Portsmouth Women: Gertrude Macomber and the Girls Scouts

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Last year when we featured Ruth Earle as a Portsmouth woman of note , we highlighted her involvement in the Girl Scouts among her achievements. This year we introduce Gertrude Macomber Hammond – the woman who was Ruth’s Girl Scout Leader and a founder of the scouts in Portsmouth. There are so many interweaving of our Portsmouth women that it is not unusual for us to find them in each other’s stories.

Gertrude Macomber was leading the “Bluebird” Girl Scout troop in Portsmouth in 1921. She wasn’t alone in this effort. Fifteen women met in 1922 to form a troop committee to aid the Portsmouth scouting movement. They lent their support to provide money and assistance to Gertrude and the thirty-five girls who regularly attended the weekly meetings.

In a 1923 Newport Mercury article we find ladies formally calling themselves “The Portsmouth Girl Scout Aides.” These women were meeting to support the efforts of a Girl Scout troop in Portsmouth and “Captain” Gertrude Macomber gave a talk on her recent camp and convention experiences in Washington. Mrs. John Eldredge, a school superintendent and director of the Social Studio, was there to serve tea.

Under the auspices of “Captain” Gertrude Macomber, newspaper accounts show the Girl Scouts engaging in some creative activities. A Girl Scout Circus was held in 1925. Miss Mary Chase acted as ringmaster. There was a chariot race between two girls in kiddie cars and Marjorie Hall did a tight rope act with the rope stretched over the floor. The girls played homemade musical instruments made from curtain rods, funnels and frying pans. There was a parade with animals like monkeys and ducks – perhaps girls in costumes?

By 1926 the Girl Scouts had grown large enough to have two patrols in the troop. The “Monkey Patrol” had a camp at Gertrude’s home to work toward a cook badge. Gladys Gibson made a meatloaf, Hope Manchester made a fruit salad, baking powder biscuits were created by Margaret Martin and a mystery cake was make by Ruth Peckham.

That same year Gertrude opened “The Quaker Hill Tea Room and Craft Shop” in her home. She added a “glassed-in piazza” to the north side of her house so that her customers would have “a wonderful view of the Seaconnet River to the Stone Bridge and the northwest part of the Island and Narragansett Bay.” – according to a 9/11/26 Mercury article.

Gertrude was the daughter of Isaac Macomber and the grand-daughter of Joseph Macomber who brought the Aylers and other families to Portsmouth. In 1931 Gertrude became the bride of Noel Hammond who leased and farmed her father’s land. She continued with her Tea House and lived a long life in Portsmouth


How many of these 13 requirements for a “Cook Badge” could you master today?

Girl Scout Cook badge, 1918-1927

Girl Scout Cook Badge from the 1920s
  • Build and regulate a fire in a coal or wood stove, or if a gas range is used know how to regulate the heat in the oven, broiler and top.
  • What does it mean to boil a food? To broil? To bake?
  • Why is it not advisable to fry food?
  • How many cupfuls make a quart? How many tablespoonfuls to a cup? Teaspoonfuls to a tablespoon?
  • Be able to cook two kinds of cereal.
  • Be able to make tea, coffee and cocoa properly.
  • Be able to cook a dried and a fresh fruit.
  • Be able to cook three common vegetables in two ways.
  • Be able to prepare two kinds of salad. How are salads kept crisp?
  • Know the difference in food value between whole milk and skimmed milk.
  • Be able to boil or coddle or poach eggs properly.
  • Be able to select meat and prepare the cuts for broiling, roasting and stewing OR be able to clean, dress and cook a fowl.
  • Be able to make two kinds of quick bread, such as biscuits or muffins.
  • Be able to plan menus for one day, choosing at least three dishes in which leftovers may be utilized.

From: Useresourceswisely.com

Portsmouth Women Pastors: Elizabeth Trout

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In 1950 the Friends Church on East Main Road in Portsmouth celebrated the retirement of their longtime pastor, Elizabeth Trout.  She had tried to submit her resignation in 1943 and 1949, but her congregation would not accept it.  By 1950 she was no longer able to attend to all the pastoral duties and she desired a rest to visit family.  Elizabeth was so dedicated to her flock that it was her intention to visit every family in the church before she left on her journeys.

Friends corner at time of the Trouts

In 1918 Elizabeth Trout and her sister Ada came to work at the church.  Both women alternated the work of the church until Ada died in 1934 and Elizabeth continued on with the work by herself.

Miss Trout was well prepared for the work.  Elizabeth was born in Pennsylvania in 1879.  She graduated from the Cleveland Bible Institute and she attended and taught at the Evangelistic Institute in Chicago.  She had experience working as a teacher.

Three years after they came to Portsmouth, Ada and Elizabeth reached out to establish a mission at the Coal Mines.  At first they established a summer mission in a tenement, but the cold prevented them from holding winter meetings.  Three years later they established a year round mission at the old school house at the Coal Mines and continued that mission until Ada’s death in 1934.

Education was important to the Trouts, so in 1925 they established a primary school in the basement of the Quaker Meeting House.  They passed on the teaching to Annie Sherman who continued the school until her death in 1940.  At her retirement Miss Trout reflected that the Moses Brown School had started there are well before it moved to Providence.

Elizabeth lived a good long life in retirement.  Until her death she continued to live in Portsmouth with her sister-in-law.   She died in 1975 and is buried at the Friends Cemetery – close to her place of ministry.

Portsmouth Women: Ellen Gustin, Preacher and Suffrage Pioneer.

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Vintage image of Christian Union Church

Maybe Portsmouth welcomes women preachers and pastors because Anne Hutchinson is part of our heritage.  I knew that Julia Ward Howe had “supplied the pulpit” at the Christian Union Church (now the headquarters for the Portsmouth Historical Society). As I went through church records I was surprised that in the 1870s the church welcomed a woman preacher who did more than guest preach.  Rev. Ellen Gustin was an evangelist who had more of a pastoral role in a time when the congregation had lost a strong pastor.

Ellen led a long and productive life.  When she died at age ninety in 1924, the New York Times carried an obituary that claimed she was the third woman in America to be ordained in the ministry.  She was born in Frankfort, Maine and delivered her first sermon in a school house at the age of eleven.  She toured as an evangelist before she joined the Christian denomination.  The Christian Union Church in Portsmouth was part of this loosely connected group.  Anti-slavery leader Stephen Hopkins was one of the originators of the Rhode Island Christian Church.  The church was progressive and offered a welcome to everyone and sought to work for peace and justice.  Ellen Gustin worked as President of the Women’s Board of Foreign Missions – part of the national organization of the denomination.

From Church Records, George Manchester Clerk

Rev. Gustin supplied the pulpit and served unofficially as a co-pastor from 1872 to 1878.  Church records show no concerns about a woman taking on such a leading role in the congregation.  Ellen was a friend of Julia Ward Howe and shared her work in the Suffrage movement.  In 1872 the Executive Board of the church voted to allow a lecture on suffrage at the church.  Ellen spoke at major meetings of the Woman Suffrage Association in New England.

Julia was even a little jealous of Ellen’s abilities.  Sunday, September 29, 1872, Julia writes:

“Reverend Mrs. Gustine to dine.  I afterwards to church to hear her.  A sweet woman, called of God, with a real power.  Her voice, manner, and countenance, most sweet and impressive.  Intellection not remarkable, I think, but tone, feeling and effect very remarkable.  No one, I think, would doubt the reality of spiritual things after hearing her.  I asked myself why I am not jealous of her, as she preaches far more effectively than I do.  Well, partly because I believe in my own gift, such as it is, and partly because what she does is natural, genuine, and without pretense or pretentious.  Her present Society was much disturbed by strife when she was called to its care.  No man, she told me, could have united the opposing parties.  A true woman could.  This shows me a work that women have to do in the Church as well as elsewhere.  Where men cannot make peace, they can.  Mrs. Gustine says that by my writings and example I have helped her a good deal. I am glad to hear this, but pray to do far better than I have yet done…Thought much about Mrs. Gustine, who, without any of my training and culture can do what I cannot.  I can also do what she cannot – think a subject out. She can only shadow and suggest, yet how powerful is the contact of her soul, and what a good power!”

Recorded in:  Julia Ward Howe. Compiled by  Richards and Elliott – Houghton Mifflin, 1916 page 387.

A short Newport Mercury article from November 11, 1878 shows another one of her causes.

“Rev.  Ellen Gustin has been holding services and speaking at temperance meetings at the Christian Church with great acceptability.  She is a favorite with the people of this congregation and has done much good.”

Ellen continued on to pastor churches in Attleboro and Mansfield, Massachusetts.  Even though Ellen Gustin stayed and ministered in Portsmouth only a few years, she had a remarkable gift of evangelization that recharged the Portsmouth community.

Portsmouth Farmers 1919: Focus on Aylers, John Borden and Benjamin Boyd

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In 1919 Portsmouth’s soil was good for growing and Portsmouth’s farmers were industrious.  It was possible for someone to start as a laborer on someone else’s farm and end their career farming their own land.  Here are more of the farmers listed in the Portsmouth Directory a hundred years ago and information on some of them.

Manuel Araujo – Glen
Joseph Arruda – Glen

Raymond Ayler – farmer and poultry dealer -boards with Edward Ayler
Edward Ayler – Freeborn and E. Main Rd

Edward Ayler came to Rhode Island with his parents, Morgan and Matilda Brent Ayler.  The Aylers had been slaves in Virginia and were brought to Portsmouth by Joseph Macomber.  The Aylers were successful farmers with their own land on Freeborn Street.  Raymond served in World War I.  To read more about the Ayler family, click on this link: From Slaves to Portsmouth Citizens

Matthew Bettincourt – mkt gardener, Indian Ave and Mill
Richmond Bishop – Union
Alfred Borden – E. Main and Schoolhouse
Arthur Borden – E. Main Road

John Borden – East Main and Power

The Borden Farm passed continually through Borden family hands to John L. Borden. During John’s ownership of the farm he added many outbuildings and the farm seemed to be a going concern.   John’s occupation is listed as farmer, but he was also very involved in the Portsmouth community.  In 1898 he donated a piece of land to the Portsmouth Free Public Library Association so that they could build the library that we all enjoy today.  He continued to support additions to the library and he served on the board of directors for over twenty years.  When John L. Borden died he was characterized as “a frugal man,” and at his death he had a substantial estate.

Benjamin Boyd – West Main and Mill (farmer and miller)

Boyd’s Windmill

Benjamin Boyd was a farmer and operated Boyd’s Windmill on West Main Road by Mill Lane.  He was part of the third generations of Boyds to run the mill.  In 1901 he remodeled mill, changing the number of vanes from 4 to 8 to use the mill on days with lighter winds.  In 1916 he converted it from wind power to gasoline.  In 1990 the Boyd Mill which had stood for 185 years in Portsmouth was transferred to Paradise Park in Middletown and restored by the Middletown Historical Society.  For more information on Portsmouth windmills – Click on:    Portsmouth Farm Heritage: Windmills    

Charles Boyd – West Main with William Boyd
William Boyd – West Main and Freeborn
Frederick Brazell – Sprague near E. Main
Joseph B Brazell – at J.C. Brazell
Joseph C. Brazell – Sprague and East Main
Joseph T. Brazell – E. Main Road

Portsmouth Farmers 1919: Focus on Henry Clay Anthony


The Portsmouth Historical Society website has a wonderful resource if you are trying to get a sense of what Portsmouth was like a hundred years ago. Scans of the town directory for 1916 and 1919 are located under the “Resources ” category. I looked to the directory to see who was listed as farmers a century ago. There were no house numbers in those days, but they do list some street information like “Middle Road by Jepson Lane.” There are certainly names listed in the directory that are familiar to us today. Their families are still among us. I will list these farmers from 1919 in blogs to follow and I will highlight some of the farmers’ stories that I have found.

George Hazard Albo: Braman’s Lane
William Albro: Milk producer, Braman’s Lane
Gaetanas Almeida – Jepson Lane
Edward Almy – Union at West Road
Henry Almy – (Almy Bros) farmer milk producer boards with William Almy
William Almy – (Almy Bros) poultry raiser and milk producer Union St. by East Main Road
Jacob Almy – Poultry dealer 27 Glen
Manuel Alvenas – Mill Road
Benjamin Anthony – Bradford Ave and West Main
Borden Anthony – East Main Rd and Town Hall
Charles Anthony – boards with William Anthony
George Anthony Jr. – East Main Road
Henry C. Anthony – market gardener – Park Avenue
Ralph Anthony – Dexter and Turnpike
William Anthony – E. Main Road

Anthony Seed Catalog

Henry Clay Anthony was a noted seed farmer. He was born in Portsmouth in 1852 and received a business education at Scholfield’s Commercial College in Providence. He made his home at “Elm Farm” on Park Avenue.

Agriculture was his family heritage, but he was scientific and practical as he aimed to create the best results in seed production. He was the largest seed grower in New England and he had large farms throughout the area – not just in Portsmouth. He had 800 acres of land in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. His seeds were in demand throughout the United States and Canada.

Anthony Seed Farm Field

Like many Portsmouth farmers, Henry Clay Anthony served the community in the State Assembly and on the Portsmouth Town Council.

Visit Denise Wilkey’s Pottery Shop on East Main Road to see some of Henry C. Anthony’s seed bins.

Portsmouth Women Educators: Edna Griffin and Edna Brophy

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In the 1930s and 40s, Edna Brophy and Edna Griffin worked together as teachers and principals in the Portsmouth School system. Miss Brophy was a principal of Newtown School for 45 years and a teacher for over fifty-two years. Newtown School was located on Turnpike Avenue where the playground is today.  Edna Griffin was principal of Anne Hutchinson School (now a Senior Center) on Bristol Ferry Road for only a few years during World War II, but her background and career demonstrate a diversity in Portsmouth Schools.

In a time when Portsmouth had trouble retaining good teachers, Edna Brophy’s long career demonstrates her dedication to teaching.  A 1973 “Gristmill Column) letter in the Newport Daily News tells us a little about Miss Brophy and Newtown School.  Laura E. Wilkey wrote:  “In 1923 I was in Miss Edna Brophy’s classroom in Newtown School  Miss Brophy (remembered for the fancy aprons she always wore) was principal and taught first and second grades. In the northeast room, Miss Flora Phinney taught third and fourth grades.  The west room contained only the fifth grade, the only fifth grade in town.  Mrs. Gladys Seabury Haggerty ruled fifth grade, which contained ‘big kids’ from all over town.  They either walked to school or rode the trolley cars which went from Newport to Fall River and Newport to Bristol Ferry.”  All the other primary schools in Portsmouth were one room schools. Quaker Hill School had two rooms – one for grades six and seven and the other for grades eight and nine

Edna Brophy 1950 courtesy J. Garman

By 1938 Miss Brophy did not have to worry about the “big kids.”  Henry F. Anthony School was functioning with 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Fifth graders were at Quaker Hill School (now the Admin Building) as well.  Edna Brophy still had first and second grade at Newtown.

Miss Brophy was originally from Westport, Massachusetts.  I’m not sure exactly how she came to Portsmouth, but newspaper articles have her as a boarder with the Randalls on West Main Road in the 1920s.

Edna Griffin was a product of Portsmouth Schools. The Griffin family was from Virginia, but Edna was born in Portsmouth.    She was a student at Newtown School and Belle Fish was her teacher in 1918.  Miss Fish’s school record shows a diverse class with students of Yankee, Irish, and Portuguese heritage as well as Edna-a mulatto child.  Newtown School photos from that period show this diversity.

Newtown School – PHS collection

Edna Griffin went on to receive a degree from Pembroke College (at Brown University) in 1931.  She majored in Greek and Latin and was active in the classical club, college magazine and year book.

Edna became a teacher in Portsmouth schools and in her early years she was assigned to different schools.  In 1935 Edna is recorded as teaching primary grades at Vaucluse School (Braman’s Lane) .  In 1936 she was teaching 7th grade at Anthony School (now Senior Housing).

The 1940 Federal Census offers us a glimpse of her life.  At that time she is living at home with parents Wayne and Bessie Griffin.  Her home is on Park Avenue at that time.  She is 28 and single.  She earns $1200 a year for her teaching.  The school year for a teachers was 40 weeks and in the week prior to the census she had worked 48 hours at her job.

Hutchinson School from Pierce’s book

In 1941 through 1944, Miss Griffin had become principal of Anne Hutchinson School.  She was chairperson for Portsmouth’s Rhode Island War Bond and Stamp effort.

At the beginning of the 1944-45 school year, Edna Griffin resigned as principal.  No reason is listed in the newspaper article, but I can speculate.  I find her in the Providence directories, married to Warren Fitzgerald and working as a clerk.  By 1957 in the Providence City Directory  she is listed as a teacher in Cranston.

Why was there so long a period between teaching in Portsmouth and teaching in Cranston?  Portsmouth allowed married teachers to work in our schools, but even in the 1940s state law allowed school systems to discriminate against married women if their school committee had a rule affecting marriage.  School systems could “retire” teachers who married and not grant them tenure.  It might not have been easy for Edna Griffin Fitzgerald to find a teaching position.

Like Belle Fish (who we spotlighted last year), Edna Brophy educated countless Portsmouth children during her tenure at Newtown School.  Edna Griffin represents the diversity and the opportunity for students and teachers in Portsmouth Schools.  Her Portsmouth education led her to a good college and her career as a principal shows that a woman of color could work and succeed as a Portsmouth faculty member.

From Slaves to Portsmouth Citizens


Fannie Scott’s obituary (Newport Mercury-1/16/1926) provides some intriguing information. “She came to this town over 60 years ago from the South, when the late Joseph Macomber went there and returned with 16 slaves.”  It raised a number of question in my mind.  Who was Joseph Macomber and why did he bring 16 “slaves” up to Portsmouth?  Who were the others that came with Fannie Scott.  She lived a long life in Portsmouth.  What was the experience of these people in our Portsmouth community?

Who was Joseph Macomber and why would he bring former slaves to Portsmouth?  Like many in Portsmouth, Joseph was a farmer.  He was born in 1822 in Vermont and his parents are listed in the census as French Canadian.  He taught in Portsmouth public schools to pay his way through the Friends School on the Hudson in New York and then taught in Portsmouth two more years after completing his education.  He became a farmer working at first for Bateman Monroe.  Macomber became a fruit grower and one of the largest strawberry farmers in Newport County.  He was also a very dedicated member of the Society of Friends.  This connection with the Friends may provide one reason for the trip to the South.  After the Civil War many Quaker groups reached out to help the freed slaves.  Was this Macomber’s goal in bringing 16 former slaves to Portsmouth?  I haven’t found the answer, but the records of the Portsmouth Friend’s Church or Macomber family stories may help us understand his action.  Many of the people he brought with him were also very dedicated to the Friends Church in Portsmouth.

1870 – Macomber Household

Who were the sixteen that came with Macomber?  From the 1870 census we have some clues.  In a previous blog I told the story of the Ayler family.  Among those living on Macomber property were Morgan and Matilda Ayler and their children Robert, Edward and Alice.  Daniel Ayler was another son, but he doesn’t appear on the census.   Fannie Scott and her husband Robert Scott are there as well.  Fannie is listed as Martha Brent – but there were some difficulties with other names on that census.  Fannie is the sister of Matilda Ayler and in the 1880 census she is listed as being in the Ayler household.  Other Virginia born residents at Macomber’s farm are Frank and Mary Curtis.  We know from the obituary of William H. Parker (known as Billy) (Newport Mercury, 5/8/1936)  that he came at the same time as Morgan Ayler.  That accounts for 11 of the 16 listed as the number Macomber brought to Portsmouth.  Who were the others?  I can’t answer that without more information.  I am not even clear what date they came to Portsmouth.

How did these families fare in our community?  Many remained on Aquidneck Island for a long while.  The Ayler’s became successful farmers. See a previous blog for more on this family.

Frank and Mary Curtis settled in Newport.  After working for others, Frank had his own livery service at the corner of Powell Avenue and Kay Street.  “He was known as a thoroughly honest and reliable man, who was kept busy most of the time.  He never hesitated to answer a call at any hour of the day or night, regardless of the weather.” (his obituary – Newport Mercury 1/30/1915).

Billy Parker was a fixture in the Portsmouth community.  His obituary notes that “In the time of the Civil War he ran away from his home in the South and took care of an officer’s quarters.”  Records of the Freedman’s agency show him employed in barracks in Washington, D.C.   He also seems to have received a pension for his service.   John Pierce’s book Historical Tracts of the Town of Portsmouth has a short article on Billy.  It gives Billy a rather colorful background that I cannot confirm.  In Billy’s article it claims he worked in a restaurant opposite the Ford Theater and saw Abraham Lincoln carried out after he was shot.  He said his grandmother worked at the home of General Lee.  A newspaper article (Mercury  11/9/1934) has Billy as part of a parade by the “Portsmouth Protective League.”  The parade of 100 cars was led by William H. Vanderbilt and an orchestra in a truck.  The parade stopped at the home of Portsmouth’s oldest resident – Mrs. Emma Hicks.  At this stop Miss Cornelia Hicks was dressed as Martha Washington, Mrs. Lucy Anthony was dressed as George Washington and Billy Parker was in costume as Washington’s aide.  Billy lived in the Cozy Corners area of Portsmouth and spent the end of life with Alice Ayler Morris.

Robert and Fannie Scott were dedicated members of the Friends Church.  From newspaper articles it seemed that Robert continued to work for Joseph Macomber.  He died suddenly in 1914 and he was buried in the Friends Churchyard.  His widow Fannie at first went to live with Alice Ayler and then became a resident of the Home for the Aged Colored People in Providence.  This home was championed by Christina Bannister and was supported with funds from local black churches.   Local artist Sarah Eddy regularly hosted an outing at her Bristol Ferry home for the residents of The Home for the Aged Colored People.  Fannie died at this home and although her funeral services were conducted there, local Friends minister Elizabeth Trout conducted the services and Fannie was buried in the Friends churchyard next to her husband.

Whatever Joseph Macomber’s motivation was in bringing former slaves to Portsmouth, they became a real part of the Portsmouth community.  Most stayed close to the Quaker faith – a faith that they shared with Mr. Macomber and his family.

Servitude in Portsmouth: Slavery

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“The purpose of my writing to you at this time is to inform you, that slave in my possession, a Mulatto girl named Mariah, who by the laws of this state is deemed my slave; which I wish to you legally to manumit, that she may be her own free woman, and my estate not encumbered with her.” (Mary Lawton to the Portsmouth Town Council in 1797). *

Mary Lawton document

I came across this document while looking for a particular vintage image of Portsmouth.  In researching many topics in early Portsmouth history, I have encountered a variety of references to slaves.  I have not made a study of this topic, but I would like to share some of the examples I have found.  Portsmouth is not associated with the slave trade like Bristol and Newport, but many local families will find their ancestors held Native American or black slaves.

With the coming of the settlers, the native populations found themselves unable to live in their normal style.  Their hunting grounds and summer camp areas were “sold” to the Europeans.  Towns like Portsmouth restricted them and they found it impossible to live on their own.  After King Philip’s War,  many Native Americans found themselves sold into slavery.  It was not unusual for them be in servitude to colonial farmers in Portsmouth.

Researching the land history of the “Glen” was the beginning of my interest in Portsmouth history.  My father was helping with the research and he brought me a copy of the death inventory of Thomas Cooke.  The Cooke family originally settled the Glen lands from East Main Road to the Sakonnet River.  The original  of this document dated 1677 is included in the Portsmouth Scrap Book, page 72. ** Included close to the bottom of the inventory is “one Indian Boy.”

In researching the Cundall/Slocum graveyard by the Glen Barns, I came across this article:  Rhode Island June 27th (1712). “An Indian servant man belonging to Mr. Giles Slocum of Portsmouth carry’d out to sea in a canoo(canoe) two of his masters sons, one of ten the other of nine years old, whom he kill’d and drown’d, and being examin’d before the Authority confesed that he knocked the eldest child in the head with the padle, and seeing the younger crying, he designedly oversett the canoo, and swam ashore himself, who is now in Irons in close/clofe? prison till he is try’d for his murder.” *** The slave, identified as Job, was found guilty and executed on Miantonomi Hill in Newport.

A son ( or maybe grandson) of the Giles Slocum mentioned above is shown to have had black slaves.  The records of the Town of Portsmouth show: Apr. 1st, 1745, “Giles Slocum gave manumission to a negro slave ‘Jack’ and a negro woman ‘Heleno’ they paying him therefor one hundred and fifty pounds in current bills of publick credit of the colony”.

The Slocum family were Quakers, yet they held both Native American and Black slaves.  We may think of the Quakers as being strong abolitionists and they did become so.  However in the early days Quakers were active in the slave trade and held slaves themselves.  Samuel Elam, who dressed in simple Quaker garb despite his rich lifestyle, is such an example.    His Portsmouth estate was named “Vaucluse” and it was situated off of Wapping Road.  This was no rustic rural retreat.  Elam had enlarged the house to resemble a temple and he developed elaborate gardens on the grounds.  One French visitor described Elam as “the only farmer in the island who does not personally labour upon his own ground.” ****  He would be in need of workers for his estate.

Ad in the Mercury 1799

In 1799 Elam posted a notice in the Newport Mercury for a runaway-slave.  He does want the slave (named John Brayton) back, but he does show some mercy.  Rose Phillips, “a lusty middle aged Woman” escaped with John. Rose had been freed on condition that she work for three years and she hadn’t completed that service.  Elam shows some mercy, however.  If John is caught he would prosecute him unless he had married Rose!!

Elam and other Portsmouth Quakers were finding a conflict between their faith and their slaveholding traditions.  In earlier days Quakers could justify their slaveholding by saying they treated them well and educated them.  Especially after the American Revolution, Quaker leaders were preaching that ownership of slaves contradicted their fundamental idea of equality of all human beings.  In 1774 Quakers were told to give up their slaves or leave the Society of Friends.  Portsmouth Quakers began to free their slaves.

Among Portsmouth citizens who freed their slaves for religious reasons were William Anthony (1 slave 1775), Thomas Brownell (1 slave 1775), James Coggeshall (3 slaves 1775), Cornell Walter (2 slaves, 1775). Weston Hicks (1 slave 1775), Isaac Lawton (1 slave 1775), James Sisson (3 slaves, 1775).

The Portsmouth 1790 Federal Census lists 19 slaves in Portsmouth.  Their owners were Thomas Potter, Mary Lawton, John Thurston, Job Durfee, Matthew Cooke, Matthew Curney (who had 3 slaves), Peter Wales, Sarah Almy (who had 2 slaves), Jeremiah Hazard (who had 6 slaves) and James Allen (who had two slaves.)

The 1800 census showed the number of slaves was down to 12.  Preservd Shearman, Andrew Corie, Jr, Benjamin Chase, Job Almy, Gideon Durfee, Isaac Anthony, Samuel Elam and John Cottorell (who had 2 slaves).

By 1821 there are no slaves listed on the census for Portsmouth.

Guests on Genealogy shows are often dismayed that there were slave holders in their families.  Those with long Portsmouth roots should not be surprised that there are slaveholders among their ancestors.  As a community we need to understand the legacy of slavery in the history of our town.


*A facsimile the Lawton document is included in the Pierce Collection available online at the Portsmouth Free Public Library website.

**The transcription of the Cooke inventory was published in Thomas Cook of Rhode Island. Published by author Jane Fiske, Boxford Mass: 1987.

***Source: Boston News Letter, June 27. 1712.

****So Fine a Prospect:  Historic New England Gardens.

Servitude in Portsmouth: Indentured Servants

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Many of those researching the founding Portsmouth families will find that among their ancestors is an indentured servant who labored hard to gain their freedom. Other families may find that their ancestors were the masters of such servants.   What was an “indentured servant”?  Why would someone agree to be a servant or on the other hand be forced to be such a servant?  What kinds of indentured service were there?  I haven’t made a study of this kind of servitude,  but I have encountered some examples of indentured service as I have researched other topics of Portsmouth history.

What was an “indentured servant”? An indenture is a legal document which binds a worker to a master for a fixed period of time.  It is a legal contract and there are responsibilities for both the master and the servant.  Our document collection includes legal procedures that occur because either the master or the servant has failed in his duties.

In the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society there are documents that show different kinds of arrangements for the services.  Some are simple exchanges  – labor for room and board.  Others involve “apprenticeship” where the master exchanges labor for training in a trade or skill.

Robin’s indenture

The following document is an agreement of indentured servitude. In the document, an Indian man named Robin Richman agrees to a term of four months as an indentured servant to Ann Brayton, an Englishwoman:

Articles of agreement Between Ann Brayton of Portsmouth on Rhode Island in New England and Robin Richman an Indian lately belonging to Little Comton [sic] in the county of Bristol in said New England witness that the said Indian Robin shall serve the said Ann Brayton four months beginning on the first day of may next and shall do her good services in any Lawfull business as she shall set him about in consideration whereof the said Ann Brayton shall pay five pound ten shillings on half in money and the other half in such cloathing [sic] as the said Indian shall have occation [sic] for at money price to be paid on or before the End of the said term of four months in witness in hereof the said Ann Brayton and Indian Robin have hereunto set their hands and seals the seven and twentieth day of Aprill [sic] the year 1692
[Signed by]
Joseph Anthony,  John Anthony
Ann Brayton Her mark
Robin Richman An Indian his mark****

Robin will work for Ann Brayton and does her bidding.  Ann will pay Robin for his services and provide clothing.   As Europeans settled Portsmouth, the Narragansett tribe lost its hunting and planting ground.  Native Americans could no longer live their traditional life and they were not prepared to fit into the settlers’ way of life.  Attaching themselves to serving a white family, working in the fields, or working in construction was a way to survive.

Other Portsmouth Historical Society documents illustrate apprenticeship, also called “indenture” in this case.  There are obligations for both the apprentice and master. An apprentice will be learning skills from a master.  Note that this child “Philip” is a “Parish Child”  This means that he is an orphan in the care of the town or coming from a poorhouse.  Note that it is the “Town Council” that is putting this child into indenture.  Pay attention to the responsibilities of the apprentice and those of the master.  The master will take care of the apprentice “in sickness and in health” and teach him how to read, write and cypher.  This contract is very typical of the wording in most of the apprentice type indentures.

Whereas the Town Council of the Town of Portsmouth in the County of Newport in the Colony of Rhode Island. At a meeting of said Town Council held the 14th Day of May, Anno Domini 1750. Ordered that a Parish Child named Philip Gusteen, the son of Pathena Gusteen be bound out an Apprentice by the clerk of said Town Council unto John Cory of North Kingstown in Kings County in the Colony aforesaid for the term or time fifteen years from the day of the date of said meeting.
Now this indenture, made the fourteenth day of May in the twenty third year of his Majesty’s Reign George the Second, King of Great Britain, Anno Domini 1750. Witnesseth that I, William Sanford, Clerk of the said Town Council of Portsmouth aforesaid, pursuant to the order of the said Town Council, have put, and by these present, do put and bind the above named Philip Gusteen, an Apprentice, unto the above named John Cory and in case of death of the said John Cory within the said Term then to serve Joseph Cory, son to the said John Cory, the remaining part of his apprenticeship. During all which time the said apprentice, his master faithfully shall serve his secrets keep, his lawful commands, being lawfully obeyed, he shall do no damage to his said master, nor flee, it be done by others without giving notice thereof to his said master, he shall not wrest, lend nor purloin the goods of his said master, nor absent himself from the service of his said master either by night or by day without his leave or consent, he shall not contract matrimony within the said term, nor haunt Ale-houses, Taverns, or Playhouses, nor play at any unlawful game or games whereby his said master be damaged, either with the lots of his own goods or the goods of others but in all things behave himself as a true, faithful and honest apprentice ought to do during said term. In consideration whereof the said master John Cory for himself and his son Joseph Cory both covenant and agree to find, provide and allow unto his said apprentice good and sufficient meat, drink, and apparel, lodging and washing fit and suitable for his said apprentice, both in sickness and in health and also teach his said apprentice or cause him to be taught to read, write and cypher within the said term and at the end and expiration thereof to discharge his said apprentice with one good new suit of apparel throughout besides his usual apparel and for the true performance of the Covenant and agreements above expressed the parties to these present above named bind themselves to each to the other. In witness whereof they have hereunto interchangeably set their hands the day and year above written with seals affixed.
[Signed by:]
Gideon Freeborn, Esq. Joseph Anthony
John Cory *****

The indenture of Joseph Cundall illustrates another reason people entered into servitude.     In 1706 Joseph Cundall had left his native England to become an indentured servant in America.  Becoming an indentured servant was a way for a young person to learn a trade and get an education in exchange for working for seven years or more. Cundall seems to have learned his trade well and was in a good position to buy land as an adult.  Joseph Cundall’s family would ultimately hold most of the Glen land and they were pillars of the community and master millers.

Indenture Form

For the white apprentices, this period of service gave them an opportunity to pay their fare to America, gain profitable skills and then take their place in society.  For the Native Americans and Blacks, indentures were not always voluntary.  It was sometimes treated as a punishment by the courts.  If they violated a law and could not pay restitution, they might be bound over as an indentured servant.  It is hard for us to imagine choosing to bind yourself into service or forced into service because of race or poverty.  It was however, a feature of life in Portsmouth for over a hundred years.


**** PHS document 111.04 INDENTURE Portsmouth, RI 4/27/1692 Indenture Agreement April 27, 1692 between Ann Brayton of Portsmouth and Robin Richman, Indian, of Little Compton.

*****PHS # 1700.017: Indenture of Philip Gusteen, son of Pathena, to John Cory of North Kingston dated 5/14/1750

From Slaves to Portsmouth Farmers: The Aylers


As I have been researching Portsmouth farm heritage, I found that our farmers have come from a variety of experiences.  They were settler farmers who were originally tradesmen and merchants in England. “Gentleman farmers” with big estates came from business backgrounds in New York and cities.  Our Yankee farmers were the descendants of the settlers and they were pillars of the community.  Portuguese farmers came across the Atlantic to Portsmouth to continue their farming trade.  I came across another farm family, the Ayler family, whose road to Portsmouth was quite different.

Edward Ayler’s obituary (published in the Newport Mercury in June of 1935) provides some clues to understanding their lives.

“Edward Ayler, one of the oldest and best known citizens of Portsmouth, died last Friday at his home on Freeborn Street.”

Ayler Property on 1907 map

This first line tells us where Edward (and his father before him) lived – in the area of Portsmouth known as Cozy Corner. Edward was well known.

“He was the son of the late Morgan and Matilda Ayler, former slaves, who came from the South to Portsmouth after the Civil War.”

The last line of Edward’s obituary tells us that he lived a long life as a Portsmouth farmer.  “He was more than 80 years old and had been engaged in farming practically all his life.”

How did the Aylers settle in Portsmouth?  The obituary of Matilda Ayler’s sister gives us another clue.  The Newport Mercury 1926 article about the death of Mrs. Robert Scott said “She came to this town over 60 years ago from the South, when the late Joseph Macomber went there and returned with 16 slaves.”   I am still working on researching the others who came here with the Aylers and I will write more about these Portsmouth community members in a later article.

Morgan Robert Ayler was born in Virginia in 1825.  I will focus on his life in Portsmouth, but genealogical resources show him residing in Ohio and West Virginia on his way back to his native Virginia.  The  records of the U.S., Freedman’s Bank show his residence as Washington, D.C. in 1870.   Also in 1870, Morgan, his wife Matilda and three of his children are listed as residing on the farm of Joseph Macomber off East Main Road in Portsmouth.  Morgan is listed by his middle name of “Robert” and son Edward is listed as “Edmund,” but their ages correspond to the birth dates of Morgan and Edward.  The men are listed as being farm laborers.

An interesting Daily News article in 1879 tells us that Mr. Morgan Ayler is in charge of  Friend Macomber’s farm.  It seems that Morgan Ayler found thirty six small bottles of liquor – all in a row – in one of the fields.  Since Macomber was a “well known temperance man,” it was suggested that the bottles were left behind by “thirsty Providence folk” who came for the “great celebration” of the Battle of Rhode Island the year before.

By the 1880 U.S. census both Morgan and Edward are listed as farmers with land of their own.  Both men won awards for their produce at the local Agricultural Fair.   At age seventy-seven, farmer Morgan’s tomatoes were given awards in 1902.   In 1914 and 1918 Edward was winning awards for his potatoes, parsley, beans and lima beans.   The Aylers must have been well known as farmers because an 1890 newspaper ad uses a testimonial from Edward Ayler and his brother Robert – “In trial with other Fertilizers, E. Frank Coes’s Red Brand Excelsior Guano gave the best results.”

The Ayler family was very involved in Portsmouth activities.  Edward Ayler’s wife (Louise Jackson Ayler)  was active in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.  She often hosted meetings at her home.  She was active in the Friends Missionary Society.  The early generations of the Aylers were strong Quakers, but there seems to be a split among the third generation.  Edward’s sons Raymond and Emerson and daughter Alice Ayler Morris were known for their singing in the Friends Church before World War I.  During the war, however,  Raymond H. Ayler was commissioned as Second Lieutenant after having been drafted “with the colored boys” (Mercury, 9/13/18) while brother Osceola received a deferment because of his Quaker faith.  In the 1920s Raymond would be on the executive board of the American Legion along with William Vanderbilt and Bradford Norman.  L

Later generations of the Aylers would move on from Portsmouth.  Despite their difficult beginnings they became a vital part of the Portsmouth community.  The Ayler family is part of Portsmouth’s farm heritage.

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