Spring 2021

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Past, Present, Future

Three Stories

Flying and Riding
at Canonchet
How Canonchet
Got its Name
Canonchet Farm
in Colonial Times

Flying and Riding, Two Stories for the Price of One

By John Miller, Local Historian

A Narragansett policeman named Fred Ford had a piper cub which he kept at Canonchet. He would take off on a field where new houses are now. He apparently kept his plane in a barn at the north end of the field probably just west of the South County Museum's caretaker's house. One day when the atmosphere was most likely heavy, Fred decided to take friends Chet Lecomski, Walter Mazika and "Tiger" Wright for a ride. (The first two were lifeguard supervisors and Tiger was a famous athlete locally.) A problem emerged quickly: not only was the air heavy but so were Fred's three passengers. As the piper cub raced northwards toward the barn it lacked adequate lift and instead of flying over the barn roof, the plane hit the building's face. Inasmuch as no one was badly hurt, the crash elicited more jokes than consternation.

The other incident concerned the summer camp my aunt, Marion Miller, ran in the farm. I had just turned seven, so my memories are dim, but we did things like swimming at Sand Hill Cove and games at the farm. The main thing was riding and horses and the stables. The person in charge of the equestrian activity was called Captain Thompson. He was a Russian émigré and his real surname was Obolensky (a fairly common name for Russian royalty). Of course, I was just a little tyke so my one (and only) recollection is of Captain Thompson cantering on another horse next to mine with his arm round me. Sadly Captain Thompson got caught up in the Avice Sprague marital merry-go-round and eventually committed suicide.

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The Naming of Canonchet Farm
by Governor William Sprague
and Kate Chase Sprage

By Richard Vangermeersch, Sprague Historian

Canonchet Farm prior to its naming as such by Governor William Sprague and his first wife Kate Chase, "The Belle of Washington," in the late 1860's had been known as Mumford Farm, the Robinson Farm and SeaView Farm.

Governor Sprague and Kate had received a very good education for their day. Governor Sprague and brother Amasa attended the Irving Institute in Tarrytown, New York, the home of the noted author Washington Irving. Kate attended a highly respected female academy in New York City.

While Canonchet, as the Sachem of the Narragansett Tribe, became an enemy after the Great Swamp Massacre, he had become rehabilitated by Washington Irving in his schoolbook, The Sketchbook, in the 1820's. James Fenimore Cooper did likewise in The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish. Hence, the Sprague's naming of Canonchet Farm was in tune with their times. There also was a Canonchet Hall in Narragansett at that time.

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Canonchet, The Colonial Time Frame

By Jim Crothers, Director, South County Museum

In 1658 the colonists from Aquidneck Island, with assistance from Roger Williams, purchased from the Narragansett Indians a large tract of land approximately twelve miles square encompassing what is now South Kingstown and portions of Narragansett, North Kingstown, Exeter and Charlestown, Rhode Island. This purchase, titled the Pettaquamscutt Purchase, allocated approximately 7,000 acres to each individual although the acreage was not contiguous. Thomas Mumford Sr. (1615-1692) had parcels in Kingston, Tuckertown, Matunuck, property abutting Salt Pond, and on Little Neck in Narragansett. Mumford's property on Little Neck included what is now called Canonchet Farm.

In 1695 Roland Robinson (1654-1716) immigrated to the Rhode Island Colony and settled in Narragansett Country. He accumulated several large tracts to establish his plantation. At the time of his death his land holdings exceeded 3,000 acres. His son William (1693-1751) was Deputy Governor of the colony and inherited his father's properties. He added to them with the purchase of the Mumford land on Little Neck bordering Narragansett Bay. Descendants of the Robinson family continued to farm the property until it was sold to the A&W Sprague Company by Attmore Robinson in the late 1850s. William Sprague IV, soon to be Rhode Island's Civil War governor, and his brother Amasa were now the owners of Canonchet Farm.

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Last modified: April 18, 2021