Founding Mothers: Herodias Long Hicks Gardiner Porter: “So scandalous a life.”

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founders brook

Site where settlers first gathered in 1638.

We started our research into our founding mothers with a list compiled by the Friends of Anne Hutchinson.  Last on their list was a “Herodias Long Gardiner” and that name led us to the story of a very interesting woman.  Divorce, domestic abuse, common law marriage, a lashing for expressing religious views – her story has much drama to it.  Life wasn’t always easy for some of these founding mothers.

Herodias was “married” to three of our early Aquidneck settlers – John Hicks, George Gardiner and John Porter.  In researching her story we found her name listed as Horod, Harwood, Harrud, and even Horad.  You wonder why her parents would name her after a biblical queen who was noted as responsible for the beheading of John the Baptist.

What we know about her early life comes from a petition she wrote in 1665.  She was probably born in England around 1623/24.  She married John Hicks in London when she was a young teenager.  They first settled in Weymouth, MA in 1637 and came to Aquidneck Island 1638.  By 1644/45 Herodias accused John of “many grievances & extreme violence” when she petitioned for divorce.  John left for the Dutch colony on Long Island and according to Herodias, he took her inheritance with him.  John had another story when he wrote John Coggeshall.  He believed her unfaithful and sought his own divorce in New Amsterdam.

Left with no money and searching for someone to “maintain” her, Herodias came to live with George Gardiner as his common law wife.  She seemed to have three children by John Hicks and yet another nine with George Gardiner.  Like Mary Dyer, she became a follower of George Fox and the Quaker faith.  In 1658 she walked for sixty miles from Aquidneck Island to Weymouth to protest the treatment of Quakers.  With babe at the breast and another child by her side, Herodias received ten lashes by order of Governor Endicott.  She was then imprisoned for fourteen days for supporting the Quaker faith.  She was never listed as a member of the Quaker faith and didn’t continue her protests after this incident.

By 1664 Herodias petitioned for a separation from Gardiner.  She admitted that they had never been married according to the law.  She asked for some money to keep her in her own house on her land and she wanted the authorities to restrain him from meddling with her.  The authorities judged that both had been “living in a horrible sin of uncleanness … which was a reproach and scandal.”  Both Gardiner and Herodias were fined and told not to lead such a scandalous life.

By 1666 Herodias was married to John Porter after he had settled a court case with his former wife.  After a good long life, Herodias had died by 1705.

Sources:  “Herodias (Long) Hicks-Gardiner-Porter, a Tale of Old Newport by G. Andrews Moriaty – RI History, July 1952, pp 84-92.

rebelpuritan.com – has an extensive section on the historical sources for Herodias’ life story.









Founding Mothers: Mary Paine Tripp and the great land swap.

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P1040392In preparation for a July 23rd celebration of Anne Hutchinson’s birthday at the Portsmouth Historical Society, we have been researching some of the women who were in Portsmouth with Anne.   We are looking at those who came with Anne in that first wave, but also some of those who came shortly after and would have shared the settling experience with her.   Mary Paine Tripp (1605 to 1687) was married to John Tripp.  We came across an interesting story from Edward West’s 1932 article in the journal of the Rhode Island Historical Society on the “The Lands of Portsmouth, Rhode Island”.  How much would you give for a glass of wine? Back in 1666 Richard Searl sold a three acre lot just above the Bristol Ferry to Mary Paine. Mary was the barmaid at Baulston’s Tavern and the land was exchanged for a “pint of wine.” Mary later married John Tripp who used the land for a ferry house. Although this deed wasn’t registered, the Town Council accepted the deposition of William Collinge as to how the land was transferred.

Out of the Attic: Mount Hope Bridge Construction Booklet

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One of the small treasures in the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society is a small booklet about the construction of the Mt. Hope Bridge.  It was written and illustrated with photos taken by the chief engineer of the project.  It is an incredible chronicle of a project of major importance to our town.  

The Portsmouth Historical Society has items from the opening festivities of the Mt. Hope Bridge in 1929.  Those items include an invitation, guest badge and photographs of the construction and ribbon cutting.  A front page newspaper article from the time helped us to understand how elaborate the ceremonies were.  Senator William H. Vanderbilt presided over the pageant.  Beginning at 10 in the morning a parade began in Bristol – a “tableau”  depicting Roger Williams organized by the Rhode Island Historical Society.  The Newport Historical Society organized a tableau and parade depicting John Clarke and they marched from the Aquidneck Island side.  At 11 AM “Roger Williams” met “John Clarke”  and unfurled flags at the center of the bridge and exchanged greetings. There was an Indian ceremony in which Governor Case and Senator Vanderbilt became members of the Algonquin Council.  Vice President Charles Curtis signaled from Washington, D.C. at noon to begin the dedication of the bridge.  The program lists events such as a christening of the bridge, ribbon cuttings and acceptance of bridge certification.  The ceremony was even broadcast on WEAN at the old Outlet Building in Providence.

Out of the Attic: Mussel Shoal Lighthouse Blueprints.

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Blueprint for last Mussel Shoal Bed Lighthouse

In researching our Civil War Sword, we rediscovered another item in our collection. We have the blueprints of the last Mussel Shoal Lighthouse.  Musselbed Shoals is a dangerous spot for navigation through the channel from Narragansett Bay to Mount Hope Bay. It is even noted  on colonial era maps.  In 1871 a beacon was placed there followed by a new light in 1873.  This structure was damaged by ice floes.  A new structure with built with more protection, but ice floes in 1919 -1920 damaged this one as well.  The light was abandoned in 1938 and the lighthouse was severely damaged by the Hurricane of 1938.  Later the building was torn down and an automatic light was installed that remains today.



Lighthouse with Mt. Hope Bridge in the background.

Out of the Attic: Do we have a Civil War Cavalry Sword?

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Possible Civil War Cavalry Sword belonging to a lighthouse keeper.

The sword in this picture has been laying on the top of a display case in the Portsmouth Historical Museum.  It has been somewhat out of sight, so it is a good candidate for our Out of the Attic theme this year.  It had an acquisition number written on it which refers to some old museum records. According to the record. It was a:

“Civil War sword (that) belonged to Sheridan Smith, Calvary man. His horse was shot out from under him and for recognition he was made keeper of the Mussel Bed Shoal lighthouse. This is how they came to this section from Norton MA.”

Is this true? How can we determine that?

An on-line search revealed that historical records for the Mussel Bed Shoal lighthouse list a Thomas and Andrew Smith as lighthouse keepers – Not Sheridan Smith. Was Sheridan a middle name?


Mussel Shoal Light – near Mt. Hope Bridge area.

The 1880 Federal census lists ”Thomas S. Smith” as a resident of Portsmouth and a “Lighthouse Keeper”.  We learned that his wife’s name was “Roseanne.” Does the “S” stand for Sheridan? We noted that the census lists one of his sons as “Andrew.”

Thomas Smith died in 1881 and it appears that his son Andrew took over the role as lighthouse keeper.

A Veterans Schedule from 1890 lists Roseanne as the wife of Thos. S. Smith (Alias) “Thomas Sheridan.” It also says he was in the Cavalry.

Is this a cavalry sword? It is similar to images we have seen of a typical Civil War Cavalry Sword found online.

It appears that may indeed be a Civil War Calvary Sword that belonged to Thomas Sheridan Smith. Was his horse shot out from under him? That is more difficult to prove.  Maybe someone in Smith’s family has more of the story.

Research by Richard L. Schmidt of the Curator’s Committee

Oscar Miller: Bristol Ferry Artist

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Oscar Miller roses

Oscar Miller painting on sale at Ruby Lane website.

Much due to Sarah J. Eddy’s influence, Bristol Ferry was a cultural and intellectual center. It was also a transportation center that made it easy to take the Fall River Line to New York, ferry to Bristol, take a train to Fall River and north or farmers to ship their produce from the freight dock. It was a perfect place for Oscar Miller and other artists to call home.
Oscar Miller was an artist with a national reputation. He created over 1500 works. Miller exhibited at most of the great American art institutions: The National Academy, painting titled “Girl Reading” at the 1904 World’s Fair. He painted marine seascapes, salon paintings, genre studies, and figure studies. Miller had many studios – New York and Paris as well as Portsmouth. His first Portsmouth studio was in the living room of the cottage he built in 1897-8 for his wife to be and then a purpose built 1904 Gambrel or “Dutch” style studio structure with a huge North window on Bristol Ferry Road which still exists today. A shop shed was added when Oscar returned from Europe just before the First World War.
Sarah Eddy liked Oscar’s paintings in a New Your City exhibition and first invited him up to Bristol Ferry in 1896 to “paint the spring.” In Bristol Ferry, Oscar would dress his subjects in costumes – as did Sarah Eddy and other artists of their day. Eddy taught him photography and his photography was just as good as his painting. His grandson, Gus, has glass plates of his grandfather’s photography work.
While in Portsmouth, Sarah Eddy introduced him to the woman who would become his wife – Clara Brownell May – daughter of Floride Mitchel. When their house was finished and furnished in 1898, they married. Clara believed that if she was to marry an artist, it should be one who could put a roof over her head.
Oscar Miller had married into a Bristol Ferry family. Clara’s aunts were part of the Bristol Ferry Art Colony – Sophie Mitchel (artist) and Cora Mitchel (poet and musician). Miller’s home and studio were built on Mitchel land that had been an asparagus farm. The Family raised and traded cotton in Florida. Mrs. Miller’s uncle Colby Mitchel had even been impressed into the Confederate Army and had to be rescued after he contracted malaria and smuggled back North. The family spent their time between Florida and Bristol Ferry.
Oscar Miller was a great organizer with a business mind. His Family had an art gallery on New York’s Fifth Avenue so he would also buy art as well as produce it. He always painted in a spotless suit because much of his work was painting portraits and he never knew when a client might drop by unannounced and he wanted to be able to shake their hand. Miller painted the portraits of many important New York, Providence and Fall River businessmen and matrons.
During the Spring, Summer and Fall, he would make the rounds of European locales – Holland, Northeast France, Brittany, St. Ives in England, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium. In the winter he would go back to work in his winter studio in Paris to paint works for the great Paris Salon exhibition. Every other year he would return to Bristol Ferry for a few months to visit family and to paint and exhibit locally.
He exhibited at many American and European institutions including: American Federation of Arts, American Water Color Society, Art Club of Philadelphia, Art Institute of Chicago, Le Salon de la Societe des Artistes Français, Memorial Art Gallery Rochester, Milwaukee Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, National Academy of Design, National Arts Club, Newport Art Association, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Providence Art Club, Salmagundi Club, and the Society of American Artists in New York. A posthumous retrospective was held at the Rhode Island School of Design.
When he was in Bristol Ferry he loved to go out to paint at dawn or sunset. He thought the light in Bristol Ferry was like that of Holland or Venice because it was surrounded by water that reflected sunlight upward. More than that, Oscar Bristol Ferry among the most beautiful places in the world.
Bristol Ferry was unique. It had the warmest climate on the island and the surrounding water kept the growing fields moist even in drought. People would come to Bristol Ferry farms as a vacation destination. It was a wonderful area for artists to come for the summer season.
Most of my information on Oscar Miller was from an interview with August “Gus” Miller – Oscar Miller’s grandson. Sept. 12, 2014
The image of Oscar Miller’s painting is from this website:  https://www.rubylane.com/item/230729-JB04415/OSCAR-MILLER-1867-1921-still-life


Out of the Attic: Bristol Ferry Artist Box

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P1060744We received this artist box a number of years ago.  It had belonged to Claire Fay, a longtime board member of the Portsmouth Historical Society.  The paints are relatively new, but the box itself dates from a hundred years ago.  A note said it originally belonged to Bristol Ferry Art Colony member Mariette Letourneau – the great aunt of Claire Fay.  This item raised some questions.  Who was Mariette Letourneau?  Was there an “art colony” at the Bristol Ferry neighborhood of Portsmouth.

Finding Mariette Letourneau was not so easy. Genealogical resources show an aunt for Claire that was named Mariette Letourneau, but the birth date doesn’t match the date given on the card that was left with the box.  Was she an artist at Bristol Ferry?  Perhaps she stayed with the Fay family and they did live on Bristol Ferry Road.

Was there an artist colony?  There were certainly a number of artists that lived in the Bristol Ferry neighborhood.  Many of them were drawn there by Sarah J. Eddy. Sarah was a noted photographer, sculptor and painter.  Her most famous works are portraits of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony.  Sarah would invite artists to come visit and stay at her home (if they were female) or at Willowbrook,  her guest house.

Among the most famous artists in the neighborhood was Oscar Miller who had international fame.  He married into a family with Bristol Ferry roots and kept a studio there. Miller’s studio is still there under the care of his grandson.

Sophia Mitchell was another artist who had a national following.  She traveled extensively and had studios in Brooklyn as well as Bristol Ferry.  There were as many as six studios along Bristol Ferry Road.

Bristol Ferry had a reputation for having the quality of light that artists love – beautiful morning light and gorgeous sunsets.fullsizeoutput_167




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