A history of the area’s farms and families
By Richard G. Prescott
“Narragansett Country” at one time covered nearly all of what became Hopkinton, R.I. including the land along Lawton Foster Road #1. Narragansett tribal members have said that before colonial contact the Canonchet area of Hopkinton had been a valuable hunting resource and an area of spiritual importance to the tribe #2. Despite the passage of time, stone structures or cairns, thought to have been built in pre-colonial times, still remain in the woods along Lawton Foster Road near the village of Canonchet #3. Mary and James Gage describe a cairn as “An intentionally built compact and carefully constructed mound, heap, or pile of stones consisting of one of more stones. It is either (1) placed on the ground, or (2) placed on top of a boulder, or (3) placed on the exposed bedrock, or any combination thereof” #4.
After King Philip’s War (1675 to 1676) the English authorities executed captive warriors and sold a number of Narragansett survivors into slavery. Others were subjected to long periods of indenture with colonial families, a circumstance that virtually made these people slaves. The story of a Narragansett man named Peter and his family speaks to the long term indenture of these survivors. Peter had been captured by Massachusetts officer, Mosely, before the colonial army was to march against the Narragansett. He was compelled to lead the white troops to the Indian fortress in Great Swamp. Peter had been promised “his own freedom and that of his wife in consideration of his services. Yet, ten years after the battle his wife was still in bondage to Mosely, while his daughter thought to be a slave for four years only was still wrongfully held” #5. English settlers, some with their Narragansett indentured servants, moved onto land that had long been “Narraganset Country”. Although it may have been very difficult for them while still in bondage, these people would have tried to find ways of maintaining their cultural identity. Other Narragansett survivors joined with the Niantic tribe whose sachem, Ninigret, had maintained the neutrality of his followers though out the war. Eventually this combined group became known as the Narragansett Tribe. These tribal people had greater freedom to maintain their culture. As time passed, they have helped the others to reclaim and retain their heritage as well. However, retaining traditional culture was difficult for both of the groups described above. All were imbedded in and/or surrounded by the majority culture and all its pressures.
As time passed, Ninigret’s son, Ninigret II, quitclaimed nearly all of the former “Narragansett Country”, to the colonial government. He retained only 64 square miles for himself and his people #6. “The Maxson, Lewis, Bly, Shannonck, and Mumford purchases were not made from the Indians, but from the colony during the years 1709 – 1712. Out of these purchases came the political divisions which we now call Hopkinton, Richmond, and the larger part of Exeter…” #7.
The most desirable agricultural lands sold quickly. The land in the Canonchet area, however, had little agricultural potential. It was – and is still – a rugged upland area with large outcroppings of ledge, huge deposits of glacial boulders and forest floors strewn with rocks. Between its higher elevations are swampy hollows with thickets of bull briars, laurel, white cedar and hemlock. Therefore, through the early half of the 18th century, much of the area around what is now Canonchet village was still wild and undeveloped. However, it was rich with timber which was needed for building and heating homes. It also had several natural ponds connected by small streams. By the mid-1700’s investors began to buy large parcels of this land for the trees growing on it. Timber was cut and the waters of the ponds and streams were dammed to power saw mills. Rough, temporary woods roads were built, but today all that remains of these are long overgrown “cart paths” though the woods. As the timber was harvested, some of the land revealed was seen as potential farm land. It was not ideal for cultivation, but a few hardy families bought parcels of this land from investors to establish their own self-sustaining farms connected by “driftways”. Driftway were usually only wide enough for one wagon to negotiate and were not designed for long distant travel. An Official “Highway” was four rods wide [66 feet], making it more than wide enough for two wagons to pass #8.
Hope Greene Andrews in her book on Hopkinton City wrote this about the town’s roads. “Our early roads, the paths the cattle and settlers wore through fields and wood land, were called driftways. Some say that the first old road that went through Hopkinton from Westerly to Providence began at Thomson’s Wharf in Westerly, went over Quarry Hill, and passed Old Hopkinton Cemetery, by Mile Brook and “Babcock Corners”, over Maxson Hill, through Hopkinton City to Rockville, then on to Exeter. Others declare that the first old road turned right at the top of the hill just beyond Hopkinton City; went East, then north east; passed property later owned by Christopher Brown, Jonathan Foster and George Hoxsie, then on to Providence” #9.
It is my opinion the first of the old roads described above was the first to have been built.
According to a newspaper clipping found in a scrapbook it was the route Rhode Island colonial governor, Stephen Hopkins, took when he came to visit Hopkinton in May of 1757. The new town had been named in honor of Governor Hopkins and he came to acknowledge that honor. On his way to meet with town officials he stopped at a farmhouse where he was treated to breakfast #10. The second route described includes parts of what is known as Lawton Foster Road today. This area had just begun to be developed in 1757. However the route first described was already in place in and is depicted on a survey map drawn in 1756 #11.
Lawton Foster Road may or may not have been built to meet the criteria to be called an official “highway” and for many years it didn’t even have a name. However, it was important to the people who lived along it. This anonymous “highway” connected small group of farm families to the village of Hopkinton City, the governmental center of the town. By 1773 Hopkinton City was home to George Thurston’s store, the largest “mercantile enterprise” in the area. By 1790 it had a church. By 1820 a stagecoach line brought mail to the village and Spicer’s Tavern there become a popular rest stop for passengers. Travelers brought news and gossip from distant places. For local farmers a trip to Hopkinton City was often a necessity, but also a welcome diversion #12.
By the middle of the 19th century many of the early farm families along Lawton Foster Road had died out, moved west or left the farm for work in town or city. In fact this trend was widespread throughout New England. In his book, “Thoreau’s Country”, David R. Foster quotes an entry from Thoreau’s journal dated February 13, 1851. “As for antiquities, one of our old deserted country roads, marked only by the parallel fences and cellar hole with its bricks where the last inhabitants died, the victims of intemperance, fifty years ago, with its bare and exhausted fields stretching around, suggest to me an antiquity greater and more remote from the America of the newspapers than the tombs of Etruria……. This is the decline and fall of the Roman Empire” #13. Foster poses industrialization as being major factor causing the social transformation seen in American during Thoreau’s lifetime. He also suggests that the coming of the steam train had a role to play as well. “Trains provided rapid travel and connections with other places, and exposed the rural population to the goods and fashions of distant locations. The railroad hinted of cites and of foreign sights and helped to initiate a generational shift in attitude. Sons lost the desire to farm” #14.
The Benjamin Kinyon were from the Canonchet area and present a good example of the trend to leave their farm and seek a better life elsewhere. “Benjamin Kenyon and Sally (Worden) Kinyon left their home in Hopkinton, RI in 1820 and went to Ohio. There were numerous parcels of land and other property that Benjamin held in the Hopkinton area before leaving with his family. The oldest son, Simon, remained in Rhode Island.” Simon Kinyon had married Mary Brightman in 1809 and chose to stay behind to raise his family on a farm in Canonchet, RI, while the rest of his family went west. However, two of his children found other ways to leave the farm behind without moving away. Their son, Benjamin B. Kinyon and their daughter, Tacy E. Kinyon married children of Thomas Edwards. Mr. Edwards owned and operated a small mill in the area that made spools and bobbins for the growing textile industry in Hope Valley and other villages along Wood River. The woodland of the Canonchet area provided his raw material. His little mill was part of the shift from agriculture to industry. Benjamin B. Kinyon, married Lydia Edwards and took over his father-in-law’s wood working business. Tacy E. Kinyon married James R. Edwards, who like his father was interested in industry rather than farming #15. Mr. Edwards saw the potential water power in the ponds and streams in the Canonchet area. Over time, he along with his sons and other investors bought up much of the virtually abandon lands that include Ell, Long and Blue Ponds and the streams connecting them. Then they improved the watershed’s potential by enlarging the existing ponds with higher dams and creating Ashville Pond with a new dam. They also dug ditches that directed water to the new mills they were building in the village. Soon, work in textile mills was supplementing the income of the small, rather poor farms nearby. This income enabled some families to stay on the land. Canonchet had become a “mill village” with its own store, post office, school and church #16. Trips into Hopkinton City became less important and less frequent. The “highway” that later came to be called Lawton Foster Road fell into disrepair. By the early 1960’s the middle section of this road became impassable and was closed. This created what are now two separate roads, Lawton Foster Road North and Lawton Foster Road South.
Over time a number of families lived along Lawton Foster Road. Below are the stories of three of those families – the Browns, the Brightmans and the Fosters.
THE BROWN FAMILY
In 1763, Sheriff Beriah Brown attached a lien to 651 acres of land that had been purchased sometime earlier by a developer named Thomas Foster. Foster had convinced backers that it would be a good investment. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to find buyers. His backers filed suit and Sheriff Brown put the land up for auction. High bidder was Henry Gardener #17. In 1764 Mr. Gardener sold the 651 acres with “buildings there on standing” to John Brown for his bid of 7,920 pounds #18. This large piece of property bordered a portion of what is now North Road to the southwest and a portion of where Lawton Foster Road was later built to the northeast. John Brown and his son, John Jr., settled on a portion of property that bordered North Road to the southwest. In 1776 Zephaniah Brown bought 250 acres of land from his kinsmen, John Brown and John Brown, Jr. #19. The land was east of his relatives’ properties and south of the Brightmans’ property bought earlier by members of the Brightman family. The ruined foundation of the house Zephaniah built can still be seen west of Lawton Foster Rd. South. A Lidar map shows that Zephaniah’s land followed a ridge that was more suited to agriculture than much of the land nearby. With the help of his wife and their six children mentioned in his will the farm prospered. He also owned a quantity of cooper’s tools and, in all likelihood, was a skilled cooper. This skill may have helped to augment the farm’s income. When he passed away in 1805 at age 77, the inventory of his estate listed no outstanding debts. The worth of his livestock amounted to $211. This included 35 sheep, 7 pigs, a pair of mature oxen and a pair of yearlings, 5 cows, a bull, and a mare. He left most of his farmland to his sons, Christopher and William. They had built homes on their father’s land and were farming it with their families. He left his own home to his wife and a number of wooded acres to a son and daughter who lived out of state. #20 & #21
Many descendants of Christopher and William Brown continued to live in South County. Some stayed to work the farm. The house at 69 Lawton Foster Road South was once the home of Christopher Brown. Its huge center chimney made of cut granite and its Cape Cod style sets the house apart from its neighbors as the oldest house on the road. The ruins of Zephaniah Brown’s house and the ruins of William Brown’s house are northwest of Christopher’s house. In 1827 Alice W. Brown, a daughter of William and Thankful Brown, married Francis P. Brightman, a son of Holmes and Abby Brightman. Their descendent carried the Brown and Brightman legacies into the 20th century. Many members of both families are laid to rest in the Brown/Brightman burial lot #22. Hopkinton Land Trust property northwest of the Christopher Brown house includes this family burial lot, the site of the Zephaniah Brown house and the site of the William Brown house #23.
THE BRIGHTMAN FAMILY
Several generations of the Brightman family called land along Lawton Foster Road home. The first generation living near what became Lawton Foster Road was Joseph and his wife, Sarah (Thomas) Brightman, who had married in 1747. When they came from Newport to settle in Hopkinton in 1765, they were still a growing family. The oldest of their seven children were two teenage sons, but their youngest child was yet to be born #24. The deed recording their initial purchase of 36 acres from John Brown, notes that Joseph was a “taylor”. The transaction included a building and a right of way to the “highway” through Brown’s property #25.
The deed recording their next purchase, 30 acres from Stephen Crandall in 1770, notes that Joseph was now a “yeoman” or landowner #26. This addition to their farm was south of their original purchase and the property also came with buildings already on it. Although none of these buildings described in either deed was identified as a dwelling, one of them must have been livable for this large family.
In 1775 Henry and Thomas Brightman, the oldest of the children, were 26 and 24 years old respectively. They pooled their financial resources and bought land near their parents’ homestead. The first was a 35 acre parcel from David Larkin #27. The second was a 93 acre parcel from John Brown Sr. #28. In March of 1777 the brothers agreed to divide their joint holdings as fairly as possible. Thomas Brightman got the larger parcel, which was on the west side of the old “highway”. He paid his older brother 20 pounds to making up the difference in value between his 93 acre parcel and Henry’s 35 acres lot #29. Henry’s 35 acre parcel was considerably east of the “highway” that was later to be known as Lawton Foster Rd. North and abutted land owned by his father and his brother, Joseph Jr. This would place Henry’s parcel closer to where the “Turnpike Road”, now Main St., was to be built. Thomas’s 93 acres became the basis of his homestead. It was a northeast section of Brown’s original purchase and was west of what is now Lawton Foster Road placing it considerably west of his parents and brothers.
Thomas was a Revolutionary War veteran when he married Thankful Nye in 1782. Soon after their marriage, the couple built a home on the west side of the “highway”. Here they raised six children, 4 girls and 2 boys, to adulthood #30. The elder Brightmans lived on their farm for 40 years and are laid to rest in the Brightman burial lot, Hopkinton Historic Cemetery #52 on a knoll just above their home.
The 14 acres of land recently purchased by the Hopkinton Land Trust includes the ruins of the Brightman’s house foundation and their family burial lot. It also includes hundreds of stone structures thought to be of indigenous origin. These have been photographed and documented by New England Antiquities Research Association, as have numerous similar features throughout the Canonchet area. The structures are near the house foundation, but they are in an area too full of ledges and boulders to have been cultivated.
1820 Census records and 1830 Census records indicate that Thomas and Thankful’s first son, Thomas, Jr., and his young family shared the house with his parents. “United States Census, 1820”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XHGD-CGG : 16 July 2015), Thomas Brightman, 1820. He would have helped his father with farm chores and with the saw and shingle mill southwest of the house.
The elder Brightmans had lost their second son, Joseph, in 1815 at age 23 #31. He died leaving a young widow, Patience, and an infant daughter, Martha #32. Thomas, Jr. and the widow, Patience, settled his brother’s estate. Items listed in the appraisal were the modest household goods that might be expected in the home of a young couple. The only livestock listed was half ownership of a bay mare valued at $22.50. Joseph also had owned half of a “quantity of bark” worth $7.50 which may have been from the family’s saw and shingle mill. The debts added to $263.77; the assets to $383.20, leaving Patience $119.43 #33.
Thankful Brightman died in 1841 at 94; Thomas Sr. died in 1843 at 92. Their gravestones and that of their son Joseph are the only inscribed markers in the family burial lot #34. Apparently, they left no will and no inventory was found. After his parents died, Thomas Jr. had the responsibility of settling their estate. At this time he owned his own farm in Westerly and had no reason return to farm the stony hills of Hopkinton. In March of 1846 he drew up a deed in which he gave his father’s property to his sons, Joseph and Horace. The estate included the home built by Thomas, Sr., which he legally divided in half to accommodate the two young men and their families. The saw and shingle mill on the property was similarly divided. This and later deeds include some interesting names for features on the land. One feature was called the “Rock Hunting House” or later “Hunting House Rock”. The name seems to refer to a steep ledge with boulders on it. Another name was “Crib Meadow Lot”, inferring that corn was being grown and stored on the farm. One boundary mentioned a “row of stones” but did not refer to the structure as a wall #35.
Over the next several years Joseph and Horace sold off the Brightman farm. Descriptions of the property in subsequent deeds included the brook, the bridge over it and dam that held and ponded the water to power the saw and shingle mill. In some deeds the brook was called “sawmill brook”. Most of the buyers were neighbors, who in one way or another were related to the Brightmans. These included:
- Simon Kinyon [who was married to Thomas, Jr.’s sister, Mary] #36. (Joseph Brightman to Simon Kinyon, 3/22/1846, 35 acres, book 10, page 155)
- James R. Edwards [who married Tacy, a daughter of Simon Kinyon] #37. (Joseph Brightman to James R. Edwards, 3/20/1846, 15 acres, book 10, page 154)
- Horace Brightman to Joseph Brightman [brother to brother] (Horace Brightman to Joseph Brightman, 1/26/1849, title to shingle mill, book 10, page 505)
- Lawton Foster [son of Jonathan G. & Patience (Kinyon) (Brightman) Foster] #38. (Horace Brightman to Lawton Foster, 3/15/1850, 12.75 acres, book 10 page 701)
- Benjamin B. Kinyon [son of Simon Kinyon and Mary (Brightman) Kinyon] #39. (Joseph Brightman to Benjamin B. Kinyon, 3/30/1852, 1 acre and shingle mill, book 11, page 149)
THE FOSTER FAMILY
THOMAS AND JONATHAN FOSTER
In 1757 seventy Freemen of Westerly signed a document that established Hopkinton as a separate town independent from Westerly. The only Foster to have signed this document was named Thomas Foster #40. Deeds recorded in 1758 and later note Mr. Foster as being a yeoman of Hopkinton. His name is also recorded in connection with the 1763 deed. According to this deed 651 acres owned by Thomas Foster was attached by a suit brought by men who had invested money in his real estate venture. As a result the property was auctioned off by Sheriff Beriah Brown and eventually sold to John Brown #41. Much of this acreage was unfit for agriculture, but some of it followed a ridge to the north of what is now North Road and it is along this ridge that the Browns settled. They may have used buildings already built by Foster. In 1762 a deed records that Thomas Foster gave his son, Jonathan, 100 Acres as a gift. The deed indicates that Jonathan is a “Laborer” not a Yeoman or landowner #42.
It is uncertain if Jonathan Foster, the son of Thomas Foster, and the Jonathan Foster who fathered Lawton Foster are the same person. However, the will that Jonathan Foster, father of Lawton, wrote before his death in 1779 is very informative. It is known that he was a widower at the time of his death, so his will does not mention his wife. It does mention each of his children: Mary – wife of Benjamin Collins; Jonathan, Lawton, and Anne. As a single parent Jonathan Foster took great care to make sure his minor children would be cared for after his death. Anne was the youngest and she was left in the care of his “kinswoman, Sarah Lawton”, his sister-in-law. He also gave Sarah three ewe sheep whose “goods and profits” was to help toward Anne’s support. Jonathan Foster left his minor son, Lawton, 1/3 of his household goods and 10 sheep kept for him by his executor, John Foster, until Lawton turned 21 #43. Jonathan Foster’s sister, Elisabeth was married to a man name John Foster, who thus was Jonathan’s brother in law.
Gladys Palmer was a local historian. Her research indicates that the boy, Lawton Foster, shared his last name with his guardian John Foster and his wife Elisabeth, but that he was related by blood only to Elisabeth. Lawton Foster was born in Stonington, CT in 1767 to Jonathan Foster and his wife, Anna Lawton. The boy lost his mother when he was 8 and his father when he was about 12. Soon after his father’s death, Elisabeth Foster, his aunt, and her husband, John, accepted guardianship of Lawton. They were childless and lived in Richmond, R.I., where John farmed and owned a saw mill. Young Lawton Foster grew up in Richmond and married Susanna Tefft there in 1792 #44.
1800 census data lists Lawton Foster as the head of a family living in Richmond. The family includes several children under ten. “United States Census, 1800”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XHRQ-Q25 : 10 June 2015), Lawton Foster, 1800.
A deed dated 1807 records Lawton Foster’s purchase of 120 acres Hopkinton, R.I. in from Caleb Church #45. The land Foster bought bordered what is now called Lawton Foster Road South, about a mile north of Hopkinton City. It was considerably farther south and east of Thomas Brightmans’ farm, but bordered Henry Brightman’s farm. Like the land belonging to the Browns to his west, Foster’s parcel offered more agricultural potential than land at the northern end of the road. The deed describes Foster as a “Laborer, alias Gentleman”, but not as a yeoman, or land owner in Hopkinton. It states that he was “late of Richmond, now living in Hopkinton”, but no mention is made of a dwelling on the land he bought. 1810 census data indicates that the Foster family was living in Hopkinton and close to neighbors who had lived in the area before he bought the property. “United States Census, 1810”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XH2P-M18 : 1 December 2015), Lawton Foster, 1810.
The house Lawton and Susanna Foster built and where they raised seven children overlooked the old New London Turnpike (now Main St.). It was lost to fire decades ago, but a photo in vintage newspaper clipping shows the house to have been a large, two and a half story, colonial style home with a center chimney #46. It was similar to homes built in Hopkinton City in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. For many years the Foster house was the oldest home overlooking that section of the old turnpike. The graves of Lawton Foster, his wife Susanna and a son, Samuel Foster are on private property on what had been the western part of the Foster farm. These graves are the only marked stones in the Foster burial lot #47.
The Foster property extended south to the intersection of what is now Lawton Foster Road South and Main St. However, when the original “highway” connecting Hopkinton City and Canonchet was laid out, it had to avoid ledges and a swamp. To do so it ran south from the Brown farm, but then turned west, intersecting with North Road before going south into Hopkinton City. Between 1828 and 1830 John Green, Lawton Foster, John Brown and Rowse Collins signed a series of documents that seem to result in an agreement to connect the old “highway” to the “Turnpike Road” by a “lane or pass way” #48. This “lane or pass way” appears to be the section of Lawton Foster Road South that now intersects with Main St. about a mile north of Hopkinton City. The intersection appears on the 1870 Beers Map of Hopkinton #49.
JONATHAN G. FOSTER
A deed written in February of 1818 records Thomas Brightman, Jr. and his wife Hannah selling a fifty acre lot to his brother’s widow, Patience Brightman, for $250 #50. This deed does not state that he sold only his half interest in the property and that the other half had belonged to his late brother, Joseph. However, that was the case. The brothers had bought the property jointly from their uncle, Martin Brightman #51. No dwelling was mentioned in the transaction. The boundaries described in the deed indicate the property was on the east side of what is now the closed section of Lawton Foster Road. Soon after the transaction, Patience married Lawton Foster’s third son, Jonathan G. Foster, born in 1800. He was about 18 years old. Patience was about 23 and the mother of Martha, then a toddler. The marriage took place in 1818 and their first child was born in March of 1819. The boy was named Nathan Kinyon Foster in honor of his maternal grandfather #52. Census data from 1820 places Jonathan G. Foster and his family living near Martin Brightman. The census also indicates that Foster family had grown to include another son under the age of ten. “United States Census, 1820”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XHGD-CG7 : 16 July 2015), Martin Brightman 1820
Their second son was born in August 1819 and named Lawton Foster in honor of his paternal grandfather #53. “Rhode Island State Census, 1905,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MLVZ-5B7 : 26 November 2014), Lawton Foster, ; State Archives, Providence; FHL microfilm 2,167,013 A daughter, Samantha, was born in 1832 #54.
Census records indicate that Jonathan G. Foster was a farmer with real estate holding valued at $1000. “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MFF6-691 : 30 December 2015), Jonathan G Foster, 1860 He cultivated what tillable land he and Patience owned or leased, but like his neighbors, he found ways to supplement the farm income. He was known locally as a butcher, processing his own animals and those of other farmers. An article about the 19th century tanning industry in Hopkinton City appeared in the Westerly Sun in the 1930’s #55. The author states he had found Jonathan G. Foster’s named in a tanner’s old ledger books as having paid for all the finished leather with raw hides. Apparently part of the price for his services as a butcher included the hides of the animals he processed. In turn he bartered the hides for tanned leather. Another source of income was his saw mill. The 1855 map of Rhode Island by civil engineer Henry Walling available at the Langworthy Library Archive places “Foster’s Saw Mill” on the brook running through the area. The 1870 Beers map of Hopkinton, RI which is also in the archives, notes that this area is the JG Foster estate, Jonathan having died in 1869. The mill ruins still exist today on The Nature Conservancy’s Canonchet trail, a bit northeast of the ruined foundations of the Foster’s home and barn.
1850 census data of that year indicates that Patience’s three children by Jonathan G. Foster were still at home. Nathan, his wife and 2 small children were living in one half of the house along with an unrelated 12 year old black boy. Nathan’s parents, his brother Lawton, and his sister Samantha, occupied the other half. “United States Census, 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MDJX-7HN : 9 November 2014), Nathan K Foster, Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island, United States; citing family 16, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).The cellar hole of the old house is still intact and visible today. It clearly is divided by a stone partition and may reflect the division of house when it was standing. Also in the 1850 census, all the men in the household are listed as “farmers”. Eventually both Nathan and Lawton had their own farms.
About 1852, Samantha married a man named Robert Clarke and had a daughter, Susan, in 1853. Unfortunately, Robert died while traveling in the west, before his family could follow. Samantha remained on the farm with her parents helping her raise Susan until their deaths. Her mother, Patience, passed away in 1861 and her father, Jonathan, in 1869. Soon after their passing, Susan married Samuel Spencer and they raised seven children on the old farmstead. Samantha Clarke died in 1888. Samuel Spencer took sick and died at age 46 in 1893 #56.
Susan sold the farm to Elizabeth J. Hoxsie in 1900. This information come from Michael Hoxsie. Mr. Hoxsie is a lifelong resident of Canonchet and his family has lived in the area since the first half of the 19th century. The information was passed on to him by an aunt.
There is an interesting pair of documents concerning the Jonathan G. Foster farm. Hopkinton Land Evidence Book #8 on pages 290 and 291 records two transactions written in February 1832. Together these transactions benefit all parties. In the first transaction Perry M. Palmer sells property rights to Jonathan G. Foster. Mr. Palmer had recently married Mr. Foster’s 17 year old step-daughter, Martha Brightman. In this fee simple deed Palmer sells Foster his wife’s inherited interest in land that she had her birth father had once owned for $250. The land was part of the farm on which she had been raised by Mr. Foster and her mother, Patience (Kinyon) (Brightman) Foster. The deed acknowledges Martha’s rightful ownership of part of the farm. However, Martha would not have been able to claim that inheritance until she was 21. This transaction gave the newlyweds $250 in cash to start their life together, four year before she could have claimed it legally. The second document was signed by both Martha her husband. In it they agree to pay Mr. Foster $300 for the expense of raising her. However, a clause in the document stated that their agreement to pay will be null and void if Martha and Perry meet certain conditions. The single condition is that Martha must deliver a warranty deed for her interest in the farm to her step- father when she turned 21. The $300 was simply a bond to insure that the deed would be delivered as agreed.
LAWTON FOSTER (the younger)
While still living with his parents in 1850, Lawton Foster bought a 12.75 acre lot from Horace Brightman #57. The land was located a short distance north of his parents’ farm, but on the west side of the “highway” (now Lawton Foster Rd. North). In 1853 an opportunity came for Lawton to move out of his parents’ home and he was able to take advantage of it. However, the groundwork for this opportunity was laid long before.
In 1837 Thomas Brightman, Jr. sold to his son, Joseph, 15 acres and a barn on the east side of the “highway” #58. In 1846 his father, Thomas Jr, gave his sons Joseph and Horace, each one half of the house that Thomas Brightman Sr. had built in the 1780’s #59. In 1851 Joseph Brightman sold Willard W. Collins the east half of his grandparent’s house along with the lot on the east side the “highway” that he had bought from his father in 1837. However this deed estimates the lot to be 14 acres and no mention is made of a barn #60. In 1853 Willard W. Collins sold the same property described in the same manner to Amos D. Kenyon #61. That same year (1853) Lawton Foster purchased the lot east of the “highway” and the east half of the house built by Thomas Brightman, Sr. from Amos D. Kenyon. The deed also mentions a well on the lot east of the “highway” and states that the well and the privilege of using it was to be shared with Horace Brightman, owner of the west half of the old house. No acreage is given in this deed, but boundaries are the same as in the previous deeds #62. Finally Lawton Foster would have his own farm on which to raise a family, even though he would be sharing the roof over their heads and the water in the well with another family. 1860 US Census records list Lawton and his brother-in-law, Benjamin Worden II, as heads of households in the same house. Very likely this is the house that Thomas Brightman, Sr. built. Lawton, his wife Nancy (Worden) Foster would have lived in the east half of the house that he had purchased seven years earlier from Amos D. Kenyon. The Wordens would have been renting the west half from Horace Brightman #63.
All the deeds in the paragraph above contain boundary descriptions that isolate a one acre lot. The deeds record the larger parcel surrounding the acre changing hands several times, while the one acre lot remains under the ownership of Thomas Brightman Jr. This tiny piece of Thomas Brightman Sr.’s homestead remained in the Brightman family until 1868, when Thomas Jr. sold it to James R. Edwards. In this deed, Brightman notes that the acre is known as the “orchard lot” #64.
In 1867 Horace Brightman sold Lawton Foster 40 acres west of the “highway” and his half of the old Brightman house. However, the deed stipulates that Foster was “to have possession of the within named premise on 3/25/1868” #65. The deed also stipulates that Horace Brightman retains his grandparents’ “burial ground and the privilege to pass to and from it”. The deed records the final portion of the boundary as running “easterly by William Browns [sic] heirs [sic] land and land of Lawton Foster to the first mentioned bound”. The Foster land in this deed refers to the lot that Lawton bought from Horace in 1850. In this deed that lot is called the “Cider Mill Lot”, implying that apples were grown nearby and that a stream was dammed to power a mill to produce cider. Ruins of a mill and a dam were seen on the lot, downstream from the ruins of Brightman’s saw and shingle mill #66. William Brown was a member of the Brown family discussed earlier in this narrative.
Lawton and Nancy (Worden) Foster spent nearly all their married lives in the old house that Thomas Brightman Sr. had built. In this house they raised their children Lonsa, Phebe and John L. Foster. 1880 US Census records list Lawton as a farmer, Nancy as keeping house and two of their children still at home as working in nearby mills #67. This was a pattern typical of rural families in the area at this time. Income from a farm had to be supplemented by mill work in the village. Eventually all the children married and established their own families.
A deed signed by Lawton and Nancy on July 6, 1892 sold the farm to their married, younger daughter, Phebe White, for $1,000. The sale included all 75 acres of their property along with the house and out buildings #68. We may never know the reason for the sale. Perhaps the elder Fosters wanted a change or that the old house may have deteriorated to the point that replacement may have been preferable to repair. Whatever the reason was for the first deed, a second deed was signed on April 12, 1893 by Phebe White. This deed returns 40 acres of the farm to her father for $300. The deed described the land returned as two parcels #69.
Lot#1: The description fits that of the “Cider Mill Lot” that Foster bought in 1850. No acreage is given, but 1850 descriptions state that it encompasses 12 and ¾ acres.
Lot#2: The description locates the land as being west of the highway from Canonchet to Hopkinton City and included a dwelling and out buildings. This would have been the old Brightman house in which the Fosters had lived and may still have been living.
A sad note is that Nancy Foster passed away at age 73 on July 14, 1893. Death records at Hopkinton Town Clerk’s Office indicate that she suffered a crushed foot, leading to a Tetanus infection that caused her death #70. Tetanus was commonly called “lockjaw” and without today’s antibiotics, frequently resulted in a lingering, terrifying and painful death. Her situation would have caused great anguish to her loved ones. In turn it, must have had a significant bearing on the odd series of deeds that were recorded at the time.
On July 31, 1893 a little over two weeks after Nancy’s death, a third deed recorded Phebe White returning the whole 75 acres including the house and out buildings to her father for $1,000 #71. This would have included the acreage east of the “highway”. It looks as if these transactions may have been a short term loan with the farm up as capital and with Phebe keeping $300 as interest
Had the original plan been for the parents to build a new house that would be easier for the aging couple to care for? While Lawton Foster had use of the money, did he use it to pay his wife’s medical expenses and later for her burial? What is known is that the 1870 Beers Map clearly identifies Lawton Foster’s home as being west of the “highway” #72. Also known is that an 1895 Atlas the Foster home on the east side of the “highway”, but leaves the west side blank #73. Only the ruins of a colonial foundation remain on the west side where Thomas Brightman, Sr. built his home. The architecture of the house standing to the east is clearly of a more recent time.
In March of 1903 Lawton Foster sold his 75 acre farm to his older daughter, Lonsa Main and her husband, Andrew, for $500. The sale included the house, barn and other outbuildings, all on the east side of the old “highway” to Hopkinton City. It also included all stock – horses, cows, and yearlings as well as the farm wagon, and farm tools of all kinds #74. Foster would have been 83 at the time of the sale and he probably remained with the Mains until his death in 1907. He and Nancy are buried in the Rockville Cemetery on Canonchet Road outside the village of Rockville #75.
THE FOSTER PROPERTY – 1903 TO THE PRESENT
In December of 1923 Lonsa and Andrew Main sold the entire 75 acre property to Peter P. Palmer for $1,000 #76. Palmer was a Hopkinton farmer who also dealt in real estate and held mortgages. The first piece of this land that he sold was the 20 acre parcel on the east side of the old “highway” to Hopkinton City. It included the dwelling house and barn identified as Lawton Foster’s on the 1895 Atlas of the area #77. It was sold to William and Florence Tweedell in December of 1923. They settled in Hopkinton from Mt. Vernon, New York #78. The family did not depend on the acreage for their livelihood, but enjoyed gardening, keeping chickens and harvesting the apples growing on the old farm. Family descendants live far out of state today, but still own 2+ acres of the property. They seldom get back to the area, but the old farm holds strong and positive memories. Their two acres of the old Foster farm is a tangible tie to those memories and is of deep sentimental value to them.
Astrid Murre has owned the major portion of the Lawton Foster’s 20 acre home site since the mid 1980’s #79. Ms. Murre has made few changes in the overall landscape since her purchase. She believes that some of the oldest apple trees on the property were originally planted by Lawton Foster himself. The apples from this small orchard and those of his neighbors may have been pressed in the mill Foster owned on his “Cider Mill Lot”.
Ms. Murre states that a barn had been on her property when she and her husband bought it. However, they had it torn down because it was so deteriorated that it was a safety hazard. It stood south of her house and east of Lawton Foster Road North. In fact it had straddled a cart path that provided access to the rear of the property. She said that it stood parallel with the road and had large sliding doors on each side. These doors allowed passage for a horse and wagon to the property beyond. The topography is such that access to the rear of the property would have been difficult without this arrangement. There was a ramp up to the threshing floor of barn at either side for ease of passage through the barn and beyond.
The remaining 55 acres bought by Peter Palmer remained unoccupied, but in the possession of the Palmer family for many years. Rolf L. Palmer, a descendant of Peter, sold this property to David and Norma Gaskill in June of 1965 #80. The acreage, considered for its development potential, changed hands several times over the years. However, that potential was not pursued until it was purchased by Joyce Devine and Eric Kingman in 1985 #81. Still, it took some time for them to realize any plan for development. However, by 2010 a half dozen or so homes were completed and occupied on what has become to be called “Brightman Hills Estates”.
In early 2010 Ms. Devine and Mr. Kingman submitted application for a 2 Lot Minor Subdivision on the undeveloped portion of their property to the Hopkinton Planning Board. This generated 4 meetings of the Hopkinton Planning Board with the dates 3/3/2010, 4/2/2014, 4/23/2014 and 5/7/2014. Minutes from these meetings can be requested by writing the Hopkinton Planning Department at Thayer House, 482 Main St. 2nd Floor, Hopkinton, RI 02833 or by calling that office at (401) 377-7770.
March 3, 2010: During this meeting Mr. Doug Harris, Preservationist for Ceremonial Landscapes, representing the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NITHPO), spoke of an “exquisite sampling” of ceremonial stone clusters on the property. He indicated that NITHPO does not have the resources to purchase the land, but “does offer to partner with the land owner and the Town of Hopkinton to acquire the fair market funding to place this ceremonial landscape in permanent preservation and protection”. He later said that the stone clusters represent a tradition that dated back thousands of years. “It is a spiritual tradition that honors spirits in place and calls on those energies to for support, balance and harmony in the life of the community and in the lives of people.” He distinguished the ceremonial grouping differ from farm clearing in that farm clearing was utilitarian with no spiritual component. “They have yet to understand why a farmer would stack stones in very artistic manner, in the effigy of turtles and other forms. Some of those farmers may have been Indian or some of their family may have been Indian. A lot of these predate the coming of Europeans.” After further discussion Ms. Devine agreed to work with Mr. Harris
The only transaction record between 2010 and 2014 was an “administrative subdivision” within the boundaries of the “Brightman Hills Estates” development. This was the transfer of about 4 acres of undeveloped land owned by the developers, Kingman and Divine, to David Plouffe, whose house lot abutted this property #82. Plouffe’s original boundary had been a historic stone wall within the 40 acres once owned by Lawton Foster west of what is now Lawton Foster Road North. After the sale this old stone wall was moved eastward over 250 feet to reflect the new property line.
April 2, 2014: During this meeting the owners presented plans for a final “Minor Subdivision” on the undeveloped portion of their property. They had contacted Dr. Timothy Ives, State Archaeologist for Rhode Island, who along with Doug Harris from NITHPO, had walked on the property in December of 2013. A letter from Dr. Ives stated “Though agrarian stone piling practices are scarcely discussed in secondary historic literature, research supported by primary documentary evidence indicates that stone piling was once a common, though now largely forgotten, strategy for clearing rocky farmland.” He went on to say “in the interest of preservation I recommend that efforts to leave the stone pile features undisturbed to the greatest extent possible be incorporated into any management plans….” Dr. Ives also acknowledged Doug Harris’s view that identifies the parcel under discussion as being part of a lager Native American ceremonial stone landscape. However, he added “I cannot independently confirm Doug’s interpretation because research based on historical and/or archaeological evidence is not available on this type of landscape. In addition, I am unaware of historical or archaeological evidence that would confirm that the stone piles on your property were placed by Native Americans.”
Hopkinton resident, Tom Helmer also spoke. He had taken pictures of a small part of the property under discussion from the house lot of an abutting owner and made the photos available at the Zoning Board meeting. He quoted Dr. Ives’s statement about preserving them and asked the board to have another site walk “to see what is actually there”.
Soon after Mr. Helmer spoke, Doug Harris stated “…this is a region that is significant to the Narragansett because it was significant to Chief Sachem Canonchet. His name rings from place to place in this region. It was important to him as a part-time residence and also as a place of great ceremony.” By the close of the meeting a site walk was scheduled for April 23, 2014.
April 23, 2014: The site walk was attended by members of the Planning Board and the public, more than 25 people. The group viewed the proposed house and sanitary system sites, as well as the cairns. These had been revised since the last meeting and the group was informed that the revisions would be presented at the next Planning board meeting.
May 7, 2014: After some debate that included commending Kingman and Devine for their long time efforts toward preserving the stone structures on their property the Planning Board approved the developers’ amended building proposal. The motion to approve the project included a provision for “PRESERVATON OF NATURAL, HISTORIC AND/ORCULTURAL FEATURES THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE ATTRACTIVENSS OF THE COMMUNITY”.
Subsequently, a process was initiated by the Hopkinton Land Trust that resulted in their purchase of the site late in 2014 #83. A portion of the money for the purchase was raised as donations from the community at large. Since then the New England Antiquities Research Association has documented hundreds of stone structures on the protected land and the Hopkinton Land Trust is exploring way to continue to protect the site, while using it for educational purposes, highlighting its history and its cultural importance.
Andrews, Hope Greene
1985 Hopkinton City “Williamsburg of Hopkinton Rhode Island” Hope Valley, Rhode Island, Self-published
Beers, D. G. & Co., Publishers – Philadelphia
Atlas of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations – 1870
Everts & Richards, Publishers – Philadelphia
Topographical Atlas of Southern Rhode Island – 1895
Foster, David R.
1999 Thoreau’s Country – Journey Through A Transformed Landscape, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA – London, England
Gage, Mary & James Gage
2011 A Handbook of Stone Structures in Northeastern United States – Revised First Edition, Amesbury, MA: Powwow River Books
Hopkinton Historical Association website – hopkintonhistoricalassociatoin.org
Genealogy to Hopkinton R. I. births: 1727-1902 – listed alphabetically
Hopkinton Land Evidence Records – (HLER)
Hopkinton Probate Records – (HPR)
Hopkinton Town Council Records – (HTCR)
Hopkinton Death Records – (HDR)
Kenyon, Kenneth E.
1977 Simon Kenyon of Hopkinton 1789 – 1865 His family and some of their connections,
Palmer, Gladys Papers & Scrapbook Collection – Langworthy Library
Hand written, unpublished research notes and scrapbooks of local genealogist and historian
Rider, Sidney S.
1904 The Lands of Rhode Island As They Were Known To Caunounicus And Miantunnomu when Roger Williams Came In 1636, Providence, R.I. Published by the Author
State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
1913 – Report of Committee on Making Historical Sites in Rhode Island, Providence, RI, E. L. Freeman Company, Printers
The Hopkinton Bicentennial Commission
1976 History of the Town of Hopkinton Rhode Island 1757 – 1976 – Westerly, RI: The Utter Company, Printers
Trigger, Bruce G. – Volume Editor
1978 Handbook of North American Indians – Volume 15, Northeast, Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Institution
Tootell, Lucy R
Unpublished research notes and scrapbooks of local genealogist and historian
Waite, Gayle E. and Lorraine Tarket-Arruda
1998 Hopkinton Rhode Island – Historic Cemeteries
Published for the authors by Gateway Press Inc. Baltimore, MD
#1) Trigger: Map – Pg. 191
#2) Author’s personal informal conversations
#3) Author’s personal observations
#4) Gage & Gage: Pg. 159
#5) 1913 – Report of Committee on Making Historical Sites in Rhode Island: pg. 76
#6) Trigger: pg. 195
#7) Rider: pg. 70
#8) The Hopkinton Bicentennial Commission: pg. 93
#9) Andrews: pg. 35
#10) Palmer Scrapbook: (source not included on clipping)
#11) HLER: Bk. 1 pg. 23
#12) Andrews: pgs. 19-22 & pgs.35-38
#13) Foster: pg. 122
#14) Foster: pg. 124
#15) Kenyon: pg. 3
#16) The Hopkinton Bicentennial Commission: pg. 71
#17) HLER: Bk. 1 pgs. 503, 504
#18) HLER: Bk. 1 pg. 505
#19) HLER: Bk. 3#4 pg. 62
#20) HPR: Bk 4 pgs. 64 – 67
#21) HPR: Bk 4 pgs. 71-73 & 89
#22) Waite & Tarket-Arruda: Hopkinton Historical Cemetery #12
#23) HLER: Bk. 402 pg. 69
#24) HTCR: Bk. 2 pg.9; Also – hopkintonhistoricalassociation.org; Genealogy, births 1727-1902, A-C, Brightman
#25) HLER: Bk. 1 pg. 99
#26) HLER: Bk. 2 pg. 254
#27) HLER: Bk. 3&4 pg. 11
#28) HLER: Bk. 3&4 pg. 41
#29) HLER: Bk. 3&4 pg. 99
#30) HTCR: 2 pg.6; Also – hopkintonhistoricalassociation.org; Genealogy, births 1727-1902, A-C, Brightman,
#31) Waite & Tarket-Arruda: Hopkinton Historical Cemetery #52
#32) HTCR: 2 pg.76; Also – hopkintonhistoricalassociation.org; Genealogy, births 1727-1902, A-C, Brightman,
#33) HPR: Bk 4 pgs. 281 & 282
#34) Waite & Tarket-Arruda: Hopkinton Historical Cemetery #52
#35) HLER: Bk 10 pg. 153
#36) Kenyon: pg. 3
#37) Kenyon: pg. 19
#38) Palmer: Foster genealogy notes; no page number, no date
#39) Kenyon: pg. 4
#40) The Hopkinton Bicentennial Commission: pg. 2
#41) HLER: Bk. 1 pgs. 503 & 504; Bk 1, pg. 505
#42) HLER: Bk. 1 pg. 444
#43) HPR: Bk. 2 pgs. 131, 132, 133, 134
#44) Palmer: Foster genealogy notes; no page number, no date
#45) HLER: Bk. 6 pg. 223
#46) Tootell: scrapbook – (clipping from Providence Sunday Journal – Oct. 17, 1920)
#47) Waite & Tarket-Arruda: Hopkinton Historical Cemetery #57
#48) HLER: Bk. 8 pg. 262
#49) D. G. Beers & Co. – 1870 Map of Hopkinton R.I. pg. 125
#50) HLER: Bk. 7 pg. 141
#51) HLER: Bk. 6 pgs. 474, 475
#52) HTCR: V Bk. 1 pg. 3; Also – hopkintonhistoricalassociation.org; Genealogy, births 1727-1902, A-C, Brightman
#53) Palmer: Foster genealogy notes; no page number, no date
#54) Waite & Tarket-Arruda: Hopkinton Historical Cemetery #11
#55) Palmer: scrapbook – (Westerly Sun – date not on clipping)
#56) HDR: Bk. 1 pg. 56; Also – hopkintonhistoricalassociation.org; Genealogy, deaths 1788 -1922, M-Z, Spencer, Samuel
#57) HLER: Bk. 10 pg. 701
#58) HLER: Bk. 9 pg. 80
#59) HLER: Bk. 10 pg. 153
#60) HLER: Bk. 11 pgs. 15, 16
#61) HLER: Bk. 11 pg. 218
#62) HLER: Bk. 11 pg. 327
#63) “United States Census, 1860”, database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MFF6-6SX : 30 December 2015), Lawton Foster, 1860.
#64) HLER: Bk. 15 pg. 36)
#65) HLER: Bk. 14 pg. 388
#66) Author’s personal observations
#67) “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M4S8-FWB : 11 August 2016), Lawton Foster, Hopkinton, Washington, Rhode Island, United States; citing enumeration district ED 154, sheet 313B, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 1210; FHL microfilm 1,255,210.
#68) HLER: Bk. 23 pgs. 177, 178
#69) HLER: Bk. 23, pgs. 336,337
#70) HDR: Bk. 1 pg. 53: Also – hopkintonhistoricalassociation.org; Genealogy, deaths 1788 -1922, D-L, Foster, Nancy
#71) HLER: Bk 23, pgs. 429, 430
#72) D. G. Beers & Co. 1870: map of Hopkinton R.I. pg. 125
#73) Everts & Richards, 1895: map of Hopkinton R.I. pg. 86
#74) HLER: Bk. 26 pg. 393
#75) Waite & Tarket-Arruda: Hopkinton Historical Cemetery #6
#76) HLER: Bk. 33 pg. 476
#77) Everts & Richards, 1895: map of Hopkinton R.I. pg. 86
#78) HLER: Bk. 37 pg. 213
#79) HLER: Bk. 122 pg. 163
#80) HLER: Bk. 52 pg. 364
#81) HLER: Bk. 121 pg. 295
#82) HLER: (Administrative Subdivision) Plat Book 16; pg. 9 and pg. 16
#83) HLER: Bk. 528 pg. 343