2012-04-12 / Island History

JHS 100 years: Allowing people into town, kicking people out

BY ROSEMARY ENRIGHT AND SUE MADEN

In their 1678 bid for incorporation, Caleb Carr and Francis Brinley had claimed that 150 people lived on Conanicut Island. Some of them were “freemen,” that is, men who had the rights and obligations of citizenship, such as voting, election to public office and jury duty, but most were “inhabitants,” people who lived in the town with the permission of the proprietors.

The concept of a freeman was tied to property. A 1722 law defi ned a freeman as “a freeholder of lands, tenements or hereditaments in such town where he shall be admitted free, of the value of forty shillings per annum, or the eldest son of such freeholder.” The value of the required freehold changed over time. Freemen of individual towns were also freemen of the colony.

Both inhabitants and freemen were entitled to town services and were guaranteed the protection of the law. To reduce the expenses associated with “overseeing the poor” and to keep the need for law enforcement at a minimum, each town tried to control who was allowed to move into the town.


Above is the bill that was used for transporting Martha Bristol from Jamestown to New Shoreham. The Town Council questioned in May 1763 if Bristol, an Indian, had entered the town illegally. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY Above is the bill that was used for transporting Martha Bristol from Jamestown to New Shoreham. The Town Council questioned in May 1763 if Bristol, an Indian, had entered the town illegally. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE JAMESTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY An ordinance passed at Jamestown’s first town meeting in April 1679 ordered that “no person or persons…except it be those which are concerned in the Propriety of lands…shall have liberty to settle and inhabit in the said Towne, until such time that they are admitted by the major part of the freemen of the said Towne.” To guard against proprietors leasing their land to a person who would not be a desirable inhabitant, the law stated the “Landlord or Proprietor of the land so let or leased will give in security for his Tennant that he or they shall be no way chargeable” to the town.

Much effort was expended determining whether a new arrival would be an asset to the community. While the original 101 proprietors, or those who had bought their property from them during the intervening 20 years, were freemen, most did not live on Conanicut Island and took little or no part in the political life of Jamestown. On May 6, 1679, soon after their election to the Jamestown Town Council, Nicholas Carr, Caleb Carr’s eldest son, and Caleb Carr, the eldest son of Robert Carr, were acknowledged by the colony to be freemen of Jamestown. Both men qualified as freemen as “the eldest son of [a] freeholder.”

Three freemen were admitted in April 1680: Joseph Mosie (in later records, Mosy), George Havens and Joseph Remington. Mosie was immediately elected to the Town Council. The admittance of freemen by vote of the Town Council continued through the 18th century, although evidently no complete record of their number exists.

The first time the Town Council admitted a tenant as an inhabitant was at its January 1680 meeting: “George Stevens is admitted an inhabitant, upon the request of Mrs. Freeborn Hart, who hath rented him her house and land in this Towne.” While only the head of household was admitted as an inhabitant, his family and servants were included in the protection of the law afforded to the household.

With the need for permission to reside in the town came the need to remove those who came or remained without permission. This could be a long process, as the case of Martha Bristol demonstrates.

In May 1763, the Town Council questioned “an Indian woman named Martha Bristol [who] had illegally entered into this town” about where she had been born, who she worked for, and how long she’d been in Jamestown. “In consequence of which examination it is Voted by the Council that the said Martha Bristol depart this town in three months…or bring such security within that time as said Town Council shall deem suffi cient for the indemnification of the town.”

The following December she still hadn’t left and the council “voted that Martha Bristol be immediately sent out of this town… to the town of Newshoreham, the place of her last legal settlement.”

In May 1764, Robert Hull promised to “procure a certificate” for the woman and her family if he could, and the council voted that she “be sent out of this town in three weeks time…unless she produce a certificate or other indemnifi cation for herself…sufficient to indemnify [the] town from any charge that may accrue by her family living therein.” At the June meeting, the council voted to accept the “indemnification of Martha Bristol and her family for three years.”

In 1768, Town Sergeant Matthew Grinold presented a bill for “transporting Martha Bristol and her family to New Shoreham” and for a boat to take them there.

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