THE PHYSICAL PICTURE
Created by the Rhode Island General Assembly in February 1730, Smithfield was one of the largest towns in the state. Measuring about 10 miles in length and about 7 miles in width, it had an area of about 73 square miles. Old Smithfield was bordered by Massachusetts to the north, the Blackstone River in the East, Providence to the south and Glocester to the west. The western border of old and present day Smithfield is the Seven Mile #
Boundary Line of the colony of Providence given to Roger Williams by King Charles of England. This line is measured seven miles west of Fox Point in Providence.
Today, Smithfield is much smaller with an area of about 28 square miles. It is bordered on the north by North Smithfield, on the east by Lincoln, on the south by North Providence plus Johnston and on the west by Glocester.
Old Smithfield had many villages which are no longer in the town. Among them are Saylesville, Lonsdale, Albion, Manville, Lime Rock, Central Falls, Union Village (now Woomsocket), Forestdale, Branch Village, Waterford, and Hamlet. Present day Smithfield contains the villages of Esmond, Georgiaville, Greenville, Spragueville and Stillwater.
The surface of the town varies in elevaton from 300 to 600 feet above sea level. Its geological structure consists of iron, granite and limestone. The limestone was quarried and manufactured to be sent to many parts of the country. There was quarrying of whetstone for use in furnace hearths.
Near the northern edge of Old Smithfield rose Woonsocket Hill, towering almost 600 feet above sea level. today, Wolf Hill, Forge Hill and Wionkhiege Hill are the Highest in the town. The hills were once covered with oak, walnut, ash, chestnut and birch trees. There were deer, game birds, wild cats, wolves and bears in the forests. Smithfield offered to he hardy pioneer good land, pure water and abundant forests, plus ready access to navigable waters. Before 1871, Smithfield included the Branch River, the Blackstone River, the Moshassuck River, the Crook Fall River and the Woonasquatucket River. Today the town only contains the last one within its borders with all its tributaries. There were many marshes, waterfalls and lakes which helped to develop its industry. Today, among the lakes are Slacks, Watermans, Upper Sprague and Lower Sprague. Some of the ponds are Stillwater, Hawkins, Georgiaville and Capron. Stillwater and Mountaindale are classified as reservoirs.
s The Ice Age erased most evidence of people before this time period. Towards the end of the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago) people began to move into this area once again. About 6500 BC, men hunted along the banks of the West River in the southeast corner of the town. Camps they used have been discovered there.
When Roger Williams came to this area, he found the land to be owned by the Narragansett and Nipmuc Indians. A large portion of Smithfield south of the Branch River wasn't included as part of the deed Rober Williams got from the Indians. Indian wigwams could be seen along the banks of many streams of the town. A swamp in the southeast corner of the town was mentioned by Roger Williams. When the town was occupied by the Indians, it was divided into three sections: to the north was Woonsocket, in the east and center was Louisquiset and to the south was Wionkhiege. A few miles south of the village of Lime Rock was an area called Quinsicket which means large place of rock houses. Today in the vicinity of Lincoln Woods State Park is a large area of rocks and caves that could be the same place. The Lincoln section was known as the North Woods of Providence.
Smithfield developed in parts nearest to Narragansett Bay. It was a part of Providence started in 1636 by Roger Williams. Joshua Winsor, one of his followers, bought the land in 1637 along with Roger Williams from the Indians. The area was covered with forests and wild beasts. The fertility of the soil and the fine water power attracted the attention of explorers. The tide of civilization settled in and in a few years from 1636 the area was dotted with homes. In 1704, Quakers established a meeting house in Lower Smithfield followed by a second one in 1719 in Upper Smithfield.
The early settlers were bothered with wild beasts destroying their farm animals. On March 17,1731, a bounty was voted for the killing of wildcats and wolves. By 1736, a reward of f3 was offered for each bear killed. At the meeting of the Rhode Island General Assembly in Newport on February 26,1730, the town of Smithfield separated from Providence along with Scituate and Glocester. At the time of its birth, Smithfield was very sparsely populated. Its inhabitants were mainly families who had pushed out into the country from Providence. The name of the town has no record from which we could discover its origin. It could have come from the family name of Smith which was prominent. It could have come from the suburb of old London, England where Rober Williams lived as a boy.The first town meeting was held in the home of Captain Valentine Whitman in the Lime Rock section on March 17.1730, Jonathan Sprague was chosen moderator and Richard Sayles was chosen as town clerk. Some other early offices were sealer and packer, overseer of the poor, surveyor of the highways, fence viewers, hemp viewers and pound keeper. In its early years, the town was very strict and very stern. One of the first matters taken up by the town council was to see who should live in Smithfield. Some people had to give reasons why they lived here without permission and others were removed. If a person broke the law they were put out of town. If the person returned they were ordered to pay a fine within an hour. If they didn't they were whipped at the town whipping post built in 1738.
Earliest efforts to improve the highways were the construction of bridges over numerous streams. At most seasons of the year, the streams were crossed at Fords. In 1738, the town council passed a Highway Act. This was a very modern law for the times. According to this law, surveyors had to inspect the roads and care for them. Every man in the town, 21 years of age and over, had to work 6 days a year (an 8 hour day) on the roads. Only apprentices, slaves and "idiots" were excused.
In the area of education, Smithfield has long been a leader. In 1799, when the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a law for free public education, Smithfield passed an act to look into free schools for all. The town agreed to have 26 such schools. In 1808, the Smithfield Academic Society was begun.
In 1810, the society selected a board of trustees to run a school. It was called the Smithfield Academy and was in Union Village. David Aldrich was the first teacher. In 1812, Greene Academy was begun. The town had many one school building districts with many one room schools. In 1840, the first school committee was set up and by l844, they were paid $1 a day for their duties as a committee.
In 1774, in the month of September, Smithfield sent 150 sheep to the besieged people in Boston, Mass. In 1775 a committe was set up to gather firearms and give them to the three captains of the 3 foot companies in town. The rifles collected then and at later dates were to be used on any invasion that might occur.
In 1776, some companies were raised and paid by the town to march to Newport. Later, another 3 companies were raised when ordered to by the Congress in Philadelphia. They served with General Sullivan in the Battle of Rhode Island in an effort to drive the British from Newport. Due to problems with the French fleet and armies, the battle was a failure. Later, the British left Newport anyway. The men were to be paid 10 shillings a day day as stockings, blankets, flour and other items had gone to the war effort. Money was to be set aside by the R.I. General Assembly for assistance to the families in Smithfield who had people in army service.
Smithfield did many other things to help with our independence. Cannon wheels were made in Greenville by N. Brown. A Hospital was provided to introduce smallpox innoculation, the same as the vaccination you receive before you start school. an independent company of soldiers called the Smithfield and Cumberland Rangers was inco rporated. It was made up of 600 men with six out of every 100 being sixteen years or older.
After the American Revolution, the United States went through some hard times in getting the country started. One problem was with money. In September 1786, the Smithfield Convention of all towns in Providence County met to consult on further measures of hostility to merchants whom they accused of exporting money. The plan they adopted was such that the state would provide vessels and import goods itself. The produce, labor and money would be received in payment for taxes. Cargoes would furnished in return for money and goods that could be obtained. There would be no interest certification for payment of duties. Private importers were compelled to pay money. During the paper money problems, Smithfield was in favor of paper money. One time, Smithfield rejected a bill that called for an oath to accept paper and hard money as equal. The bill said if you would not do so, you couldn't hold public office or vote, and were subject to perjury. The other problem was the setting up of a good working government. In 1788, when an election occurred on the new U.S. Constitution, the town voted 159 to 2 against, reflecting the mood of Rhode Island. By 1790 when Rhode Island did join the United States as the thirteenth state, Smithfield still wasn't in favor of the Constitution. In the Rhode Island General Assembly, the vote was very close (34 to 32) and Smithfield was in the "no" column. Andrew Waterman of Greenville was very important in this issue.
In 1818, the promoters of the New England Pacific Bank of Smithfield obtained a charter to sell the bank to out of state interest. A problem arose with the Lime Rock Bank of Smithfield sending money out of town.
An 1836 law said money could be sent without legislative approval.
By the 1840's Smithfield had become the second largest town in the state, but had only two representatives in the General Assembly. Newport had a smaller population, but had more representatives than Providence which was the largest town. People thought this wrong and that towns with more people should have more representatives.
A second problems was how to decide who could vote in elections. At this time only the father of the family and the eldest son could vote, plus there was a property value clause. There were many adults who could not vote. At this time a minority ruled Rhode Island. In 1822 a Smithfield referendum favored a change in the state constitution to give it more representatives. Rhode Island was operating under the charter given by King Charles of England in 1663. Even though 90 to 95% of the town residents approved the referendum, it was defeated in a state referendum.
In 1824, another referendum for a new state constitution received 75 to 90% of the votes in Smithfield, but was defeated statewide. In February 1834, delegates from Smithfield and nine other towns met in Providence to discuss their complaints against the state charter and to form the Constitutional Party. They said the Revolution of 1776 gave people the power to adopt a constitution whenever they wanted. It called for more people to be allowed to vote and for the General Assembly to meet and pass such laws. In the summer of 1835, they abandoned their struggle after four attempts due to poor leadership. A Smithfield town meeting on September 9, 1837 supported reapportionment and said something should be done about equal representation.
One of the outcomes of this political problem was a rebellion led by a man called Thomas Dorr of Providence. Smithfield enthusiastically supported him because he wanted the same changes they did. After his forces were driven from Providence, they came through Smithfield (probably Greenville)and formed a camp on Acote Hill in Chepachet. There is a cemetery there now on R.I. Route 44. Dorr was forced to leave the state. Later he returned and was jailed.
The other outcome was the holding of two elections for a new state constitution. By 1840, the ratio of freemen was about 6 to 9% of the population. Freemen were those who could vote. A petition was adopted unanimously by a Smithfield town meeting to support reapportionment at a convention in 1841. The referendum of the Freeman's Constitution of March 1842, was defeated 997 to 334.
A new constitution was approved in 1842 by a vote of 347 to 0, even though Smithfield didn't gain any representatives. But laws were included that would increase Smithfield's number of voters in the future.
The factory system gave Smithfield its greatest growth in the 1840's. The different sections or villages developed around the many streams in the town. Both local authorities and the Rhode Island General Assembly encouraged certain industries. The state legislature granted a monopoly to a Smithfield marble works in 1785 and 1786. Smithfield became noted for the production of screws, nuts, bolts, muskets, edge tools and textile machinery. Hearthstone and whetstone quarries could be found in the town, also. In 1810 a group of Providence woolen manufacturers tried to get a charter for the Smithfield Manufacturing Company. In 1823 a limestone company received a charter for a corporation in Smithfield. The town was noted for the scythes it made, also. The depression of 1850 signaled the end for the growth of industry and manufacturing that Smithfield had known in the 1840's. By 1860 in the precious metal industry, there were only four firms with 78 employees. Forges of the town got their iron from Cranston and were called bloomeries.
The largest industry in the town was cotton manufacturing, but there was a problem. The major diffuculty was the lack of necessary water power. It was needed to keep the mills in successful operation during the entire year, especially the summer.
The state organized in 1824, a company to construct reservoirs along the Woonasquatucket River and its tributaries to hold water necessary to aid the factories and it could enforce its demands. It did this by attaching the property of the delinquent shareholders. The company got its money by assessing certain factories. Member mills and owners were liable for the company's debt and the General Assembly extended its protection to the company's property. The dams built increased the power and employment. Storage capacity increased by four lmonths. The first reservoir to be completed was Slacks Reservoir (known for a while as Greenville Reservoir) in the village of Greenville around 1824. It was the first completed by the corporation and averaged about ten feet deep.
The cotton manufacturing industry's growth in Smithfield owes its start to Samuel Slater. He lived in Smithfield with Oziel Wilkinson while he was building the first cotton mill in Pawtucket in the 1790's. He later married Wilkinson's daughter.
Oziel Wilkinson was born in Smithfield and worked with his father, Israel, as a boy in a blacksmith shop on Mussey's Brook near the village of Albion. Israel Wilkinson was born in Smithfield in 1711 near Manville where he built the Unity Furnace. He worked with Brown's of Providence in building the Hope Furnace in Cranston.
The largest and first cotton manufacturing complex was that of Almy, Brown and Slater. It was built in 1806 on the Branch River in Slatersville. John Slater helped his brother, Samuel, build this complex of four large textile mills, a $250,000 enterprise. Woonsocket which was shared with Cumberland became the second largest cotton manufacturing center in Smithfield.s