One man, two graves.

John Wickes Elementary School, Child Lane, Warwick
(401) 734-3575

In the old 1958 horror flick The Thing that Couldn't Die, an old buried crate is uncovered by a young psychic woman. Inside is the living head of Gideon Drew, a 16th-century devil worshiper who was beheaded by Sir Francis Drake. He wants his body back, and he doesn't care who he has to kill to get it.

The story of John Wickes is very similar, except there are no psychics, Satanists, or murderous spirits. What John Wickes shares with Gideon Drew is that the heads and bodies of both men were buried in two separate graves.

In 1676, Rhode Island was stuck in the middle of a full-scale war between the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Connecticut on the one side, and the Indians, led by Wampanoag sachem Metacom (King Philip) on the other. Angered by the slaughter of women, children, and the elderly of the neutral Narragansett Tribe in the Great Swamp Fight of December 1675, the Indians had burned several towns in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island during the spring of 1676.

On March 13, 1676, the Rhode Island General Assembly, meeting in Newport, sent a message to the people of Warwick, warning them that the Colony was unable to guarantee their safety. Residents were advised to seek safety across the bay in Portsmouth or Newport. Most Warwick settlers prudently abandoned their homes and fled the area. The few who elected to stay behind barricaded themselves inside Thomas Greene's home, nicknamed Greene's Stone Castle. The only stone dwelling south of Providence on the mainland, the Castle was thought to be impervious to attack.

It's unclear who, other than Thomas Greene, his wife, and their six children, took shelter in the Stone Castle, but it is certain that their sixty-six-year-old neighbor, John Wickes, also remained in Warwick while others fled.

Born in Staines, England, John Wickes came to America in 1635, where he converted to the teachings of Samuel Gorton. Wickes and Gorton were two of the original purchasers of Shawomet (later Warwick) from the Narragansett sachem Miantonomi in 1642, and Wickes took an active part in defending the town when Massachusetts troops attacked in 1643 in a bid to capture Gorton and his followers and return them to Boston to be tried for heresy. Wickes was captured and jailed, but later released. He returned to Warwick where he served as a member of the Town Council, then as Town Magistrate, and was for nineteen years a representative in the Rhode Island General Assembly.

During those quiet years Wickes lived on a farm about a mile west of Greene's Stone Castle, on the corner of Main Avenue and West Shore Road. Present day Liverpool Street and Strawberry Field Road mark the northern and eastern boundaries of his property.

Whether Wickes merely happened to be visiting the Greenes when the attack came, or whether he hurried to the safety of their house ahead of the advancing war party, he certainly spent the night there. Historical records indicate that he felt no fear of the Indians, having long been a friend of the Narragansetts, and he probably went about his business right up until a raiding party entered the town on March 16. By the morning of the 17th, every home and barn, except Greene's Stone Castle had been burned, and the settlers' livestock driven into the woods. After the Indians had vented their fury and gone, Wickes decided to leave the house and search for his scattered cattle. Despite the events of the previous evening, he still thought his friendship with the Narragansetts would keep him from harm.

John Wickes didn't return that night. The next morning, a few intrepid souls ventured forth from the garrison house to survey the damage and look for their friend. They went to the site of Wickes' home, now a smoldering ruin, and discovered a new lawn ornament nearby—a pole, on which John Wickes' head had been impaled. They cautiously removed the grisly object and returned with it to the Stone Castle, where they buried it "within a few rods" of the house. The next day, Wickes' mutilated torso was found in a bramble thicket. Without opening the first grave, a second, larger one was dug next to it, and Wickes's decapitated body was buried there.

Could these be two of the "rough stones" mentioned by George Sears Greene?

In the mid-nineteenth century, Wilkins Updike noted in his History of the Narragansett Church that "…two little hillocks, which mark the spot are still shown as the grave of John Wickes." It should be mentioned that a genealogy of the Greene family compiled by Major-General George Sears Greene listed three graves for Mr. Wickes, each of which was marked with rough stones. Greene also says that Wickes was "quartered" and inferred that parts of him were discovered in several different locations.

However many there are, those graves are now part of the Greene Family Cemetery, also known as Stone Castle Cemetery, or more recently, Warwick Historical Cemetery #28, on West Shore Road in Warwick.

The stone provided by Benjamin Greene Arnold for his ancestor, Thomas Greene.

In 1881 John Wickes received a gift of recognition from posterity when his graves were marked by a large, inscribed sandstone slab, placed by Benjamin Greene Arnold, a fifth-generation descendant of Thomas Greene. (Around this time, Wickes' remains may or may not have been gathered together into a single grave. Only an exhumation or ground-penetrating radar would tell us for sure.) Benjamin Greene Arnold also provided stones for many of his other relatives in the cemetery, and you can still trace parts of the Greene family tree there today.

Cleared of underbrush, the damage caused by vandals is all the more apparent.

It's hard to say when the cemetery first began to be neglected. The surrounding property passed out of the hands of the Greene family when Richard Greene (the great-great-great-great grandson of Thomas) sold it in 1870, and it is today owned by Elks Lodge No. 2196, although according to city policy the cemetery itself still belongs to Greene descendants. A 1990 Providence Journal story reported that "…heavy underbrush and small trees have taken root everywhere. Vandals have knocked over and smashed some of the stones. Only a few rusted poles remain along the fence. A deep furrow marks the site of one grave… dug up by youths dabbling in Satanism." When Quahog staffers visited in September 1999 the cemetery was overgrown with bramble thickets, but we easily found Wickes' stone, leaning against an iron railing in the northeast corner of the cemetery. A return visit in February 2001 found the brush cleared; like many of Rhode Island's small historical cemeteries, the Stone Castle Cemetery is maintained on a haphazard basis by volunteers.

We believe the stone was installed backwards, perhaps in an unconscious attempt to hide the gruesome details of Wickes' death from impressionable students.

In the fall of 1999 Warwick's Historical Cemetery Commission decided that protecting the Stone Castle Cemetery from the depredations of vandals had become a losing proposition. Because Wickes's stone was one of the very few intact stones in the cemetery, as well as being historically important, plans were made to remove it to a safer location. Sometime around late January 2000 the stone was taken to the Department of Parks and Recreation, at the Thayer Ice Rink on Sandy Lane, where it resided for about a year. From there it went to John Wickes Elementary School on Child Lane, where it was installed in the courtyard in mid-April 2001. There, presumably, it will be safe from malicious attacks forevermore. (But probably not from spilled chocolate milk.)

John Wickes's original burial place may become forgotten, but generations of Warwick schoolchildren will know for whom their school is named—the guy who was buried in two graves.

Update, October 2016: Citing a drop in enrollments of twenty-five percent between the 2000-'01 and 2015-'16 school years, the Warwick School committee voted to close John Wickes Elementary School in June 2018. So it would seem that, for now, the cenotaph of John Wickes is inaccessible to the public.

More about Stone Castle

A drawing of Stone Castle rendered by a Greene descendant, based on her grandmother's description. From The History of Warwick by Oliver Payson Fuller (1875).

The house that became known as Greene's Stone Castle was built soon after the founding of Warwick in 1642. It's thought to have been constructed in 1649 by John Smith, who was a stone mason by trade and served as President of the Colony from 1649-'50 and President of Providence and Warwick from 1652-'53. The house was "situated on the north side of 'The Street' [now West Shore Road] and nearly opposite the lane [Wharf Road] which leads to the only wharf in Warwick Cove." Smith married a "widow Sweet" and when he died the stone house passed into the possession of her family.

Thomas Greene purchased the house in 1660 from his brother-in-law, James Sweet. In 1795, soon after inheriting it, Thomas Wickes Greene, the great-great grandson of Thomas Greene, had the house demolished, and replaced it with a wooden structure which was still standing "in good condition" as of 1898. Some of the materials from the stone house were used for the cellar walls of another nearby dwelling, and incorporated into some of the stone walls on the family farm.

In 1870 the property was finally sold out of the family by Richard Greene, the grandson of Thomas Wickes Greene, perhaps because he had no son to pass it on to. The property was then sold and resold more than a dozen times before it came into the hands of its present owner, Elks Lodge No. 2196, a building for which was erected around 1962. Warwick historian Don D'Amato believes the stone castle once stood near the west edge of the Elks' parking lot.

John Wickes's Grave Inscriptions

Front Back
HERE LIE THE REMAINS OF
JOHN WICKES ESQUIRE,
BORN 1609,
AT STAINES, ENGLAND
CAME TO NEW ENGLAND
1635.
AN ORIGINAL PURCHASER
OF WARWICK 1643.
IN PHILIPS [sic] INDIAN WAR
AFTER THE TOWN WAS BURNT,
ON COMING OUT FROM
THOMAS GREENES [sic]
STONE CASTLE
TO LOOK FOR HIS CATTLE
ON 17, MARCH 1675/6,
HE WAS SLAIN BY INDIANS,
AND HIS HEAD SET ON A POLE.

ERECTED BY
BENJAMIN GREENE ARNOLD
1881.
JOHN WICKES
BORN 1609,
MARIE HIS WIFE
BORN 1607,
AND HIS DAUGHTER
ANNA BORN 1634,
CAME TO NEW ENGLAND,
1635.
JOHN WICKES THEIR SON
MAR'D ROSE DAU'R OF
JOHN & ELISABETH
(MONTGOMERY) TOWNSEND,
OF OYSTER BAY
LONG ISLAND, N.Y.
HANNAH THEIR DAU'R
MARRIED WILLIAM BURTON,
OF MASHANTICUT
CRANSTON, R.I.

Information

Cost: free

Time required: allow ten minutes

Hours: Viewable during regular school hours.

Please call ahead for permission to visit the stone.

Finding it: John Wickes Elementary School: from Route 95 take exit 12A to Route 113 east (Main Avenue); travel about 3.5 miles and take a right onto Child Lane. John Wickes Elementary School is located at the end of this cul-de-sac.

John Wickes' Grave: from Route 95 take exit 12A to Route 113 east (Main Avenue); travel to the end and take a right onto West Shore Road (Route 117) and travel about 3.5 miles to the Elk's Lodge No. 2196 at 1915 West Shore Road; park there; walk back along West Shore Road for about two dozen yards, then turn right and head toward the woods; you'll soon find yourself at the entrance of the cemetery; enter and walk to the far corner on your right; John Wickes' graves were located in this area, near some stones belonging to members of the Low family.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to swamps or swashbuckling dogs. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited July 1, 2017

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