Reflections of Coventry's Yesterdays

Coventry, Rhode Island's largest town, has an area of 64.8 square miles and a population of over 33,000. The town is bounded on the north by Foster, Scituate, and Cranston; on the east by West Warwick and Warwick; on the south by East and West Greenwich; and on the west by Connecticut and probably was named by settlers from Coventry, England.

The land on which the Town of Coventry now stands was once part of the land belonging to the Narragansett Tribe of Indians. In 1642, Samuel Gorton and a group of men purchased from Indian Chief Miantonomi, a large section of land which included the present Towns of Coventry and West Warwick and most of the City of Warwick. This was known as the SHAWOMET PURCHASE. The price paid was 144 fathoms of wampum-peage, the equivalent of 36 pounds in English money. The original deed to this land shows the names of twelve men as purchasers, but by the time an attempt was made to divide the land, the number of purchasers has increased to seventeen.

In 1647, the original purchasers, and others who had joined them as settlers, organized a government under the name of Warwick, named for the Earl of Warwick, who was helpful to Roger Williams in securing the colony charter. Many attempts were made to divide this land and in 1672 a meeting was held and it was voted to divide the land into two great tracts. The dividing line of this tract was known as the ÒSeven and Ten LineÓ, with seven of the original purchasers receiving land in one tract and the remaining ten receiving the land in the other tract.

In 1677, following King Phillip's War, development of the land in the western section proceeded, and a few hardy souls had gone into the wilderness to carve their homes out of the forest in true pioneer fashion. The numerous brooks and waterways were utilized to run grist-mills and saw-mills. By 1741 there was believed to be about one hundred families living in the wilderness area which is now the Town of Coventry. The seat of government was at the settlement on the shores of Narragansett Bay (Warwick) and people had to travel twenty miles or more to record their land deeds, as well as marriages, births, and deaths. This probably required two or three days travel time, so a seat of government within easier reach became a real necessity. A petition for a separation from the Town of Warwick was placed before the General Assembly in June, 1741. This petition was granted in August, 1741 and the boundary line was established where it is today.

The imperfect instruments and the primitive methods used in surveys of that time caused many disputes and lawsuits. The records in the City of Warwick show such reports as "making a large heap of stones, on the east end of a rock, in said bounds, and made several heaps of stones and marked several trees in said line...Ó. It would be interesting today, if it were possible, to locate such landmarks as "Sugar Loaf HillÓ, "Bread and Cheese Brook" and "Cross Brook Swamp" mentioned in the field note of the surveyors of that final boundary line. Thus, Coventry became a town, of stubborn and independent nature, as shown by all the early records.

In August of 1991 Coventry celebrated its 250th anniversary to mark its separation from the Town of Warwick and today remains the largest land mass in the State of Rhode Island which covers 64.8 square miles of picturesque land and 2.6 miles of inland water. While the western and central portions of Coventry are still rural in nature, the eastern section is one of the most rapidly growing residential communities in the State of Rhode Island. Coventry changed dramatically during the 19th century. In 1800, it was primarily an agricultural town with a population of 2,423, most of whom lived on widely scattered farms or in small hamlets. The story of Coventry in the 19th century centers around the growth of the textile industry. The early decades of the century saw many small textile mills built along the Pawtuxet River. When the textile industry declined, many of these villages ceased to exist Fortunately, such mills as those in Anthony, Arkwright, Quidnick, and Harris give us a view of the past. Coventry, like many towns in Rhode Island, grew around its mills and continues to retain many of the old textile mill villages still known as Quidnick Village (the oldest), Anthony Village, Arkwright Village, Harris Village, Washington Village, Coventry Center Village, Summit Village, and Greene Village.

The information contained herein was compiled by Lila E. Ritchotte and the Coventry Library staff members. November 6, 1996