Celebrating Warwick's founders
Warwick's unique cast of settlers remembered at city's 375th anniversary event
In celebration of the 375th anniversary of the founding of Warwick, the Warwick Commission on Historical Cemeteries presented a series of “Readers Digest” biographical reports on some of Warwick’s founders and most storied residents throughout colonial and early modern American history. The event drew a full crowd last Wednesday evening at Warwick Public Library.
Those profiled included military officers, farmers whose original land make up large parts of present-day Warwick and a smattering of smugglers, politicians and even a man who was kidnapped by Native Americans as an infant only to be (allegedly) traded back for a big red pumpkin.
Some of the historical figures are described below:
Samuel Gorton (1593 – 1677)
One of the original founders of Warwick
Buried in Governor Samuel Gorton Lot off Samuel Gorton Avenue
Considered to be a “bit of a troublemaker,” Samuel Gorton came to America from Lancashire, England in 1637 and first settled in Plymouth Colony.
Gorton was quickly ousted by the Puritans for his non-conforming religious and societal beliefs, such as the ideas that women and Native Americans deserved human rights similar to white men, that heaven and hell existed only in the heart and the soul and were not physical places and that separation of church and state could be a valuable concept.
Gorton fled to Portsmouth, but was whipped and thrown out of there as well after he defended his wife for her heinous crime of smiling whilst in church. He followed Roger Williams to Providence hoping for more tolerance but encountered more adversity. In 1642 he was part of a group who purchased land from a Narragansett tribal chief and settled south of the Pawtuxet River in a settlement called Shawomet.
Not relinquishing his controversial beliefs, Gorton would eventually spend two years in prison. Upon his release he went to England seeking a decree of protection for Shawomet from Robert Rich, the Second Earl of Warwick. The decree was granted, and Gorton returned in 1648 to resettle in the colony he renamed “Warwick.”
“Surgeon” John Greene (1585 – 1659)
One of the original founders of Warwick
Buried in Surgeon John Greene Lot, Warwick #66
Greene, the first of many Greenes to be mentioned, sailed to settle in Salem Village in 1635 seeking religious tolerance. Greene also followed Roger Williams to Providence once they found out the Puritans weren’t exactly as open-minded about religion as may have been advertised. Greene was a member of the party that purchased the land that became Shawomet, which eventually became Warwick.
During his life, Greene would serve on the Warwick Town Council, was Deputy to the General Court of the Rhode Island Colony and was magistrate of the General Court of Trials. His descendants also contributed greatly to the fabric and history of the state.
Greene’s great grandson, William Greene Sr. (1695 – 1758), became a colonial governor for Rhode Island in 1743, and his son, also William Greene, became the second governor of the state of Rhode Island in 1778 and remained in office until 1786, and would also serve as the 20th Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court from 1777 to 1778. Nathanael Greene, famed major general of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, is a descendant of John Greene as well.
Governor William Greene oversaw important acts passed by the Rhode Island General Assembly, including an act which gave Roman Catholics the same rights as Protestants and an act that automatically emancipated the children of slaves, paving the way for the eventual abolition of slavery in Rhode Island.
Stukely Westcott (1592 – 1677)
Surveyor of highways, eventually Deputy of Colonies
Burial site not known
Born in Ilminster, England, Stukely Westcott came to Salem Village in 1635. As with other early settlers, religious tension led him to settle with Roger Williams in Providence. Westcott’s initials appear on the original deed for the land that became Providence that was drawn up in 1636. Westcott would eventually co-found the first Baptist church in the New World with Roger Williams, John Greene and nine others.
Westcott moved his family to Shawomet in 1648 where he built a house and became a commissioner for Warwick. He became a surveyor of highways and in 1653 held the position of “assistant” within the Warwick community. One of his duties was sitting on a committee that conferred with local Native Americans about fencing off of territory, among other matters.
Westcott attained his highest position of Deputy of the Colonies when he was almost 80 years old. He was later taken to Portsmouth to escape the King Philip’s War and died there. His remains were brought back to Warwick but where he is buried remains a mystery.
John Wickes (1609 – 1675)
Original Warwick founder, member of Rhode Island General Assembly
Headstone found in courtyard at John Wickes Elementary School
John Wickes emigrated to the New World in 1635 where he converted to the teachings of Samuel Gorton. He was also amongst those who purchased the land that became Warwick in 1642. Wickes served on the Warwick Town Council, was a town magistrate and participated in the Rhode Island General Assembly for 19 years.
Wickes considered himself friendly with the Narragansett Native Americans following their land purchase, which unfortunately led to his demise when Natives attacked on March 16, 1675. Initially taking refuge at Stone Castle with other Warwick settlers, he left to go into the woods to gather livestock that had been run off, figuring his good relationship with the Narragansett would protect him.
Unfortunately, the attacking tribes were not Narragansett, but Mohegan and Pequot from Connecticut. Wickes was discovered in the ashen remnants of his home with his head on a pike, beside the mangled remains of his torso. His remains were first buried at Stone Castle before being transferred to Thayer Arena in 2000, and now his headstone rests at the elementary school that bears his name.
John Budlong (1672 – 1744)
Kidnapped by Natives, allegedly traded for pumpkins
Buried in the John Budlong Lot, Warwick #74 on Houston Drive
John Budlong, apparently the only settler in the New World with that surname, was the lone survivor of a brutal attack by Native Americans that killed his parents. The natives kidnapped John, then just between three and five years old, in the attack as well. Nobody knows what happened exactly, but eventually he was returned into the custody of his uncle, Moses Lippitt.
Legend has it that Budlong was traded either for a “big, red pumpkin,” or a patch of multiple pumpkins. Regardless, Budlong would go on to purchase 25 acres of land in Buttonwoods and build a house, which remains standing and is one of the oldest historic homes in Warwick, located on Buttonwoods Avenue.
Lt. Col Christopher Greene (1737 - 1781)
Revolutionary War P.O.W., led first regiment of African Americans
Buried in Captain Samuel Greene Lot, Warwick #35
Christopher Greene was born in Warwick and inherited his family’s mill estate in 1761. He served several successful terms in the colonial legislature before joining to fight for Revolution. He became a lieutenant in the Kentish Guard militia out of East Greenwich and was appointed as a major in the Army of Observation under the command of General Nathanael Greene, his third cousin.
Greene also reported directly to eventual traitor Benedict Arnold in the Continental Regiment out of Cambridge. He was involved in the Battle of Quebec on Dec. 31, 1775, which was a significant defeat for the Continental Army. Greene was captured and spent eight months in captivity before being exchanged.
He was subsequently promoted to Major and led the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, which was the first military force in America’s history to enlist and eventually emancipate African American slaves. Greene was eventually chosen by General George Washington to take control of Fort Mercer along the Delaware River, a major strategic point for the army.
Greene ultimately met a grisly fate, however, when he was surrounded by loyalists at his headquarters in New York and was found in the woods “cut and mangled in the most shocking way.” He was presented posthumously with a ceremonial sword by Congress in 1786 and his body was returned to Rhode Island.
Captain Squire Millerd (1749 – 1820)
Revolutionary War soldier, Warwick City Councilor
Buried in Warwick #36 off Post Road
Squire Millerd joined a militia in 1776 and became a captain for the Providence Regiment, helping defend Prudence Island from the British who were stealing livestock.
After the war, records show Millerd was a member of the Warwick City Council in 1798. He also became an attorney and a clockmaker, and later became a state representative. He died with between 35-40 acres of land west of Post Road worth approximately $871.58, which is over $15,000 adjusting for inflation.
(1745 – 1781)
Captured by British during Revolution
Buried in Conn., headstone in Pawtuxet Burial Yard
Sylvester Rhodes’s story is a sad tale of a Warwick-born Revolutionary War soldier who joined the Pawtuxet rangers in 1774. He was captured while sailing on a privateer vessel, The Chance, by British forces and was imprisoned on the infamous HMS Jersey prison vessel.
Although he was eventually set free and rescued through his connection with some local loyalists, Rhodes died on the journey home due to illness he contracted while aboard the prison ship. His house, located at 37 Post Road in Pawtuxet Village built by his father, still stands today.
To learn more about historic Rhode Island cemeteries and the historical figures buried within their hallowed grounds visit RihistoricCemeteries.org.