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Block Island, Page 2

This section contains articles of genealogical and historic interest on Rhode Island in general, from old Rhode Island books and newspapers.

   Captain James Sands, born in 1622

   Captain John Sands, eldest son of James, admitted freeman here in 1709

   Three Named Edward Sands

   Ray Sands, born 5 January 1736

   John Sands, "Cotemporary with the above Col. Ray Sands"

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Livermore's History of Block Island, Rhode Island, 1877 Bridgewater, Mass.  Pages 268 to 286


The Sands family is traceable back into English history seven or eight centuries, and at various times some of that name acted conspicuous parts in national affairs, especially in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Sir William Sands, at that time, had much to do in securing the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey, and in sustaining charges against Pope Clement the VII. The American family of this name probably sprang from that of a Mr. James Sands of Staffordshire, England, who died in 1670, aged 140 years, and his wife lived to the age of 120. Forty-eight years previous to his death the subject of this sketch, Capt. James Sands, was born in Reading, England, and. his father, Henry Sands, the first of the name in New England, was admitted freeman of Boston in the year 1640, thirty years before the death of the elder James Sands. Thus we may infer, if not demonstrate, the line of relationship between the English and American families of Sands.

Capt. James Sands, born in 1622, was a young man at the time the noted Ann Hutchinson made so much disturbance among the good people of Massachusetts, who banished her from the colony on account of Antinomian preaching. She went to East Chester, N. Y., there settled, and employed Mr. Sands to build her a house, the following account of which is given by the Rev. Samuel Niles, who was the grandson of Mr. Sands.

"In order to pursue her purpose she agreed with Captain James Sands, then a young man, to build her a house, and he took a partner with him in the business. When they had near spent their provisions, he sent his partner for more which was to be fetched. at a considerable distance. While his partner was gone there came a company of Indians to the frame where he was at work, and made a great shout, and sat down. After some time they gathered up his tools, put his broad-ax on his shoulder, and his other tools into his hands, and made signs to him to go away. But he seemed to take no notice of them, but continued in his work. At length one of them said, Ye-hah Mumuneketock, the English of which is, 'Come, let us go,' and they all went away to the water-side for clams or oysters. [They were near the Hudson river.] After some time they came back, and found him still at work as before. They again gathered up his tools, put them into his hands as before they had done, with the like signs moving him to go away. He still seemed. to take no notice of them, but kept on his business, and when they had stayed some time, they said as before, Ye-hah Mumuneketock. Accordingly they all went away, and left him there at his work - a remarkable instance of the restraining power of God on the hearts of these furious and merciless infidels, who otherwise would. doubtless in their rage have split out his brains with his own ax. However, the Indians being gone, he gathered up his tools and drew off, and in his way met his partner bringing provisions, to whom he declared the narrow escape he had made for his life. Resolving not to return, and run a further risk of the like kind, they both went from the business." Mrs. Hutchinson hired others to finish her house. Soon after she with her whole family, sixteen in all, was murdered by the Indians.

It was in 1658 that Mr. Sands with his wife came from England and landed at Plymouth, and soon after this he undertook the building of the house for Mrs. Hutchinson.

A short time after his return from that undertaking to Massachusetts, he became identified with the enterprise of settling Block Island, three years after his arrival from England. In what year he came to the Island we are not certain, for his name does not appear among the sixteen who came here in April, 1661, nor is it in the list of those who met August 17, 1660, at the house of Dr. John Alcock of Roxbury to buy the Island; and yet, in the memorandum of the survey, his name is mentioned, and also the numbers of the lots that constituted his sixteenth part of the Island. This is sufficient to identify him with the first purchasers and settlers thereof. His lots were numbered 12, and 14, and 15, the latter two owned by him and John Glover. He came from Taunton to the Island, and was soon distinguished as a prominent citizen.

In March, 1664, the General Assembly of Rhode Island notified the inhabitants of Block Island that they were under the care of the Rhode Island government, and at the same time informed James Sands, then a freeman of Rhode Island, to come "in to the Governor or deputy-Governor, to take his engagement as Constable or Conservator of the peace there."

In May, 1664, Mr. Sands with Mr. Joseph Kent, presented to the General Assembly of Rhode Island, a petition in behalf of the Islanders that Joseph Kent, Thomas Terry, Peter George, Simon Ray, William Harris, Samuel Bearing, John Rathbone, John Davies, Samuel Staples, Hugh Williams, Robert Guthrig, William Tosh, Tollman Bose, William Carboone, Tristrome Dodge, John Clark, and William Barker might be admitted as freemen of the Colony of Rhode Island. The Assembly referred the petition to a committee consisting of Roger Williams, Thomas Olney, and Joseph Torrey, who reported favorably upon all the above names except Hugh Williams, against whom was a rumor of his having said some words reproachful of the colony. After further examination as to his loyalty, however, he was admitted freeman. Mr. Sands had been previously admitted, and he is probably the James Sands mentioned as a freeman in 1655, and as a representative of the General Court of Commissioners, held at Newport, May the 19th, 1657. (Col. Rec., I, p. 300, 855.) Capt. James Sands, with Thomas Terry, was the first representative from Block Island to sit in the General Court of Commissioners of Rhode Island, admitted such in 1665. In 1672, he was foremost in presenting the petition to have the Island incorporated under the name of New Shoreham, and the General Assembly granted the request, but in so doing preserved. the old name Block Island, the chartered name being "New Shoreham, otherwise Block Island."

He understood the carpenter's trade, as is evident from what has been said of his undertaking to build a house for Ann Hutchinson. This knowledge helped him in erecting his own house on Block Island. He located it a few feet east of the house now occupied by Mr. Almanzo Littlefield, close to the mill and bridge on the road from the Harbor to the Center, or Baptist church. He built it of stone, and Rev. Samuel Niles, his grandson, frequently speaks of it in his history of the Indian and French Wars. Our evidence of its location is circumstantial, but conclusive.

There is not an individual on the Island, besides the writer, probably, who can say with any degree of certainty where the "garrisoned" house stood.

Mr. Sands was brave, humane, and a devoted. Christian as well as an enterprising citizen. There was difference of opinion between him and his grandson, Mr. Niles, to preclude the suspicion that might arise in the minds of some that the latter overpraised the former. Moreover, the latter wrote at too advanced. an age to be prejudiced, or biased from the truth by personal considerations. Mr. Sands' courage is seen in the following extract concerning the Indians here and the few settlers: " The English, fearing what might be their [the Indians'] design, as they were drinking, dancing, and reveling after their usual customs at such times, * * went to parley with them, and. to know what their intentions were. James Sands, who was the leading man among them, entered into a wigwam where he saw a very fine brass gun standing, and an Indian fellow lying on a bench in the wigwam, probably to guard and keep it. Mr. Sands' curiosity led him to take and view it, as it made a curious and uncommon appearance. Upon which the Indian fellow rises up hastily and snatches the gun out of his hand, and withal gave him such a violent thrust with the butt end of it as occasioned him to stagger backward. But feeling some thing under his feet, he espied it to be a hoe, which he took up and improved, and with it fell upon the Indian."

In another connection Mr. Wiles says of him: "He was a benefactor to the poor; for as his house was garrisoned, in the time of their fears of the Indians, many poor people resorted to it, and were supported mostly from his liberality. He also was a promoter of religion in his benefactions to the minister they had there in his day, though not altogether so agreeable to him as might be desired, as being inclined to the Anabaptist persuasion. He devoted his house for the worship of God, where it was attended every Lord's day or Sabbath."

"Anabaptist" was then a term used to designate such as are now called Baptists, and Mr. Sands' powerful influence did much to establish Baptist sentiments on the Island.

That he was an enterprising citizen is evident from the simple statement: " Mr. Sands had a plentiful estate, and gave free entertainment to all gentlemen that came to the Island." To this it is added: "When his house was garrisoned it became a hospital, for several poor people resorted thither."

Such are the facts that furnish the outlines of one of the noblest characters of New England. An intimate friend of Roger Williams, the first freeman on the Island, the Orson representative from it in the Rhode Island Assembly, the one who procured the citizenships to the Islanders as freemen and presented to the State the petition for the chartered rights of a township; making his house the hospitable home of visitors from abroad, the garrison, and the place of worship for the Islanders, and a hospital for the poor and suffering. "He died in the 72d year of his age," (Niles) and instead of the humble slab, from which the letters and figures are so worn by time, in the Block Island cemetery, lying over his grave, there should be erected a monument more expressive of his great excellences. His simple epitaph reads:

LIFE MARCH 13 A. D. 1695.
He represented Block Island in the Rhode Island General Assembly in the years 1678, 1680, and 1690. His descendants are very numerous, and some of them distinguished. Three of his four sons, during the French privateering on the Island removed to Cow Neck, now Sands Point, on Long Island. At the same time they retained their farms and cattle on Block Island, to which they annually returned in the summer. Their kinsman and intimate acquaintance, Rev. Samuel Niles, says of them: "Captain John Sands, Mr. James, and Samuel Sands, each of them leaving a farm at Block Island, which they stocked with sheep, were wont to come once a year at their shearing-time on the Island, to carry off their wool and what fat sheep there were at that time and market at New York." One of them, it seems, returned to remain permanently after the French. had ceased their depredations, and of him we give the following items.

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Capt. John Sands.

Mr. Niles describes him as "a gentleman of great port and superior powers," as the eldest son, and successor of his father, the original settler of Block Island. He was admitted freeman here in 1709, and in the years 1713 and 1714 was representative of the island in the Rhode Island General Assembly. His brothers, James and Samuel, removed to Cow Neck, now Sands Point, Long Island, and there remained permanently, while the youngest of the four brothers continued with his father on Block Island. His name was Edward, was born in 1672, admitted freeman in 1696, died in 1715, aged forty-three years. He probably left a child bearing his name, for another

Edward Sands

Came upon the stage of public life in 1734, being then admitted freeman from Block Island. He was its representative in the General Assembly from the year 1740 to the year 1760. In the meantime he had a son born who was named

Edward Sands, Jr.

Of him we have a brief record in a ponderous old tome now in the possession of Mr. Simon Ray Sands of Block Island. It is an immense quarto, heavily bound in boards, richly ornamented with heavy corner pieces and clasps of brass, printed in 1715, the year the senior Edward died, and by him was presented to the younger Edward. Its title is "The Book of Common Prayer, and Psalter." It is carefully kept as n precious heir-loom, and has been visited by persons of distinction in latter years. In it is the following record of the subject of this sketch: "Edward Sands Born ye 2 Day of April A. D. 1748. Also: "Edward Sands, Jr. was Married to Deborah Niles and eldest Daughter of Paul Niles, Esq. the 14th Day of December 1769 by John Littlefield, Warden."

During the stormy time of the Revolution he was well known by his patriotism, and in 1774 was appointed by his townsmen on the committee of resistance to the English tea-tax in favor of the East India Company. In 1776, he with others protested against the bill passed by the assembly of Rhode Island for the establishment of smallpox hospitals in the various towns. In the same year he was appointed by the Rhode Island assembly to take the census of Block Island, and by a special act was allowed to carry on trade with the colony. By the same authority in 1777, he was "surgeon of the regiment of artillery;" in 1779, by an act of the Assembly, was permitted to return to the Island., showing the vigilance kept upon all movements in those times of military rule; and in 1785, represented his town in the General Assembly.

Ray Sands.

Of him, in the old book above described, is this record: "Ray Sands, Borne January ye Fifth at Eleven o'Clock in the Morning, A. D. 1736." He was a cotemporary of Edward, Jr., and was a man of great energy and influence. Made a freeman in 1759, at the ear1y age of twenty-four, he began his public career as representative in the Rhode Island Assembly, in 1761, and held it also in 1767. At the time post-offices were first established in Rhode Island, Mr. Ray Sands was appointed post-master at Tower Hill, in 1775. When the muster-rolls were filling up for the Revolution, Ray Sands, by both Houses of the Rhode Island Legislature, was appointed. captain of a military company of South Kingstown. In 1776, his was the third company of that town. During that year he was appointed to the once of Major, and before its close was promoted to that of Colonel, and was brought into active service, as seen by the following act: "It is voted and resolved, that Col. Joseph Noyes and Col. Ray Sands be directed forthwith to accompany the troops of horse stationed at Boston Neck and Point Judith; and that they procure convenient quarters for said troops as nigh said places as possible." In 1776, his regiment captured a ferry-boat from the enemy near "North Ferry." In 1777 it was discovered that he had received his colonelcy by an error of entry by the Clerk of the assembly, whereas it should have been lieutenant-colonel. The mistake was rectified to his honor, as he continued none the less patriotic, and received a vote of thanks from the General Assembly, "for his vigilant and spirited conduct as colonel." After a considerable time had elapsed since he left Block Island, and as he had a farm here, an act was passed, subject to Major-General Gates, then commanding the United States forces in Rhode island, permitting him to return again to the scenes of his childhood. Meantime he made South Kingston his home, as we learn from the following act of 1783, viz.: "It is voted and resolved that the said Ray Sands have liberty to go upon the said Island and bring off his negroes, household furniture and pro visions, with any other articles of the produce or growth of the said Island; provided that he go from the port of Newport, under the inspection of the intendant of trade there, and upon his return enter in the said intendant's office all the articles he shall bring, taking care that no British goods or prohibited articles be brought in his boat, under penalty of forfeiture of his said boat, and all the articles therein, and being also liable to a prosecution therefor." In the same year of this removal his townsmen and kindred on the Island chose him, an inhabitant of South Kingston, to represent them in the General Assembly, which soon after made this record: "It is therefore voted and resolved, that the choice of the said Ray Sands as aforesaid., be, and the same is hereby approved." In 1787, he was also representative from Block Island, and according to the family record, in the old book, died March 11, 1820, aged eighty-four years.

John Sands.

Cotemporary with the above Col. Ray Sands was a relative by the name of John who was also distinguished as a prominent citizen. His town made him representative in 1773. In the same year he was active in efforts to secure a harbor for Block Island, to which allusion is made under the head "The Harbor." In 1774, he was appointed by the colony to take the census of the Island, and was also, in 1774, on the committee of resistance to the tea-tax. In 1775 he was chosen captain of a company of which Samuel Rathbone, Sr., was lieutenant, and Wm. Littlefield, ensign. That year he was authorized. "to take an account of the powder, arms, and. ammunition" of Block Island. That year was distinguished by the removal of goods from the Island to the main-land by military authority to prevent them from falling into the hands of the English. Mr. Sands parted with 105 sheep for £32 2s. 6d., and "169 store sheep and lambs" for £42 5s. 0d. In 1776 he, as captain, was in command. of the Block Island company of militia to serve in the Revolution, with Simon Littlefield for lieutenant, and John Pain for ensign. That year he, with Joshua Sands and William Littlefield was authorized by the Rhode Island. Assembly and "appointed a committee to determine what number of neat cattle and sheep " should "be left upon said Block Island for the necessary use of the inhabitants." He had then state license to carry on trade with the colony on the main-land. In 1777, Adjutant Stelle, who came to the Island in the sloop Diamond, "to manage an exchange of prisoners" with England, boarded at the house of Capt. John Sands, as did also the prisoners, for which he was allowed by the Government £12 14s. 08d. In 1783, he was representative in the Rhode Island Legislature, and by that body was appointed to take possession of the confiscated estate of one Ackurs Sisson on Block Island. In 1790, he was also representative in the state councils.

Mr. John Sands was chairman of the town meeting of Block Island, August 14, 1779, when that extraordinary document was adopted, of which he was probably the author, in which the citizens assumed rights so far transcending the charters of England and the colony to said Island as virtually to erect it into a self-constituted, independent democracy, wielding the power of life and death. He was the great man of the Island during the Revolution.

Joshua Sands was in active life in 1774, and was one of the anti-tea-tax committee in that year.

Robert Sands, son of Col. Ray Sands of South Kingston, in 1781, in reply to a petition presented to the assembly "that his father is possessed of a large real estate on Block Island, which he has committed to his care," was "permitted to go upon the said Island, under the inspection of Gideon Hoxie, Esq." to which was added, to show the rigor of the times, "that he do not return without the order of this Assembly."

Mrs. Lucy Sands, in 1779, by permission of the General Assembly and Major Gen. Gates, visited her family on Block Island.

But we must draw to a close this imperfect sketch of the Sands family of Block Island. whose public spirit, patriotism, wealth, and high tone would be an honor to any part of the world. Their descendants have made a record in America, in the various professions and walks of life, that will compare favorably with their ancient English record dating back to 1041. But few, however, are now upon Block Island. Those in the direct line from James Sands, the first settler here, now living upon the Island are Mr. Simon Ray Sands, his brother Edward Sands, Dea. Robert Treadwell Sands and his brother Wm. C. Sands, who are highly esteemed, and well-to-do citizens.

The first-named, commonly called "Col. Sands," as well as the others, bears much of the air and high tone of his ancestors. He was Representative in the Rhode Island Legislature eight years, 1840-1848, five years in the Senate, and three years in the House. His father's name was William Pitt Sands, whose father's name was Edward Sands, Sr., whose father was Edward Sands, whose father was Capt. James Sands, the first settler.

The present Col. Sands had two grandfathers of the name of Sands who were brothers, viz., John Sands, and Edward Sands, Jr. John's daughter, Catharine, married Edward's son Wm. Pitt, the father of Col. Simon Ray Sands.

Mr. Nathaniel Sands, who formerly owned the real estate where the Adrian House is now located, is still remembered with esteem by many of the Islanders. He removed to East Greenwich, Rhode Island, where he died. His widow and daughter there still survive.

These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project, 1998.