and impossible to recall, but it designated an area that was destined to become one of the most significant spots in the history of Rhode Island.) Roger learned the Narragansett customs and language and established a trading post on land bought from his friend Canonicus, great sachem of the tribe. This transaction affirmed his belief in fair compensation for Native American land. Williams's other liberal ideas of religious tolerance and separation of church and state were to be key contributions to American political thought.

In 1638, Richard was made a citizen of newly settled Portsmouth Colony of Rhode Island. It was possibly through Williams's influence that Richard became interested in the Narragansett country. Probably as early as 1637, and not later than 1639, he established his trading post not far from the similar post of his friend. He bought from the Narragansett Indians 30,000 acres on the west side of Narragansett Bay, becoming the first white man to settle in Narragansett. Later he speculated in other large purchases or long term leases. One instance of how business was done in those days was his lease for 1000 years of a certain tract of land, payment to be one red honeysuckle every midsummer's day, when lawfully demanded.

His close friend and neighbor, Roger Williams, built a trading house about one mile from Richard Smith around the year of 1644. He often preached to the Indians at Smith's block-house. When Roger Williams went to England on colony business, he raised the necessary money by selling "all his belongings, including two big guns and a small island for goats" to Richard Smith in 1651 for £51. Testimony to Richard was given by Roger years later (July 24, 1679) as follows: "Being now near to four score years of age, yet (by God's mercy) of sound understanding and memory, do humbly and faithfull declare that Richard Smith, Sen. deceased, who for his conscience toward God left a fair possession in Cloucestershre and adventured with his relatives and estates to New England, and was a most acceptable and prime leading man in Taunton in Plymouth Colony, for his conscience sake (many differences arising) he left Taunton and came to the Nanhigansick country, where (by the mercy of God and the favor of the Nanhigansick sachems) he broke the ice (at his great charge and hazard) and put up, in the thickest of the barbarians, the first English house amongst them. I humbly testify that about forty-two years from this date he kept possession, coming and going, himself, children and servants; and he had quiet possession of his housing, land and meadows, and there in his own house, with much serenity of soul and comfort, he yielded up his spirit to God in peace."

A third post was set up by Edward Wilcox, another of my ancestors. Prior to 1649 the Indians could get liquor at Richard Smith's trading post, but Williams, at considerable economic sacrifice, refused to sell it to them except for medicinal purposes. When in 1651 Richard Smith purchased Roger Williams's trading house, he became the sole owner of the property at Cocumscussoc, having already acquired Edward Wilcox's interest in the trading center.

Richard continued to increase his holdings, and Cocumscussoc soon became a center of social, political, and religious activities. Richard erected a house for trade among the thickest of the Indians, and gave free entertainment to travelers. The new structure was more than a "house for trade" and a lodge for travelers. It was built as a blockhouse, part trading post and part fort, constructed, according to tradition, of timber floated from Taunton, down the river and across the bay. In those days of possible Indian hostilities, a large fortified dwelling was sometimes called a castle. Consequently, the structure came to be known as "Smith's Castle," a name that even up to the present has been used synonymously with Cocumscussoc, though the building is completely changed in form and function. No visible traces of the blockhouse remain, nor is any architectural plan or design known.

Under the hospitable roof of Smith's Castle have gathered notables—Roger Williams, William Blackstone, Governor Winthrop, George Fox the Quaker, Dean Berkeley the philosopher, Smibert the artist, Rev. Dr. MacSparran, Sir Edmond Andros and others like Benjamin Franklin, General Lafayette, General Nathanael Greene of Revolutionary fame.

It was some time before Smith was ready to settle his wife and children at Cocumscussoc, although he kept coming and going with his children and servants. It was a trading post, 50 miles from any settlement, and in a neighborhood abounding with dangerous savages. Leaving the blockhouse in the hands of agents, visiting it only occasionally, for several years he shifted his family about between Taunton, Portsmouth and New Amsterdam. Lured to Long Island by the attractions of land speculation he moved to what is now the Borough of Queens where he acquired large land holdings from the Dutch proprietors. Richard and his family spent about 20 years among the Dutch on Manhattan Island. While residing in New Amsterdam in 1643, the Smiths met the family of Lodowick Op Dyck. Within the year a son, Gysbert [Gilbert], had married Richard Smith's daughter, Katharine in the Dutch Church at New Amsterdam.

During all this time Richard Smith continued his Narragansett Indian trading house, making frequent visits there with some of his family, being himself skipper of his good sloop Welcome and occasionally appearing before the Dutch Council at New Amsterdam for protection of his rights or on questions connected with his trading. Richard is reported to have kept a house in New Amsterdam for trading advantage, and in all likelihood brought Dutch and German wares into Rhode Island to exchange for furs or other goods.

Presumably it was in 1651, or some time after Richard had purchased Roger Williams's house, that he brought his wife and younger children to Cocumscussoc to live. They probably moved into the Williams house, which was enlarged to suit the needs of the family and servants. It is highly probable that the blockhouse also was used to some extent for living quarters, as well as a center of trade, and a "resting place and rendezvous" for all travelers along the Pequot Path.

In purchasing Williams's property, Smith acquired besides the house, "two iron guns or murderers there lying," which surely strengthened the defenses of the blockhouse, together with "fields and fencing" and "the use of the little island for goates." Whereupon the new owner proceeded to "mow meadows," and "improve the land." [Smith's Castle as it appears today at right.]

While it is known that Roger Williams's trading house which Richard Smith acquired in 1651 was in close proximity to the blockhouse, its precise location has not been determined. In the absence of a title deed, which is believed to have been lost by fire, there has been considerable speculation as to whether it was the building enlarged by Smith on the present site, burned by the Indians in 1676, and subsequently rebuilt, or another building nearby. The former has been generally accepted as the plausible view. But even though the specific site of the trading-house is in doubt, it is an undisputed fact that Roger Williams was an habitual sojourner at Cocumscussoc.

From these endeavors, Cocumscussoc began to emerge as a "plantation"—in the sense of the South's use of the term—a major agricultural enterprise expanding through the years, the first of its kind in Narragansett country. It is safe to assume that Smith acquired some of Roger Williams's swine and goats for breeding stock, and possible cattle and sheep from Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, or other sources, and that within the next decade he had built up substantial herds of some if not all of these animals. That during the lifetime of Richard Smith, Cocumscussoc was engaged in dairying on a considerable scale is a matter of record.

Although Richard's wife Joan may not have qualified as a typical dairymaid, she played a singular role in the dairy enterprise. Joan had brought with her from Gloucestershire the recipe for making the celebrated Cheshire cheese, and found time in her busy life, while providing for family and visitors, to supervise the converting of milk from the plantation cows into cheese, which, being fortified with cream, was of extraordinary richness and flavor. This proved to be the beginning of a new industry. So popular was the cheese from Cocumscussoc, as its superior quality became known, that the basic recipe was adopted by neighboring plantations, and through the ensuing years, great quantities were produced and marketed as Narragansett Cheese, both at home and abroad. Tradition has it that many of these cheeses were shipped from Smith's own dock in Mill Cove, probably the first shipping point in this section of the Colony, perhaps even during Joan's lifetime.

Two purchases of great tracts proved to be of special significance, both political and agricultural: the Pettaquamscutt Purchase of 1658, a tract about 12 miles square, and a smaller area adjoining it on the north and east known as the Atherton Purchase, acquired in 1659. Together they embraced most of the region commonly called the Narragansett country—including the whole of the present towns of South Kingstown and Narragansett, and portions of North Kingstown and Exeter. Richard Smith and his son Richard were partners in the Atheton purchase, along with Governor Winthrop of CT and Humphrey Atherton and others from MA. The expanded land holdings of the two Richard Smiths following the Atherton Purchase embraced all of the present site of Wickford village. Title to one large tract was in the form of a thousand year lease—tantamount to ownership—from Sachem Coginiquant, dated 1659, wherein the only lease-hold obligation of the two Smiths was "to pay on every mid-summer day [June 20] a Red Honney Suckell grasse" [red clover] if demanded. At their peak the Smiths' land-holdings comprised 27 square miles, an area nine miles long and three miles wide.

The Smiths' position as landowners was anything but secure, for they possessed questionable title to land over which there was no effective civil jurisdiction. The Narragansett country at the time was virtually a "no-man's land," coveted and claimed by three colonies, adequately governed by none. Massachusetts laid claim to the territory on the basis of a questionable grant which antedated Rhode Island's patent of 1644 by three months. Connecticut's claim, which involved the Atherton purchase, was reinforced by its royal charter of 1662, under which its lands, "extended easterly to the shore of Narragansett River." On the contrary, Rhode Island's Charter of 1663 extended its bounds westward to the Pawcatuck River which flows past the present town of Westerly. Massachusetts' claim was eliminated by the King's Commissioners in 1664, but the ensuing dispute between CT and RI was bitter and long.

For years the rival claims were batted back and forth by legal authorities—a succession of petitions and protests, boards of arbitration and special commissions. Smith's Castle was, in effect, during this period, the "unofficial capitol of the Narragansett country." Governor Winthrop of Connecticut and his wife Elizabeth were frequent visitors. The Atherton proprietors, gathered at the Castle in July 1663, addressed a petition to the Hartford magistrates for immediate annexation. The Governor's Council promptly responded by pronouncing Narragansett a "Plantation" -in the New England sense of the term-naming Richard Smith, Sr. selectman and Richard, Jr. constable, and "Mr. Smith's trading house was the place designated for the transaction of public business." The newborn jurisdiction was christened Wickford (limits undefined), after Elizabeth Winthrop's birthplace in Essex, England. Further steps in the organization of Wickford were taken the following year when the Council designated Richard Smith, Sr. a "commissioner," and prescribed a local militia.

All this infuriated the Rhode Island authorities. In 1664 Richard Smith was ordered before the General Court of Trials on a charge of seeking to bring in a foreign jurisdiction, and Richard, Jr. received a similar summons. Later a warrant for the arrest of Richard, Jr. (the records read Richard, Sr., apparently by error) was ordered for unlawfully exercising the office of constable under a CT commission.

On May 14, 1664 he wrote to Captain Edward Hutchinson (another of my ancestors), at Boston, requesting it be made know to the Connecticut government. He complains of John Greene, Sr., being taken from his house at Aquidneset by warrant from Rhode Island, and adds: "Sir, it will be necessary for you to give Connecticut intimation of their proceedings for we may be easily overturned by them, if they stick not by us."

Nothing, it seems, came of any of these attempts. Probably a letter previously received from King Charles II recommending the elder Richard to the kindness and protection of the Providence authorities, along with the intercession of Roger Williams, saved the Smiths from harsher consequences. Midst the bitter confrontations and months of wrangling, Williams was hard pressed to prevent the forcible expulsion of the Smiths by a neighborhood mob.

Under such circumstances, the elder Richard Smith's closing years were sorely lacking in harmony. Added to the political turmoil, in 1664 he was bereft of his wife Joan. Nor did he live to see the Connecticut controversy resolved. Two years after he had lost his wife his own death occurred at Cocumscussoc. The rugged old planter-trader was buried in the family cemetery just off the Cove within sight of the Castle, his grave marked by a small pointed slate stone bearing the modest inscription "R. Smith 1666." A mural tablet in St. Paul's Church in Wickford, erected in 1903 to the memory of Richard Smith, recites the highlights of his eventful career. "he led a sober, honourable and religious life," it reads, and closes with the words of Roger Williams: "In his owne house with much serenitie of soule and comfort ye yielded up his spirit to God (the Father of Spirits) in peace." His will reads:

In the Name of God, Amen. The fourteenth day of July in the year of Our Lord, one thousand, six hundred, sixty and four, in the Sixteenth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord, Charles the Second by the Grace of God of England and Scotland, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Father, etc. I, Richard Smith, of Wickford, in the Narragansett Countrey, in New England, Yeoman, being in health of Body, and of good and perfect memory, (Thanks be unto God) Do make this my last Will and Testament, and I do hereby revoak and renounce all former and other Wills and Testaments whatsoever heretofore by me made, by Word, Writing or otherwise And make and ordain this to be my very true, last Will and Testament, and no other Concerning my Lands, Chattels, debts, and every part and parcel thereof, in manner and form as followeth.

First: I Commend my soul to Almighty God, and to his Son Jesus Christ, my Saviour and Redeemer, by whom I have to obtain full pardon, and remission of all my Sins, and to Inherit Everlasting Life. And I will that my Body be decently buryed by the Discretion of my Executors hereunto named.

Item. I will that my debts which I shall owe unto any Person or Persons at the time of my decease either by Law or Conscience be well and truly Contented and paid, within Convenient time, out of my Goods and Chattels.

Item, I give unto my Son Richard Smith all my Right, Title and interest of, in and to my Dwelling house, and Lands thereto belonging, Situate, being and lying in Wickford aforesaid, and is bounded on the Southwest by Annoquatucket river, and by the Lands of Capt. William Hudson, Northeasterly and on the East by a fresh river or brook and Creek and Cove.

Item, I give unto my Son the s'd Richard Smith, all my right title and interest of, in, and to my propriety of Lands lying in Cunnanicot Island and Dutch Island, with the privileges and appurtenances to them or either of them belonging or in any way appertaining.

Item, I give unto my daughter Elisabeth, wife of John Vial of Boston, Vintner, all that my Share, which is a oe Third part of Land lying on the Southerly side of my son, Richard Smith's two thirds part of a tract of land lying on the Easterly side of the aforesaid fresh river, or Brook, and Creek and Cove, Commonly Called by the name of Sagag. Item, I will that all my share and part in the Great Neck of Land beyond Capt. Edward Hutchinss house, Westward and Southward and all the rest of my share of Land belonging to that purchase And also my share of Land of the last purchase and all my Cattle, Horses, Mares, Sheep, Goats, & Swine and all my Goods and Debt whatsoever to me appertaining be (after my decease) Divided into Four Equal parts and portions, the which after my debts paid & funeral Charged thereout, I give and bequeath as followeth. That is to say. To my son Richard Smith, and his heirs, the one fourth part or portion thereof, and to my Daughter, Elisabeth, wife of John Vial and her issue, I give one other Fourth part thereof, and to my Grand Children, the Children of my dec'd daughter Katharine, sometime wife to Gilbert Updike, one other forth part thereof to be Equally Divided amongst them. And to my Grand Children, the Children of my deceased daughter, Joan, sometime wife to Thomas Newton, one other fourth part thereof to be Equally divided amongst them my S'd Grand Children, parts to be paid to each of them, Viz. To Each of my Grandsons as they Come to the age of Twenty one years; And to Each of my Grand Daughters as they Come to the age of Eighteen years, or on day of marriage which shall first happen, And in Case that any One of my Grand Children, the Children of my daughters Katharine and Joan, do Dyue before they come to be of the age aforesaid or Marr'yd, then such part or share, as should have been to such deceased, shall be to the Survivours of them, part and part alike to them to be divided.

Item, I make and ordain my sons, Richard Smith, and John Vial, to be my full whole and only Executors of this my last will and Testament. And my Well beloved Friend Capt. Edward Hutchinson of Boston. [Here the document is torn.] Before John Leverett Assistant, Entered and recorded at the request of the s'd Vial the 22d. of August, 1666. Robert Howard, Not. Pub., An attested Copy.

After Richard's death, Roger Williams wrote: "I humbly testifie yt about forty years (from this date) he kept Possession comming and going himselfe Children and Servants and he had quiet Possessien of his Howsing Lands and medow, and there in his own howse with much Serenity of Soule and comfort he yielded up his Spirit to God ye Father of Spirits in Peace.

"I do humbly and faithfully testify (as aforesaid) yt since his departure his hon'rd Son Capt. Richard Smith hath kept Possession (with much acceptation with English and Pagans) of his Father's howsing lands and meadows with great improvement, also (by his great Cost and Industrie) And in the Late bloudie Pagan War I knowingly testifie and declare yt it pleased the most High to make use of himself in person, his howsing his goods corn Provisions and Cattell for a Garison and Supply to the whole Army of N. England under the Command of the Ever to be hon'rd Gen Winslow for the Service of his Ma'ties honor and countrey of N. England."

Signed Roger Williams
Nahiggonsik 24 July, 1679

A petition of the inhabitants of Narragansett to the King (dated July 29, 1679) states very much the same matter as the testimony of Mr. Williams. "About forty-two years since, the father of one of your petitioners, namely Richard Smith, deceased, who sold his possession in Gloucestershire, and came into New England, began the first settlement of the Narragansett country (then living at Taunton, in the colony of New Plymouth) and erected a trading house in the same tract of land where now his son Richard Smith inhabits, not only at his cost and charge, but great hazard, not without the consent and approbation of the natives, who then were very numerous, and gave him land to set his house on, being well satisfied in his coming thither, that they might be supplied with such necessities as aforetime they wanted, and that at their own homes, without much travel for the same. The said Richard Smith, being as well pleased in his new settlement in a double respect, first that he might be instrumental under God in the propagating the gospel among the natives, who knew not God as they ought to know him, and took great pains therein to his dying day; secondly, that that place might afford him a refuge and shelter in time to come for the future subsistence of him and his." The petitioners state that there were no English living nearer to him that Pawtuxet, near twenty miles from his house.

The most exciting days at Smith's Castle, however, occurred after Richard's death when it became the military headquarters of the whole New England army of 1,000 men from Massachusetts, Plymouth and Connecticut both before and after the Great Swamp Fight of King Phillip's War. This battle, fought near Kingston in a freezing blizzard, resulted in victory for the white men and the beginning of the extermination of the Narragansetts. Forty of the colonists killed are buried in a common grave near the house. It is located about 1 1/2 miles north of Wickford on Post Road U.S. Route 1 opposite Police Barracks, between Wickford and East Greenwich.


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