Inductees in Founders of Rhode Island

  1. William Barton

    William Barton (1748-1831)

    Inducted in 1999

    Mr. Barton, of Warren and Providence, was a colonel in the Revolutionary army whose most notable exploit was to lead a daring raid in July, 1777 to seize General Richard Prescott, commander of the British forces occupying Aquidneck Island.

    Barton was born in the town of Warren. After receiving a common school education, he embarked on the trade of hat-making and moved to Providence where he acquired the lot upon which the Industrial Trust Building now stands. Read more >

  2. Rev. William Blackstone

    Rev. William Blackstone (1595-1675)

    Inducted in 1995

    Reverend Blackstone (also spelled Blaxton), who lived in the Valley Falls Area of the Blackstone Valley, was the first European settler in the present RI State boundaries.

    William Blackstone was born in born in County Durham, England on on March 5, 1595.  He earned both an AB and MA Cambridge University in 1621 and 1627.  He was ordained as an Anglican priest but had several disagreements with the church leading Blackstone to emigrate to the New World. Read more >

  3. Senator William Bradford

    Senator William Bradford (1729-1808)

    Inducted in 2007


    Senator William Bradford (1729-1808) was a fifth-generation descendant and namesake of the famous governor of Plymouth Colony. He began his career as a surgeon, but after his arrival in Bristol in the late 1750s, Bradford left medicine and turned to a new profession in the law, and was admitted to the bar in 1767. He established a practice at Bristol. He served the town as state representative and town moderator. Read more >
  4. Moses Brown

    Moses Brown (1738-1836)

    Inducted in 1999

    Moses Brown was a prominent Providence merchant, reformer, and philanthropist. He was one of the famous Brown brothers, a group that included John, Joseph, James, and Nicholas. He had a few years of formal schooling before becoming apprenticed to his wealthy uncle Obadiah to learn the intricacies of 18th century trade and commerce. He remained an influential businessman well into the 19th century. Read more >

  5. James Burrill, Jr.

    James Burrill, Jr. (1772-1820)

    Inducted in 2000

    James Burrill, Jr., a brilliant leader of the early nineteenth-century bar, a noted orator, and a pioneering constitutional reformer, was born in Providence and graduated from Brown University.  After legal clerkships, first in the office of Senator Theodore Foster and then under the tutelage of Congressman David Howell, he became state attorney general in 1797 at the age of twenty-five and served in that elective post until 1813, when he was chosen a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives.  Within a year he was elevated to the position of Speaker (1814-1816), after which he was made chief justice for a year at a time when such appointments were made by the General Assembly on an annual basis. Read more >

  6. Dr. John Clarke

    Dr. John Clarke (1609-1676)

    Inducted in 1997


    Clarke, John, 1609-1676

    Dr. Clarke was a physician, Baptist clergyman, and Statesman.  As the Colony’s agent in England he secured a liberal charter for Rhode Island in 1663 from King Charles II.  He became one of Rhode Island’s foremost advocates in the separation of Church and State. Read more >

  7. William Coddington

    William Coddington (1601-1678)

    Inducted in 1997


    Coddington, William, 1601-1678

    Mr. Coddington was the founder of Portsmouth and Newport, and three-time Governor of Rhode Island.  He was a shrewd politician and merchant, and had a large Newport Estate on which he bred livestock.

    William Coddington was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, England. Read more >

  8. Gov. Samuel Cranston

    Gov. Samuel Cranston (1659-1727)

    Inducted in 1998

    Samuel Cranston (1659-1727) was governor of Rhode Island for almost twenty-nine years--1698-1727--a tenure not only longer than any Rhode Island governor but also exceeding the tenure of any other chief executive of an American colony or state.

    Cranston was the son of John Cranston of Scottish ancestry who was also a Rhode Island governor (1678-1680).  His mother Mary Clarke was the daughter of Governor Jeremy Clarke (1648-1649) and the sister of Governor Walter Clarke (1676-1677, 1686, 1696-1698), so Samuel was well-schooled in the art of politics and the beneficiary of his family’s high social standing.  His first wife, Mary Williams Hart, the granddaughter of Roger Williams, bore him seven children. Read more >

  9. Gregory Dexter

    Gregory Dexter (1610-1700)

    Inducted in 1997

    Gregory Dexter, born in Olney, Buckinghamshire, England, was admitted to the highly competitive and highly prized company of stationers in London in 1639. There is little known about his early life, but his professional success indicates he received a sound education. Dexter became a printer to the famous English writer John Milton, and he also became the printer for Roger Williams.  Among the works of Williams published by Dexter was A Key into the Language of America. Read more >

  10. Ebenezer Knight Dexter

    Ebenezer Knight Dexter (1773-1824)

    Inducted in 2000

    Ebenezer Knight Dexter was a wealthy Providence merchant and a United States marshal who became Providence’s leading benefactor of the poor.  In 1824, by the terms of his will, he bequeathed more than 2,275,000 square feet, or over 52 acres, of land to the town.  The largest tract, located off Hope Street, was given for use as a poor farm.  An almshouse for paupers, called Dexter Asylum, was built there in 1830 from the designs of architect John Holden Greene. Read more >

  11. Nehemiah Dodge

    Nehemiah Dodge (1775-1856)

    Inducted in 1965

    Nehemiah Dodge,1769-1843 was a pioneering Rhode Island industrialist whose craft was that of "manufacturing jeweler". He is generally regarded as the principle founder of Rhode Island's costume jewelry industry. His most famous apprentice was Jabez Gorham (1792-1869), founder of the internationally renowned Gorham Manufacturing Company. Read more >

  12. Silas Downer

    Silas Downer (1729-1785)

    Inducted in 1998

    Silas Downer, patriot and lawyer, was born in Norwich, Connecticut to a farm family that subsequently moved to Sunderland Massachusetts, near Deerfield, where Downer got his early schooling.  He entered Harvard College at age fourteen and earned an undergraduate degree and a master of arts by age twenty-one.  After graduation in 1750, Downer came to Rhode Island to apply his remarkable talent in calligraphy as a scrivener, or professional penman, copyist, letter-writer, and public notary.  As one of the very few highly educated men in the colony at that time, he soon entered into the practice of law. Read more >

  13. George T. Downing

    George T. Downing (1819-1903)

    Inducted in 2003

    George T. Downing, abolitionist, businessman, and civil rights advocate, was born in New York City on December 30, 1819 into a prominent, well-to-do African-American family. His father Thomas Downing was a restauranteur, whose Oyster House was a gathering place for New York's aristocracy and politicians. Under his father's guidance, young George participated in the Underground Railroad and lobbied to gain equal suffrage for blacks. Read more >

  14. Dr.Solomon Drowne

    Dr.Solomon Drowne (1753-1834)

    Inducted in 2000

    Dr. Solomon Drowne and Senator Theodore Foster (1752-1828), friends from their student days at Brown, collaborated in a fascinating way to shape the early history of the town of Foster.  Set off from Scituate in 1781 and named for Theodore Foster, this western Rhode Island community became the home of both men when physician Drowne returned to Rhode Island from his far-flung travels in 1801 and Foster left the United States Senate in 1803.  Both men had long talked of establishing themselves in a setting conducive to contemplating and pursuing their respective professional interests in an idyllic rural retreat. Read more >

  15. Mary Dyer

    Mary Dyer (1611-1660)

    Inducted in 1997


    Dyer, Mary 1611-1660

    Ms. Dyer was a Quaker Missionary and martyr.  She moved to Rhode Island in 1638 and became one of the founders of Portsmouth.  She ultimately returned to Boston where she was hanged for supporting the Quakers. Read more >

  16. Governors Elisha & Elisha Jr. Dyer

    Governors Elisha & Elisha Jr. Dyer

    Inducted in 2007

    Dyer, Elisha, 1811-1890 

    Governor Elisha Dyer (1811-1890) and Governor Elisher Dyer, Jr. (1839-1909) traced their illustrious ancestry to William and Mary Dyer of Boston who settled Portsmouth in 1638 as exiled disciples of Anne Hutchinson. They eventually embraced Quakerism, and Mary repeatedly returned to Boston to preach the new doctrine in defiance of the Puritan magistrates. Such persistence earned her martyrdom. Read more >

  17. William Ellery

    William Ellery (1727-1820)

    Inducted in 1999

    A merchant, politician, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, William Ellery was the son of William Ellery, a prominent merchant, and Elizabeth Almy. His well-to-do father sent him to Harvard from which young William graduated in 1747. He then embarked upon a mercantile career, but when his father's death in 1764 left him with a considerable inheritance, Ellery began to engage actively in politics as an ally of Governor Samuel Ward. He was an early supporter of the protest movement against England and joined the Newport Sons of Liberty in the mid-1760s. Read more >

  18. Theodore Foster

    Theodore Foster (1752-1828)

    Inducted in 2000


    Foster, Theodore, 1752-1828

    Theodore Foster was born in Brookfield, Massachusetts in 1752, the son of Jedediah Foster, a judge of the Superior Court, and Dorothy Dwight of Dedham a descendant of William Pyncheon, an original incorporator of the Massachusetts Bay Company.  As a young man Foster came to Providence to study at Rhode Island College (now Brown University) and graduated in 1770.  In 1771 the socially-prominent youth married equally prominent Lydia Fenner, sister of Arthur Fenner, Jr., afterwards governor of Rhode Island. Read more >

  19. Samuel Gorton

    Samuel Gorton (1592-1677)

    Inducted in 1973

    Gorton, Samuel 1592-1677

    Mr. Gorton was a colonial leader who was the first settler of Warwick, RI.  He inspired the development of a religious sect called the Gortonists.  

    Samuel Gorton was born in or about 1592 in the small village of Gorton, just outside Manchester, England, a location that suggests his family had some local prominence. Read more >

  20. William Harris (1610-1681)

    Inducted in 1997


    Harris, William, 1610-1681

    Mr. Harris was one of a handful of adherents who gathered with Roger Williams in exile and settled in Pawtuxet.  He was an individual rights champion who added greatly to that early ferment that characterized Rhode Island.

    William Harris accompanied Roger Williams when the latter was exiled from Salem. Read more >

  21. Stephen Hopkins

    Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785)

    Inducted in 1973

     Hopkins, Stephen, 1707-1785

    Mr. Hopkins was Governor of Rhode Island for ten years and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Historians rate him as "one of the most illustriuos citizens Rhode Island has ever produced.

    Stephen Hopkins, statesman, pamphleteer, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born March 7, 1707, in Providence, easterly of a former Indian village called Mashapaug. Read more >

  22. Henry Marchant

    Henry Marchant (1741-1796)

    Inducted in 1999

    Marchant, Henry, 1741-1796

    Marchant, from Newport and South Kingstown, was a well-educated intellectual and a protege of Ezra Stiles. Marchant was born on Martha's Vineyard and attended the University of Pennsylvania where he studied law. Ge was an ardent Son of Liberty during the Stamp Act protest of 1765; served as Rhode Island Attorney General from 1771 to 1777, and was a  signer of the Articles of Confederation .

    Henry was in private practice in Newport 1767 to 1777 . Read more >

  23. Metacomet Massasoit

    Metacomet Massasoit (1639-1676)

    Inducted in 1997

    Massasoit Metacomet was also known as ‘King Phillip’. He was the Sachem of all Sachems from the Royal House of the Pokanokets of the Wampanoags.  A native patriot who tried to preserve his own civilization and his people’s autonomy in the face of overwhelming odds. He died during the King Phillip War on the 12th of August, 1676. Read more >

  24. Chief (Ousamequin) Massasoit

    Chief (Ousamequin) Massasoit (1581-1661)

    Inducted in 2007

    Chief Massasoit, also known as Ousamequin, (ca. 1581- 1661) was born in present-day Rhode Island. As chief sachem of the Wampanoag nation, he befriended the Pilgrims at Plymouth, taught them farming methods, and joined with them in a 1621 thanksgiving feast. He was a cordial host to the original Pilgrim settlers and sheltered Roger Williams during his winter exile in 1636. Read more >

  25. Rev. Samuel Newman (1600-1663)

    Inducted in 1997

    Newman, Samuel, 1600?-1663

    Reverend Newman was a learned clergyman and the first prominent settler of present-day East Providence. He was acclaimed for his studies of the King James Bible, and established the Newman Congregational Church in what is now the Rumford section of East Providence. He has not received as much acclaim as other Rhode Island founders because his village at Rumford was beyond the boundaries of Rhode Island until the state annexed East Providence in 1862.

    He was born in England and educated at the famous Magdalen College at Oxford and took a special interest in religious studies. Read more >

  26. Col. Stephen Olney

    Col. Stephen Olney (1756-1832)

    Inducted in 1999


    Olney, Stephen, 1756-1832

    Stephen Olney, of North Providence, was one of Rhode Island's most distinguished and longest serving officers during the War for Independence. He was a fifth generation descendant from Thomas Olney, a joint proprietor with Roger Williams in the settlement of Providence. In 1774, at the age of eighteen, Olney became a private in a newly chartered militia company called the North Providence Rangers. From that time through the siege of Yorktown in 1781, he participated heroically in numerous military campaigns rising to the rank of captain. Read more >

  27. John Aldrich Saunders, Jr. (1808-1882)

    Inducted in 2007

    John Aldrich Saunders, Jr. (1808-1882) was the central figure, chronologically and symbolically, of the noted South County family of boat builders, marine entrepreneurs, and seamen. He was born in Newport, the grandson of Stephen Saunders, a shipwright, and the son of Captain John Aldrich Saunders (1786-1832), who built one of the first three-mastered schooners and discovered that the buttonwood tree provided the best wood for a ship's keel. In all, Captain Saunders, Sr. Read more >

  28. Samuel Slater

    Samuel Slater (1768-1835)

    Inducted in 1965

    Samuel Slater, 1768-1835, an English-born textile operative and inventor, has been called the "Father of American Manufacturing". He migrated to Rhode Island from Derbyshire in 1789, and, in concert with Rhode Island investors and craftsman, built and activated spinning frames at Pawtucket Falls that were modeled on those of English inventor Richard Arkwright. On December 20, 1790, he spun cotton yarn from water powered machinery for the first time in America. Read more >

  29. Richard Smith (1596-1666)

    Inducted in 1997

    Mr. Smith was an entreprenuer and by far the most important early settler of South County, RI.  He constructed ‘Smith’s Castle’, or Cocumscussoc in Wickford. Read more >

  30. Gov. Samuel Ward

    Gov. Samuel Ward (1725-1776)

    Inducted in 1998

    Samuel Ward (1725-1776), Colonial governor and delegate to the Continental Congress, is less well-known than his political rival, Stephen Hopkins, but no less important to the history of Rhode Island.

    Born in Newport as one of fourteen children of Richard Ward, a prosperous merchant and governor of Rhode Island (1740-1742) and Mary (Tillinghast) Ward. Young Sam was destined by his father to be a gentleman farmer. In 1745 he married Ann Ray, who would bear him five sons and six daughters, and he moved to Westerly to live on land acquired from his father-in-law. Read more >

  31. Abraham Whipple

    Abraham Whipple (1733-1819)

    Inducted in 1999

    Abraham Whipple (1733-1819) from Providence, was a famous privateersman and naval officer. Of humble birth, Whipple went to sea at an early age and became associated with the wealthy and influential Brown family of merchant entrepreneurs. During the French and Indian War, Whipple served as a privateersman under the command of Esek Hopkins, whose sister Sarah he married in 1761. They had three children. Read more >

  32. Thomas Willett

    Thomas Willett (1605-1674)

    Inducted in 1997

    Captain Thomas Willett (1605-1674) was the principal early settler of Wannamoisett (present-day Riverside and northern Barrington). As a trusted friend of the natives he bought large tracts of land from them. He later became the first Mayor of New York City after helping to wrest it from the Dutch.

    Willett was born in England and embraced Calvinist theology as a young man. Read more >

  33. Roger Williams

    Roger Williams (1603-1683)

    Inducted in 1965

    Roger Williams (1603-1683) an English clergyman who was banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony for his teachings and, in 1636, became the founder of Providence, Rhode Island's first white settlement. Williams' pioneering views included religious liberty, complete separation of church and state, and fair treatment of the Native Americans. In 1643 he published "A Key into the Language of America", the first English language dictionary and ethnography of an American Indian people. Read more >



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