One of the most interesting homes in Warren, Rhode Island, is located on Main Street. This home was constructed in 1753 by and for Jesse Baker (1733-1818) and was a modest 1-1/2 story gambrel roofed Georgian home. Mr. Baker owned a local wharf with his brothers and father and was also listed as a mariner who owned various ships. By the time of the Revolutionary War, he and his wife stood against the redcoats and offered their ships for the revolution. It is said that Mrs. Baker used blankets from her home to fight the flames from the British burning the nearby Baptist meetinghouse. The home remained in the Baker family for over 100 years until it was purchased by Dr. Joseph Merchant in 1868. Dr. Merchant, seeing the commercial character shift on Main Street, made additions to accommodate his residence and medical practice in the building. He had the modest home updated after the Civil War with Italianate features including the corner tower, entry tower with tripartite rounded arch windows above, dormer, and brackets (now painted orange).
Merchant’s daughter, Mary Jolls Merchant DeWolf accompanied him on house calls, traveling by horse and buggy throughout Warren, Barrington, Swansea, and Rehoboth. After contracting a serious illness from one of his patients, she graduated from high school a year late. In 1898, during the Spanish American War, she joined the United States Sanitary Commission, precursor to the American Red Cross, providing aid to soldiers. Mary formed the British Relief Committee when World War I began and her home became the center of Red Cross work in Warren when the United States entered the war in 1917. She served on the Warren Branch of the American Red Cross for over 35 years. Mary was a champion of women’s rights and the suffrage movement and had the unique honor of being the first woman in Rhode Island to register to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. She passed away in 1947 at 421 Main Street, the home where she was born and lived for 77 years.