King-MacFarlane House // 1845

William Jones King (1803-1885) was born in Providence, Rhode Island as the eldest son of Elijah and Nancy King. His father Elijah was a master-mariner and a wealthy ship-owner, engaging in trade with the West Indies, likely partaking in the transport and sale of humans like many Rhode Island “merchants” at the time. Elijah was travelling to Martinique in 1815, when the Great Gale of 1815, the largest hurricane on record at the time in New England, intercepted the ships and capsized them. Elijah and his crew died at sea. After his father’s untimely death, which left the family poor, William (as the eldest at just 12 years old) became the sole support of his mother and three younger siblings at the time. William eventually became a clerk at the Union Bank in town, moving up the ranks until he became a cotton merchant. He had this home built a few years after his marriage to Lydia Gilbert. The house is an excellent example of a traditional Greek Revival home in the College Hill section of Providence with corner pilasters and central Ionic portico all sited high on a landscaped terrace behind an iron fence. The house is now owned by Brown University and has been renamed MacFarlane House after Walter Kilgore MacFarlane, Jr., a Brown alumnus in the class of 1923. The house today houses the main office of the Classics Department at Brown University.

Peter Wanton Snow House // c.1830

This Greek Revival home with a one-story full-length porch was built in 1839 for Peter Wanton Snow, one of the unluckiest men in Providence. Born the son of a leading China trader and the son of a granddaughter of a former governor of Rhode Island, Peter W. Snow (1788-1843) was born into privilege and like many of such stature, could enter the family business with ease and make a lot of money. Peter first sailed for Canton (Guangzhou, China) with his father in 1803. Doubtless because of his father’s position and trading connections, young Snow became the partner of Edward Carrington who, within fewer than a dozen years, was to become one of the richest and best merchants dealing in Chinese goods in Rhode Island, if not in the entire country. Carrington wanted to retire and have Peter Snow take over his agency in China, but Peter did not seem to like it there and always wanted to go back home to the United States. He got the chance for a few years beginning in 1814, but upon returning home, he learned that his only son, Charles, had died a year earlier at the age of five years, and to compound his personal tragedy, Snow lost two baby daughters in the next three years. By 1816, he returned to China but never seemed to be able to get out of debt, while trying to provide for his last two remaining children. Tragedy struck again when his last living daughter died, while he was in China. Peter’s business partner and friend R. B. Forbes before letting Peter know the bad news wrote this.

Mr. Snow is now in as good health as he has been since his arrival in China, still he is weak in body, and a very little trouble or disappointment breaks him down and reduces him completely unable to do anything. Poor man, his countrymen here feel much sympathy for him, and fear the result of this news on him. This daughter has appeared to be the only thing which could induce Mr. Snow to make any exertion, and he often spoke of her with all the feelings of a Father who centered all his happiness, in this world, in making her comfortable and happy, and in the expectation of returning to America and of ending his days in her arms”

While in debt, he somehow had this home built in Providence, likely from assistance from family and colleagues. The land here was purchased by Peter’s wife Jeanette, and the home was likely built soon after. Peter died in 1843, virtually penniless.