One of the finest Federal period mansions in Providence is this well-sited home on College Hill known as the Captain George Benson House. George Benson was a partner of the mercantile firm of Brown, Benson & Ives, who made immense sums of money at the end of the 18th century. The firm did well as the movement to abolish the transatlantic slave trade grew at the time in Rhode Island, many abolitionists placed their faith in so-called “legitimate commerce,” an African trade centered on commodities other than enslaved people. In 1794, the firm run by Nicholas Brown, Jr., and his partners George Benson and Thomas Ives, tried the legitimate trade, and dispatched the ship Charlotte to Freetown Africa, under the command of Benson’s half brother, Martin. George’s half-brother Martin was a slave trader, a job that may have accounted for the unusually explicit tone in a 1794 letter of instructions: “by no means take any Slaves on board the Ship on any terms whatever as we desire to have nothing to do with business.” Three years later, George had this Federal style mansion constructed on the peak of College Hill which remains one of the best in the area over 200 years later.
One of the oldest houses in Rhode Island, this beautiful home has a full history that will be hard to fit in a post, but here goes! The earliest, two-room rear part of this house was built around 1680, probably by Jireh Bull near the time of his first marriage to Godsgift Arnold, the daughter of Benedict Arnold, the first Governor of Rhode Island. After Bull’s death, the wealthy businessman and privateer Captain John Mawdsley acquired the house and he enlarged it in keeping with his prominent social status, adding elements inspired by the Georgian classicism. Mawdsley in 1774 owned 20 slaves, many of which likely worked on his ships as crew or cooks. He was a Loyalist, and fled Newport during the American Revolution. During the winter of 1780-81, this was the home of French Major-General François chevalier Beauvoir de Chastellux, who was third in command of French forces in America under the French expeditionary force led by general Rochambeau. After the War, Mawdsley was actually allowed to return to Newport, and resided at the home until his death in 1795. In 1795, after Mawdsley’s death, the house was purchased by slave ship captain and wealthy merchant Caleb Gardner, who is said to have brought thousands of humans in bondage to the shores of Rhode Island and in the Caribbean. Gardner is responsible for the Federal period entry and marble front steps we see today. The home was purchased by Historic New England in the 20th century, and was documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. It is now a private home.
The Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport was built in 1750 and was the first purposely built library in the United States! This highly significant building is possibly the oldest neo-Classical building in the country and it was designed by British-born architect Peter Harrison, who is credited with bringing the Palladian architectural movement to the colonies. Harrison also designed the iconic Touro Synagogue in town (featured previously). The Redwood Library was established in 1747 by Abraham Redwood and 45 other wealthy residents with the goal of making written knowledge more widely available to the Newport community. The Redwood family had a large sugar plantation in Antigua. Abraham Redwood, Jr. was born in 1709 and he was active in the family sugar business from his teenage years. When his father died, the plantation – along with the over 200 enslaved people that worked it – were signed over to Abraham Redwood jr.
Rhode Island’s ties to slavery lasted much longer than other New England states. Many of the state’s wealthiest owned plantations in the Caribbean, where the conditions were comparable to that of the deep south. Once trafficked across the Atlantic arrived in the Caribbean islands, the Africans were prepared for sale. They were washed and their skin was oiled to be sold to local buyers. Often parents were separated from children, and husbands from wives. Upon his death in 1788, Redwood left his slaves in Newport and Antigua to his children and grandchildren, an inventory taken 22 years prior to his death listed 238 enslaved people in Antigua. I bring this history up because America was built on slavery, and I bet thousands walk by this architecturally beautiful building every year, with no idea about its namesake.
Calvin Chaddock (1765-1823) graduated from Dartmouth in 1791 and three years later earned a Master of Arts degree from the college. In 1792, he married Meletiah Nye and they settled in Rochester, Massachusetts, where he became pastor of a Congregational parish in the rural northern part of town. In 1798, he opened an academy for boys and girls in the village and built this beautiful Federal style home as a boarding house for students to reside in (the schoolhouse is no longer extant). By 1804, he had “a respectable number of students from different parts of the United States.” The man moved to Ohio before settling in Charlestown, West Virginia, where he lived in a homestead with his family and three enslaved people, Charles, Thomas, and an unnamed woman. Upon his death in 1823, the three people enslaved by Chaddock, were sold at auction. The former boarding house in Rochester was later occupied as a tavern and stagecoach stop, and a store, when it was given some 19th century alterations. It has been a private home for the past hundred years.
Land that Mount Hope Farm sits upon in Bristol, Rhode Island was formerly council lands of the Wampanoag Indians, where King Philip’s War of 1675 may be said to have begun and ended. For those of you who do not know about the war, it was an armed conflict running 1675–1678 between indigenous peoples of New England and New England colonists and their indigenous allies. Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag, had maintained a long-standing alliance with the colonists. Metacom (c. 1638–1676) was his younger son, and he became “sachem” (elected chief) in 1662 after Massasoit’s death. Metacom, however, forwent his father’s alliance between the Wampanoags and the colonists and they fought back. Metacom’s forces could not beat the growing numbers of the colonists, and he was eventually killed near Mount Hope, in Bristol. After his death, his wife and nine-year-old son were captured and sold as slaves in Bermuda. Philip’s head was mounted on a pike at the entrance to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where it remained for more than two decades. His body was cut into quarters and hung in trees. This story, shows how American history is built upon death and suffering and has often been whitewashed to portray early settlers treating native peoples with respect and as equals, which was rarely the case.
Mount Hope Farm as we know in colonial times, was originally 550 acres in size, owned in 1680 by Nathaniel Byfield. In 1744, the estate was acquired by Isaac Royall. Royall began construction of the house soon after. Isaac Royall Jr. was the son of Isaac Royall Sr. (1677–1739) a slave owner, slave trader, and Antiguan plantation owner who had a home and slave quarters (both extant) in Medford, MA. After his father’s death, Royall Jr. inherited his immense wealth, built upon the backs of others, and built this Georgian farmhouse. It is unknown to me if he ever resided there or had slaves maintain the property, but the home was rented for some time. In 1776, Mount Hope Farm was confiscated by the state, after Royall, a loyalist to England, fled to Nova Scotia. The property was added onto in the 19th and 20th centuries and now sits on 127-acres of land, and is run as a park, inn, and event space.
Built in 1838, just three years after the Talbot House in Bristol, Rhode Island, (just two houses away), the Dimond House remains as the other of the two remaining Greek, temple-front homes in town. Like the Talbot House, this home was also designed by Russell Warren, but is unique as it is in the tetrastyle (with four columns) and utilizes the Ionic order with the capitals featuring volutes (scrolls). Additionally, a polygonal bay can be seen on the right side of the home. Images show that the bay features stunning lancet windows! The home was designed for Francis Moore Dimond (1796-1859), who was born in Bristol, and later traveled to the Caribbean and served for several years (1832-1835) as the United States consul at Port-au-Prince. It is entirely possible that Dimond was involved in the slave trade, but I wasn’t able to find more than a couple articles referencing his connections to the infamous DeWolf Family. From 1842 to 1849, Dimond was United States Consul to the Mexican port city of Veracruz. When he returned to Rhode Island, he promoted the Southern Pacific Railway and presided over its construction. He was elected lieutenant governor of Rhode Island in 1853. He became the governor of Rhode Island when Philip Allen, then Governor, resigned to become a Senator. He held the governor’s office just one year. He moved back to Bristol and lived out his final days at his home.
While much of the downtown area of Bristol features early 19th century wood-frame houses, there are some substantial masonry homes providing a great layering of styles and materials in the neighborhood. This brick Federal style home was built in 1805 for William Throop Jr. (1771-1850), a stonemason and merchant, who had a shop on the DeWolf wharf in Bristol, where many slave ships set sail from. Throop himself was a descendant of William Throope, who built “Throope Place” (previously featured) on the north side of town. We understand that William Jr. likely had connections to the slave traders of Bristol based on his ties to the DeWolf Family, which is compounded by the fact his two daughters Juliana and Jane married Judge James Eppinger of Georgia. Juliana first married Eppinger in 1820, but died in 1859, and her younger sister Jane then married James Eppinger one year later. The Eppingers built a house in Bristol where they would spend time, and often brought enslaved with them to maintain their home. On October 12, 1829, Nancy Gindrat, a 22 year old slave to James and Juliana Throop Eppinger, escaped in Bristol. Eppinger frantically wrote to his father in-law William Throop and others that he would offer a large sum to anyone who could find her, though he never did. It was interesting to learn how inter-connected Rhode Island and Georgia were in the early 19th century, both bonded by the slave trade. The William Throop Jr. House remained in the family for a century until it was converted into a rooming house in the early 20th century, to house workers at the nearby industrial buildings. The home was restored and reverted back to a one-or-two-family residence in the 1970s.
New England is lucky to have so many examples of pre-Revolution Georgian homes to gawk at, and this home in Bristol is one of them. The home was likely constructed by Benjamin Reynolds, a cobbler (shoemaker) for his family. The home was purchased by Benjamin and Abigail Bosworth sometime before the Revolutionary War, and Benjamin served with the Continental Army, at the rank of Major. In 1786, Mark Antony DeWolf the patriarch of the infamous DeWolf Family (who made their fortunes on the backs of the enslaved) returned to Bristol after it was burned by the British, and purchased this home where he lived until his death in 1793. At that time, one of Mark Antony DeWolf’s many children, Levi, moved into the home. Levi DeWolf (1766-1848) was a Quaker, who was an avid reader. While his involvement in the slave trade was a shadow of that of his siblings, he was complicit and travelled to Africa at least three times on behalf of his brother James. After the trips, James offered to outfit a vessel for him to continue the trade, but Levi’s conscience likely caused him to decline. In the late 1790s, Levi had the home updated, with a new, elaborate pedimented entrance with a modillion and dentil cornice.
Lewis Hayden was born into slavery in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1811, as one of a family of 25. Hayden was first owned by a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Adam Rankin. He sold off Lewis’ brothers and sisters in preparation for moving to Pennsylvania, and he traded 10-year-old Hayden for two carriage horses to a man who traveled the state selling clocks. In the mid-1830s, Hayden married Esther Harvey, also a slave. She and their son were sold to U.S. Senator Henry Clay, who sold them both to the Deep South, and Hayden never saw them again. By 1842, Hayden married a second time, to Harriet Bell, who was also enslaved, and he cared for her son Joseph as his stepson. After this marriage, Hayden began making plans to escape to the North, as he feared his second family might be split up like the first. In 1844, he and his family escaped with assistance of abolitionists all the way to Canada. From Canada, the Haydens moved in 1845 to Detroit in the free state of Michigan, and the next year, they moved to Boston, at the center of anti-slavery activity with the city’s strong abolitionist base. In Boston, Hayden became a lecturer and ran a clothing shop, acquiring enough money to live in this large home in Beacon Hill. The Haydens routinely cared for fugitive slaves at their home, which served as a boarding house. Guests included Ellen and William Craft, who escaped from slavery in 1848. Hayden prevented slave catchers from taking the Crafts by threatening to blow up his home with gunpowder if they tried to reclaim the pair. Hayden died in 1889, outliving the abolishment of slavery. Harriet died in 1894 and left $5,000, the entirety of their estate, to the Harvard University for scholarships for African American medical students. It was believed to have been the first, and perhaps only, endowment to a university by a former slave. Their former home remains a stop on Boston’s Black Heritage Trail.
It is troubling to learn that such a stunning historic home can represent such a dark history. I was walking Washington Street in Beverly Massachusetts, a residential street full of charm, when I snapped a photo of this home. When doing a little more research on the owner, I learned that Captain Ezra Foster was a sea captain involved with transporting slaves and other goods between Boston, Africa, and Rio De Janiero, Brazil. When many think of the dark history of slavery in America, they often think of the South. While slavery was eventually deemed unconstitutional in many New England states, it was common in the region historically; though not at the same numbers as the south. More research needs to be done to analyze and contextualize what happened in New England and how prevalent the slave trade was here for so long.