West Land Grant Map of Bristol Ferry Area

In the 1930s, Portsmouth historian Edward West did some remarkable work with land evidence that benefits us all. Among his works are the Land Grant Maps that tell us where the early settlers were given land. How he worked through all the locations with rods as measurements, I will never know. West tells us that upon founding the town “they immediately made laws governing the size and location of the house lots.” They began recording property in a book. There were times when land transferred without records, so the accuracy of the land evidence may be questionable in some cases. West found some of these properties as he worked with other deeds.  He also wrote an article that appeared in the Rhode Island Historical Society Journal in July of 1932 (The Lands of Portsmouth, R. I., and
a Glimpse of Its People) that gives us a commentary to go with the maps. This series of blogs will be a tour of early Portsmouth using his article and his maps.

The Bristol Ferry Area: Some of the first grants given were in the Bristol Ferry area.  As the town was laid out, Sprague Street was the southernmost border.  West tells us an interesting story.  Just above the Bristol Ferry is the 3 acre lot that Richard Searl sold to Mary Paine.  Mary was a bar-maid at Baulston’s public house.  Searl exchanged his lot for a pint of wine.  He didn’t give Mary a deed, but the town council ratified the sale on the testimony of a witness in 1666.  Mary later married John Tripp and that piece of land became the site of his ferry house.

In 1719 the land to the south of the ferry was ordered to be kept open “for the convenience of the public in importing and transporting horses, cattle, sheep, wood etc.”

The first street to the right was “Stoney Lane.”  It was a short “driftway” (a path used to drive cattle or sheep) between Richard Borden’s property and that of Mistress Harts.  South of that was a lane that led to a “watering place.”  On the map it is called Hawkins Lane for Richard Hawkins and his wife Jane who was a friend of Anne Hutchinson. (Check the reference below to learn more about Jane.) This “watering place” was laid out in 1713 as a public place for the washing of sheep and general water uses.  Also in 1713 Thomas Burton received a piece of land that was known as the “Training Place” before that.  That ground may be where the militia had trained.

Land grants were given out in 1657, 1693 and the last lands were given out in 1713.  By 1713 the commons were laid out, highways were straightened and the town was considered finished as laid out from Sprague Street northward.

Jane Hawkins:  https://portsmouthhistorynotes.com/2017/07/18/founding-mothers-jane-hawkins-accused-of-witchcraft/

West map on Portsmouth Digital Archives:  http://www.portsmouthhistorycenterarchive.org/items/show/144