The Granite Monuments at Aspanansuck



The Granite Monuments at Aspanansuck
Granite Monuments at Aspanansuck By Gary Boden Every day hundreds of cars pass an unnoticed landmark on the Ten Rod Road. Actually, it’s a set of three markers – a row of rough granite slabs perched a few feet above the road on the embankment in front of the Delmyra Kennels. Underneath the limbs of several sugar maple trees they’ve witnessed the busy traffic since being set in place over 90 years ago. Some might mistake them for cemetery markers or the beginnings of a stone wall, but their story is a little more interesting. We learn of it from the pages of the Providence Journal. These stone monuments were dedicated on October 28, 1923 to honor two Narragansett Indians who once lived here. One stone was carved with the name Miantonomi and another for Wawaloam, his wife. According to Rhode Island historian, Sidney Rider, in the 1630s these people were the Chief Sachem and his Queen. Miantonomi was a nephew of Canonicus and father of Canonchet, names still recognized so many years later. He was described as “a very good personage, of tall stature, subtil, and cunning in his contrivements, as well as haughty in his designs.” Governor Winthrop of Boston said of Miantonomi that “he was very deliberate and showed good understanding of justice and equity, and ingenuity.” Despite these qualities, Miantonomi was executed in 1643 by orders of the Massachusetts government after being tried for attempting to organize the regional tribes against the English. Wawaloam probably was a member of the Nipmuc tribe inhabiting lands thirty miles to the north. Her name may mean “she roams about” perhaps a reference to a swallow in flight. That she was not born into the Narragansett tribe is suggested by the “l” in her name, a letter absent from their language. The third stone commemorated their village that had existed since before the arrival of the English. It was known by the Narragansett Indians as Aspanansuck (or Hakewamepinke), meaning “end of dry field” or “edge of the bank” according to Frank O’Brien, an authority on the meaning of Indian place names. Both terms makes some sense because just to the west the road drops down into a small valley. Settlers called it Exeter Hollow and at the bottom lies the southwardly flowing Queens River (so named not for Wawaloam but for another female tribal leader after her, Quaiapen). Rider identified the village as the place where in 1661 Wawaloam dictated a deposition about land now in the town of Westerly that was given to the Niantic sachem, Sosoa, for his help in battle with the Pequots in Connecticut decades earlier. Today we know the Aspanansuck as Exeter Hill, established by English settlers as the easternmost village in town during colonial times. It contained various businesses, the original Baptist church, a school, and a post office from 1864 until nearly the end of the 20th century. Today it is occupied by a few houses and the kennels. The monument stones were the first of a set of 50 or more memorials planned for installation between Boston and Stonington to honor the various Indian tribes. The project was conceived, begun, and funded by noted Rhode Island historian Thomas W. Bicknell. Born in 1834 in Barrington, Bicknell led an active life as an educator and school administrator, author, editor, publisher, anti‐slavery reformer, Sunday School promoter, state legislator, fundraiser and philanthropist. During his life he was a member of more than a hundred organizations and served as president in over thirty of them, including the American Institute of Instruction, the National Council of Education, and the National Educational Association. Among several other works, Bicknell wrote a five‐
volume, History of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and Sowams, a book relating the history of the Indian village and early settlers in Barrington. Now, at the age of 89, he was the driving force behind this ambitious project. This picture of Bicknell was taken on the day of the dedication with Lemuel Fielding from Norwich, CT, known as Chief Occum, Sachem of the Mohegans. The Providence Journal article says that the “gathering at Exeter was a remarkable one in many respects.” So that many townspeople and descendents of the Narragansetts in South County could attend, the ceremony was held on a Sunday afternoon. A number of dignitaries who earlier had visited the nearby Queen’s Fort gathered at 2 p.m. Mr. Bicknell gave the keynote address, paying tribute to Miantonomi and his friendliness and generosity toward the English colonists. Other speakers told of the differing ideas of land ownership that let to eventual conflict and another commented on the life of Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe. A deed of trust for the memorials was given to representatives of the Narragansetts and Ninigrets. Plans for additional memorials were revealed that include suitable markers in Charlestown and near the Pettaquamscutt River in the town of Narragansett, a bronze statue of Canonicus in Wickford, markers at the Richard Smith garrison (now called Smith’s Castle) at Cocumscussoc, at the Queen’s Fort, and one at Devil’s Foot, all in North Kingstown, one at Frenchtown in East Greenwich, and another at Apponaug in Warwick. It was hoped to erect statues of Miantonomi and Wawaloam at some place in Providence and to set up a large stone along the bank of the Pawtucket River. Monuments on the way to Boston would be chosen according to the judgment of people from Boston already involved with the project. How many of the other memorials ever were placed is not known. Thomas Bicknell lived for less than two years after this event and enthusiasm among his associates may not have lasted after his passing. The idea may not have been completely lost, however. In 1936 the Rhode Island Tercentenary Committee set up a stone monument and bronze plaque at the Richard Smith grove along the side of Post Road in North Kingstown commemorating Roger Williams’ trading post. It cites Williams’ friendly relationship with the Narragansett sachems. And there once was an official sign marking the Queens Fort site on Stony Lane, although it disappeared quite a few years ago. Today the memorial stones stand as silent sentinels to the passing automobile traffic. Without them we might have forgotten that an Indian village once thrived in the area. Their carved letters, much like our memories of those who lived here long ago, have eroded almost completely away. Only the name Wawaloam can be read with some difficulty. Next time you pass the Exeter Country club and climb the hill headed east toward Wickford, remember to glance to the left and see these memorials to Exeter’s original inhabitants. References Bicknell, T. W. 1920. History of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The American Historical Society. O'Brien, F. J. 2003. American Indian Place Names In Rhode Island: Past & Present. In the RI Gen Web Project database. Providence Journal. Exeter Unvails Indian Memorial. 29 Oct 1923. Providence Sunday Journal. Granite Memorials to Mark Indian Footsteps. 4 Nov 1923. Rider, S. 1904. The Lands of Rhode Island as They Were Known to Caunounicus and Miantunnomu When Roger Williams Came in 1636. Self‐published, Providence, R.I. © Copyright 2015, Exeter Historical Association and Gary Boden 

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