Johnston Historical Society
Excerpt from History of the State of Rhode Island with Illustrations

Home | About Us | Properties | Events | Publications | History


Oft did the harvest to the sickle yield;
Their furrows oft the stubborn glebe had broke;
How jocund did they drive their team affield!
How bowed the woods beneath their study stroke.

In writing history, a mere gathering together of such dry facts, with dates of their occurrence, as is to be found in records, gives but a faint idea of matters in the past, and beyond the memory of the present generation. Therefore, in compiling this sketch of the town of Johnston, recourse has been had to various sources of information, and much of tradition will be found interwoven, that will doubtless add to the general interest of our present work. The correctness of data will be found incontrovertible, as well-preserved copies of records will attest; and as regards traditional records, they have been obtained, in general, from aged people, who were either actors in the various scenes related, or have been cognizant of the facts related, through channels of information such as have existed in all ages of the world's history. The chain of ancestral names that are inseparably connected with town and village history, clothes it with an interest scarcely realized as yet, but invaluable in the future.

Our honest endeavor is, to present a brief history of the interesting town of Johnston, that shall not only be of interest to the general reader, but worthy of its importance and the consideration of its citizens. To this end our efforts are directed, and such as they are, we present them to the public. Limited as to space, we are necessarily compelled to be brief in the compilation of the multitude of events that crowd the town's history, from its early settlement to the present. If we come short of a full and complete record, we ask the indulgence of patron and friend, and that the mantle of charity may be thrown around our errors.

Johnston is an important post township, situated in the northeasterly portion of the continental section of the State, and bounded as follows: On the north, by Smithfield; on the east, by the Woonasquatucket River, which separates it from North Providence; on the south, by Cranston; and west by Scituate. The geological features of the town present a primitive granitic formation, while the surface is interspersed with a pleasing diversity of upland and valley, affording many beautiful landscapes. The soil is generally good, notwithstanding the uneven surface. Its principal agricultural products consist of corn, hay, oats, potatoes, and formerly considerable attention was given to the cultivation of barley for malting purposes. The potato crop is quite important, and many are raised for exportation. The town is favorable to the growth of fruit, and some fine and valuable orchards are scattered throughout the township.

The principal streams in the town are the Woonasquatucket River, which runs along its eastern border; the Pocasset, which runs through the town from northwest to southeast, and the Cedar Swamp Brook, which empties into the Pocasset, near the south boundary of the town, adjoining Cranston. These streams furnish some valuable sites for manufacturing purposes, and many of them are now occupied by extensive manufacturing enterprises, a more extended mention of which will appear under the manufacturing interests of the town.

The town has a population, according to the last census, of 4,999. The total number of acres of improved and unimproved farm lands were, in 1875, 12,132, with a total valuation, including farm buildings, of $1,521.400. Average value per acre, $125.40. Total value of farm and forest products, $300,878. A large proportion of the inhabitants are engaged in agricultural pursuits, and some considerable attention is given to gardening, and the cultivation of small fruits and vegetables, that find a ready market in the thriving and populous city of Providence.

The town originally formed an integral part of Providence, but was incorporated into a separate township in 1759, March 6. Its name was given in honor of the Hon. August Johnston, the attorney-general of the Colony at that time. Amid the stirring scenes of the past, and the strange events that have crowded themselves into the last century and a half, Johnston has played no unimportant part, and her record bears honorable comparison with that of her sister towns. Upon all questions of importance, either political, industrial, religious, or educational, she has ever been prompt and active, and her influence by no means powerless. It is, therefore, a pleasant and profitable task to trace the progress of this thriving township from its rude beginning to its present completeness.

Town Organization, Town Meetings, &c.
As has already been observed, the town of Johnston originally belonged to that of Providence, but at a session of the General Assembly (or as it was called in colonial times, the Assembly of Deputies), in the year 1758, a petition was presented to the said General Assembly, for the dividing of the town of Providence, whose limits at that time extended as far west as the line of the town of Scituate, and whose northern boundary was Smithfield and North Providence, and the southern boundary was Cranston. Various reasons were presented for the division, chief among which was that the distance to the western boundary was so great as to be hardship for the freeman to reach the place of voting in order to exercise the right of freemen.

Again, there being upward of four hundred freemen, it made so large an assembly as to be crowded, and consequently a hindrance in the transacting of business. Such reasons might have been in colonial days sufficient for a division of a township, but in our age of steam, good roads, and facilities for the transaction of business, even amid the hurry and bustle of crowded assemblies, but little importance would be attached to them.

In recognition of the above petition, we find in the records of the Colony of Rhode Island the following vote of the deputies in the General Assembly:—

An Act for dividing the Town of Providence.
Whereas, a large number of the inhabitants of the western part of the town of Providence prepared a petition and represented unto this Assembly that there are within the limits of said town upwards of four hundred freemen, a great part of whom live near ten miles from the place where the town meetings are usually holden, and the prudential affairs of said town are transacted: And that, when met they are very much crowded, to the great hindrance of business, which being very inconvenient, they pray to be set off, made and erected into a distinct township.

On consideration whereof:
Be it enacted by this Assembly and by the authority of the same, It is enacted; That the said town of Providence be and the same is hereby divided into two distinct and separate towns; and that the bounds between them begin on the southern bank Wanasquatucket [sic] River due north from the eastermost [sic] part of a certain hill called Solitary Hill, and extend due south from the said eastermost [sic] part of the said hill, unto the northern line of the town of Cranston; thence westerly with the said line until it meets with the eastern line of the town of Scituate; thence northwardly with said line until it meets with the southern line of the town of Smithfield; thence Eastwardly, with the said line until it comes to a certain place where the said Wanasquatucket [sic] River crosseth the said southern line of the said town of Smithfield, and thence eastwardly with the said river until it comes to the first mentioned boundary; and that all the lands included within the limits aforesaid, shall be, and are hereby erected into and made a town, to be distinguished, called, and known by the name of Johnston; and the inhabitants thereof shall have, hold, and enjoy all and singular the liberties, privileges and immunities that the other towns in this colony are entitled to.

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid; That all debts due or owing and money belonging to the town of Providence before the division thereof by this act made, shall be divided in proportion to the last tax; and all debts due from the said town before the said division shall be paid in the like manner:

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid; That all and every of the Justices of the Peace, and Military Officers that were chosen and appointed for the town of Providence who live in that part thereof which is now made Johnston be and they hereby are continued in their respective offices with as full power and ample authority in every respect as they had in consequence of their being chosen into and commissionated for the office of them respectively sustained; and Col. Christopher Harris is hereby authorized and fully empowered to issue a warrant and call the freemen of the said town of Johnston, to meet together at some convenient place within the same town on or before the twentieth day of next month in order to choose and appoint officers, necessary for the managing and conducting the prudential affairs of the said town.

And it is further enacted; That the aforesaid town of Johnston shall send two Jurors, "to wit" one Grand and Petit, unto all and every of the Superior Courts of the Jurisdiction, Courts of Assize, and General Goal Delivery; also unto all and every of the Inferior Courts, of Common Pleas, and General Sessions of the Peace, that shall be hereafter holden within and for the county of Providence.
God save the King.
Published according to Order the Fifteenth Day of March, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Fifty nine by; Thomas Ward Secty.

By the above we find, that on the fifteenth day of March, 1759, the town of Johnston became a separate corporation, subject to all the laws and penalties, and enjoying all the liberties and immunities other towns were liable to and enjoyed. At this time the Hon. Stephen Hopkins occupied the gubernatorial chair, while Hon. John Gardner was Deputy-Governor; Peter Bours, Esq., was Speaker, and Josias Lynden, Esq., was Clerk of the Lower House. The first deputies that were chosen to represent the town were: Consider Luther, George Beverly, Jr., Ephraim Pierce, Andrew Harris, Thomas Borden, Josiah Harris, Zephaniah Eddy, Benjamin Waterman, Jr., and Samuel Smith, Jr.; "all of whom were admitted as freemen of the Colony, and consequently may lawfully give their votes to choose officers, not only for their respective town, but also in the choice of general officers."

We find the authority granted by the General Assembly to Colonel Christopher Harris to call a meeting of the freemen of the town, for the purpose of the election of officers to manage the affairs of the town, was duly acted upon, and the first meeting was held April 18, 1759, at the dwelling-house of Benjamin Belknap, Esq., at which time the following organization was effected: Thomas Owens, Esq., being chosen Moderator, Mr. Owens and Captain John Waterman were chosen to represent said town at the next General Assembly, to be held at Newport. The further election of officers was continued to a town-meeting to be holden at the dwelling-house of Captain John Waterman, on the fourth day of June, at which time and place, Charles Waterman was chosen Moderator; Thomas Owen, Esq., Town Clerk; Abraham Belknap, Town Sergeant; Richard Fenner, Charles Waterman, John Waterman, Daniel Eddy, John Waterman, Jr., and Dean Kimball, were elected as Councilmen; Josiah Thornton, Town Treasurer; Charles Waterman, Benjamin Belknap, and Samuel Smith as Overseers of the Poor; Charles Waterman, Daniel Eddy, and Joseph Waterman were elected Town Auditors, and to settle accounts and divide the poor with the town of Providence; Charles Waterman, Joseph Waterman, and Gideon Brown, Assessors of Rates and Taxes; Abraham Belknap, Collector of Rates and Taxes, at 2d. per pound; William Alverson and William Harris were appointed to value estates for qualification for freemen; Consider Luther, Benjamin Belknap, and Joshua Remington, Fence-viewers; William Alverson, first Constable; and Captain Josiah Thornton, second Constable; William Henry, William Harris, William Alverson, Peleg Williams, John Brown, and Abraham Belknap, 'Way Wardens'; Captain Daniel Sprague, Lieutenant John Waterman and Amos Wescott were appointed a committee to view and find a place to set a pound on, and agree for the land, and make report to next town-meeting; Jonathan Stone was drawn as Grand Juror, and Daniel Mathewson as Petit Juror.

Thus far we have been very specific in this the first organization of the town and its officers, for the reason, that through all the changes in ideas, the wants and government of the town during the one hundred and twenty years past, nearly the same method of government exists to-day; that is, the officers that were then chosen to fill the various offices in the government of the town, are chosen even at the present time, and but few have been added to the list of town officials. Thus we find, that in March of the year 1759, a town-meeting, or rather a preliminary meeting, was holden; another in April, to complete an organization; another in June, for the election of officers; still another in August, at which but little work was accomplished, and that of a general character.

We have now a complete organization, and the government of the town placed upon a permanent foundation. It seems it was the custom, and undoubtedly the law, at this time, for those intending to become freemen, and exercise the elective franchise, to have their names propounded in open town-meeting. Their cases were referred to a committee (especially appointed for that purpose) for investigation, to rate the value of the property which it was proposed to vote upon, and to see if the law had been fully complied with in regard to the matter; also, to decide upon the matter of right in the premises.

In substantiation of the above, we find that in a town meeting holden April 16, 1760, nine names, which are given upon the records of that year, were made free, and accordingly have taken the freemen's oath, in order to be returned free of the Colony. One man, James Dyer, was proposed. The town of Johnston owned a right at this time in the workhouse situated in the town of Providence, and at the above meeting it was "Voted; that Thomas Owen, Be a committeeman to take care of the town's part of the work house in Providence."

At this time, the rates and taxes were levied and collected by decree of the higher powers. The first vote to raise money by direct taxation is recorded as being made at a special town meeting holden on the thirteenth day of June, 1761. Said special meeting was "called by warrant from under the hand and seal of the Town Clerk in order to agree upon some method or way to raise money to pay the town's just debts agreeable to a vote of the town meeting held in Johnston aforesaid the first Monday of this instant June, that did order the Town Clerk to put forth a warrant to notify said town." At which meeting, after due deliberation, the following vote was passed and recorded: "It is voted, that the town debt shall be paid by a rate. It is agreed and voted that a tax of one thousand pounds old tenor be levied upon the town of Johnston, both upon Poles and Estates according to law and to be levied, collected and paid into the Town Treasury of said town by the last day of September next."

It is well, at this point to show how economically business was done in the early days of the town. While at the present time we hear the cry of economy raised upon every side, we find that on the fourteenth day of September, 1762, Joseph Waterman, Esq., was allowed for eleven days' service in trying to settle with the town of Providence, and for auditing town accounts, the sum of forty-four pounds sterling; equal to about two hundred and twenty dollars, or a salary of twenty dollars per day. It is true, it required more labor to accomplish the same work in 1762 than it does to-day, and we have no doubt but that Mr. Waterman gave full eleven days' labor; yet we find that labor, in this case at least, is but poorly compensated to-day, when compared with by-gone times. The difference in the value of money at this time, or between the lawful money and old tenor, is as 23 1/2 to 1. All accounts of the poor of the town, until the 4th day of June, 1764, had been settled in open town meeting. On the above date, a vote was passed that the Town Council should have entire jurisdiction over the same, and that all overseers should report directly to the council for settlement.

On June 3, 1765, the first surveyors of highways were elected in open town meeting. At this time, a summary way of disposing of bad rates and taxes was in vogue; a committee was appointed, authorized to settle at once, at some rate. April 19, 1769, the first list of voters who were eligible to vote for general officers appears and numbers 70. The vote for governor for that year is as follows; viz., Josiah Lyndon, Esq., 16; Joseph Wanton, Esq., 54. April 17, 1771, the following is the vote for governor; J. Wanton, Esq., 39; William Greene, Esq., 2. June 3, 1771, the following vote was passed and recorded: "Voted that the Town Council of Johnston and their successors in said office, are hereby empowered and fully authorized to settle and adjust all the accounts that are or shall be against said town, in as full and ample manner as could be done in open town meeting."

The first account we find of licenses for taverns is recorded in Aug. 27, 1771, in open town meeting, at which time it was voted that the Town Sergeant should notify the tavern-keepers to come forward and pay their licenses, or show cause why they should not do so. At a town meeting holden Sept. 17, 1772, the following vote was passed: "Voted, that the deputies of this town at the next session of the Assembly use their influence to introduce inoculation of the small pox into this Colony, under such regulations as the General Assembly shall think fit for preventing the spread of that disease."

June 7, 1773, a vote was passed as follows: "Whereas, at a town meeting held in Johnston on the first Monday in June, 1771, the town passed a vote empowering the Town Council of this town to settle and adjust the town accounts, It is voted and resolved by this meeting that the said vote be and the same is hereby repealed." The vote for governor April 20, 1774, was as follows: Mr. Wanton, 53; Mr. Ward, 13. We find at this meeting the following resolution: "Voted that Tom Sweet be paid three shillings out of the town treasury, the same being for his wife's services in attending Lydia Strivens when in Travail." At a town meeting holden the first Monday in June, 1774, it was voted that Edward Fenner, Caleb Harris, and Joseph Borden, Esqrs., be a committee to draw resolves in respect to the injuries done to the town of Boston by the act of Parliament passed for putting an end to their trade, &c., and to make report to the next morning.

This is the first step taken by the town toward the fast-coming strife, that burst forth in the Declaration of Independence. The bitter feeling engendered by the course of the mother country, found deep lodgment in the hearts of the people; and not only in this town, but in every other. Resolutions were adopted condemning the arbitrary course adopted by Parliament toward the people of Boston. Although no report of this committee appears upon record, one was made that had the ring of true metal so largely represented by our sturdy forefathers, who left the plow in the field to take the rifle in the camp. At last we find that the matter did not explode in mere resolutions, for it is recorded, at a town meeting holden the second Saturday in November, 1774, that: "Whereas Col. Thomas Angell was appointed by this town to receive and convey the donations collected in this town, for the relief of the poor of the town of Boston, to the committee of ways and means for said Boston, It is therefore, voted and resolved, by this meeting that the said Col. Thomas Angell's conduct in said affair is approved of by this meeting, and that the receipts and papers by him now before this said meeting respecting his conduct is satisfactory, and that they remain on file as matters of record."

By the records in the office of the Secretary of State, we find that Johnston contributed fifty-seven sheep as a donation for the relief of the town of Boston, while other towns gave as they were able, cattle, sheep or money, and by comparison of dates and circumstances, we have no doubt but this formed part of the business that Colonel Angell was intrusted with, and for which he received so handsome an endorsement.

September, 1774, the Continental Congress at Philadelphia established an association, denominated the Continental Loan Association. A branch office was established in this State. The object of the association was to raise funds for the extraordinary expenses that had or might accrue, in the defence of the principles enunciated in the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence. The plan was, that each State should furnish its proportion of certain amounts of the whole sum needed, taking the securities of the general government, which, at the close of the war, or at the convenience of the government, should reimburse the different States, and the States to be accountable to the different towns, while the towns were responsible to the private individual for principal and interest, thus making a complete plan for the relief of the general government.

In accordance with the above plan, the authorities of Rhode Island notified the several towns that their proportion was specified in the several sums as communicated by the Secretary of State. March 6, 1775, the first assessment was made, but there is no record found of the amount. We find that, on the 29th of September, 1779, a committee was appointed by the town, in accordance with instructions from the General Assembly, to raise their proportion of one hundred thousand pounds, lawful money, the town's proportion being two thousand pounds, ten shillings and two-pence, said amount to supply the town's proportion to the Continental Loan office of this State, with its quota of twenty millions of dollars, recommended by Congress.

The committee for raising said sum for the town consisted of Caleb Harris and Joseph Waterman, Esqrs. The duties of this committee were to assess the various inhabitants who were best able to furnish the money needed, agreeable to order of the Assembly; and it was further ordered, that the town treasurer shall repay the said sum to the several inhabitants, with the interest for the same, as soon as he shall receive the same from the Continental office.

The various town meetings held, from the organization of the town to this time, were on an average about five each year, and were held in every instance in the dwelling-houses of the different town officers, Johnston not having attained to the dignity of a town-house.

In the month of June, 1773, the exposure of the letters of Governor Hutchinson, and other enemies of freedom in America, were published in the papers, with indignant comments. Their authors were denounced in open town-meetings in the several towns, and Johnston was among the first to proclaim its indignation. Patriotic in the extreme, and jealous of every infringement upon the liberties of the people, and cherishing a warm regard for the cause of the weak and struggling Colonies, she was prompt and active in every measure tending toward the successful accomplishment of that cause, and regarded with righteous indignation the betrayers of its country's liberties. The deputies were instructed to ascertain in regard to the truth of the charges therein contained, and if found false, to endeavor to bring the writer to justice as a public defamer.

Lottery grants for every variety of objects had become frequent, and, as an illustration of this matter, we find, that at the October session of the General Assembly, in the year 1761, the following act was passed:—

"Whereas several of the inhabitants of the town of Johnston preferred a petition, and represented unto this Assembly that there is no meeting house in said town. That Daniel Manton will give an acre of land near Benjamin Belknaps whereon to set a meeting house; that the circumstances of said town are low and therefore pray that a lottery might be granted to them to raise a sum of money sufficient to build a meeting house for public worship, free to the Baptist Society of the Ancient Order in the said place, of the dimensions of forty feet long and thirty feet wide." The summary of this enterprise was 3,334 tickets, at nine pounds each, making a total of 40,006.

The premises being duly considered, it was voted and resolved that the prayer of the petitioners be, and is hereby granted, and the scheme, with the same petition, presented and approved; and that Henry Harris, John Waterman, Esqrs., and Messrs. Daniel Eddy, Benjamin Belknap, and Gideon Waterman be, and they are hereby constituted directors of said lottery; that they give sufficient bonds for the faithful performance of the trust reposed in them, and that the said directors perform the said business without any allowances for trouble. In accordance with the above grant the lottery was drawn, and the house built; but, on account of the terrible depreciation of the currency, was not completed. Again, in 1772, at the October session, another petition appears, asking the privilege of another lottery to raise five hundred dollars, which was duly granted, with the stipulation that the lottery should not be drawn until Feb. 1, 1773; and, although no record is found of the expenditure of the money, it is fair to presume the house was completed to the satisfaction of all concerned.

July 23, 1791, at a town meeting holden this day, it was ordered that the town council should audit all accounts of all officers they employ, and draw on the treasury for the payment of the same. Oct. 8, 1791, a resolution was passed that the poor supported by the town should be sold at public vendue for the term of six months, except all those that the overseer of the poor had agreed to support for one year. Under the above resolution, Jabez Wescott was struck off to Josiah King, at four shillings per week, and Nathan Pearce, at eight shillings per week. This is the first record of selling the poor of the town to the lowest bidder, like so many dumb brutes at a public auction. And yet, when we consider the financial distress of the Colony at this time, we find some degree of justification for the course pursued.

April, 1792, the number of freemen who were qualified to vote for general State officers, was sixty-six. At the present time much has been said for and against the matter of employing Sunday police for the thickly settled portions of the town. Yet we find in June, 1792, it was not only thought advisable to pursue such a course, but that William Borden and Gideon Brown were appointed and commissioned to the office of Sunday constables for the preservation of the peace of the town. At this town meeting the following resolution was passed: "Resolved, That the Town Council be and they are hereby empowered and directed to audit all accounts charged against the town by any person or persons whatsoever, and they are also fully empowered to draw orders on the Town Treasury for whatever they find to be justly due to individuals, any resolve or custom to the contrary notwithstanding."

In 1796, a protest had been entered to the General Assembly in regard to the inequality of taxation throughout the State, by State Boards, and various citizens and towns, by their representatives, were anxious that the matter should be amicably and permanently adjusted. In accordance with such feelings, the town, in open town meeting, on the 16th of July, 1796, appointed a committee of four of the prominent men of the town to represent the interest of the town at a meeting to be holden at Providence the 26th, for the purpose of taking into consideration the inequality and injustice of the estimates of the ratable property of the State, which was adopted by the General Assembly at their last session, with full power, in conjunction with the other representatives appointed from the several towns in this county, to point out such legal modes of redress as they may judge most likely to insure success.

August, 1799, the subject of free schools was first brought before the town, the matter having been ventilated in General Assembly, and by them referred to committees for some plan to adopt. It was voted that the representatives of the town should be instructed to use their best efforts and influence in favor of the same. Prior to the year 1800, but five councilmen had been chosen by the town, but at the town meeting in June, 1800, it was voted that, for the future, the council should consist of seven members.

Nov. 19, 1800, we find, in open town meeting, the following vote passed; viz.:—"Voted and resolved, That the town will raise and appropriate a sum of money toward the support of free schools, so much as they shall judge necessary to carry the said schools into effect." No sum was specified, as it was not known how much would be necessary for the proper establishment of such schools. The vote, however, shows conclusively that the town was awake to her interests, and readily comprehended the necessity of making a start for free schools, and the better development of the town's educational interests.

At a subsequent meeting, holden the 28th of November, the same year, we find the above vote repealed, and without any cause being recorded for such repeal. The fire had been kindled, however; the flame burned deep into the hearts of the people. The way was marked out that should finally lead to a more consummate perfection in the system of public instruction. Free education by free schools became the motto that was inscribed upon the liberal banner of the friends of progress. It took time and argument, as it does to-day, to overcome those deeply-rooted prejudices, and turn the people from the ruts so deeply worn by long travelling over the same road-way. But it was accomplished, as the liberal free-school system of to-day amply testifies.

In the year 1793, the deputies of the town were instructed to use their votes and influence for the removal of the bounty, or tax upon duck-cloth manufactured within the State. This was the beginning of the wedge, driven home at a later day, for home protection on manufactured goods.

At the town meeting holden the 7th of September, 1793, the matter of a militia bill that, at the time, was pending before the General Assembly, was brought up for consideration, and it was unanimously voted that the deputies be instructed to assist in the perfection, and vote for the adoption of a militia bill that would best subserve the interests of the general public. This is the first record of anything pointing directly to a legal formation of militia in the town. Although there was an organization extant at the time, yet it seems no bill had been adopted for thorough organization or government of the militia. A bill was passed, and although many imperfections necessarily existed, it was the father of the present admirable militia system, each generation having added its proportion toward the perfecting of the system.

The matter of repairing highways by a special tax, was first adopted June 2, 1794. At the town meeting holden on that day, a committee of three was appointed to draw resolutions for that purpose, and to report at the next meeting. The same care was exhibited in this, as in all other affairs relating to the well-being of the town.

Every new project brought before the public was thoroughly canvassed in open town meeting, and referred to appropriate committees for completing the plans, and bringing in resolutions which should embody the salient points of their object. At the introduction of the resolutions, all the rough edges were rasped away, and the matter, when ready for adoption, was usually precision personified, and, when well considered, rarely failed to command the respectful consideration of the freemen of the town.

In many respects, the old method of doing business is a rebuke upon our latter-day legislation. The first record where the appropriations were made, and bills allowed in dollars and cents, was at a town meeting held Nov. 5, 1795. Previous to this, it had been in pounds, shillings, and pence. Johnston, like all the other towns, filled its own particular position in the galaxy of towns in the State, and made an honorable record in the eventful period of the Revolutionary War. There were many staunch and true patriots who took particular pride in all that interested the State or country, and were ever ready to fulfill their part, whether in war or peace.

From 1795 to 1840, but little of particular interest occurred. The machinery of the town's government moved harmoniously along, and its citizens pursued their various avocations, and were rewarded with universal success and prosperity.

In the year 1843, the town tax for town purposes, exclusive of highways, was $1,600, and in the year 1877 it had increased to $20,350. The highway tax, in 1843, was $800, and this amount was annually increased until about 1850, when it reached the sum of $1,600. After this period, it was taken from the general appropriation, which, in the year 1876, amounted to over $10,000. In 1877, it was, however, reduced to the sum of $4,000.

In June, 1841, Oliver C. Williams and Daniel Mathewson, were chosen delegates to the convention for the purpose of framing a constitution for the State, which convention was held in August, 1841, at Providence. On March 21, 1842, the town held its meeting, to vote upon a proposition to adopt the constitution as prepared by the committee. There were 379 votes polled, and it appears that every one was cast for the adoption. Nov. 20, 1842, the vote upon the clause in the constitution, in regard to filling the blank with the word white, stood 11 yeas and 118 nays. In August of the same year, it was voted that the town build a town-house for the use of the town, for voting purposes. A committee was appointed, who at once put the vote into effect, and a house was erected, about three miles from the city limits, upon the Hartford Pike. Previous to this time, the town meetings had been held either at public or private houses, much to the inconvenience of the freemen.

The subject of temperance early received the attention of the people of the town. As early as 1825, we find records for the prevention of the use of alcohol. But the first record in open town meeting, was in the year 1846, at which time the question of license was voted upon, and resulted as follows: No license, 117; license, 79. This same feeling against the traffic continued for several years. But in these latter days, but little interest appears to be manifested upon this subject, and the traffic is allowed to flourish without opposition.

In 1843, Robert Wilson was elected town clerk, and rendered a continuous service of thirty-one years, with only one exception, at which time the opposition party elected its candidate by one majority. In 1847, the matter of procuring a suitable farm for the town's dependent poor was agitated. A committee was appointed, and, after nearly two years' vain attempt, the committee was discharged without effecting any permanent results. Subsequently the matter was revived, and a fine situation was procured, at small expense; and at present, the town has a convenient and beautiful home for its enfeebled and dependent citizens.

Johnston in the Rebellion.
At the inception of the great rebellion in 1861, the town, in sympathy with all the other towns throughout the State, felt the great throb of indignation at the fratricidal attempt to overthrow the government, and upon the fragments of a dismembered Union, to erect a new confederacy, whose corner-stone should rest upon the prostrate forms of an innocent and helpless race. Her sons nobly hastened to the defence of their country's honor, and all through that long and terrible night of civil warfare, did gallant service upon the side of loyalty and right. Many of them sealed their devotion to the glorious cause to which they were engaged, by the sacrifice of life, while others returned, maimed and scarred, mementos of their heroism and valor. From the reports we find the following record:

In the First Regiment from the State, there were six; Second Regiment, forty; Third Regiment, thirty-five; Fourth Regiment, twenty-two; Fifth Regiment, thirty-three; Seventh Regiment, sixteen; Ninth Regiment, ten; Eleventh Regiment, four; Twelfth Regiment, nineteen; First Cavalry, twenty-four; Second Cavalry, six; Third Cavalry, nine; Battery A, six; Battery B, four; Battery C, four; Battery E, three; Battery F, five; Battery G, seven; Fourteenth Colored Regiment, one. Only one or two were drafted, as recruits were usually ready to fill the town's quota. Certainly Johnston has reason to be proud of her record. She cheerfully sustained her proportionate share of the required fund to carry forward to a successful issue the cause of the Union, and at the close of the struggle for the preservation of our national unity, she had a debt of over $50,000, which had been accumulated by the extraordinary expenses contingent upon the war.

Notwithstanding this heavy burden, never has a murmur escaped her lips, in regard to the payment of the obligation. The best blood of her sons was shed in defence of the tree of liberty, and the tears of widows and orphans watered its drooping branches. This true devotion in the hour of a nation's peril, illustrates the character of her citizens, and the heroism of her soldiery. During the war, the town's industrial pursuits were more or less disturbed, but from her natural fertility of soil, and the energy of her people, she soon recuperated, and to-day ranks in the vanguard of the agricultural towns in the State.

Thus have we endeavored to give an outline of some of the more important events connected with the history of the interesting town of Johnston. We are aware that this is but a partial record of the men and events which have made up a century and a half of the town's history. Limited as to space nevertheless we have endeavored to present a fair and impartial record, out of the materials in our possession. No doubt errors may have crept into our work, which will, we trust, be revised and corrected by some future gleaner of local history, who with more time for patient toil, will reap these fields, rich and white for the historian's harvest.

In the early part of the present century there were four cotton factories in successful operation within the town of Johnston. The woollen business was also carried on to some extent. At present there are but two factories properly belonging to the town.

The Union Mill, located on the Hartford Pike, was built in 1808, and contains 8,500 spindle and 160 looms; gives employment to 120 operatives, and is engaged in the manufacture of nearly all kinds of cotton goods. The mill is operated by steam and water power, and, in spite of the depression of the times, is doing a large, profitable, and safe business.

The Merino Mill, located at Olneyville, was erected in 1812, by John Waterman, and operated in the manufacture of woollen goods for about two years, when it changed into a cotton factory. It contains 25,700 spindles and 486 looms, and furnishes employment to 300 operatives. The mill has been burned once and rebuilt.

Both of these mills are under the management of the Franklin Manufacturing Co. The original member of the corporation was Amos D. Smith, now deceased. The company has an office at No. 4 South Water Street, Providence.

Hughesdale Chemical Works. The village of Hughesdale is situated about four miles from Providence, and contains about three hundred inhabitants. The Hughesdale Chemical Works are located here, which were established in 1860, by Thomas Hughes, giving employment to two men, and doing a business of about $5,000 annually. In 1871, a company was incorporated, with Thomas H. Hughes, President; Thomas F. Hughes, Treasurer, and Wm. H. Hughes, Secretary. This company at present are doing a business of about $100,000 annually, and give employment to some 50 men.

Here is also located the Hughesdale Congregational Society, which was established in 1877, under the charge of Rev. Dr. Taylor, its present pastor. A Sabbath-school is connected with the church, numbering some 60 scholars. The post-office was established here in 1876, which is kept in Mr. Hughes' store, Theodore S. Hughes, postmaster.

Secret Societies.
Woonasquatucket Encampment, No. 10, was instituted and chartered July 28, 1873, with seven charter members. First officers were: C. P., Thomas Ball; H. P., Edgar E. Stearns; S. W., Matthew Tennant; J. W., Dennison Harden; R. S., Edward J. Collins; F. S., Seth Mitchell; Treas., Cyril S. Carpenter. Its meetings are held the first and third Monday of each month, in Irons Hall, Olneyville.

Manufacturers' Lodge, No. 15, I. O. O. F. This lodge was first instituted in Hopkinton, Feb. 19, 1851, and in February, 1859, the charter was returned to the Grand Lodge. The charter, however, was revived, April 26, 1870, in Olneyville, with 23 charter members, who were drawn from Eagle, Canonicus, and Hope Lodges. Its first officers were: N. G., Sheldon P. Sprague; V. G., W. A.. Phillips; R. S., Thomas Ball; P. S., Edgar D. Stearns; Treas., James Davis. Its present membership is 142. Its meetings are held every Tuesday evening, in Irons Hall, Olneyville. The lodge furnishings cost between two and three thousand dollars.

As has already been remarked, from 1795 to 1840 no very important events transpired in the history of the town. During this time, however, the subject of education was more particularly brought before the people, and a few attempts were made for a more thorough organization of the school system. The first meeting of any school committee dates back to June, 1828. But little attention had been given to the subject prior to this time.

From this time forward, an increase was made to the appropriation of the town for school purposes, and the general interest upon the subject of education increased in a like proportion. In 1828, the first school-house was built; and in 1878, the town had fifteen, some of which will rank with any country school-buildings in the State. In 1840, the appropriation was $350, while in 1876, the appropriation from town and State amounted to over $8,033.

In 1848, the first vote to pay the school committee for its service was made, and from that time to the present, the custom has prevailed. The expenditures for school purposes, as obtained from the superintendent's report, was, in 1877: for sites, buildings, and furniture, $1,984.92; school supervision, $245; teachers' wages, $6,912; fuel and supplies, $651.89. The town is divided into fifteen school districts, with an average attendance of 521, including both sexes. Like all the other varied interests of the town, the subject of education has received commendable attention from its citizens, and the high standard of scholarship, and the excellent discipline, attest the progressive development of the town's educational interests.

First Freewill Baptist Church.
In 1820 occurred the conversion of Mr. Cheney, who became the first pastor of the above church, after the erection of the meeting-house, in 1827. On the 7th of November, 1828, a covenant was prepared by Mr. Cheney; and eleven persons, five brethren and six sisters, subscribed to it. Among the large number of those who united with the church soon after its organization, a considerable part joined at North Providence, then known as "Mud Mills", whither Mr. Cheney was accustomed to go, more or less frequently, after resigning his pastorate at Fruit Hill. At a meeting of the church, Dec. 12, 1829, a vote was passed that a collection be taken for the use of the church, at the close of the communion service, an arrangement still in force.

At the regular meeting, April 3, 1830, Mr. Cheney resigned his position as clerk and treasurer, and Stephen Barker was chosen in his stead as clerk, and Peter Place as treasurer. Peter Place and Cyrus Williams were chosen to act as deacons. The little church was now permanently organized, and, under the faithful ministrations of its excellent pastor, and the worthy example of its members, it rapidly grew in strength and influence.

In the month of April, 1836, a proposition was entertained by the church, to purchase or build a parsonage for the use of the minister. After due consideration, they selected and bought, at a cost of $800, the place upon Atlantic Street, in Olneyville, in the town of Johnston, which formed the pastor's home until his death. The years 1837-38 were remarkable for religious awakenings, and this church enjoyed a season of extensive revival, and received a renewed strength and activity.

In confirmation of the earnest zeal manifested upon the subject of temperance reform, we insert the following resolution adopted in 1837: "Resolved, That we will admit none to membership in the church who make or sell ardent spirits as a beverage; who use it themselves, or furnish it to others for a like purpose."

On the 4th of January, 1852, Rev. Martin Cheney departed this earthly life, and went to his reward in the great future beyond. Many years have passed away, but this memory is still fresh in the hearts of all who knew him. The church immediately called to the pastorate the Rev. George T. Day, which he continued to faithfully administer until March, 1857, when he resigned. He was succeeded by Revs. D. J. B. Sargeant, Martin J. Steere, B. F. Hayes, J. A. Howe, W. F. Davis, and the present incumbent, Rev. A. S. Gerrish, who succeeded to the pastorate, Feb. 1, 1876.

Dec. 12, 1877, Mrs. Wealthy Latham, the last survivor of the original eleven members, died in the 88th year of her age. Several valuable legacies have been left to the church, and the generous donors are still loved, and their memories cherished in the affectionate hearts of the living. Under its present pastorate, the church is in a very flourishing and prosperous condition, and its influence for good is felt and recognized throughout the whole community.

—Transcribed by Beth Hurd from History of the State of Rhode Island with Illustrations, Albert J. Wright, Printer, No. 79 Mille Street, corner of Federal, Boston; Hong, Wade and Company, Philadelphia, 1878, pp154-158.

Home | About Us | Properties | Events | Publications | History

Johnston Historical Society, 101 Putnam Pike, Johnston, RI 02919, (401) 231-3380,
Unless otherwise noted, all content is © 2006 Johnston Historical Society.

Posted April 2006