The Rhode Island Cavaliers — 1626—1700
BY L. NELSON NICHOLS
Originally published in The Journal of American History, 1913
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THE PROBLEM of the Rhode Island Cavaliers is a new field in historical study. At least it has the condition of unpublished memoirs and uncollected data. In one sense it is ancient history, for the real Rhode Island Cavalier has disappeared into the American amalgamation of races and ideals of the nineteenth century. Many of its records, too, were never written. They were in the hearts and minds of its gentlemen, and in the blue blood in their veins. As collectable data, the time has gone past when much can be obtained. However, the Cavalier of Rhode Island was a real and positive character in the life of the Colony and first years of the State. The evidence is too strong and the recollections of living families too certain to doubt the fact of his existence.
Let us first see the historic field in which we shall have to look for this Cavalier. Charles I came to the throne in 1625. Cavaliers and London merchants had already begun the settlement of Virginia and the Carolinas, beginning with Wocoken in 1584, but only successfully since Jamestown in 1607. By 1625 the south region was becoming well known to explorers and settlements grew rapidly.
In the North, settlements were not as far advanced. Beginning with the unsuccessful trading settlement at the Kennebec in 1607 and the successful settlement of Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620, a Newfoundland experiment in 162, then Cape Ann and Saco in 1623, and Albany and Manhattan in 1624, New England and New Netherland could hardly be said to have had more than a beginning when Charles I took the throne.
This reign, which lasted twenty-four years, ending in 1649, saw an extensive migration to the shores on the western side of the Atlantic, and the beginning of movements that were epoch making. Bermuda had begun settlements in 1616. In the year of Charles’ accession settlements began at Barbadoes in the West Indies. The Dutch bought Manhattan the next year (T626) and established New Amsterdam. Salem, the same year, began the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In t629 the town of New Providence in the Bahamas was settled. New Hampshire towns were begun before 1630. From 1630 to 1640 the increase of Puritans in Massachusetts was considerable. Antigua arid Montserrat in the West Indies began settlement in 1632. Maryland began in 1633 ; Connecticut in 1635 ; Rogers Williams’ Providence Plantations in 1636; the Rhode Island Colony of Anne Hutchinson and Coddington in 1637; and the Swedes at New Sweden (now Wilmington, Delaware), in 1638. In 1641 there were English settlements made on the Schuylkill river and at Salem, New Jersey. In 1643 there were eighteen different languages spoken at New Amsterdam. During the ’40s Virginia grew extensively, and New England added mightily in numbers by the Puritans.
Then, in 1649, the Puritans conquered England, beheaded Charles I, and started a tide of Cavalier migration to Virginia, the Barbadoes, and the Bermudas. Along the Narragansett Bay and adjacent to the Baptist Colony of Providence Plantations, that had already granted religious liberty, there fled a few Cavaliers that constituted more than half of all of the Cavaliers that went into the northern Colonies in the Seventeenth Century.
In the more southern English Colonies the ascendency of Cromwell drove many families of opposite tendencies, some Cavaliers and some unsuccessful mercenaries. The South was not all Cavalier. Neither was New England all Puritan. The great majority of the people cared for neither principle. They were submerged, the unregenerate, the low caste peoples, swayed entirely by their passions, economic slaves, ignorant and vicious. Out of these, later families of some quality have arisen, but in Colonial days they were the majority in all the Colonies, in England and in all Europe.
In the Colonial South the upper classes were Cavaliers and Puritans, many of the latter, but probably more of the former. Certainly the greater power and influence in the South came from the Cavaliers. In Colonial New England the upper classes were also Cavaliers and Puritans, but with the Puritans greater in numbers and power. But the condition of the Colonies cannot be comprehended until it is understood that both Cavaliers and Puritans were in all of the Colonies, but both together outnumbered by servants, slaves, and the morally and mentally deficient constituting the lower non-Cavalier, non-Puritan classes.
In Virginia, where in a generation or two the ideals of the commonwealth became those of the dominant party, Cavalier, and in Massachusetts, where the ideals of that commonwealth became unqualifiedly Puritan, it is easy to forget that other elements existed genealogically in those Colonies. It is so simple to call Virginians Cavaliers and name every Massachusetts man a Puritan; and in a broader sense Virginia is today a great representative of what Christian democracy can do, interpreted through Cavalier ideals. Massachusetts is equally as great a representative of what Christian democracy can do interpreted through Puritan ideals.
It might occur even to the best of thinkers, if he were not well grounded upon the differences in Puritan and Cavalier philosophy, what difference it made to society and government whether a man was a Cavalier or a Puritan, outside of the particular point at issue in relation to Charles I. If men will rise above the brutish, slavish classes, what matters it if they decide to become Cavaliers or Puritans, or maybe even adopt some one of the philosophies of continental Europe?
And why emphasize the fact that Rhode Island had Cavaliers in a much larger proportion than Massachusetts and Connecticut?
These questions cannot be answered by a sentence or two. And in reality it can be answered two ways. One way might be to say that this is the Twentieth Century. The past is gone and irreparable. Rhode Island is not the same as a century ago, America is beyond its settlement and revolutionary stages, and England has far outgrown the struggles between one kind of people and another for the mastery. The results in all these cases are composites, with much added that is entirely new. This is a popular philosophy of the day. It has emanated from the slums, breeds in commercialism, develops in socialism, and results logically in anarchism. It would forget the past, only looking to the bounding success of the present, admitting no cause but individual effort or a grasped chance to raise the person or the nation or the army or the commercial enterprise to a temporary success. This is an ancient philosophy of despair, the heathen philosophy of chance existence that existed centuries before Christianity. It is the main philosophy of the undercurrents of society today, for not many are really Christianized yet.
But those who know that present social conditions have causes that run far back into the lives of persons and families that were ancestral to the men of power today, are willing to inquire into causes, respect the methods, and learning from previous errors, cut away the harmful, perpetuate the helpful, and tolerate or even enjoy the harmless detail of custom and habit.
Merrie old England was not so delightful a place after all. There were turmoils century after century. The only people of any power were a few thousand families scattered here and there over the realm. Under them were the slavish, ignorant thousands, many thousands more than their social superiors. There was no middle class except in rare localities for a century or two. A man was a gentleman or nothing. Every man with power could raise an army, and every army was a menace to his neighbor. The first excuse meant war wherein the serfs and villains were mowed clown in large numbers, and a few knights and gentlemen of honor reaped rewards or death. The chivalrous life became an essential feature of that civilization. A family was honored by the deeds of daring of its heroes. Coat-Armor became a thing of pride and the label of respectability.
The Norman invasion seemed but to supplant some Saxon families by Norman ones, and added slightly to the number of gentle families. It did more, however. It increased the spirit of Christian philosophy in a country that was nominally but not seriously Christian. The Celtic Christians had understood the philosophy of doing unto others (all others) as they should be done by. The Irish and later the Welsh, Cornish, and many of the Scotch clans had carried the new philosophy so far that the slavish masses were gradually diminishing, and the number of useful citizens and reliable leaders gradually increasing. Ethnographic and historic causes tended to prevent the rise of middle classes, and also produced the union of the Celtic churches with the great central power of Rome on the Continent. The Norman and his descendants compelled acquiescence to the one Church, and they also revived in Great Britain the philosophy that even the meanest can rise to something.
In the heathen world, in all great successful peoples, the power of the nobles was supreme, the masses were but serfs or slaves. The insistence in which the doctrine of Christ was taught to all classes of people in Great Britain after the Norman Conquest was alarming to many of the gentry. It was revolutionizing the minds of the people. It was making them uneasy. It promised them much they could never get through some of the scholars. Let the idle fools, the priests and bishops, prate. It would soon die out. The villains would be villains still. They were nothing. They could be nothing.
But this was not the talk of the better England. The country gentry, uncontaminated by the court gaity and the crass commercialism of London trade, dominated in the end. A century would wear out a family of London imitators of court life and degrade a commercial family through sins to the brutish masses again. Only the glitter of the temptation to other country people perpetuated the so-called higher court and society circles in London.
The ideals of the country gentry-rather than court ideals-were therefore perpetuated from century to century as England’s ideals. They were loyal to the Church. They believed in distinctive principle of tile Christian faith. They were willing to see the principle of love to all carried out practically among their own serfs.
Norman conditions were hardly amalgamated with Saxon conditions before signs were increasing of a decided change in the living of the lower classes. More and more the centuries had been learning a little at a tinge of the better way of living, until in the Sixteenth Century a most unheard-of condition was growing with every decade into alarming proportions. New families were rising into prominence with such rapidity that many of the old families were startled and alarmed.
The centuries since the Norman Conquest had worked marvels among the common people. No people in history had worked such wonders upon its lowest classes as had the British gentry. Had the old families of England been less wise (or maybe more wise), there might never have developed a new social class. The new families might have been absorbed in the social body of the men who made England. But the first few generations of the new families were not more than half civilized. This reformation that was going on in Great Britain in the two centuries before 1650 was the Puritan reformation.
The practical operations of this revival, through the diffusion of Christian ideals to the lower classes in Great Britain, added very greatly to the self-respecting population, made men out of brutes, placed reason instead of passion in authority over thousands of reformed human beings, and started hundreds of families, at first very imperfectly, but surely and safely, out of slavery to the rank, or at least to the quality, of the older English gentlemen. The imperfections of the developments of these new families are apparent to this day to any one who may study British and American social and economic life in any decade since Cromwell’s time.
Crassness, grossness, and mediocrity call now the same as two centuries ago with authority on every side. Money becomes increasingly a root of evil. The principles of Christian democracy that made these new families and their powers possible, degenerated in many cases into a swollen autocracy of the nouveau riche. Christian democracy stands appalled at its own work and is often tempted to fall back into a mediaeval attitude of respectable autocracy, disdaining its own work in raising the masses. And, too, these raw, undeveloped masses turn upon those who would uplift them, accuse Christian democracy of being cruel, heartless, and autocratic; sneer at the descendants of their teachers, and presume their half-thought-out ideas to be worth the ideals that have been ingrained in families for many centuries. Not all new families learn as poorly as the average new family appears to learn. Two generations only have often stood between a hopeless brute and a family of high character and Good standing. But the rule, instead of the exception, is only too apparent to all sociologists of Christendom.
But conditions are changing. The new learning, the new tolerance, and the ripening of the best of the Puritan families, have reacted for good upon the older families. Then, too, the half-growth of so many families, their greed and avarice, their temporary successes, and the startling wealth that has grown out of the new science with its new industrialism and its new gamhung chances, have been awful temptations to old and new families alike.
And in 1625 Charles I took the throne. Can you imagine the social condition of England? The new families were developing a newer England on the old soil. Their radicalism and imperfect ideas did not blind them to the economic faults, the mighty faults of the English government. Reforms and reformers sprang up everywhere, each with a grain of truth and a basketful of freakish eccentricities. With the new raw families it was the grain of truth that caught, and the eccentricities were adopted as a matter of course. What mattered it how eccentric were Jack Cade, and Thomas Cartwright, the Brownist preachers and the Anabaptist communisms? All had their followings, and all were developing more and more along eccentric lines that kept them out of sympathy with the Established Church of England, and out of sympathy with the government of England. The older English families retorted too often in bitter denunciations. Little effort was made to make over these new Englishmen into real Englishmen.
One result was inevitable. The new lands across the sea appealed to the new families. The old England was not much, sentimentally, to many of theta. They were a new creation. They needed a new world. But their going in large numbers from 1630 to 1645 to Massachusetts and elsewhere along the coast did not reduce the troubles at home. Charles was finding all kinds of ways for raising taxes. The Puritans were treated with harshness. The court life became increasingly immoral. The gentry of the country for the first time in English history was sneered at by London society for its simple virtues.
Then came the radical organizer, Cromwell, the one forceful character who could unite the new elements for a temporary fusion. And the crash came on poor old England and on the great families that had brought the country up to its high state of culture. There had been a great glory in being an Englishman at the opening of the Seventeenth Century. In art, literature, shipping, the comforts of life, agriculture, theology, and learning, the British came into the reign of Charles I on the top of the wave of European culture. When the time came that the Puritans tool: up arms against their king in his own country, it seemed to many that the upheaval must permanently ruin great and powerful England.
In London the court and society were naturally with Charles. The criminal classes were glad to ally themselves with Cromwell hoping that a change would in some way favor their fortunes. In the counties near London that knew the real workings of the court there was a great coolness of old families and also a great enthusiasm of the Puritans. In the west and north, where. England was yet the old respectable, unspoiled Britain, where London society influence was weak and the court little known, the old families rallied to the support of Charles with immense enthusiasm. In the west, too, the gentry were on better terms with the common people.
It is said that then in County Glamorgan the gentry were almost a unit for Charles and the common people always with the gentry. The west of England and South Wales held out to the last for the king. Though Charles refused theta the leader they wanted and brought in the imperious Prince Rupert; though Charles begged and pleaded for more money and soldiers than reason could allow: yet the gentlemen of the west gave their lives and fortunes to the cause, to be finally defeated by the Puritans and insulted by the king’s councilors. Finally they, too, revolted and would help no more.
In the despair that followed the death of Charles I and the accession of Cromwell many Cavaliers left England for the Colonies. This migration was mainly from 1649 to 1660. Virginia, the Carolinas and the West Indies profited much, but Rhode Island received few.
What kind of men the old Cavalier gentlemen of the west of England were is well described by Marie Trevelyn’s description of the old Welsh squires now only visible “in oil-painted portraits and curious silhouettes more or less touched with age,” “in ancient mansions and quaint old manor houses.” “Their hunting-crops are hung up in the wainscoted halls; their spurs untarnished by rust, undimmed by dust, swing from oaken pegs; their saddles and bridles are hustled with similar rubbish in the old saddle-room; their top-boots, scarlet coats, velvet caps, white breeches, and smart waistcoats are locked up in disused wardrobes, and down in the quiet old studies, where once they were to be found, but are known no more.” Some of them “were terrors in their way-so strong of lung that their voices could be heard afar off, and so sound of limb that their angry foot-stamp reverberated through the great hall, caused the clogs to start from their slumbers.” They “had an individuality of their own. They punctually headed the stately family procession to church the dais of high-backed pews, with railings and curtains on top of them, en closing the occupants in a room. He (to change the pronoun) was the very quintessence of punctuality and promptitude….He was always the first to put in an appearance at church, first on the field, in a ball room, in a funeral or at a wedding…. He called the middle classes his `good neighbors. In him the poor found their best friend…. His purse was ever open to those who were overtaken by unexpected losses, and his study was the confessional for all classes of the community.” They “lived in the hearts of the people, and were, in a manner, one of them. They were an easy-going, hospitable, race of gentlemen, who seldom went away from home, and then, perhaps, only Bristol, Bath or London. They believed in warming pans, and mutton broth thick with sliced leeks, and elderberry wine, and night-caps, and whipped cream with a ‘drop’ of port or spirit in it, and cordials and ginger brandy, and they like. They supported the Church and helped Dissent and very often went to hear the eloquent `itinerant dissenting preachers. There was an old-fashioned gallantry, too, in the squire then, as may have been seen when he took the pretty village lass by the tips of her fingers as though she were a born lady-and assisted her over a gutter, or out of a puddle. Contact with the people never injured the dignity of the squire of that day–on the contrary, it rather enhanced it.”
These are the kind of men that made up the New England Cavalier migration, centering at Newport and on the west side of the Narragansett Bay. Only a very few stayed with the Puritans in Boston or were scattered in the other settlements from the Penobscot to the Connecticut towns. I have a theory that the influence of the gentry of Wales and the Welsh marches was predominant among the Rhode Island Cavaliers. What can be said of the Welsh gentry is equally applicable to the Rhode Island Cavalier-in a greater degree than in the Southern Colonies, where London traders and friends of the court were most common.
Long before the war broke out in England, each Colony was having its troubles between parties that favored the king and those that favored the Puritans. In many cases the alignments were peculiar. The settlement at Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1637 and 1638 which ripened into the Rhode Island Colony was not the least peculiar of the Colonial quarrels.
Later discussions, particularly of a theological nature, have misinterpreted the causes that entered into the making of the Rhode Island Colony. The founding of the Rhode Island Colony was a very distinct thing from the founding of the Providence Plantations. Roger Williams and the men of the Providence Plantations (which was begun in 7636) were Massachusetts Puritans of a more advanced or eccentric type. As a community, the Colonial Providence was essentially Puritan, though the church organization was called Baptist.
Recall now that the present State of Rhode Island has a bay, the Narragansett, that projects up into the centre of the State nearly three-fourths of the distance to the northern boundary. The Providence Plantations were at the head of the bay.
In 1637 and 1638 another party carne to the Narragansett Bay from Massachusetts and settled on Aquidneck, or Rhode Island, the largest island, and lying on the east side of the bay. The colony became established in 7638 at Portsmouth on the north end of the island. These had also been driven out of Massachusetts, but for a very different reason than Roger Williams. In the main the men of Portsmouth were a very different class of men socially, intellectually, and genealogically. Most of them were members of old families of England or Wales. Carried away by the spirit of adventure to new settlements beyond the seas, or caught in the whirlpool of growing social discontent that was sweeping over England with the rise of the new families and their Puritanism, there were young men who drifted out to the colonies whose hearts when matured were with the older families, the older England, and the king.
They were distinctly loyal. When Massachusetts reflected the policies of the Puritans at home, William Coddington and others resented the constraint of the liberties that the old England was accustomed to. The few Cavaliers threw their allegiance to the defense of a woman who was preaching opposition to the theology as believed by the leading preachers of Massachusetts. This woman, Anne Hutchinson, intensely radical in Massachusetts, and increasingly so in Rhode Island and in New York in her later years, was the centre of the movement that collected most of the voting men of the older families of England resident in Boston in 1637. It was an early skirmish of the Puritans and Cavaliers; but it was a decided Puritan victory.
Not all the Cavaliers of New England were collected together. Symonds and a few others stayed in Boston. Nichols at Stratford, Connecticut, Mason, of New Hampshire, and the few other Cavaliers back of Boston were undisturbed by the Boston furore raised by Anne Hutchinson and the Cavalier leader, William Coddington. But most of the Cavaliers then in Massachusetts were drawn into the trouble. They were expelled and founded the town of Portsmouth, on Rhode Island.
To those who have believed that the Rhode Island Colony was radically Puritan this might be considered to be an attempt to stretch a point to find Cavaliers in Rhode Island. For that reason I will step from general statements to genealogical particulars to prove the stand that is taken.
William Coddington, the leader of the Cavaliers at Boston, founder of the Rhode Island Colony (as distinct from Roger Williams’ Providence Plantations), was of the old Coddingtons of Lincolnshire. He came to Massachusetts, not as a Puritan, but as an official appointed of the crown. He was a magistrate to represent the king at Salem. He opposed the Governor Winthrop’s Puritan party bitterly. When the Massachusetts Colony attempted to prevent Acne I-Iutchinson’s tirades Coddington led her defense.
Her most detested doctrines were those that struck at fundamentals in Puritan theology, that a person must be first justified by faith and then sanctified by works. Her argument was that a person in a state of grace is already sanctified, has the Holy Ghost already in his heart, and needs not worry about the outward aspect of his works. Sir Harry Vane, and some of the most prominent Boston men, believed in her doctrines.
Coddington and his followers were not so much interested in these theological doctrines as they were in showing a deckled opposition to Puritanism. Even after the town of Portsmouth on Rhode Island was founded Governor Coddington was opposed by Roger Williams and John Clarke, the leading New England Baptists, and they finally drove him from power when Cromwell was ruler of England. Coddington was well known as a Royalist, and his activity for the ping was particularly offensive to those who wished to unite the Rhode Island and Providence towns into one colony and join a New England Puritan confederacy. Coddington had tried to form a New England confederacy, but with religious liberty and the recognition of Rhode Island as separate from Providence.
When Charles II came to the throne Coddington’s influence increased and lie was again chosen Governor. To be sure, he had in the meantime joined the Society of Friends, or Quakers, but so did many of the daring spirits of the day.
In New England we find many of the champions of the king allied with the Friends, and in times of war the fighting Quaker was a common instance, in spite of his creed. In secondary affairs, in local matters, he could ally himself with the Friends.
As for Anne Hutchinson, she was intensely Puritan, intensely independent, and cared nothing for constituted authority in England or America. After Coddington and the gentlemen who had helped her in Boston had built a colony in which she could preach unmolested, she turned against them and after a few years she went on to Westchester, New York, where she was killed by the Indians.
The Coddingtons remained a prominent family in Rhode Island, where William Coddington, second, became Governor in 1683.
John Coggeshall was another of the English gentlemen who defended Anne Hutchinson in Boston and helped Coddington in founding Rhode Island, in 1638. Coggeshall was of the old family of Coggeshall, of Essex, England. Where Coddington was politically, there could also be found John Coggeshall. He was Governor in 1647, but died in office. His son, John, was Deputy Governor from 1686 to 1690.
Nicholas Easton was another of Coddington’s followers. It is not so certain about his family in Great Britain. His family are claimed both for Lymington, Hertfordshire, and for Wales. His attitude in America was unquestionably with the Cavalier gentlemen. He was chosen Governor at various times. His son, Peter, married Ann, daughter of Governor Coggeshall.
William Brenton, another of Coddington’s followers, was of unquestioned Cavalier connections in England, though his personal attitude in America was not shown except in his close alliance with Coddington. The Brentons were an old and wealthy family of Hammersmith, near London. He was Governor after Charles II came to the throne.
Doctor John Cranston, son of the Reverend James Cranston, a chaplain to Charles I, came to Newport and was made a freeman in 1644. He was one of Coddington’s followers and known to be unusually friendly to the king’s party. Cranston and William Dyer met the English Royal Commissioners at New York in 1664 to thank the king for the charter. Doctor John Cranston was chosen Governor in 1678, and his son, Samuel, was chosen Governor just twenty years later, in 1698.
Francis Brinley, who came to Newport during the Cromwellian ascendancy, was a young man of the Cavalier family of Brinley, of Datchet, in Bricks. His father, Thomas Brinley, was an auditor of the revenues under King Charles I and owner of various estates in other counties than Bucks. The family suffered reverses during the Puritan regime. Francis fled to Rhode Island, the home of religious liberty. He went back to England while Cromwell was yet in authority, but did not find conditions safe for him to remain there. He soon returned to America. The father, Thomas Brinley, did not come to America, and seems to have been restored to his office of auditor on the accession of Charles II., in 1660, but died the next year.
Francis Brinley, the immigrant, was in Boston the last years of his life and was buried at King’s Chapel. He wrote a book on the settlements about the Narragansett Bay. Francis Brinley had but two sons. The older son, Thomas, returned to London, but his only grown son came to Roxbury, Massachusetts, at which place that branch of the family established itself. The other son of Francis Brinley, the immigrant, was William Brinley, who settled in Newport, Rhode Island, and was one of the founders of Trinity Church, Newport. Butthe family ceased to exist very early in Rhode Island, for this William Brinley had but one grown son, also named William, who went to Shrewsbury, New Jersey, and became the ancestor of the New Jersey Brinleys. Henry Bull came from South Wales to Boston in 1635, was immediately involved in the troubles of Coddington, and went with him to Rhode Island in 1638. He was a Church of England man, but late in life allied himself with the Friends. For his third wife he married the widow of Governor Nicholas Easton. Bull was chosen Governor in 1685. His grandson, Henry Bull, was prominent in the Colony fifty years later, becoming the first chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, in 1749.
Edward Wanton was supposed to have a record in the Cavalier army before coming to America, but this cannot be proven. During the Cromwellian ascendancy he came to Boston and was at that time a Church of England man. He became one of the leaders in opposition to the persecution of the Friends and soon became a Friend himself. He removed to Scituate, in the Plymouth Colony, in 1660. Three sons, William, John, and Joseph, became prominent in the Rhode Island Colony. They started as Church of England men, but all went over to the Friends. William Wanton was in the local wars, established shipyards at Portsmouth, and became Governor in 1732. His brother, John Wanton, was known as the Fighting Quaker, but why more than the other Cavalier Quakers it is hard to say. They were all heretical when it came to armed loyalty and defense of constituted authority. John Wanton became Governor in 1734. Joseph Wanton’s son, Gideon, became Governor in 1745 ; and Governor William Wanton’s son, Joseph Wanton, was the last Colonial Governor of Rhode Island. The family had been so devoted to the king that Governor Joseph remained a Loyalist throughout the Revolution and was one of the greatest of the Americans opposed to the Revolution. He died in 1780.
A family of hardly less importance in Rhode Island than the Wantons were the Gardiners. George, Robert, and Edward Gardiner were of the already famous Cavalier Gardiners of England. These three brothers were descended from Sir Thomas Gardiner, of Collyngbyn Hall, whose brother, the Right Reverend Stephen Gardiner, was Lord Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor of England.
George Gardiner, who became a resident of Newport in 1638, seems to have been the most prominent of the Gardiner immigrants. He became a large land holder in Newport and across the bay in the Narragansett country. He held many positions of civil and military importance in the colony. George Gardiner married Sarah, the daughter of Paris Slaughter, the Lord of the Manor of Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire.
The descendants of George Gardiner have been unusually active in public life. John, the grandson of George Gardiner, became Deputy Governor in 1754 and chief justice in 1756. Sylvester and another John Gardiner were two of the most eminent men of the Narragansett country and delegates to the Continental Congress. Another Sylvester Gardiner became one of the Kennebec purchasers and his son, John, graduated at Glasgow University in 1755, studied law at the Inner Temple and was later attorney-general for the Colony of St. Christopher in the West Indies. Later he came to Massachusetts, where he was a member of the General Court until his death.
The present head of the family is our distinguished New York citizen, Colonel Asa Bird Gardiner, whose eminent services are too well known to repeat to his friends.
The Nichols family of Rhode Island belongs to the ancient family of Nichols of Glamorganshire, Wales. The family was established in Glamorgan during the Norman Conquest and was but remotely related, if at all, to the distinguished families of the same name in Essex, London, Connecticut, and Long Island.
Two of the Nichols of Glamorgan, Edmund and Thomas, were soldiers under Prince Rupert in the King’s army when Cromwell besieged and took Bristol, in 1645. The Nichols brothers were engaged in shipping. The conditions were so unsatisfactory under Cromwell that they sailed for America in their own ships and made Newport, Rhode Island, their home. Their ships took rum to Africa, trading it for slaves. The slaves were taken to the West Indies and exchanged for molasses. The molasses was taken to New England and made into rum, which in turn was carried to Africa for more slaves, and so on in the triangular route.
Edmund Nichols left no children, but Thomas Nichols left children, among whom were Captain Benjamin Nichols, of the Narragansett country, who continued the shipping interests, and Jonathan Nichols, who was Deputy Governor of Rhode Island in 1727.
William Freeborn and John Albro came to Boston together in 1634. Though they were by tradition Cavaliers, the proofs are hard to find. Only two small facts are known to uphold the tradition, but these are sufficient. William Freeborn allied himself with Coddington and went with him to Rhode Island, in 1638. John Albro was in Rhode Island when the downfall of the Croinwellian commonwealth occurred. Albro showed his pleasure at the downfall and was in sympathy with the accession of Charles II. William Freeborn became a Friend, but the Albros remained in the Church of England. John Albro’s son, Samuel, was warden at the church at Newport when it was established.
Edmund Calverly and John Rice seem to have come to America together, but when and from where it is not known, except that Calverly was in the King’s army, and probably John Rice was also. They came to the Narragansett country in 1661, just after the accession of Charles II. Both Calverly and Rice and their-families were in the Church of England at Narragansett. There have been many attempts to prove relationship between John Rice, of the Narragansett, and Edmund Rice, the founder of one of the most distinguished of the Massachusetts’ Puritan families, but the status of this Rice historical search at present would make the Puritan Rices of Hertfordshire ancestry, migrating earlier from Wales. John Rice, of Narragansett, seems to find no place in the Hertfordshire family. We prefer to consider him a Cavalier, and though the proofs are shadowy, we believe them sufficient.
There was a William Richardson who was a Cavalier, but which one of three performed the various circumstances of Cavalier attachment we cannot he certain. There were William the immigrant, William the son, and William the grandson. The son or grandson, or both, were Church of England men and one of them wrote a pamphlet in defense of the church in the Colonies and in opposition to Cromwell. The immigrant or his son was at one time a member of the Friends and buried as such in the Coddington burying ground. Most likely this was the immigrant. Either he or the son (it seems more likely the son) was one of Coddington’s assistants in founding the Colony and was antiPuritan. At any rate, the descendants of these Seventeenth Century William Richardsons are Scions of Colonial Cavaliers.
The north of England has produced many long family names ending in son. One of these is the family of Richardson. Another was represented in Rhode Island by Anne Hutchinson, or rather her husband, William Hutchinson. There is nothing to show that the Hutchinsons were a Cavalier family. Certainly Anne, the reformer, showed few traits, if any, of a lady of Cavalier family. What her husband’s family may have been is another problem that, at present, we are unable to solve. There is a great suspicion that there was something more than Anne Hutchinson’s ability to fight the Puritan theology that drew to her this brilliant and aggressive body- of young Boston Cavaliers. Her cause became theirs in Boston, but once in Rhode Island the Cavaliers were content, while she was all discontent. It may be that the Hutchinson men, like the Richardsons, were Cavaliers.
But if we are in doubt about Hutchinson, we are certain not only of Richardson but Wilkinson. Lawrence Wilkinson was a lieutenant in King Charles’ army at Newcastle when the Cromwellians took that town. Lieutenant Wilkinson’s property at Lanchester, in Durham, was sequestered by the Puritan Parliament and he fled to America, arriving here some time before 1648. His descendants have been Cavalier-like. One of his descendants, William Wilkinson, was an early librarian of Brown University.
We cannot ignore William Dyer in the list of Rhode Island Cavaliers, although it was not as a Cavalier gentleman, but rather as an ardent fighting Quaker, and enthused by Anne Hutchinson’s antinomianism that drew him into the company of Cavaliers. He was a London milliner who came to Boston in 1635 and became a radical supporter of Anne Hutchinson’s theology. He was clerk of the settlement at Portsmouth in 1638 and at Newport in 1639 and probably eight or ten years after that. He turned against Coddington and was captain of the Rhode Island forces upon the sea in 1653 during the threatened troubles with the Dutch.
His wife, Mary Dyer, was deeply imbued with the missionary spirit and made herself particularly obnoxious in England and Massachusetts. She courted martyrdom, and on June I, 1660, she was hanged in Boston for being- a Quaker.
With the rise of William Coddington again after the restoration of Charles II, William Dyer yet remained prominent in the colony. He was Commissioner, General Solicitor and Secretary at various times. It seems stretching a point to call him a Cavalier. It is stretching a point. He did some things in aid of the Cavaliers, but it was because he was anti-Puritan. His descendants have been among the most notable families of Rhode Island and their Cavalier connections in later generations are undoubted.
Another name that cannot be overlooked is that of William Aspinwall, of the Aspinwalls of Lancashire. He was one of the leaders in the defense of Anne Hutchinson of Boston, became a strong supporter of Coddington on Rhode Island, but returned to England. The Aspinwalls of America are not his descendants.
There were two of Coddington’s associates who appear to have been very closely associated. It may be they came to America together. They were Philip Sherman and his son-in-law, Thomas Mumford. Philip Sherman (ancestor of the late Vice President Sherman) was from Dedham, England, and bore the Arms of the Shermans of Suffolk, a family loyal to Charles I. Philip Sherman came over in 1634 and joined with Coddington in the opposition to the Puritan policies of the Colonial officers. When they went to Rhode Island, in 1638, Philip Sherman became Secretary of the Colony under Governor Coddington It was Philip Sherman who wrote the clause of the agreement in the organization mentioning their colony as “Loyal” (with a capital “L”) to Charles I.
The agreement began: “We, whose names are under (written do acknowledge) ourselves the Loyall sub (jects of his Majesty) King Charles.” About this time it became apparent that Thomas Mumford, who married Philip Sherman’s daughter, was a close friend of Sherman. Thomas Mumford was an opponent of Cromwell and was a Church of England man, though Sherman had joined the Friends.
From the strong hold that the Friends had on the sympathies of those Cavaliers it is very apparent that the membership of the Society of Friends and the members of the Church of England were on much better terms in Rhode Island than in Old England or the South. But the brand of Quakerism that Rhode Island produced had other features that were different from Quakerism in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, the Southern Colonies, and different even than the adjacent settlements of Providence Plantations and Nantucket. The Rhode Island Friend was loyal, as a rule, to kingly authority, and was willing to take up arms in opposition to those who defied the king. The early Rhode Island Friend was on most excellent terms with the Church of England.
I have shown that some of them were of Church of England families. Undoubtedly most of them were; but it is not safe to assume in any Colony that a churchman was necessarily a Cavalier and that a dissenter was Cromwellian. That may have been nearer true in Colonies like Virginia and Maryland, but in New England there were Church of England men who cannot be listed as Cavaliers. Such were the Narragansett church families of Jeremiah Brown, Michael Phillips, Joseph Smith, Buckmaster, and Keltridge.
The Rhode Island Colony founded by Coddington was essentially a lo ‘ ,,-al Colony and it was essentially Quaker. Neither will it do to assume that every one who went into that Colony before 1660 was a Loyalist. Only those who showed by deeds of heroism and devotion that they opposed the rule of Cromwell and wished the Stuarts back on the throne can be safely classed as Cavaliers on Rhode Island. It mattered not what sect they favored. It mattered least of all in Rhode Island, where religious liberty was a foundation stone of government.
And here it is well to repeat that Roger Williams did not found the Rhode Island Colony. He founded the Providence Plantations. Roger Williams had no authority over Rhode Island when Coddington and his associates made religious liberty one of its principles. Williams, eventually a Puritan, established religious liberty at Providence in 1636. Coddington, a Cavalier, then tried it in Rhode Island, in 1638. Later, and before Roger Williams died, the two Colonies united under the name of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations, continuing the policy of religious liberty.
This name, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, was carried into the Nineteenth Century, and the State had for most of the century two capitals, Newport and Providence. It was Rhode Island rather than Providence Plantations that developed the Narragansett country on the west side of Narragansett Bay, and here it was the Church of England established the Narragansett church that had such unusual strength for New England Episcopacy. The Narragansett settlers spread out to the west until they reached the Scotch Presbyterians of Voluntown, who had allied themselves with the Connecticut Colony.
Throughout the Narragansett country the Cavalier was pre-eminent. Loyalty to the king was so strong a sentiment that even when the Revolution came, led by that great Cavalier Washington, the new issues could not move many of the old Narragansett families from their loyalty to the king. There were some who fought under Washington before July, 1776, when the war was against Parliament, but who became lukewarm after the Declaration of Independence from the king, and would fight no more.
It was this sentiment that made West Greenwich and Coventry known as Tory towns.
No reference to Rhode Island and the Revolution is complete without reference to the great General Greene, second in importance only to Washington. [The Cavaliers cannot claim the great General Greene, from the Narragansett, whose activity was so important in winning the Revolution. Neither can the Puritans claim him. Greene’s ancestors of the Cromwellian era were noncombatant Quakers, taking no sides on the great issues of English politics.]
Long before 1700, the Narragansett country was settled by a group of Cavalier families. All along the west shore of the Narragansett there were large estates (quoting Alice Moore Earle), “owned by a comparatively small number of persons. Farms of five, six, even ten miles square existed. Thus the conditions of life in Colonial Narragansett were widely different from those of other New England Colonies. The establishment of and adherence to the Church of England, and the universal prevalence of African slavery, evolved a social life resembling that of the Virginian plantation rather than of the Puritan farm. It was a community of many superstitions, to which the folkcustoms of the feastdays of the English church, the evil communications of witch-seeking Puritan neighbors, the voodooism of the negro slaves, the pow-wows of the native red men, all added a share and infinite variety. It was a plantation of wealth, of vast flocks and herds, of productive soil, of great crops, of generous living; all these have vanished from the life there today.”
“Twelve days of Christmas were celebrated every year with great festivities in Narragansett. The fishing and fowling and hunting of rabbits, squirrels and partridges were interlarded with dinners and parties. Weddings among the great families were frequently attended by hundreds of guests. One of the greatest as well as one of the last of these gala days was given in 1790 by Nicholas Gardiner, `a portly, courteous gentleman of the old school,’ when six hundred guests were in attendance. Esquire Gardiner, `dressed in the rich style of former days, with a cocked hat, full bottomed white wig, snuff colored coat, and waistcoat with deep pockets, cape low so as not to disturb the wig, and at the same time display the large silver stock buckle of the plaited neck cloth of white linen cambric, small clothes, and white-topped boots, finely polished.”
There were many families that settled around this Narragansett bay that represented the families of the older, the Loyal and Cavalier families of Great Britain. It is only from lack of evidence at hand that they are not all credited as Cavaliers. We know there were others. It is not hard to guess who some of them were.
But the proofs are lacking. As a sample of probable Cavaliers there were the Tanners. Nicholas Tanner, of Swansea, Wales, and Swansea, Massachusetts, was probably father or grandfather of the brothers, John and James Tanner, at Newport. Nicholas was probably brother or father of William, of South Kingstown, who was father of William, of North Kingstown, and maybe, also, of Thomas Tanner, of Cornwall, Connecticut. [A published conjecture that the early Tanners were Baptists and Cromwellians has no basis of evidence. As they do not appear in America until after the death of Charles I it would seem more likely they were Cavaliers.]
We have given specific cases showing how eighteen Cavalier immigrants founded families in Rhode Island. It is as certain that eighteen was not half of the number of Cavaliers who settled in Rhode Island as that Coddington rallied around him the Cavaliers of Boston, and that Coddington, the Cavalier, and not Anne Hutchinson, was the founder of the government and settlement of Rhode Island. It is certain, too, that the sentiments of the Cavalier were very strong in the Colony and State until about 1800.
It is perfectly true that the wealth, the vast flocks and herds, the productive soil, the great crops, and the generous living have vanished from the life of the Narragansett country. After the Revolution it became known to the people along the Atlantic coast that there were vast areas in the interior, west of the Catskills and the Alleghanies, that were as rich, maybe far richer, than the seashore acres, where stony hillsides and salt marshes were too common. Besides this the old Indian population was nearly extinct over vast western areas. The tales of the rich Indian fields of the Iroquois Confederacy in central and western New York that were told by returning soldiers of Sullivan’s army were almost unbelieving but wonderfully alluring.
The soil of Rhode Island was not equal to that of England and South gales, and under the old style of farming when the soil was not strengthened, it took only about a century to produce an industrial revolution. The old families would not stay on the soil where with slaves and Indians and free negroes and white servants to support, the profits became less and less, and gradually faded away. New generations made new conditions. The negro and Indian populations were turned adrift to shift for themselves. The old plantations were sold off into small farms to those who were once servants.
Many of the new generation of old families went west and scattered, oh, so thinly, over a vast area three thousand miles long by a thousand miles wide. Others went into the towns in commerce and the professions. The growing cities of Boston, New York, and Providence needed the genius and intelligence, loyalty and devotion of the Cavalier families. In surprisingly large numbers they became urban rather than rural within the limits of a single generation.
The Rhode Island Cavalier has not changed, but he has moved. The soil which for a time perpetuated the old ideas of loyalty, and the customs of the older England, knows them no more. It is a wonderful picture in human history, this picking up of a little party of human beings by the hand of God and scattering them widely, very widely, like grain across a rich and fertile field.
The Southern Cavalier had another mission to work out. His was the working out of the peculiar and necessary problems that only the combination of Cavalier and negro, freedom and culture, loyalty to home and institutions, a warm climate and peculiar crops could produce. The value of the South in the past and present was and is of incalculable benefit to American civilization.
But the Rhode Island Cavaliers have in the same proportion been valuable, scattered though they are. The new generation of Rhode Island Cavaliers ripening into manhood in the opening years of the Twentieth Century hardly knows that it is of Cavalier stock. But it does know wherever it lives that there is inherent in its instincts a high sentiment, a regard for the things that count high in the cultured world, an intense loyalty to one’s own, and a keen devotion to ideas.