Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Earlier Colonial Ancestors in Rhode Island

On our way home from Cape Cod the beginning of June, it was a must to do a little family history and cemetery searching in Rhode Island. My family was in this state very early before the Revolutionary War. Our first stop was Little Compton which is on the south-eastern shore; Massachusetts borders on the east. The day we were there it was beautiful but a little windy.
Beautiful day in Little Compton shore.
All along the roads in Little Compton we saw these wonderful stone fences.
The town of Little Compton isn't very big; it was easy to find the Old Commons Burial Ground where there are many Brownells who are connected to our family, too. 

The four-square Old Commons Burial Ground is across Commons St. street from the
triangular United Congregational Church cemetery.

This time we were looking for my 6x great grandfather's grave dating to early 1700s. Jonathan Blackman, b. 1688 and died 1717 at age 29. He married Susannah Palmer in 1713. She was his second wife. They are the parents of two (known) children, one of which is my 5x great grandmother, Mary b. 1715 who married Thomas Brownell in 1734.

Forth great grandmother, Mary Brownell, born about 1746 to Thomas and Mary (Blackman) in Little Compton married Abel Fowler, Sr. 3 June 1770 in Exeter, Kent Co., Rhode Island. My last posting shows where Abel and Mary are buried in Center White Creek, New York. And, Mary's mother Mary was buried in North Pownal, Vermont. I have yet to discover and prove where Thomas was buried in 1756.

We didn't find Jonathan's headstone, so I went on the web and found the Rhode Island Historic Cemeteries website where there was a nice image of it. I don't know when this image below was taken, but most of the headstones in this cemetery weren't a nice and clean when we were there. I thank whoever took the time to clean the stone and image it for others to see.
"Here lyeth the Body of Jonathan Blackman who dyed October the 8 1716 aged 28 years."
[Found on Rhode Island Historic Cemeteries site.]

Our next stop took us straight west of Newport to southeastern South Kingstown, Washington County. This is where we the grave of my oldest (proven) Fowler ancestor is buried. Isaac Fowler was born around 1696 in South Kingston. He married Mary Hopkins in 1720 and we know of six children being born to them. One of those children was Simeon who is buried in the Fowler Private Burying Ground in Center White Creek, New York. Cousin Kevin and I have speculated, but not proven, who Isaac's parents could be. That is the next quest in our research -- is John or Christopher his father? Or could it be a Thomas or Simeon? What fun is in store for me. What an interesting little adventure it was that started out in the courthouse.

I knew from several accounts, the little cemetery was situated on private land in some one's backyard. One such account was written in the South County Independent on 18 May 2000.
South County Independent, May 18, 2000
By Linda C. Baily, Independent Staff Writer
SOUTH KINGSTOWN- Dan Martin was simply clearing some brush in his backyard in Tefft Hill when he stumbled onto a cemetery. As many Rhode Islanders know, this is not an uncommon event.
 But with the town's new graves ordinance, property owners who find remains must immediately stop any work in the area and take steps to protect the remains, which can include paying for a consultant to conductan archaeological investigation.
 According to John Sterling, author of "R.I. Historical Cemeteries," Rhode Island differs from other New England states in that it did not have many large town cemeteries. Instead, the state is littered with many small family cemeteries, which has caused problems for homeowners and developers alike. Town and state legislation tackling the issue places the burden of excavation and more on the property owner.
 Martin discovered the small cemetery in the spring of 1992 in the rear third of his half-acre parcel marked off by wire and a broken-down wooden fence. Inside the marked-off area he discovered four roughly cut stones,which appeared to him to be Quaker in style.
 Curiosity got the better of Martin, who began to investigate his discovery. He invited state Rep. Leona Kelly (R-Dist. 49) of South Kingstown to look at the site, and then contacted Craig Anthony afterlearning of his work with the oldest gravestone in Rhode Island. Martin even registered the cemetery as an unknown historical cemetery, No. 187, unknown because at that time there was no reliable way to fix a name tothe occupants, though there was substantial belief that the remains were members of the Tefft family who lived in the area for many years.
 Martin sent a bone that he had found to Anthony, who confirmed with the state medical examiner that it was, indeed, a human femur. The Tefft family had a reunion in South County and reburied the bone with a smallceremony.
 The real problems started for the Martins, however, when they wanted to sell the land and move. According to Dan Martin, the property was on the market for only two days when they got a bid that was acceptable from apotential buyer. The sale was going along smoothly until two days before the closing when the buyer backed out because the Martins could no longer offer a clear title on the land because of the cemetery. Martin'sdiscovery had placed restrictions and easements on the land so that the ground could not be disturbed within 25 feet and any ancestors of the remains could come onto the property to pay their respects.
 Martin was forced to hire an archaeologist to excavate the site and delineate the boundaries of the burials. "They dug up my entire yard," said Martin. "They found no additional evidence of remains or graveshafts."
 When Sterling was invited to the scene he discovered a headstone with "I.F. April 20, 1773" carved into it, the first real clue as to who was interred there.
 With a little research, Sterling discovered with relatively high certainty that the remains are that of Isaac Fowler, the grave to his left is his wife Mary Hopkins and at her feet is probably one of theirchildren. Fowler had purchased the property from Steven Tefft of Newport for 3,000 pounds. His son, Simeon Fowler, inherited the land at his death. Simeon turned around and sold the property back to the Tefft family for only 150 pounds. Martin was relieved to determine who was there and "to put a name to historical cemetery No. 187."
 Sterling was also able to find Isaac Fowler's will, with all sorts of interesting revelations about the man and his family. According to Sterling, "This is a classic case where the crude lettering on afieldstone-marked grave led to the records that led to the records that prove who is buried in an early burial ground."
 "We're very happy, regardless of the difficulties we had," said Martin, whose home has finally been sold after three or four deals fell through because of the cemetery. "As a result of the town ordinance and statelaw, we know who there," said Martin, adding, "I would expect the same in future years."
 Although it turned out to be a happy ending for the Martins, it was an extremely expensive process. They had to pay two mortgage payments, taxes and insurance on two houses and a home equity loan for nearly half a year because the house wouldn't sell with the restrictions of the cemetery. The archaeologist cost about $1,700, the backhoe to excavate cost $650 and the Martins are paying $1,200 as part of their purchase agreement to fix the landscaping in the back yard where the property was excavated.

The town clerk showed us an index of the historic cemeteries. Isaac Fowler is buried in historic cemetery #187, but she couldn't tell us where it was located. So we went to another office where a very nice clerk got out the city plat map which had all the historic cemeteries marked on it. She also printed off an assessment sheet giving the address and name of the current property owners. We set our GPS in the car, and off we went. I was tingling with excitement.

Isaac Fowler is buried in historic cemetery #187 in the backyard on lot #32.
We drove into a nice well-manicured subdivision and found the house on lot 32. Bob went up to the door and a woman answered. She thanked us for asking to see the little cemetery and told us it was around back. We were welcome to go back there. Her husband was in the yard, too and he came over to talk to us. I thanked him for taking such nice care of this ancient burying ground. 

There were several "stones" marking graves. None of the stones had any writing on them except the one leaning up against the tree which very faintly I could see 73. This was the stone mentioned in the account by Linda C. Baily, staff writer, in 2000.

The stone's image was found on Rhode Island Historic Cemeteries website. Whoever took this picture did a wonderful thing for us family historians. Seeing this small cemetery was really a thrill to me. I have been wanting to visit for quite a number of years after seeing it on the web so many times in my searches.

South Kingstown was the priority stop. I can check that off on my To-Do list, yet I wish I had time for more research in Rhode Island. I have ancestors in Newport, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Providence, and who knows where else in this little state. We needed more time, but not to be had on this trip as we had to get back home to Illinois. We did what we could in the time we had. 

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