Happy Portsmouth (Rhode Island) Founders’ Day (1638)

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A sheet of paper with frayed edges and a small hole turned 378 today and residents of this small Aquidneck Island town today filtered through Town Hall to pay their respects. (photo credit: Rose Hehl)

A sheet of paper with frayed edges and a small hole turned 378 today and residents of this small Aquidneck Island town today filtered through Town Hall to pay their respects. (photo credit: Rose Hehl)

Happy Portsmouth (Rhode Island) Founders’ Day! The council chambers at Town Hall were packed today for a public viewing of the Portsmouth Compact, the document that marked the town’s founding on this date in 1638.

The Portsmouth Compact of 1638 was signed by a group of outcasts that had been banished for challenging the authority of the theocratic leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Anne Hutchinson and a some of her followers gathered on March 7 of that year and signed the document proclaiming their intention to create a “bodie politick” based on their own principles. Their search for land led them to Roger Williams, who in turn urged them to buy Aquidneck Island from the Narragansett Indians.

Now a priceless document held in the Rhode Island state archives, the Portsmouth Compact not only established the Aquidneck Island town, but also set a precedent. It was the first document to establish political and religious independence from England.

Direct ancestors of mine who were signers of the Portmouth Compact are: William Dyer (husband of Mary Dyer), William Freeborn, William Hutchinson (husband of Anne Hutchinson), Edward Hutchinson, Jr. (eldest son of William and Anne Hutchinson, called “Jr.” to distinguish him from his uncle Edward Hutchinson Sr.), and John Walker, all of whom are discussed under their own headings (follow the links). John Clarke and his brother Thomas (my 8th g-grand uncles – brothers of Joseph Clarke), John Coggeshall (father of my 7th g-grand uncle Samuel Rathbun, brother of Thomas Rathbun), Edward Hutchinson Sr. (my 10th g-grand uncle), and Thomas Savage (husband of my 9th g-grand aunt Faith Hutchinson, brother of Edward Hutchinson Jr.) were also signers.

Here’s a link to an online article about today’s event in Portsmouth from the Portsmouth Patch.

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