As my daughter Terry and I were strolling through Potowomut we were reflecting upon Warwick’s many assets. The city, we concluded, boasts of many beautiful vistas as well as a rich history. Its beauty extends along the shoreline from Pawtuxet to Potowomut. Its heritage goes back to the early colonial period, where Native Americans traded and lived in peace and harmony with the early settlers. For many years the Greene and the Brown families contributed greatly to the development of Rhode Island and the United States. The city also boasts of many fine educational institutions both public and private.
One area in the city provides us with a view of all its assets. This is the beautiful section along the Potowomut River also known as the Greene River in Potowomut. Called the “land of fires” by the Narragansett Indians, it became the estate of Richard Greene, a notorious Tory. The land and the building were given to Hope Brown Ives by her father and her uncles. In time, the Brown, Ives and Goddard families all contributed to the large estate.
Today, thanks to the foresight of members of the Rocky Hill School, it continues to be an actual visual reminder of Warwick’s beauty and heritage. With the assistance of Gerry Unger, we are attempting to update the 1984 history of the area.
Not all members of Rhode Island’s early families were staunch patriots during the Revolution. Sometimes, members of the same family were divided in their loyalties. This was the case in the famous Greene family of Warwick. During the Revolutionary War, many of the Greenes were Quakers and refused to take part in the fighting. At the same time, that family provided us with General Nathanael Greene, our greatest general, and Richard Greene, a notorious Tory.
It was Richard Greene who lives in this beautiful home, now called Hopelands or Rocky Hill School. He could trace his ancestry to John Greene, who was one of the original proprietors of Warwick.
In July 1654 John Greene and other Gortonists negotiated to purchase Potowomut from the Indians. The “land of fires” is a loose translation of the Indian word for “that strip of land.” Its name was derived from the story that the Narragansetts would light beacon fires there to summon tribesmen to council meetings. Taccomanan, sachem or leader of the Potowomut group of Narragansetts, sold the land to the English for “the just sum of fifteen pounds dewly paid and received all ready in wampum peague….” In addition, Taccomanan was to receive the value of one coat “of such cloth as ye indeans do commonly use to wear” as an annual tribute. In the spring of 1655, Potowomut was divided by the Gortonists into 36 shares. The Greene family received four of them.
For the next 20 years there was no real settlement by the colonists on Potowomut and the Indians continue to use it as a hunting area. During that time, however, there was a great deal of exchanging of shares and the Greene family managed to get neatly all of the area.
The story of Hopelands will be continued.