Have you walked by Town Pond lately? It is so quiet and nature filled it is hard to imagine that Town Pond was once a hub of the early Portsmouth settlement. Many people assume Anne Hutchinson and those traveling with her came from the Tiverton side, but they didn’t.

There is much debate about whether Portsmouth was founded by Anne Hutchinson. What cannot be debated is that Portsmouth was founded because of Anne. When Anne was banished from Boston, a group of her followers decided to come with her. The idea was to make a settlement where there was not a state religion – a settlement where people would be free to follow their individual ways of worshipping God.

About March 7, 1638, while in Boston, a group of men signed what is now known as the Portsmouth Compact. It was an agreement to join together as a “Bodie Politik.” Will and Edward Hutchinson (Anne’s son) traveled to Providence to Roger Williams who arranged a meeting with Narragansett Sachems Miantonomo and Canonicus. On March 24th they gave the sachems “a gratuity” of forty fathoms of white wampum beads, ten coats, and twenty hoes. Randall Holden represented the Hutchinson group. The men continued south on ships to a new home Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay. They agreed to make the first settlement on the flat northeastern end which had a natural spring saltwater cove. Their first homes resembled what the Native Americans used. They pitched tents and built huts to live in while they cleared land. The men chose two to three acre house lots between the cove and spring and began framing simple houses.

Anne walked from Boston to Portsmouth. On April 1, 1638 she began a six day walk. With her were children Edward (24), Bridget (19), Francis (17), Anne (12), Mary (10), Katherine (8), William (6), Susan (4 and a half), and Zuriel (2). Anne’s daughter Bridget carried month old son Eliphal. They walked from Wollaston to Quincy, through Braintreee, Brockton, Tauton, and Pawtucket. They slept in wigwams and makeshift shelter along the way to Providence. Providence had about a hundred settlers at the time and was a maritime center. The group with Anne traveled the last sixteen miles by ship to Aquidneck. Their landing spot was Town Pond.

West Land Grant Map

Although the intention was to make a traditional community where the house lots were together. In a short while they would abandon this idea. A segment of the group left in 1639 to found Newport. Those who stayed in Portsmouth regrouped to lots along Founder’s brook. At this time Town Pond was in the middle of activity. There were two springs that provided water – one to the right of Town Pond near the Common Fence that held their animals. The other was by Founder’s Brook and that provided a central gathering spot and washing area. Baulston’s Tavern was located at the southern tip of the Pond. The Training Ground was across the way by the brook.

As the pond began to silt up, the town grew to the South. The leaders set up a new center for the town called “Newtown.” Newtown never gained in popularity because the residents preferred to live on their farm lots rather than together in a town. Portsmouth really has not had a town center – we have neighborhoods such as Common Fence Point, Bristol Ferry, Newtown and Island Park. The Walling Map from the 1840s shows only a few homesT near Town Pond but many more around the Bristol Ferry neighborhood. The 1870 Ward map has a railway running across the mouth of the pond and we can still see the bridge today. The 1921 Sanborn map shows houses along Bristol Ferry Road, but few near the Town Pond. Lots from Bristol Ferry property go across to the Pond.

Town Pond remained a tidal (or Salt) pond until 1949 or 1950 when dredged material from the Fall River navigation improvement was deposited in the Pond. It became a mudflat and brush covered the area. By the 1990s there were efforts to restore the pond. The Narragansett Bay Estuaries Program, with the help of Senator John Chaffee got the Congress to authorize a “Narragansett Bay Ecosystem Restoration Study.” Restoration began in 2005 and was completed in 2008.

During the monitoring of the project, the Army Corp of Engineers recorded the wildlife that they saw around 2010.

“The following list of fauna was directly observed by monitoring crews and is not to be construed as a definitive list of organisms present within the project site:
Invertebrates: Mud crabs, green crabs, blue crabs, blue mussels, fiddler crabs, mud snails, moon snails, oysters (introduced);
Birds: great blue heron, black-crowned night heron, snowy egret, peregrine falcon, redwing black bird, mallard duck, herring gull, laughing gull, killdeer, cormorant, and semipalmated sandpiper;
Fish: silversides, killifish, rock eel;
Mammals: raccoons, white tail deer, red fox.”

In summary, the report states: “The main goal of the Town Pond restoration project was to restore a salt marsh ecosystem by recreating the former habitat in the project area for associated flora and fauna. Based upon the monitoring results we have documented in this report, the restoration project functions physically as an intertidal salt marsh with areas of mudflats and permanent open water. The monitoring indicates that the project met the pre-construction restoration objectives.”*

Today we can take a walk by one side of the Pond and imagine what it was like when the first settlers landed there in 1638.