Sin and Flesh Brook, looking upstream from its outlet at Nannaquaket Pond.

River of death!

Old Main Road, Tiverton

On March 28, 1676, a pious fellow named Zoeth Howland was riding from Dartmouth to Newport to attend a Quaker meeting. It was quite a distance to travel in those days, and all the more so because of the dangers en route. Howland had to be careful of wolves and rattlesnakes, and, because of the ongoing King Philip's War, ticked-off Indians.

Having come about fifteen miles from Dartmouth, and with a like distance still to go, Howland was following a small stream through a forest in Tiverton when he was ambushed by six Native Americans. They killed the dedicated church-goer, mutilated his body and threw the mangled corpse into the stream.

According to an article by Elon Cook on the Sakonnet Historical website, court records reveal that one man was brought to justice for Zoeth's murder. His name was Manasses (or Molasses), and his punishment was to be sold into slavery.

After the discovery of Howland's body, the brook became known as "Sinning Flesh River." Over the years the name has been colloquialized to Sin and Flesh Brook. Since no mention is made in the story of any sin that Howland may have committed, we're not sure of the exact connection, but it's a cool name, anyway.

The easiest access point to the brook is at its outlet into Nannaquaket Pond. For those who are more intrepid, Fort Barton Woods is only a short drive up Highland Road. A military redoubt used during the Revolutionary War, Fort Barton commands a splendid view of the Sakonnet River and the Portsmouth shore. Behind the fort are several miles of wooded trails that offer a pleasant spot for an afternoon walk. Although it's not marked, some of the trails pass over Sin and Flesh Brook, perhaps close to the spot where Zoeth Howland lost his life.

The brook appears unencumbered by human improvements now, but that wasn't always the case. In the early 1800s it was dammed in a number of places to supply water power for various types of mills. Mill ponds also were a source of ice in winter.

If you're going to go poking around in Fort Barton Woods, you'd best take a nature trail map. This flier on cultural history and natural communities might be of interest, as well. Both PDFs appear courtesy of the Town of Tiverton Open Space Commission.

And if you see Zoeth, well, tell him we said "howdy!"


Cost: free

Time required: if going into Fort Barton Woods, allow a few hours to stroll around

Hours: year round, dawn to dusk

Finding it: from Route 95 take exit 20 for Route 195 east to exit 8 in Fall River; follow Route 24 to Route 77 south (Main Road); turn left onto Bridgeport Road just at the north end of Nannaquaket Pond; Old Main Road passes over Sin and Flesh Brook where it empties into the pond. If you continue up Highland Road from there, you will soon come to Fort Barton Woods on the right.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to buildings or menacing hippies. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited May 4, 2015

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