Dickens #1354

Nathaniel Dickens (1614-1690)

Born in England.  Arrived in Rhode Island by 1646 and

Joan Tyler ( – )

Probably born in England.  Settled in Rhode Island.

Dickens 1354

Block Island, shown in red, off the coast of the State of Rhode Island. The island is part of Washington County, Rhode Island and is coextensive with the town of New Shoreham.

Block Island, shown in red, off the coast of the State of Rhode Island. The island is part of Washington County, Rhode Island and is coextensive with the town of New Shoreham.

Nathanial Dickens is the first of that name to settle on Block Island.  He resided in Providence for a time, and then moved to Newport, where he became town treasurer.  In 1679 he went to Block Island and settled on a large tract of land he had acquired on the southwestern part of the island.

St. Mary's Church, Chesham

St. Mary’s Church, Chesham

Nathaniel Dickens was born about 1614 in Chesham, a market town in the Chiltern Hills, Buckinghamshire, England, according to English baptismal records.  Not much is known of Nathaniel‘s religious leanings.  However, Chesham is noted for the religious dissent which dominated the town from the 15th century.  In 1532 Thomas Harding was burned at the stake in the town for being a Lollard[1] and heretic.  From the 17th century Chesham was a focus for those dissenting from mainstream religion.  Quakers met in the late 17th century in Chesham and in 1798 they built the current meeting house.  The first Baptists’ meeting dates back to about 1640 and a place was registered for services in 1706.

The first mention of Nathaniel Dickens in New England is found in a deed given by William Wickenden of Providence, dated 21 Sept 1646, in which reference is made to land which Nathaniel Dickens now possesseth.  In 1647 he witnessed a deed from John Greene[2], the surgeon.

In 1648 Nathaniel married Joan Tyler (or Tiler), of whom little is known.  Nathaniel may have had other wives either before or after Joan, but Joan is the most likely mother of my ancestor, Mary Dickens.

Nathaniel Dickens is mentioned as follows in the early records of Rhode Island:

  • 1648: On 24 June he and his wife “Goody” testified. On 28 June his share of meadow and 60 acres of upland are mentioned. On 29 Dec 1648 he testified as to the drunkenness of Robert Williams.
  • 1649: Served on Jury in Providence.
  • 1649/50: Sold to Arthur Fenner 6 acres on Seekonk River.
  • 1650: In May he sold his home lot, next to “the widow Sayers”.  On 20 June, Edward Rawson, Secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, addressed a letter to “his loving friend Nathaniel Dickens” summoning him to come to Boston to answer the complaints of William Arnold and William Carpenter. In August he sold to Ralph Earle[3] of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, all his lands in Providence.  In this year he apparently moved to Providence.
  • 1651: Occupied the house of Andrew Partridge. This was the time of the “Coddington usurpation”[4].  Partridge ejected Nathaniel Dickens by virtue of a writ issued by the Coddington government[5].
  • 1655: On 28 Jan, Marmaduke Ward of Newport conveyed a lot in that town to Nathaniel Dickens of Newport, and on the same day Nathaniel bought a house from James Richardson also in Newport.  At the same time he is still listed as a Freeman of Providence.
  • 1659/60: Town Treasurer of Newport
  • 1661: In September he appeared as one the early purchasers at Misquamacut (Westerly, Rhode Island).
  • 1663: On 26 May, John Sayles[6] of Providence sold to William Hawkins of the same “the right which I bought of Ralph Earle, which he bought of Nathaniel Dickens, which formerly belonged to Joan Tyler”.
  • 1676/77: According to a deed dated 28 February, Nathaniel Dickens sold a lot of land to Mordecai Campannall and Moses Packechoe for a burial-place for the Jews of Newport[7].  Part of this land eventually became the site for the Touro Synagogue[8][9], or the parcel may have been an addition to a cemetery already in existence.
Inscription marking the entrance to the Touro Cemetery (Newport, Rhode Island) - photo credit: Peter Radunzel

Inscription marking the entrance to the Touro Cemetery (Newport, Rhode Island) – photo credit: Peter Radunzel

  • 1679: Nathaniel resided in Newport at least until 1679. His property was located at the corner of Bellvue Avenue and Touro Street.  On 9 May he exchanged his house in Newport for a large tract of land in the southwestern part of Block Island, and moved there.  Members of the Dickens family remained on the island until Elizabeth Dickens[10], the “Bird Lady of Block Island,” died in 1963.
  • 1680: Nathaniel sold 60 acres at New Shoreham to Richard Cozzens.

Nathaniel Dickens died 18 Oct 1690[11].

The known children of Nathaniel Dickens are listed as follows (mother or mothers not known with certainty): Dorcas (1664-1737), Mary Dickens (1664-1717), Thomas (1668-1718), Mercy (1670- ), Roger (1673-1709) and John (1676-1723).

On 21 Aug 1685 at New Shoreham, Rhode Island, Mary Dickens married Thomas Rathbun, who was born about 1657 in Dorchester, Massachusetts and died 26 Dec 1733 at New Shoreham, Rhode Island.  Their lineage is continued under the heading of John Rathbun (1629-1702).



In this 19th-century illustration, John Wycliffe is shown giving the Bible translation that bore his name to his Lollard followers.

In this 19th-century illustration, John Wycliffe is shown giving the Bible translation that bore his name to his Lollard followers.

[1] Lollardy (Lollardry, Lollardism) was a political and religious movement that existed from the mid-14th century to the English Reformation. The term “Lollard” refers to the followers of John Wycliffe, a prominent theologian who was dismissed from the University of Oxford in 1381 for criticism of the Church, especially in his doctrine on the Eucharist. The Lollards’ demands were primarily for reform of Western Christianity.

[2] John Greene (1597-1659), my 11th g-grandfather

[3] My 10th g-grandfather, or possibly his son, my 9th g-grand uncle.

[4] William Coddington (1601-1678) was an early magistrate of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and later of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, serving as the Judge of Portsmouth, Judge of Newport, Governor of Portsmouth and Newport, Deputy Governor of the entire (four-town) colony, and then Governor of the colony. The “Coddington usurpation,” is an episode in the history of Rhode Island, by which the island towns in 1651 were severed from the government of the colony, and Coddington, by a commission from the Council of State in England, was made governor indefinitely. This revolution seemed for a time successful, but ultimately Roger Williams (my 10th g-grandfather) and John Clarke (my 8th g-grand uncle) were sent to England as agents, — the one in behalf of the former charter, and the other to ask for a revocation of Coddington’s commission. They were both successful; and in the following year the old civil status was fully restored.

[5] This incident is explained by William P. Sheffield in Random Notes on the Government of Rhode Island (1897) pp. 15-16: “Coddington had a country house located on the northerly part of “Rocky Farm.” A man by the name of Nathaniel Dickens was a tenant  of a house belonging to Partridge, to whom I have already referred. Partridge wanted to get possession of his house, and obtained a judgment and execution out of the Coddington court for possession of the house. The execution was delivered to the officer for service, the officer anticipating trouble in the execution of his precept, served the process by removing Dickens from the house in the early morning, before sunrise, and gave possession of the house to Partridge. Partridge and his son took possession but the populace, when they were made aware of the facts of the case, determined to reinstate Dickens in possession of his house. Partridge and his son were armed, when the populace made a demonstration before the house. Partridge warned the people that he and his son were there to defend his property, and that they would shoot any person, who attempted to forcibly dispossess them of his estate. The mob moved on, and young Partridge discharged his piece at the crowd and killed one of their number. The mob went and got a cannon and brought it to discharge against those in the house. Partridge, upon this demonstration, surrendered. Coddington was sent for at his farm and came into town, and tried to pacify the people. The people demanded that he should organize a court and try young Partridge for murder. This was a strangely inconsistent demand, for they were resisting the validity of the very government, the power of which they invoked, Coddington refused to try young Partridge — the crowd called a town meeting, tried Partridge for murder, found him guilty and by the order of the town meeting, executed him.”

[6] My 10th g-grandfather

[7] Kohler, Max J. “The Jews of Newport”, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, Issue No. 6 (1897), p. 68.

[8] Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (my 4th cousin 6x removed) visited the Jewish cemetery in Newport, Rhode Island on 9 Jul 1852. His popular poem about the site (“The Jewish Cemetery at Newport”), published two years later, was certainly a sympathetic portrayal of the place and its people. The American Jewish poet Emma Lazarus responded in 1867 with a poem entitled, “In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport,” intended to let Longfellow know that the Jews might be down, but they weren’t dead. Of course, Emma Lazarus is best known for her poem “The New Colossus” which is graven on the pedestal oof the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, which includes the lines: Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

[9] In 1658, a group of fifteen Jewish families, hearing about the “Lively Experiment” of Roger Williams (my 10th g-grandfather), where the civil government was devoid of power over spiritual matters, sailed into Newport harbor. These Sephardim (the Hebrew word for Jews from the region in the Iberian Peninsula that is now Spain and Portugal), who like their ancestors were seeking a haven from religious persecution, founded the second Jewish settlement in the colonies and Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel). In 1677, they purchased and consecrated property as a Jewish cemetery, a place where they could bury their dead according to Jewish tradition. With the assurance of religious freedom and liberty of conscience, as promised by Governor Roger Williams, the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations offered more than a refuge; it offered unparalleled social and economic opportunities. Over the next 100 years the Jewish population of Newport flourished. In 1758, a Dutch Jew named Isaac Touro, became the congregation’s first spiritual leader. A year later the congregation purchased land and hired Peter Harrison, the preeminent architect of the colonial era, to design Touro Synagogue. The synagogue was completed and dedicated in 1763. In 1776 the British captured Newport. A once vital and thriving commercial seaport, much of Newport was destroyed. Supporting the American cause, most Jews left. Until the French liberated Newport, the synagogue was used as a hospital for the British troops and was spared. After the war Touro Synagogue served as a meeting place for the Rhode Island General Assembly, Rhode Island Supreme Court and the town of Newport. During George Washington’s visit to Newport in 1781, to meet with Generals Lafayette and Rochambeau to plan the final battles of the Revolution, a town meeting was held at the synagogue. Touro Synagogue took on a special significance in 1790 when President George Washington, in his letter “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport,” declared that the new nation would … give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. These few words affirmed the founding fathers’ commitment to the principals of religious freedom as a cornerstone of democracy in America.

In 1948 a Providence Sunday Journal article pictured Miss Dickens displaying a sparrow hawk to Larry Rose and Lester Littlefield. On the left is a mounted snowy owl, on the right a horned grebe.

In 1948 a Providence Sunday Journal article pictured Miss Dickens displaying a sparrow hawk to Larry Rose and Lester Littlefield. On the left is a mounted snowy owl, on the right a horned grebe.

[10] She is my 7th cousin 2x removed. Elizabeth Dickens lived her entire life on Block Island, traveling only occasionally and then usually for reasons connected to her interest and renown in ornithology.  More information — > here

[11] New England Historic Genealogical Society. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Boston: The New England Historic Genealogical Society. Volume 086, p. 174-177. Other sources cite the year of death as 1692.



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