Hannah Robinson Rock.

A tragic tale of romance, betrayal, and thick-headedness.

Tower Hill Road, South Kingstown
(401) 884-2010

This ledge, also known as Sad Rock, Crying Rock, and Meditation Rock, is where a young Hannah Robinson would gaze for hours over the tranquil vista of Narragansett Bay. Born in 1746, the daughter of Rowland Robinson, a wealthy and prominent local citizen, Hannah grew up in an impressive plantation house at Boston Neck (Narragansett) built by her father in 1724. She was an intelligent and well-loved child and, while not spoiled, she had a stubborn streak a mile wide, a trait she apparently inherited from her father.

Hannah's tragic story began when she entered young ladyhood (around 1764 or '65) and her father decided that she should have the benefits of the best education he could provide. So he sent her across the bay to a famous school for young ladies in Newport, run by a Madame Osborn. It was there that Hannah met and fell in love with Peter Simon, who taught dancing and French at the school. Knowing Hannah's father would never approve of their relationship, the couple conspired to keep their meetings secret from him, even after Hannah had finished her time at the school and returned home. Other relatives and friends did what they could to help the two lovebirds spend time together. An uncle even gave Simon a job in his home teaching his sons so that Hannah and Peter could be close to one another.

Eventually, of course, Mr. Robinson found out what had been going on. One night he caught Peter hiding among the lilac bushes under Hannah's window. After that Hannah was forbidden from seeing her suitor and was practically confined to the house. Any time she went out walking or riding, her father made sure she was accompanied by another family member or a trusted servant.

Things couldn't go on like this for long. Remember Hannah's stubborn streak? She enlisted her uncle and a friend named Miss Belden to help her to elope. Hannah's mother, Austis, tried everything she could think of to dissuade her daughter from going through with her plan, but seeing that Hannah's health was suffering she finally agreed to help as well.

It happened that one of Hannah's aunts, Mrs. Ludovick Updike, was going to hold a great ball at Smith's Castle, about eight miles north of the Robinson house. Hannah seized on this as a perfect opportunity to get away. She secured her reluctant father's permission to go to the party, with the stipulation that she be accompanied by her sister Mary and a servant named Prince (who was allegedly an actual African prince).

The night of the ball, after saying a simple goodnight to her father and then bidding a tearful farewell to her mother, Hannah and her companions rode north toward Cocumscussoc. They soon met up with Simon at Ridge Hill where Hannah, giving little notice to the entreaties of Mary and Prince, rode off with Peter to Providence to be married.

Hannah's father was furious and devastated. His perfect daughter, who could have married into any one of a number of prominent local families, had instead chosen to disobey him and marry a common teacher! He offered a large reward to anyone who could supply him with the names of those who had helped Hannah with her elopement, but no one would come forward.

The fun could only last so long, however. Time passed and it became evident to Simon that Hannah would never see a shilling from her father. Peter began to neglect his wife and after a while he abandoned her altogether. Broken-hearted and low on funds, Hannah gradually became ill. Her mother managed to send Hannah some clothing and household items, as well as Hannah's little dog, but that was all she could do for her. Mr. Robinson's only concession was to send Hannah her maid, also named Hannah, with whom she had grown up.

Hannah hung on in Providence for several years. At some point her father got it into his head that if she would just tell him who had helped her to elope, he could forgive her and accept her back into his home in good conscience. To this end he periodically sent messages to his daughter begging her to tell. But Hannah's conscience would not let her name her accomplices. She reminded her father how he had taught her the importance of keeping her word. She said she couldn't possibly betray the people whom she had promised to keep secret. This happened again and again as father and daughter waged an ongoing power struggle, neither one conceding an inch as Hannah grew sicker.

Finally, when Hannah was near death's door, her friend and uncle let her know that she should reveal their names so that Hannah might be reconciled with her father before she died. Hannah sent a message to her father saying she was now free to reveal her co-conspirators. Rowland rode to Providence immediately, but when he saw his daughter's pitiful condition he forgot all about the information he had previously demanded. Instead, according to an account in the Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island, "he wept aloud with grief and remorse."

Returning alone that night to Boston Neck, he rousted four "trusted men" (probably slaves) from their beds and sent them off to Providence by boat with a litter. Early the next morning Rowland rode back to Providence with his servant Prince and a horse for Hannah's maid. At daybreak, Hannah was gently placed on the litter and the whole procession headed south.

As they approached the Robinson house, Hannah asked to be taken down to the ledge she had frequented as a child. There, near a huge, cube-shaped rock, she saw some flowers growing and asked for one. As she clutched the bloom to her bosom she took a long last look out over the landscape she loved so well. After a time the company continued on to Hannah's childhood home, where she distributed her few possessions among her family. Soon thereafter, on October 30, 1773, she died peacefully. She was only 27 years old.

Hannah Robinson Rock was once said by H.P. Lovecraft to "command... the finest rural prospect I have anywhere seen," but now suburbia is encroaching (a house was built just to the north of the rock in the early 2000s), and you have to look across a stubbly patch of cleared land to see Narragansett Bay. Perhaps condos will soon block the view altogether. Just south of the rock, a 100-foot high wooden tower overlooks the bay, the Atlantic Ocean (on a clear day) and inland woods. The original tower, built in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), was reconstructed in 1988 using the same plans and much of the original wood. The view from the tower isn't much better than that from the ledge, as trees have grown up all around it. Still, by many who travel Post Road, it's considered to mark the northern boundary of South County.

The Robinson house still stands on Old Boston Neck Road. It is not open to the public. Hannah Robinson's headstone is located in a small plot behind a Cape Cod duplex off Riverdell Drive in Narragansett.

Information

Cost: free

Time required: allow 15 minutes

Hours: open year round, dawn to dusk

Finding it: From Route 95 take exit 9 to Route 4 South; Route 4 becomes Route 1 (Tower Hill Road); follow to the junction of Routes 1 and 138 west; pull into the parking lot at the tower on the left; follow a short path through the woods to the ledge.

What’s nearby

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

This article last edited April 10, 2016

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