Founder’s Brook is an excellent place to celebrate the original founders of our town. The large puddingstone rock holds a bronze plaque with the text of the Portsmouth Charter and the names of the signers. The babbling brook in a peaceful setting lets us think of the primitive camp of the original settlers. No doubt this area is important to Portsmouth’s history, but it probably wasn’t the first settlement.

In the 1930s Historian Edward West pieced together early maps of Portsmouth through the land grants. We are indebted to him for visually laying out who had which piece of land and where it was. In an article called “The Lands Of Portsmouth”, West states:

“As we all know, the first settlement was at the Spring.
It has always been my supposition that the reason for
settling here, aside from the fresh water, was that the land
was more easily cleared, although I have found record of
a wood-lot. As more people came to the Island, and it was
found that land in other parts was better for agriculture,
this section was gradually acquired by several men.”

The “spring” mentioned was the one he labeled with an x – near Common Fence. I have it labeled with a red arrow. The Blue arrow he labeled “The Spring or Founder’s Brook.” Both areas are of importance. When West was writing in the 1930s, that brook by Common Fence was dried up, but he could still tell where it had been.

West goes on to write.

“The Town of Portsmouth was started soon after the first
settlement in fact, part of the first settlement was included
in the town. … As finally laid out, the town extended as far south as Sprague Street and from the east shore to the west road. In the center of the land between the East Road and the West Road is a brook which runs into the Town Pond.” *1

This brook area is labeled Founder’s Brook on his map. Part of this area is what we have set aside as “Founder’s Brook” today. This piece of land was not given to any one individual. It was a “watering area” and place to wash sheep. West writes that after part of the settlers moved to found Newport in 1639, the “town was built along the second spring which is now called Founder’s Brook.” *2

West is clear that there were two springs. The spring of the very first settlement was close to the Common Fence and is now dried up. The second spring was by what we call Founder’s Brook. It was a hub of activity for the town. The new house lots were laid out around the brook and there was a “highway” along the brook. The Brook was used for water for the families that lived by it. To the east of it was a level tract of 4 acres that was used as a “Training Place” for militia drills. Nearby where the Brook enters the Town Pond William Baulston had his public house, an important meeting place for the town.

Even though Founder’s Brook may not have been the original settlement location, it was the center of the new town just a year later and it remained a central part of Portsmouth history for many years.

  1. Edward West: The Lands of Portsmouth, RI, and a Glimpse of Its People. Rhode Island Historical Society, July 1932.

2. Edward West: New Interpretations of the Records of the Island of Rhode Island. (collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society).