The Friends of Canonchet Farm has published a collection of annotated readings compiled and edited by Richard Vangermeersch concerning Canonchet, sachem of the Narragansetts during the King Phillip War, and Canonchet Farm. Following is Richard's introduction to the selection of readings. The complete collection is available at local libraries.
Canonchet, the Narragansetts
and Canonchet Farm
In the process of completing a three-part study on “William Sprague III (1830-1915): Governor/Senator/Colonel/Industrialist/Husband of Kate Chase/ Bankruptee/Farmer/Expatriate,” I became very puzzled as to why his house was called the “Canonchet Mansion.” William Sprague, in his Senate speeches, showed interest in administrative affairs about the Indians but no admiration for them was noticeable. Since Canonchet was an arch enemy in the King Philip’s War of mid-1675 to mid-1676, the puzzle went even deeper. Who was Canonchet? Who named the Canonchet Mansion and the Canonchet Farm? Why and when was this done?
Historical research and answers march at their own pace and direction. Finally a presentation format appears and the historian presents his findings in that consistent format. After months of reading and thinking about these questions, I found that an annotated collection of readings on “Canonchet, The Narragansetts, and Canonchet Farm” seemed to be both a credible and useful solution.
I chose 35 readings and decided to fit them into six categories: (1) Calls to Memorialize the Narragansetts; (2) Literary Efforts; (3) Histories, 1500’s and 1600s; (4) Histories, 1700’s and 1800’s; (5) Histories, 1900’s; and (6) Histories, 2000’s. Within each of the categories, the readings are in chronological order.
There are six major goals to be achieved by this annotated book of readings: (1) a memorial to the Narragansetts at Canonchet Farm; (2) a clearing of about five feet around Squaw Rocks in Canonchet Farm: (3) a relooking at the innocence of Rhode Islanders during King Philip’s War; (4) achieving collaborative efforts on various projects from the Friends of Canonchet Farm, South County Museum, the Primitive Museum in Peace Dale, the Narragansetts, and the Town of Narragansett; (5) prove or disprove E.S. Taylor’s claim that a massacre of the Narragansetts occurred at Squaw Rocks in late 1675 or early 1676 during King Philip’s War; and (6) prove or disprove the claim of James N. Arnold as to the holy sites of the Narragansetts.
I listed the title of each of those readings at the end of the text. This should make reading easier.
I. Calls to Memorialize the Narragansetts
There are three readings in this section. Reading 1a is from two lectures given in 1836 and 1837 by the Honorable Job Durfee, Chief Justice of Rhode Island. Durfee’s points are also the themes of this collection of readings: (1) a sympathetic look at the Narragansetts; (2) a reminder of the hostility shown by the English settlers, including Rhode Islanders, to the Narragansetts; and (3) a plea for a distinct historical monument to the Narragansetts. Durfee stated:
Early in December (1675), 6 companies from Massachusetts, 2 companies from Plymouth, all under Gen. Winslow, marched into the Narragansett county and swept Pawtuxet to Smith’s Garrison, what remained of the Indian inhabitants flying before them. From Smith’s Garrison a war of skirmishes and conflagration was for several days arrived on, some few of the English being slain and a number of Indians killed, and many taken prisoner, and 150 of their wigwams burned.
Reading 1b contains four editorials/articles by James N. Arnold in his Narragansett Historical Register in 1888. Arnold was highly regarded in the State of Rhode Island as an “Indiantologist” and may have been the most knowledgeable non-Narragansett of their religion. In the fourth article, “Stone Worshippers,” Arnold wrote: “There are several places in Rhode Island where a great round boulder can be found poised on the flat surface of a larger rock and so round and even that is movable” and “These boulders allow for a march about and around them.”
Reading 1c is a collection of short 1920’s articles by E.S. Taylor (Jr.), the son of “Uncle Esbon”—the keeper of an early Narragansett hotel, the 1855 Narragansett House. Taylor’s August 5, 1921 article gave me the impetus to do this project:
In going up Beach street if you cross the footbridge that goes into the grounds of Canonchet, turn to the right as you enter and go through the small patch of woods just over the wall next to the pond, you will find twin rocks standing erect on sort of a table rock. These are called “Squaw Rocks.” They mark the spot of a great Indian massacre which must have taken place before or at the time of the Great Swamp fight about 1675. I sincerely trust that they be preserved and a fitting tablet be placed there to perpetuate the memory of the once famous and powerful tribe of Indians—the Narragansetts and Niantics—which were treated as one and the same nation… the friends and allies of our fathers.
I hope that I have conveyed that the Narragansetts are very worthy of proper remembrances in the town of Narragansett. One of them should be at Squaw Rocks.
II. Literary Efforts
The interest shown in literature about “Canonchet, the Narragansett and Canonchet Farm” surprised me. The first two readings come from the mightiest of the mighty of the first part of the 1800’s—Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper. The other three writers are Albert G. Greene, Mrs. Jean Paul (Emily) Selinger, and Richard S.S. Andros.
Reading IIa was written about 1814 and was included in Washington Irving’s 1819 masterpiece, The Sketchbook. This piece “Philip of Pokanoket” included significant coverage of Canonchet and the Narragansetts. It is felt that Irving rekindled interest in the events of King Philip’s War. Irving, like most writers, stressed Canonchet’s words when he was sentenced to death:
…The last words of his that are recorded are worthy of the greatness of his soul. When sentence of death was passed upon him, he observed ‘that he liked it well for he should die before his heart was soft or he had spoken anything unworthy of himself.’
Reading IIb comes from James Fenimore Cooper’s 1829 book, The Wept of Wish Ton-wish. Cooper, the still famous author of “The Leatherstocking Tales,” was strongly pro-Indian. He wrote in his preface:
The early annals of our history are not wanting in touching and noble examples of savage heroism, Virginia has its legend of the powerful Powhatan and his magnanimous daughter, the ill-requited Pocahontas; and the chronicles of New England are filled with the bold designs and daring enterprises of Miantonimah, of Metacom, and of Canonchet. All the last-named warriors proved themselves worthy of better fates, dying in a cause and in a manner, that, had it been their fortune to have lived in more advanced state of society, would have enrolled their names among the worthies of the age.
Reading IIc is by Albert Greene, an official of the R.I. Historical Society in the 1840’s, in his six page oft-printed and magnificent poem “Canonchet.” In reading IId, Mrs. Jean Paul (Emily) Selinger in 1882 wrote a poem dedicated to the mansion called “Canonchet.” Her last stanza was:
Casting aside the mantel of sadness,
And the shadows be lifted from turret and tower,
And life return with sweetness and gladness
In the pride and pop of wakening hour.
The last item in this section, IIe, Richard S.S. Andros, 1890 “Death of Canonchet,” is a shorter poem. Here is the death-speech stanza:
Ye say my doom is death!
Strike! Not a moment spare!
I ask ye not for another breath!
I have no need of prayer!
Death-death-I like it well!
Ere my heart be soft and tame—
Ere my breast with a thought or feeling swell,
Unworthy of my name!
I hope I have captured for you in this section the literary glories written about “Canonchet the Narragansetts, and Canonchet Farm.”
III. Histories, 1500’s and 1600’s
There are five readings in this section. The first two are by the still famous names of Giovanni Verrazzano and Roger Williams. The next three are from contemporaries of the King Philip’s War of 1675 and 1676. There are many more of these as diaries and reports of King Philip’s War have survived, all written through the eyes of the English settlers.
In reading IIIa, Giovanni Verrazzano’s 1524 “Letter to Francis I” is reprinted. This long letter describes Verrazzano’s visit to Rhode Island. There are some R.I. historians, like myself, who believe Verrazzano was describing the towns of Narragansett and South Kingstown than the Newport area. He described the Indians thusly: “This is finest-looking tribe, and the handsomest in their costumes, that we have found in our voyage.”
In Reading IIIb, Roger Williams wrote in his 1643 dictionary (really more an anthropological study of the Narragansetts) of the religion of that tribe. Williams, considered the most important English settler of the 1600s and renowned world-wide for his stance on religious liberty, only attended one religious service of the Narragansetts. Hence, his knowledge was mainly gained by interviews with the Narragansetts. He wrote:
They believe that the soules of Men and Women go to the Sou-west, their great and good men and Women to Cautantouwit his House,…murtherers thieves and lyers, their soules (say them) wander restlesse abroad.
In Reading IIIc, Edward Rawson, a participant in King Philip’s War, wrote of the revenge wrought on the Narragansetts after the Dec. 15, 1675 massacre at Bull’s Garrison in what is now called Middlebridge. Captain Prentice, leader of a horse (cavalry) group from Massachusetts, took “55 Indians, and killed ten more, and burnt 150 wigwams with the loss of four of our Men, and as many wounded.”
This is one more piece of evidence that E.S. Taylor was correct that a slaughter of the Narragansetts occurred during the time frame of the Great Swamp Fight. That folklore was handed down to E.S. Taylor during his childhood in the 1850’s and probably learned by his father in the early part of the 1800’s.
In Reading IIId Daniel Gookin in the late 1670’s expressed the bitter hatred the English felt to the Narragansetts. Even though Gookin was the King’s representative for Promoting the Gospel, that did not stop this language:
... But among other articles, the Narragansetts, by their agent Potuchet, urged that the English should not send any among them to preach the Gospel or, call upon them to pray to God. But, the English refusing to concede to such an article, it was withdrawn and a peace concluded for the times. In this act they declared what their hearts were, viz. to reject Christ and his grace offered to them before. But the Lord Jesus before the expiration of 18 months, destroyed the body of the Narragansett nation that would not have him to reign over them…
In Reading IIIe, William H. Hubbard, a contemporary historian, in 1675 noted a great activity in the Pettaquamscutt area after the discovery of the massacre at Bull’s Tavern (Garrison). Hubbard also notes that with the 300 troops from Connecticut were 150 Mohegins.
This section certainly gives credence to E.S. Taylor’s opinion of a massacre of Indians in the region of South Kingstown and Narragansett. With cavalry the English settlers operating out of Wickford had much more mobility and range than foot soldiers. With that ability and the dripping hatred expressed by Gookin and accentuated by the massacre at Bull’s Tavern (Garrison), the moral climate would have been quite ripe for foul deeds done to the Narragansetts.
IV. Histories, 1700s and 1800s
In reading IVa Thomas Church in 1719 relates his father’s, Benjamin Church, reflections of his heroism during King Philip’s War. Benjamin Church had recently settled in Tiverton from Plymouth, so I’m ambivalent as listing him as a Rhode Islander.
In Reading IVb, the very well noted historian, Elisha B. Potter, Jr., in 1835 reminds us that the only histories of King Philip’s War were done from biased sources of the English settlers. Potter stressed the gale of activities around Wickford just before the Great Swamp Fight and that captured Indians were sold into captivity.
In reading IVc, Samuel G. Drake, in 1857, gives a very detailed description of Canonchet’s capture and death. Samuel Greene Arnold, in 1859, in Reading IVd, reminds us that there were an unknown, but substantial, number of volunteers from R.I. joining this army as it marched through Providence and Warwick. He also counted the fifteen killed at Bull’s Tavern (Garrison) as being casualties of the war.
In Reading IVe, “Shepherd Tom” Hazard in 1879 at the age of 81 recalled the folklore of King Philip’s War that he would have heard from people of the early 1700’s. It was a very nasty tale indeed. In Reading IVf, the three members of the R.I. Committee on Indians in their 1883 Report illustrated the meanness and mendacity of the State of Rhode Island to its Indian residents. No wonder the Narragansetts do not trust the State of Rhode Island.
V. Histories 1900
Interest in the history of Rhode Island peaked in the 1930’s as we were celebrating our Tricentennial in 1936. Many of these 1900 pieces were driven also by the need for texts to teach the history of Rhode Island in the school system.
Sidney S. Rider in Reading Va from 1904 mentions the enormity of December, 1675 activities within a short radius from Wickford but at unstated spots. In Reading Vb, Ellis and Morris in 1906 also note this activity and stress the cruelties of Captains Moseley and Savage to the Narragansetts. In Reading Vc George M. Bodge, also in 1906, relies on contemporary letters by Gov. Hutchinson and two by Rev. Dudley detailing the English settlers’ activities in our area just before and after The Great Swamp Fight.
In Reading Vd in 1908, Irving B. Richman stressed the economic worth of the Narragansett County and, hence, its attraction to Connecticut Gov. John Winthrop. Winthrop claimed the Narragansett County from Connecticut and he had a specific claim in Narragansett by the Atherton Purchase. In 1928 Alice G. Gleeson in Reading Ve gives a very sympathetic coverage to the English settlers in R.I. vis a vis the Narragansetts and the Great Swamp Fight.
In Reading Vf, published by Howard M. Chapin in 1931, there seems to me an implication that Verrazzano wrote in 1524 about Narragansett rather than Newport. Chapin also notes the ravaging of the Narragansett County in January, 1676. In Reading Vg, John Williams Haley repeats the fiction that no Rhode Islander was involved in King Philip’s War.
In 1958 Douglas Edward Leach in Reading Vh gives, in my view, the best rendition of King Philip’s War and stresses the activities within a radius of Wickford. In Reading Vi Carl Woodward notes one of the Rhode Islanders—Richard Updike, the nephew of Richard Smith, Jr.—killed in the Great Swamp Fight.
Francis Jennings in 1976 in Reading Vj attempts to view the documents of the Puritans as items to be interpreted instead as gospel. His is what could be labeled as a more critical look at the behavior of the English settlers. William S. Simmons, in Reading Vk, in 1989 details the near wipeout of the Narragansetts. The last reading of the 20th Century is Reading Vl by Schultz and Tougias. They state in 1999: “There could have been little doubt in any soldier’s mind as he assembled with is comrades in December that the army’s mission was to engage and destroy the Narragansetts.”
VI. Histories, 2000
There is no doubt to me that writings in five centuries qualifies the topic of “Canonchet, the Narragansetts, and Canonchet Farm” as of being of great historical merit. In Reading VIa, a 2003 look at the activities around Smith’s Castle during King Philip’s War indicate at least one Rhode Islander killed in the Great Swamp Fight.
In 2004, Bossy and Keane give in Reading VIb, a marvelous account of Canonchet Farm. In 2005, Charles C. Mann in his very well received book, 1491, included as Reading VIc, declares “The Europeans Won.” Lastly, in Reading VId Nathaniel Philbrick in 2006 devotes much attention in his excellent and very popular book, Mayflower, to King Philip’s War. Philbrick was very negative about Capt. Moseley and notes the slaughter of the Narragansetts continued until July of 1676.
What started out to be a rather limited quest to learn about Canonchet and to verify E.S. Taylor’s massacre claim turned out to be much more. I did not expect to find much but I was quite surprised at the long historical interest in King Philip’s War, Canonchet, and the Narragansetts. The readings are reflective of that span from 1675 through the beginning of the new millennium. I wonder how many in R.I. are aware of the importance of King Philip’s War, Canonchet, and the Narragansetts in U.S. history. I hope this annotated collection of readings will lead to an increased interest shown to these topics.
A strong case has been made that a memorial to the Narragansetts and Canonchet should be located at Canonchet Farm in Narragansett. I hope you would join with Durfee, Arnold, Taylor, and me in requesting such a memorial.
Since a five foot clearing around Squaw Rocks is neither expensive nor very controversial, I hope this will happen soon. This clearing would give a different perspective to that part of Canonchet Farm.
I believe I’ve been brainwashed about the presumed innocence of Rhode Islanders during King Philip’s War. Rhode Islanders were involved and many were complicit in the massacre. Since death reporting came much later than the 1600’s, it is not possible to know how many Rhode Islanders were killed in the Great Swamp Massacre but I know of at least three. I also believe to have been brainwashed about the 1883 Report of the R.I. Legislative Committee that the tribe was disbanded and had vanished.
We have many organizations that should be collaborating on these first three points and the last two points. I hope this annotated collection of readings will be a gentle spur to the Friends of Canonchet Farm, the South County Museum, the Primitive Museum in Peace Dale, the Narragansetts, the Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, and the town of Narragansett to start a dialog on these points.
I could neither prove nor disprove E.S. Taylor’s claim of a massacre at Squaw Rocks in December 1675 or the first 6 months of 1676. There certainly was opportunity, motive, and built-up hatred for this to have happened at Squaw Rocks. I wish E.S. Taylor’s book on Narragansett history could be located but I have little hope of that.
This is also true for James N. Arnold’s claim that the Narragansett/South Kingstown/Exeter area contained a collection of holy sites and that periodic (every 65 years) pilgrimages were made to them. My reliance on Arnold comes from his strong friendships with the Narragansetts. I can appreciate much better now how the Narragansetts have been mistreated all these centuries. Maybe this collection of readings could help start a healing process.
The history of R.I. seemed to have peaked in 1936, the Tricentennial, and slid downhill at a rapid pace until now. The interest in history of the town of Narragansett has never really been strong since the 1920’s. The history of the Narragansetts needs a strong collaborative effort between tribe historians and non-tribe historians. I hope this collection will spur such interests.
Hope that you found this annotated collection of readings to be worthwhile. Certainly other readings will be noted and can be added to this collection. I hope you will so do.
List of the Readings
Ia, “The Idea of the Supernatural Among the Indians,” in The Complete Works of the Honorable Job Durfee…, 1849.
Ib, “The Great Secret,” “Pre-Historic Rhode Island,” “The Evidences of the Mound Builders in Narragansett,” and “The Stone Worshippers” by James N. Arnold, Narragansett Historical Register, 1888.
Ic, “The Old Landmarks of Narragansett are Fast Disappearing,” Narragansett Times, August 5, 1921 by E.S. Taylor.
IIa, The Sketchbook, 1819 by Washington Irving.
IIb, The Wept of Wish-Ton-wish, by James Fenimore Cooper, 1829.
IIc, “Canonchet” by Albert G. Greene in Wilkins Updike’s History of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett, 1847 and 1907.
IId. “Canonchet” by Emily Selinger in the Winnie Kossuth Collection at the Narragansett Library, 1882.
IIe, “Death of Canonchet,” Narragansett Historical Register, Oct. 1890 by Richard S.S. Andros.
IIIa, “Letter to Francis I” by Verrazzano, 1524, in Carroll’s Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy¨.
IIIb, A Key into the Language… by Roger Williams in 1643.
IIIc, Edward Rawson in Charles H. Lincoln’s Narratives of the Indian Wars, 1913
IIId, “An Historical Account…” by Daniel Gookin, included in American Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society, 1836.
IIIe, Histories of the Indian Wars in New England by William H. Hubbard, 1677, 1865, 1971.
IVa, The History of Philip’s War… by Thomas Church in 1719 and 1836
IVb, The Early History of Narragansett, 1835 by Elisha B. Potter, Jr.
IVc, Biography and History of the Indians of North America..., 1857 by Samuel G. Drake
IVd, History of the State of R.I. (1636-1700) by Samuel Greene Arnold, 1859
IVe, Recollections of Olden Times… by Thomas R. Hazard
IVf, Third Annual Report…1883 by R.I. Committee on Indians
Va, The Lands of Rhode Island… by Sidney S. Rider, 1904
Vb, King Philip’s War…, 1906 by George W. Ellis and John E. Morris,
Vc, Soldiers in King Philip’s War…, 1906, by George Madison Bodge
Vd, R.I.: Its Making and Its Meaning, 1908 by Irving Berdine Richman
Ve, Colonial Rhode Island, 1928 by Alice Collins Gleeson
Vf, Sachems of the Narragansetts, by Howard M. Chapin, 1931
Vg, The Old Stone History of R.I., Vol. 3, 1939
Vh, Flintlock and Tomahawk…, 1958 by Douglas Edward Leach
Vi, Plantation in Yankeeland, Carl Woodward, 1971
Vj, The Invasion of America… by Francis Jennings, 1975
Vk, The Narragansetts by William S. Simmons, 1989
VI, King Philip’s War… by Eric B.B. Schultz and Michael Tougias, 1999
VIa, “Smith’s Castle at Cocomscussoc…,” 2003
VIb, Lost in South Kingstown… by Kathleen Bossy and Mary Keane, 2004
VIc, 1491…, by Charles C. Mann, 2005
VId, Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower…, 2006