Apponaug was one of Rhode Island’s important seaports during the late colonial period and continued to be until the Embargo Acts and the War of 1812 curtailed much of the trade. Many historians, such as Ernest L. Lockwood, wrote of the glory of the village in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Lockwood, in his memorable 1937 book, Episodes in Warwick History, wrote, “Apponaug Cove was the scene of considerable activity during the period when Jacob Greene & Co. shipped iron forging to ports throughout the country.”
Oliver Payson Fuller, in his 1875 History of Warwick, notes, “Jacob Greene & Co. here shipped their anchors from their forge in Coventry, and received their coal and black sand.” The black sand was brought in from Block Island and was important in the smelting of the iron ore. There was some competition for getting the sand in the 19th century as some foundries in New York also found the Block Island sand useful for their purposes. Jacob Greene & Company found their connections to the Littlefield family on Block Island useful in getting the amount of sand they needed.
Fuller places the Greene store “out in the water, off against Mrs. Remington’s lot, for convenience, perhaps in unloading merchandise from the sloops that entered the harbor. The water surrounded it.”
The Remington house at 3376 Post Road still stands today. This 2 ½-story federal dwelling was built by Henry Remington, who became a judge in the Rhode Island Supreme Court, circa 1800. Today, beautifully restored and renovated, the house is the Remington House Restaurant.
Another 19th century insight into Apponaug at the time of Jacob and Caleb Greene comes from the Reverend Henry Rousmaniere, a well-known clergyman and historian. Rousmaniere, whose “Letters about the Pawtuxet” were published in the Providence Journal in 1859, gave us a clear picture of Apponaug and Jacob Greene & Co. Rousmaniere says, “At this early period Apponaug was a lively, busy village. Vessels were entering and departing every day; its cove, or harbor, was nearly three feet deeper than at present. Greene had a store on the shore where he deposited his anchors, coal, black sand and other heavy articles....”
Both Rousmaniere and Fuller inform us that there were seven variety stores in the village at the same time as Jacob Greene’s. Fuller says there were also “several taverns, all of which kept liquor for sale at retail.”
In 1859 Rousmaniere interviewed Col. Peleg Wilbur who “was a clerk in his father’s store in Apponaug in the year 1793, and afterwards.” Rousmaniere tells us that Wilbur frequently saw Jacob Greene and other members of the Greene family. Jacob Greene, according to Rousmaniere, was a “large purchaser at Wilbur’s shop and usually settled annually, by payment of a small amount of money, and the balance in rum, sugar and molasses....”
Rousmaniere also says trade was conducted “between places on the river in sloops of fifteen tons” and that “Jacob Greene always embarked in the vessel that was freighted at Apponaug with the implements of his skill.” Much of the trade carried on was with Bristol, Newport and Providence where there was a steady market for the Greene anchors. Rousmaniere tells us, “Money was scarce, and they [the anchors] were exchanged for West Indian produce. Some of these foreign articles were transported to his shop in Coventry for the accommodation of his workmen.”
The Greene property was divided between Jacob and his brothers in June 1779. Jacob became the sole owner and manager of the Coventry forge and lived in the house General Greene had built in Coventry in 1774. Jacob divided his time between his duties at the forge and his interests in Apponaug. His zeal for business and his sense of responsibility brought him out in all kinds of weather and taxed his health on a number of occasions. Rousmaniere notes, “Jacob, in the prosecution of some urgent plans, was obliged to cross Narragansett Bay, on ice, from Apponaug to Bristol, during the inclement winter of 1780.” George Washington Greene, grandson of General Nathanael Greene, wrote concerning that winter, “Another dreary winter began; the severest and coldest of all the eight winters of the war. For the old men of my boyhood it was the standard of extreme cold, and when the wind was keenest and the snow deepest, they could find no stronger language to describe them in than to say that they brought back to their memories the fearful winter of 1780.”
Many reports have survived concerning the severity of the cold winds, the unprecedented snow of January 3, and the ice upon the bay. Rousmaniere says, “However incredible this may appear to modern readers, yet no fact is more clearly attested than the awful severity of that season...It was paralleled only by the calamitous winter of 1740.” Rousmaniere adds, “Heavily ladened teams on both occasions passed over the bay from the mainland to the islands.”
Once when a friend told Jacob that he “ought not to expose himself so often upon the voyages in order to dispose of anchors, he answered, in a melancholic tone, “I have no one to attend to it for me.” Jacob continued to manage the forge and accompany all his ships that left from Apponaug until his death in 1809.
During the period when Jacob Greene was most active in Apponaug, the village had grown in both size and prosperity. It was so dramatic a growth that many villagers felt this was the beginning of a great era for the village. Members of the Greene, Wilbur, Stafford and Arnold families waxed even more prosperous as the early 19th century progressed. The degree of success was so exhilarating that one contemporary stated very seriously, “Apponaug will yet be bigger than London.”
As Jacob prospered, so did his cousin Caleb Greene and members of the other prominent Warwick families. In June 1796, Fuller tells us, “the General Assembly granted permission to John Stafford to erect a tide mill, for the grinding of corn and other grains at or near the bridge.” The permission was granted to Stafford with the proviso, “provided that the mill dam be made and erected with suitable wastegates for venting the superfluous water, and in such a manner as not to back the water or otherwise injure the mills of Mr. Caleb Greene.” Stafford was also told to “leave open at all proper times, a suitable passage, not less than sixteen feet wide, in the said dam, for the passage of rafts and boats up and down said river.”
On Feb. 3, 1808, according to Warwick Land Evidence Book #15, pg. 213, Caleb Greene of Apponaug, who had inherited the “fulling mill” there from his father, Samuel Greene, made an agreement with his son Caleb Jr. regarding the mill property. The instrument reads: “I said Caleb Greene for and in consideration of the love, goodwill and natural affection which I have and bear toward my son Caleb Greene Jr. of the same town and county aforesaid, mariner – Have given, granted bargainedetc – unto him...a certain tract of land and water privileges situate in Warwick aforesaid and in that part called the fulling mill and is the same thereon my grist and sawmill now stands...”
Caleb Greene and his son on Aug. 11, 1809 sold shares in their mills and property to raise money to build a cotton mill. They granted the following shares: Jacob Whitman 10/40, Isaac Pitman 6/40, John Doris 5/40, William Lee 3/40, George Curon 1/40, Josiah Westcott 1/40, and the remaining 14/40 were held by Caleb Greene and Captain Caleb Greene Jr.
Oliver Payson Fuller, in his History of Warwick, tells us that the fulling mill in Apponaug “was followed by a cotton mill, run by a company, of which Capt. Caleb Greene, father of Mr. Albert D. Greene, was the agent.” Fuller describes the mill as being “of three stories, shingled on all sides, and remained, until about the time the Print works went into operation. There was also a saw and grist mill in operation near by, for some years.”
Part of the reason for Apponaug’s growth at this time was the almost constant move westward from Old Warwick. This was hastened during the Revolution when the British stopped the ferry service between Warwick Neck, Providence and Newport. Apponaug, along Post Road, was an important part of the overland artery that transported goods between Connecticut and Boston. When the war ended and the maritime trade increased, Apponaug Cove waxed prosperous. Once Rhode Islanders began to take part in the China trade and trade increased with Europe, unprecedented growth and prosperity came to the village and its inhabitants.
The story of Apponaug and Captain Caleb Greene, Jr. will be continued.