History of North Smithfield, Rhode Island

Rhode Island Reading Room
These documents are made available free to the public by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project

History of the State of Rhode Island with Illustrations

Albert J. Wright, Printer
No. 79 Mille Street, corner of Federal, Boston.
Hong, Wade & Co., Philadelphia 1878.

The History of North Smithfield.

Dr. Seth Arnold Medical Corporation, founded 1839, Woonsocket, R. I. Residence of Albert Mowry,
North Smithfield, R. I.

pp.  184 - 186.


This is a flourishing post township, situate in the northeastern [sic] part of the State, and bounded as follows:  On the north, by Massachusetts; on the east, by Woonsocket and Lincoln; on the south, by Smithfield; and on the west, by Burrillville.  It formed an integral part of the town of Smithfield until March, 1871, when it was incorporated into a separate and independent town, known as Slater.  This name, however, was changed, within a few weeks, to North Smithfield.

The surface is somewhat broken, and in some sections quite rough and stony.  The south branch of the Blackstone River flows through the northern part of the town, affording excellent manufacturing privileges.  This stream is the only one of importance within the limits of the town.  The land is rolling, and affords some excellent landscape views.

Woonsocket Hill, situated with this town, is said to be the highest land in the State.  At the foot of this hill lived Nishnumon, and after him, Reuben Purchas, and the last pure-blooded Indians inhabiting this part of the State.  The town shows traces of many of the minerals and metals, but has as yet developed no large quantities.  Near Sayles Hill is an iron mountain, although upon a smaller scale than at Cumberland.

In this vicinity are to be found quite extensive quarries, which are successfully worked by Amasa Sweet.  The stone quarried here is of a course granite, and is used for curbing, and foundations for buildings.  On a farm, known as Ananias Mowry farm, is situated a whetstone quarry, of very excellent quality.  It has been worked quite extensively by Mr. A. Smith, and his heirs propose to still further improve the ledge.  Woonsocket Hill is at present covered with a dense growth of young timber, which makes the ascent of the hill somewhat difficult.  Near Primrose Station is a curious formation of rocks, familiarly known to the people in this vicinity as the 'Blunders'.  It is a break through the hills, and is much frequented by picnic parties, &c.

The soil of the town is of a sandy loam, and quite well adapted to grazing, and produces in some sections quite favorable crops.  The timber is principally white pine, oak, and chestnut, and this is of a shrubby growth.  The improvements of the town have been quite extensive, both in its manufacturing interests and the establishment of public thoroughfares, that have facilitated progress and developed the commercial growth and prosperity of the town.

In the times of turnpikes Smithfield took great interest in laying out and building these lines of communication.  Perhaps no town in the State displayed greater enthusiasm upon this subject, and the result was the construction of more of these public highways than any other town in the State.  Although these chartered institutions did not always come up to the estimated standard of their projectors, nevertheless they were the means of opening new avenues of travel, and formed an important medium in bringing commerce and trade within the limits of the town.  Had not the railroad followed so close upon the introduction of these enterprises, no doubt but that their history would have been more interesting and flattering.  As it is, they have proved of incalculable benefit in developing the resources of the town, and have tended to foster an interest in the subject of good and convenient highways, that is even maintained to the present.

The Providence and Springfield Railroad intersects the southwestern part of the town of North Smithfield and gives it a station at Primrose.  The Woonsocket division, a road in contemplation in the southeastern section of the town, when completed, will give that portion a station at Union Village.

Town Organization, Town Meetings, Officers, &c.
After repeated efforts, the old town of Smithfield was divided into three towns, -- North Smithfield, Lincoln, and Smithfield, -- and a portion thereof annexed to Woonsocket, May 8, 1871.  By the conditions of organization, Smithfield took the asylum farm and the town-house.  Woonsocket paid into the general treasury $7,500 for her release from the town debt.  This fund was divided, giving Lincoln $5,000 and North Smithfield $2,500.  The debt was thereupon apportioned, one-half to Lincoln, and a quarter each to Smithfield and North Smithfield.

April 3, 1871, the town elected Arlon Mowry senator, and George Johnson and Augustus M. Aldrich, representatives to the General Assembly.  At the town election, June 5, 1871, Burrill A. Andrews was elected moderator, and Albert Mowry town clerk, who resigned Nov. 28, 1871, and Ansel Holman was elected in his stead, who still retains the office.  Messrs. Mowry, Thayer, Johnson, Nichols, and Morse were chosen councilmen; William H. Seagrave, treasurer.  June 19, 1871, the council met for organization, and appointed Arlon Mowry, a committee to act in connection with the committee appointed by the towns of Lincoln and Smithfield to settle the affairs of the late town of Smithfield; $2,500 was appropriated for the support of public schools, and this amount has continued to be applied for this purpose.  The town is divided into eleven school districts.  The valuation of the town in 1877 was:  real, $1,284,000;  personal, $1,012,800;  making a total of $2,296,800.

Early Settlers.
Samuel Comstock came from England to America in the year 1672.  In 1680 he came to Smithfield, R. I., and located near to what is known as the Arioch Comstock house.  He had six sons.  Samuel, Jr., settled midway between the house now occupied by Thomas Aldrich, and the little river on the easterly side of the road.  The well used by him is still in existence, covered with a flat stone and earth.  He had one son, David, and one daughter, Sarah.  She married Seth Aldrich of Mendon.  Hezekiah settled, in 1708, on the spot where the dwelling-house of Walter Allen now stands, which is occupied at present by Mrs. Eliza Osborne.  In 1733 he built the house now known as the Henry Comstock place, and moved into it, leaving his residence at Union Village to the occupancy of his eldest son, William, who remained there until 1744, when he sold it to Joseph Arnold.  The corn-crib was built by William Comstock in 1743, and is still standing.  Both the seller and purchaser deceased the next year.

The widow of Joseph Arnold continued to reside here for the remainder of her life, and kept an inn for more than forty years.  Daniel lived on the spot where Arnold Spear has for many years resided, at Branch Village.  He married Elizabeth Buffum, sister of Joseph and Benjamin Buffum.  He died Dec. 22, 1768, aged eighty-two years.  Jeremiah settled on the farm, now known as Rufus Ballou farm, but subsequently sold it to Richard Sprague, and moved to North Providence.  His son Joseph returned to Smithfield, and purchased a farm near Woonsocket Hill, since known as the Dr. Hezekiah Comstock place.  There are now some traces of the cellar-walls, and one or two old pear-trees to mark the spot.  Job's settlement is not known, but he probably removed from Smithfield at an early date.

During the settlement of these farms, the garrison was built on the summit of Fort Hill, some twenty rods to the northwest of the Arioch Comstock house, to which these families resorted for protection in the time of war, and even in times of peace they were accustomed to drive their flocks within the enclosure, and set a watch to protect them from the Indians.  Roger Mowry settled in Rhode Island about the time of Roger Williams's settlement.  John Mowry, son of Roger, settled on what is known as Sayles Hill.  The cellar of his house, filled with stone, is now seen by the visitor to the farm of Benjamin Sayles, near the present school-house.  He and his wife died of the small-pox, and were buried in the cemetery a few rods from the above mentioned school-house.

John Mowry and Edward Inman received a deed of two thousand acres from William Minnivo of Tunskipage, in Massachusetts Bay.  The deed is dated May 14, 1666, and is found recorded in the clerk's office at Providence, Oct. 14, 1672.  The children were John Mowry, Jr., who married Margery, daughter of Eleizer and Alice Whipple.  He was buried near Lime Rock.  Maribah married Nicholas Phillips.  Experience married Elisha Smith.  There is a tradition that all the Mowrys descended from one Peleg Mowry, who settled near Boston, and is said to have raised a family of nineteen sons.  John Mowry, Jr., who married Margery Whipple had children, -- Anamus, Philip, John, Abigail, Margery, Anna, and Maribah.  John married a Miss Tucker, by whom he had two children, Eziel and Lydia.  This family is even to-day quite numerous, and, indeed, the name of Mowry is one of the great names of Smithfield.

There are other names that have honored the two Smithfields, have given character to the settlement, and facilitated progress.  Sufficient has been written to illustrate the character of these early settlers, whose efforts helped to lay the foundation of the present prosperity and wealth of the two towns, and whose memory is embalmed in grateful remembrances of their illustrious descendants.

Manufactures, Villages, &c.
Slatersville.  Near the site of the present machine-shop, in the early part of the present century, stood a saw and grist mill.  Here the farmers were accustomed to haul their logs to be converted into building-material, and their corn and other grains to be ground into articles of food.  At this time, a plain wooden bridge crossed the stream, where now may be found a substantial stone arch spanning the chasm.  In 1805, Mr. Samuel Slater, with his brother John, passed through this entire section of country, looking for a suitable site for the erection of a cotton-factory.  The splendid water-privilege here attracted their attention, and they resolved to invest their capital at this place.  In 1806, under the firm-name of Almy, Brown & Slater, was erected the first cotton-mill in Smithfield.

On the 4th of July, 1807, the first spinning-frames were set running in this mill.  This company continued to run for some ten or twelve years.  In 1821, the western mill was erected, and successive improvements and enlargements have been made by the present company.  In 1826, the original mill was burned.  It was, however, immediately rebuilt, and on a considerably larger scale.

About the same time, near the old foundations, the centre mill was built.  The lower mill was originally built for a bleachery.  It was afterwards used for a machine-shop, and then a woollen mill.  It was destroyed by fire in 1842, and rebuilt and enlarged in 1843.  In 1833, Messrs. S. & J. Slater purchased the interest of Almy & Brown, but continued their name until the death of the original owners.  The mills, and the principal property in the village, are owned by the Slaters even to this day.

These mill are fine stone structures, and operate some 30,000 spindles, 654 looms, and give employment to 450 operatives.  One hundred and fifty tenements, large store houses, and much other valuable property are owned in connection with these mills.  Since 1873, the property has been in the possession of Mr. William S. Slater.  These mills are operated in the manufacture of sheetings, shirtings, &c.

A post-office was established here in 1820.  It has three stores, market, tailor-shop, several other mercantile establishments, and two churches.  A Reform Club was started in 1876.  Its first president was Edward Parker, and it now numbers a membership of two hundred.  It meets weekly in Slatersville Hall.  The village has a fine library, containing a collection of valuable books, numbering some 1,500 volumes.  The society was chartered in 1848.

Forestdale. One-half mile below Slatersville, on the same stream, is situated this interesting manufacturing village, owned by the Forestdale Manufacturing Co.  This company was chartered May, 1871.  The company have warehouses, a store, and sixty-one tenements in connection with their factories.  The upper mill is a stone structure, three stories high, 68 x 166 feet, with an L of same height, 44 x 65 feet.  The lower mill is of stone, also, and is a two-story structure, 34 x 94 feet.  The company have a complete establishment, and are doing an extensive business.  They make, upon their own premises, the gas used in lighting the factory and the village.  The two factories contain 15,216 spindles and 322 looms, and employ about 225 hands.  The upper mill was built by Mansfield & Lamb, in 1860.  These parties sold out to J. & W. Slater and George W. Holt, who afterwards formed the present company, John Slater, William Slater, and Alfred Read, who have added steam-power to run the mill when short of water.

In 1824, Newton Darling had a scythe-shop here.  He afterwards ran the works under the firm-name of H. S. Mansfield & Co, and subsequently as Mansfield & Darling.  Mansfield & Holman manufactured scythes and edge-tools from 1840 to 1845; afterwards, Mansfield conducted the business alone for a good many years.  In 1860, the firm-name was Mansfield & Lamb.  This firm obtained a contract to make sabres, and employed as many as 150 hands.  After this contract was finished the company made scythes and other edge-tools until 1871, when they built the upper stone mill and sold out to the present company, as above listed.

The Branch.  Otis Bartlett commenced the business of scythe-making about the year 1800, at a place about a mile above Slatersville, but operated this factory but a short time, when he removed his works to this place.  Elisha Bartlett's three sons, Otis, George, and Oliver, made scythes at this place for many years, and afterwards admitted their brother-in-law, Colonel Comstock Passmore, as a partner.  He bought out his partners, one by one, and in 1820, he owned the establishment.  He continued business until his death, in 1825.  This energetic business man died at the age of 44 years, greatly lamented by a large circle of friends; and the business community of the town suffered a great loss by his death.  The same company had a cotton factory, which they built in 1805, and spun cotton in connection with the scythe-works.  After the Colonel's death, his son, George B. Passmore, ran the scythe-works and factory together a few years, when he leased the scythe-works to Otis Bartlett for a term of years.  After the expiration of said lease, he again assumed the management, and continued business until disaster overtook him.  Daniels & Arnold purchased the privilege, and ran for three yeas, when Mr. Daniels bought Mr. Arnold's interest and conducted the business for three or four years, when he sold to Darling & Mansfield, who ran a few years on woollen goods.  For several years the mill had varying fortunes, sometimes running on cotton and then on woollen goods.  About 1858, the present owners, the Blackstone Woolen Company, purchased the privilege, and have manufactured shoddy-goods.  This company leased the old scythe-works for several years, but they were finally abandoned.

Union Worsted Company's Mill, Waterford.  Benjamin Martin built a series of buildings a little southwest of the railroad station at this place, in the year 1863, for a plow factory, which, in a few years, was altered into a sash-and-blind factory, and run as such for a number of years.  In the autumn of 1877, the mill was changed into a worsted factory.  A small portion of the company's mills is in Massachusetts.

Union.  This is, indeed, as fine a village as there is within the limits of the town.  This village once contained several taverns and at one period of its history is said to have bid fair to rival Woonsocket in wealth and affluence.  The post-office, now at Woonsocket, was first established here, as also the Union Bank.

First National Bank of Smithfield, at Slatersville, was chartered in 1815, and commenced business in 1818, under the name of the 'Burrillville Agricultural and Manufacturer's Bank'.  It here issued its first bills.  In 1824, its name was changed to the 'Village Bank'; and in May, 1865, it was nationalized.  John Slater was President; and Henry S. Mansfield, Cashier.  He remained until 1839, when he was succeeded by H. S. Mansfield, Jr., who continued in office until April, 1846, when he was succeeded by William H. Seagrave, the present incumbent.  William S. Slater is the present President, who succeeded his father, John Slater, in 1843.  Capital, $100,000, with a surplus of $30,000.  Discount day, Monday.

The people of Smithfield have always been alive to the interests of education, and have spared no pains to promote the cause in all of its varied developments.  Before the public-school system became so generally established, the farmers were accustomed to make arrangements for a winter school with some competent person, and, not unfrequently, they were engaged for a summer term as well.

As early as 1810, the people of Union Village, from the proceeds of a lottery, built a school-house, and called it the Smithfield Academy.  David Aldrich was the first teacher.  This school was presided over by competent teachers, and the academy soon acquired an excellent reputation as an institution for learning.  The academy has been discontinued for several years, the free school in the village taking its place.  Before the old town of Smithfield was divided, there were some thirty-seven school districts within the town.  Since the division of the town, and the incorporation of North Smithfield, the new town has been divided into eleven districts.  This town has annually voted $2,500 for the support of the public schools, in addition to that obtained from the State and otherwise, which foot up to nearly $4,500, for school purposes.  The school-buildings are in good repair, and reflect credit upon the school officials.

St. John's Church.
Prior to the building of this church, the Catholics of Slatersville and immediate vicinity, convened for worship in a hall on the Millville Road, and were under the pastoral charge of Rev. Father Durfee.  After a very severe struggle, Rev. William Brie, now of Fall River, Mass., succeeded in building a church, and putting the parish upon a permanent foundation.  This beautiful little edifice is located on Liberty Hill, in the northwestern part of the village of Slatersville.  The site upon which it stands was donated by Mr. Slater, who, in other ways, afforded material aid.

The church was completed in 1872, and, in the spring, was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies to the service of God, the Rt. Rev. Thomas Hendricken, first bishop of Providence, officiating.  Rev. James Berkins was chosen pastor in April, 1873, and remained in charge until September, 1874.  About this time the present pastor, Rev. E. F. Carrigan, was appointed to the pastorate.  Under his faithful and judicious management, the society has been largely augmented, and consists chiefly of French and Irish.  A fine and convenient parochial residence has been erected, the church refurnished, and a cemetery provided.

The present pastor was born in Providence, R. I., Jan. 1, 1848, is of Irish parentage, and was ordained at the seminary, in Three Rivers, Ca., on Feb. 2, 1873.  Much credit is due to him for his persevering energy and active efforts in promoting the interests of the society, and in the perfecting of these needed improvements.

Congregational Church.
This church was organized in 1816.  Its original members were Mr. Solomon Johnson, Mr. Ebenezer Baxter and wife, Duncan Wright and wife, and James Cupples and wife.  On the same day, Lydia Dawson was received by profession.  During the same year, seven others were received into the organization.  The church was brought into existence through the efforts of Rev. Daniel Waldo, who was missionary from the 'Massachusetts Home Mission Society.'  This man lived to be over one hundred years of age, and the latter part of his life was spent in Syracuse, N. Y.

For many years the society worshipped in the school-house, which was originally built with galleries for the purpose of accommodating religious services.  Subsequently a church edifice was erected, and the first clerk was Mr. James Cupples.  A Sabbath school was early instituted, as appears from the following record, under date of April, 1817:  'A list of twenty-three valuable books, such as 'Henry on Meekness', 'Joy's Sermons', 'Scott's Essays on Experience, &c; a present from the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge to the Congregational Church of Christ in Smithfield'.  'Besides a number of pamphlets and tracts, which I have given to the Sabbath school'.  Signed, 'James Cupples'.

The church has been presided over by many faithful and worthy pastors, whose labors have been blessed with success, and whose memory is cherished with reverence by those who are left to worship in the sanctuary, hallowed by pleasant reminiscences of the past.  The church and society still remain in a prosperous and flourishing condition, and have a future of undoubted success.

These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project.
Transcription 2004 by Beth Hurd, Images by Beth Hurd 2004
Mail e-mail