Historic Homes

Carder Tavern/Pawtuxet part 2


In the early colonial period the bitterness and quarrels continued, resulting in giving the Massachusetts Bay colony a foothold in Narragansett Bay. It also resulted in Roger Williams going to England to obtain a charter. One of the worst crimes of this early period occurred when Massachusetts soldiers arrested Samuel Gorton and many of his followers and took them to Boston.

In time, however, the bitterness began to wane and eventually the Gortonists and the Arnolds and the Rhodeses began to live in peace. As the Rhodes family grew in stature and prosperity, they build a number of significant homes in the village, many of which still exist well maintained and well preserved. One of these, of course, is the Carder Tavern.

Pawtuxet Village is rich in colonial houses and historic places. One of the most fascinating of these old homes is the Carder Tavern that stands at 118 Post Road. This large, imposing, graceful structure dates back to 1740, when it was built by Malachi Rhodes II. In its entire 243 years of existence, it has always been owned by family members and is presently owned by Mrs. Knowles. In December 1983, L. Hazard Knowles, who until his recent death owned the Carder home, emphasized this as he traced his ancestry back to the Arnold, Carder, Aborn and Rhodes families. Mr. Knowles, of “Hap,” as his friends and neighbors referred to him, was long regarded as one of the most knowledgeable historians in Warwick. He had a deep love of the house and of the part it played in our history. An hour’s chat with Hap was worth more than one could get by plodding through volumes of old texts. Listening to him brought the past, alive and vibrant, to his house.

The land that the house is on can be traced back to the very beginning of Rhode Island’s history. According to Knowles, this land was owned by William Arnold. He contends that Arnold purchased the land form the Indians in April 1636, at least a month before Roger Williams settled in Providence. Much of the dating of land purchases and early settlements is still open to debate, and William Arnold remains one of the most controversial figures in Rhode Island history. Arnold was one of the most outspoken foes of Samuel Gorton, and in some instances of Roger Williams. Gorton, Arnold and Williams all lived to be over 80 years of age, and even in their advanced years the bitterness and quarrels of the three never fully ended.

Arnold’s four children lived with him for a period of time in Pawtuxet. One of his sons, Benedict, moved to Newport, where he became Rhode Island’s first governor form 1633-1666. Arnold’s daughter, Joanna, married Zachariah Rhodes, who very early had moved into Pawtuxet at the invitation of his father-in-law. Zachariah and another of Arnold’s sons, Stephen, built the first grist mill in Pawtuxet. In 1740 Zachariah’s descendant, Malachi Rhodes III, decided that it was time to build a home of his own and this lovely, stately house was built. Malachi referred to his 2 ½-story gable-roofed house with its paired interior chimneys as his “new house” in a document dating back to 1774.

Malachi’s post and beam structure boasts of four very large rooms on each floor as well as spacious hallways and seven large fireplaces. It remained a comfortable, private home for about 20 years and then, because of the size of its rooms and the demand of the times, it became a stagecoach stop and tavern. “Hap” Knowles made it clear that the function of a tavern in the colonial period was a great deal more than what the term implies today. He indicated that it was a welcome stop for weary travelers and a place to get fresh horses. While serving as the equivalent of our hotels and restaurants of today, it also functioned as a meeting place for town officials and a gathering place for the citizens of the area.

“In order to run a tavern, a man had to have a very good reputation and be a man of quality,” Knowles stated.

While the Rhodes family kept actual ownership of the house until 1838, the Carders, who were related, ran the tavern in Revolutionary times. The Carders were considered to be “men of quality.” They could trace their ancestry back to Richard Carder, one of the men who accompanied Samuel Gorton to Shawomet in 1643. Ironically, Carder, along with Gorton, Wickes and other settlers in Shawomet, was arrested and imprisoned by the Massachusetts Bay colony because Arnold and “the Pawtuxet men” placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the bay colony. Years later, the Carders, the Arnolds and the Rhodeses intermarried, and the Carders came into the possession of the house.

The Carder Tavern today presents a very pleasant addition to the charm of Pawtuxet Village and also serves as a good visual reminder of many of the significant events that took place in and around Pawtuxet in the late colonial period. The most dramatic of these events was the burning of the Gaspee, which took place at nearby Namquit Point (now Gaspee Point) in June 1772. Form the Carder Tavern it was only minutes to Stillhouse Wharf. It was here that Abraham Whipple and the crew that burned the Gaspee took their British prisoners. The light form the flames of the Gaspee illuminated the Carder house and, it has been said, Dr. John Mawney, the man who tended the wounded Gaspee commander, Lt. William Duddingston, was summoned from the tavern. The significance of the event, called “the first act of violence in the American Revolution,” had far-reaching effects. As Knowles pointed out, “This action prompted the formation of a committee of correspondence which, in turn, became the Continental Congress and a nation was born as a result.”

The tavern played host in the years that followed to important events and significant people. After the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, a group of Pawtuxet Rangers, Knowles asserted, decided to pay an impromptu visit to their wives and sweethearts as they had been away form home for a long while. The Rangers had hoped to take part in an action that would have driven the British form Newport, but Washington, if Knowles’ assumptions are correct, sent them to New York to help stop General Burgoyne and his large army of British regulars.

The story of the Carder Tavern will be continued.


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