Cast of Characters: Deputy Asa Anthony

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Asa Anthony (1828-1904)

Sheriff’s Deputy Asa Anthony was a central character in the 1875 “Murder at the Coal Mines” case. Asa Burrington Anthony was born on Willowbrook Farm on West Main Road. It was originally the home of his father David Anthony and then it became Asa’s home as well. Willowbrook was a short walk from the Coal Mine area of Portsmouth.

Willowbrook – Asa’s Home

Like most people in Portsmouth, Asa was a farmer. He had some skills for other necessary occupations as well. Asa served in a number of roles in Portsmouth life. In 1871, Asa served as Justice of the Peace and in 1875 he was serving as the Deputy Sheriff. He knew enough about animals to be a good veterinarian and he served as the Town Coroner for Portsmouth for many years. To aid his duties as coroner, Asa bought a used hearse. He often had to transport the deceased to his home until family members could make funeral arrangements.

An 1882 newspaper article gives us an example of what he had to do on the job as Town Coroner. The Church Brothers had a fishing steamer called the Jemima Boomer. They were unloading fish at the oil works at 5 in the morning. The fish were being hoisted by a derrick when the gaff on the derrick broke and a tub of fish fell on three men who were in the hold. One man was killed and two were seriously injured. Asa had to summon a six-man coroner’s jury who immediately came to the scene of the accident. After hearing the evidence they returned a verdict of accidental death. The doctor was summoned to treat the injured men but it was Asa’s task to transport the poor soul that died that day. It is ironic that his home, Willowbrook, serves as a funeral home today.

Asa’s hearse can be seen today in the Old Town Hall at the Portsmouth Historical Society. Newspaper accounts tell us that Asa’s family gave the hearse to the historical society in the 1940s. It was stored for many years, but the Historical Society is trying to preserve it and display it.

Purchase of Hearse

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Purchase of Hearse:

From the records of the Church Board meetings from the 1870s which were kept by George Manchester, Clerk.  At the Board Meeting on March 12, 1871:

“The board unanimously recommended that Br. John J. Brown purchase a hearse of Langley and Bennett at a cost of $162 provided the sum of $200 is raised.”

After researching the City Directory for Newport for 1871 we found this ad for the Langley and Bennett furniture company.  This company not only built furniture but also furnished “everything connected with the management of funerals.”

1871 Advertisement for Langley and Bennet

Christian Union Church Horse Drawn Hearse

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The Christian Union Church of Portsmouth, RI purchased this horse drawn hearse in 1871 and used it for many years.  It was made in Newport, RI by the furniture maker, Langley and Bennett.  When the church dissolved in the 1930s the hearse was moved to the Breakers Stables in Newport.  In 1970 there was a fire at the stables and in 1974 the Little Compton Historical Society provided storage for the hearse in the basement of their barn.  In 2009 the hearse was moved to the Portsmouth Historical Society which is at the Church’s original location.

1871 horse drawn hearse returns to the Union Church.