Rhode Island is very fortunate in having a number of well-preserved and maintained historic homes in Pawtuxet. Some of these date back to the mid-18th and early 19th centuries. Pawtuxet Village itself is a village that is envied by many other historic locations. Many very significant historic events have happened here and, fortunately, many Pawtuxet residents are very well aware of this and have kept its history alive. It is a gem among historical sites. Its lovely homes are a credit to those who have done so much to preserve their beauty and historical significance.
One of the most significant and interesting homes in my estimation is the Carder Tavern at 118 Post Road in the Warwick segment of Pawtuxet Village. The Knowles family still owns the house and when I first wrote about it in the 1980s I was privileged to make the acquaintance of L. Hazard Knowles. “Hap,” as he had been affectionately known, was a font of knowledge not only regarding the house but also many of the events of Warwick’s Revolutionary War history. Some of the history he told me was not shared by a number of other historians especially including one of his ancestors, the controversial William Arnold.
As we look at our early colonial history, we see that Pawtuxet, established by Arnold, was one of the first settlements at what we call Warwick. In order to understand a bit more about William Arnold, our early history and the Carder Tavern, we should look at Pawtuxet itself.
Pawtuxet is one of the most attractive villages in New England. It is unique in the fact that one section of the village is Cranston and the other in Warwick. Unlike other Warwick villages, it is situated in an area away from the 19th century mill sites and 20th century major arteries of trade and traffic. Thanks to its location and a number of historically-minded citizens, much of Pawtuxet exudes the charm and serenity of an early 20th century village, with a number of fine colonial dwellings and significant historical sites. The picturesque sign at the bridge today, which simply states “Pawtuxet River: One of the bounds of Providence mentioned in the Indian deed,” depicts a rather pleasant scene of Roger Williams being greeted by the Indians. The history surrounding the early 17th century settlement, however, tells us that the early years were far from serene. From the beginning of its long history, Pawtuxet was rife with controversy, deceit, forgery and even treason.
Controversy over the ownership of the land and the extent of the deed prompted a lifelong bitterness between the colony’s founder, Roger Williams, and William Harris, one of the first settlers. The history of the village and of Warwick was also greatly affected by the animosity between Pawtuxet’s leading citizen, William Arnold, and Warwick’s founder, Samuel Gorton. As the bitterness developed, Gorton moved into the area to escape from the harsh rule of the Puritans in Boston, actually asked to be placed under Massachusetts jurisdiction to stop Gorton from settling there.
A number of noted historians, including Samuel Greene Arnold, O.P. Fuller, Sidney S. Rider, George T. Paine and Howard Chapin, have attempted to gather the facts from early colonial records in order to explain the controversies and to evaluate the significance of the events. One of the major historians at the turn of the century, Rider, in 1904, charges that the original deed confirming Roger Williams’ purchase of the land from the Indians, dated 1638, was altered by William Harris and William Arnold in an attempt to extend their land holdings.
The first four settlers in Pawtuxet in 1638, according to 19th century historian Samuel Greene Arnold, were William Harris, William Arnold, William Carpenter and Zachary Rhodes. They settled in the area close to Pawtuxet Falls. The leader and patriarch of the early settlement was Arnold, the oldest and wealthiest of the original 13 purchasers of the Providence Plantations. Carpenter and Rhodes were his sons-in-law. Carpenter had married Elizabeth, the elder daughter of Arnold, and he, along with his father-in-law, was one of the Pawtuxet purchasers. Rhodes married Joanne, another of Arnold’s daughters, and very early moved to Pawtuxet.
In addition, the sons, Benedict and Stephen Arnold, joined the rest of the family in the area. Benedict Arnold quickly developed great skill in mastering the Indian languages and aided his father in establishing a trading post near the falls in Pawtuxet. Stephen Arnold and Rhodes are credited with building the first gristmill near the falls and laying out “Arnold’s Road” (Broad Street) northward to meet the Pequot Trail. Differences between Roger Williams and the Harris-Arnold factions concerning land ownership policies became very obvious, as the 13 purchasers wanted the Pawtuxet lands listed separately. This was so that newcomers would not get a portion of this territory as they had with the Providence lands. As events unfolded, the disagreements became more acute as Harris, Arnold and Carpenter acquired more lands in Pawtuxet form the other proprietors.
As early as July 7, 1640, attempts were made to draw a boundary line dividing Providence from Pawtuxet. One of the reasons was the fear that undesirable settlers might come to Providence and assume control of the government, thereby diminishing the role of the 13 original purchasers and jeopardizing their land claims. The most feared of these recent arrivals was Samuel Gorton. Arnold, on May 25, 1641, wrote that Gorton “showed himself an insolent, railing and turbulent person.”
Gorton and his followers, according to Arnold, were “ringleaders in disturbing the peace.” Gorton moved to the southern side of the Pawtuxet River, settling on the lands deeded to Robert Cole by Roger Williams and confirmed by Miantonomi. Gorton’s move to Pawtuxet greatly alarmed the Arnold faction as they feared the Gortonoges (as they were called by the Indians) would increase in number and assume control. Arnold was able to convince Cole to sever his relationship with Gorton and ally with Carpenter, benedict Arnold and himself in offering their lands to Massachusetts. These four did this on Sept. 8, 1642 and were accepted by the General Court of Massachusetts. The other original purchaser of Pawtuxet refused to go along with this, but Massachusetts claimed authority over Pawtuxet for the next 16 years. Gorton, an exile from Massachusetts, fearing arrest, felt compelled to leave Pawtuxet. As a result, he purchased Shawomet further to the south in October or early November 1642.
The story of Pawtuxet and the Carder Tavern will be continued.