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being expected to take the head of the tablet. The services on such occasions rendered by preachers and friends and the allotments for the entertaining of the relatives, though dictated by a deep feeling of respect for the departed, became unnecessarily burdensome to all who participated in them, and a return to simpler ways is being gradually brought about. But whatever customs have prevailed, much of Christian sympathy and philanthropy has been evinced as a component part of true Rhode Island character.
In reviewing the traits of character brought to light by a study of the Steere family history and the customs of prevailing social life, no panegyric has been attempted, but due credit has been given to their intense independence and love of liberty, their sound judgment and careful foresight, their energy in the pursuit of the work of life amid the hardships of pioneer life, and their fidelity to the trusts committed to them. These strong traits were tempered by the sweet charities nurtured in the simplicity of a domestic life, yet uncontrolled by the whims and artificialities of fashion, and rough-hewn qualities were refined by the intercourse of social friendship. There were to be found strong, brave men who were yet tenderly alive to the sorrows and sufferings of humanity. There were thrifty, laborious, patient women, true-hearted companions, making life in the household cheerful, and adorning the lowliest cabin with the serene spirit of religious faith and hope, and adding to the attractions of the stately mansion the charm of generous hospitality. Few tablets or monuments are inscribed with the history of their virtues, but their influence still lives and their excellences are still commemorated in the hearts and lives that have been enriched and made better by what their ancestors have endured and achieved. They may
"Have no place in storied page,
N6 rest in marble shrine;
They died, and ' made no sign.'
Done for the love divine —
THE FIRST GENERATION.
For freedom of conscience, the town was first planted;
(From inscription on old First Baptist Church bell.)
1. JOHN STEERE OF PROVIDENCE.
O evidence has been found that any other member of the Steere family came to Providence as an early settler besides John Steere, the founder of the family in the State of Rhode Island, to whom all the existing families of the name in our land, as far as known, except the Pennsylvania branch, trace back their lineage.
He was born in England in 1634,* in the reign of Charles I., two years before the founding of Providence, and when Boston had been settled but four years. It was a period in English history full of alarm and pregnant with civil and religious controversy. Only the year previous Archbishop Laud had been advanced to the height of ecclesiastical power, and was now persecuting the Puritans with extreme severity. In 1638 the Scotch people entered into their solemn league and covenant against the tyranny of the English king, and John Hampden stood forth as the champion of the English people against the abuses of their rights by the crown. When a child of six John Steere might have heard in his English home of the assembling of a Parliament — there having been none assembled for eleven years — which became noted in the annals of the nation as the " Long Parliament." The impeachment of Wentworth and Laud, the execution of Wentworth and Strafford, the celebrated battles of Marston Moor and Naseby, the capture and .beheading of King Charles I., the establishing of the Commonwealth and the Protectorate of Cromwell, all must have been events that made a powerful and never to be forgotten impression upon the mind of John Steere. It may have been a significant fact connected with his early home, that one of the rectors of the church in Ockley, County Surrey, the Rev. Henry Whitfield (born 1597), who had been identified with the Puritans, having entertained numbers of these suffering divines during Laud's persecution, in the year 1639 emigrated from Ockley to America, becoming
* The date of his birth is determined by an affi- is given as about seventy and seven. [See fac-simile davit taken by him January 6, 1710-11, when his age of this affidavit.]
one of the founders of Guilford, Conn., and a minister there. He remained in America till 1650, when he returned to England. John Steere was in that year sixteen years old, and if born at Ockley must have gained some impulse to emigrate to America, as a land of freedom from persecution, through the personal knowledge of the new country brought back by the former rector and circulated among his old parishioners. That the sympathies of John Steere were with the Commonwealth and the extension of civil and religious rights to all the people we may infer from the fact that between the time of the death of Cromwell in August, 1658, and the reestablishment of the monarchy under Charles II. in 1660 he crossed the sea and made his home in America with the then freest people on the face of the earth, — those dwelling in the little colony of Rhode Island'
Henceforth he was to view from afar the changes in the British government during the remainder of his life, which brought to the throne successively James II., William and Mary, " Good Queene Anne," and George I., and to discuss with his fellow colonists the meagre news from the old country, which was not transmitted by telegraphic flashes, but came slowly across the deep as the awkward sailing craft painfully ploughed their way along.
The name of the American founder of the family is mentioned on the town record under the date of May 9, 1660, when he was granted land on the west side of the Moshassuck River. The Providence Town Council record is as follows: "John Steere having desired of the Town that they would grant him a parcel of Land for A houselott, on the west side of Moshosett river neere unto Tho: Olney, Junr, his Five Acres — It is granted that John Steere shall have his Bill Answered, on this condition, that it be no Damauge unto high wayes, and also that it be no presedent for the future, for any to take up Land on that Side of the River within the Boundes prohibitted." t [See photographic illustration of this page from the town records.] This grant to Mr. Steere was of a five-acre lot, as appears by the sale of the same in 1667, when it is spoken of as his " first five acre lot." The earlier settlers had each been provided with lots of this size, and had ranged their humble dwellings along the eastern side of the Moshassuck, most of these dwellings being situated on or near what is now North and South Main Streets, but few of the householders venturing any distance from this centre, which does not appear strange in view of the fact that the country was still infested with Indians. Their lots ran back from the " Towne St." up the hill to the eastward. On the high slope of the hill where Benefit Street now runs were the primitive cemeteries. Most of the eligible sites on the Main Street had been already taken up and occupied by the settlers who came
* It is true that both parties in the great strug- the nobility, the gentry, and the common people, as
gle sought peaceful associations in the New World. well as the foes of the English monarchy."
"Rhode Island and Virginia were resorted to by the t Old Book, vol. I (A.), p. 95. loyal subjects of Charles I., of all orders of society,
previous to 1660. Hence Mr. Steere secured land for himself in the unoccupied territory farther from the centre. His home-lot, "near unto Thomas Olney Junior's Five acre lot, on the other side of the river," was perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of what is now the junction of Charles and Martin streets, as Thomas Olney, Jr., lived under Stampers Hill. The homestead of the latter " was laid out to him in Stampers Bottom, so called, on both sides of the Moshassuck River, above the town mill, being about where the property of the American Screw Company is now located." * The year in which Mr. Steere received this homelot was that of his marriage with Hannah, daughter of the Rev. William Wickenden.f In the " Town Records "t we find that " At a Quarter Court, October the 27th, 1660, John Steere hath this day declared his intention of marriage with Hannah Wickenden."
They were probably married shortly after this date. They seem to have occupied a house on the west side of the river (the Moshassuck), as he disposed of his dwelling-house, land, and fencing on that side May 24, 1667, to Pardon Tillinghast, for " full and valuable satisfaction." It has been supposed by many from a consideration of the document bearing date January 19, 1646, and found upon the old records,§ which is an acknowledgment of the receipt of twenty-five acres of land by the settled inhabitants, and a promise to yield active or passive obedience to the authority of King and Parliament, established in this colony according to the charter, etc., to which is appended, among many others, the name of John Steere, that he was in Providence at that date ; but it is evident from a closer examination of the document, and of all the facts in the case, that the later names in the list, including his, were signed at a later period, and the time of his becoming a citizen is otherwise clearly fixed nearly fifteen years after that date. We read " Feb. i8"\ 1661. It hath this day been declared by sufficient witnesses in this court that John Steere and George Way were received into the town after the manner that John Brown was: the Town hath manifested themselves satisfied therewith." It is sufficient proof that Mr. Steere did not sign the ancient document in 1646, that he was only twelve years of age at that time, and a minor of that age would not have been suffered to do so. It is reasonably certain that several of the later signers of this document, and entirely certain that John Steere, signed it several years after its first execution.||
"June, 1662, first Monday," Mr. Steere was one of the committee for building a bridge over the Moshassuck River. The Town Council "Ordered that a bridge be made over the Mooshasic river, by Thomas Olney, Jr., his dwelling
* F. A. Arnold, in Narragansett Hist. Reg., vol. 2, % Vol. 1 (A),
p. 287. § See fac-simile pages in Appendix.
t The Rev. William Wickenden (or, as it is some- || Staples also suggests the explanation that the
times written, Wiggenton) had his homestead for appearance of the signatures to the original docu
some years at the south end of the settlement, not ment indicates that they were not made at the same
far from the street that is named after him. time. Hist, of Providence, p. 61.