Friday, September 23, 2016

1644 land deed sheds light on families of early Newport

© 2016 Christy K Robinson
Newport Historical Society:
Molly Bruce Patterson, right, scanned or photographed
several documents, including the 1644 deed here.
When in Newport, Rhode Island in July 2016, I had an appointment to meet an archivist at the Newport Historical Society, to view documents in William Dyer’s handwriting. Most of the records that William wrote, I was informed, are in Providence, the state capitol.

But they brought out a land deed from December 1644, and it has the signature of his wife, Mary Dyer! Further, under Mary’s name is the mark and first-name signature of their eldest son, Samuel. He would have been nine years old at the time, so it’s interesting that a child would be a witness to a legal transaction. By this time, Samuel had two younger brothers, William, about 4, and Maher, 1 year old.

The town of Newport was only five years old, and Robert Applegate had sold two pieces of land (that I know of so far) to William Dyer. William may have given part of it as a gift to his little boy, who had been baptized in December 1635 in Boston. And this land sale was made in December 1644, so it may have been connected to Samuel’s birthday. Did Samuel receive money or barter (sheep, a cow) from this sale? We’ll never know, but Samuel’s signature does mark a very human event for these families that we study, 370 years later.   

William bought 30 acres adjacent to his 87-acre farm on Newport’s west coast on May 5, 1644, from Thomas Applegate. But he also owned other parcels around the island, including land at the southernmost part of Aquidneck Island, and it appears that he bought 15 acres from Applegate on this rocky piece of land (with fantastic views) at the bottom of the island. In October 1644, he resold 10 acres of it to George Gardner, and again in December 1644, he sold four acres to Gardner.

Maybe Applegate drove a bargain that Dyer could buy the 30 acres to add to his northern property, if he'd also buy the 15 acres south of town. It appears that Dyer only owned the southern property from May to October, 1644, and then "flipped" 10 acres of it to Gardner. The four-plus acres in this deed were added on the 20th of December, 1644. Why the delay? In the fall, there were fattened animals and crops to trade. Gardner may not have had the resources to purchase the 15 acres the previous May, while Dyer appeared to be well-to-do.
We don't know the dimensions of the farm William Dyer resold
to George Gardner, but this is what a 15-acre parcel would
look like. William, in addition to other skills, was a surveyor,
so he knew geometry and could calculate an area. I used an
online calculator.

Who was Thomas Applegate? He’d been born in England in 1604, and emigrated to Boston in 1635. He was given the job of ferryman from Wessagusset (Weymouth) to Mt. Wollaston (Quincy), but he overloaded his boat and it capsized, drowning three people, so by court order, he was fined and his boat staved in. His wife Elizabeth was 'censured to stand with her tongue in a cleft stick for swearing, reviling, and railing' (Boston Court, Sept. 6, 1636). They moved to Newport in 1640, where Thomas was a weaver and owned several pieces of real estate. After he sold the southern-Newport farm to William Dyer in May 1644, Thomas and Elizabeth moved to Flushing, Long Island. There, he purchased land. In a court where his accusers had conflicts of interest, he was convicted of slander with a sentence of having his tongue bored with a red-hot poker; but he confessed his guilt and begged for mercy. He was pardoned. He died sometime between 1656 and 1662.

Tall native grasses and Queen Anne's
Lace grow in the place William Dyer
describes in the deed, land that became
George Gardner's farm.

By the landmark descriptions, this part of Newport is now occupied by large, expensive homes with manicured grounds. When my friend Valerie drove me through the area on a tour, I noticed tall wild grasses (possibly spartina alterniflora, smooth cordgrass) with Queen Anne’s Lace and other flowers blooming along private drives. The native cordgrass would have been useful for thatching roofs. The soil is rocky, having been scraped by glaciers thousands of years ago. To the north is lovely green farmland with verdant trees. To the west is the estuary of Narragansett Bay. To the east is the Sakonnet River (actually a saltwater tidal body). And to the south is the Atlantic Ocean.
View of a pond to the right, and the Atlantic Ocean straight on,
from the guest room of my friend's home. This is less than a
mile from the land described in the deed. If you click to
enlarge the image, you'll see a wild rabbit by the fountain,
and frogs clinging to the wall underwater.

The transcription of the deed comes from my dear friend Jo Ann Butler, author of the historical fiction trilogy, Rebel Puritan. George Gardner and Herodias Long are Jo Ann’s ancestors. When I saw George’s name on the deed, I had to share it with her. To learn more about George and Herodias, visit the Rebel Puritan link and purchase Jo Ann's excellent books.

I've purposely made the deed blurry
to protect the interests of the
Newport Historical Society, which
charges a fee to scan documents.
But you can click to enlarge.

This prsent deed or writing made in the
[twentieth] yeare of the Raigne of Ye Soverigne
Lord Charles by the grace of God of England
Scotland ffrance & Ireland King wittnesseth yt
I William Dyre of Nuport in the Ile of Rhodes
having bought & purchased of Thomas Applegate
All ye singular the Land granted by the colonie
aforsd unto him for his accommodation of his granted Lott
and whereas ther was a neck of Land lying on the
South side of the sd Iland bounded on the South by
the present Ocean & on the East & North by a [Cone]
or pond & on the West by the Comon (towards Mr
Fosters farme) wch prcell of Land containing the
Number of four acres more or Less the said [will]
wch said neck was granted & Laid forth to the sd
Thomas as pt of his accommodation, & wch sd neck
of Land so butted & bounded the sd William hath
and doth by this presents for ever & sell unto Georg
Gardiner of Nuport aforsd for a valeuable consideration
given & [bargained] by on & th other upon wth
& the unsealling herof the sd Wiliam doth for him
self his heirs & executors administrators & assigns
surrender up to the sd George his heirs & exctors
administrators & assigns all right tittle & futour
that he did or might have enjoyed therein to the worlds
end for witness whereof the said William Dyre in
hath sett to his hand & Seale this present XX  day
of December Ano Domy 1644:
William Dyre

Sealed signed & [notice the darker paper by William's signature where the seal was]
Wthin the prsenc
mary dire
Samuell X Dyre  [William Dyer signed Samuel's surname]

Speaking of sealed, there’s a waxy, oily spot on the paper where a seal would have been before the deed was unsealed later, for George Gardner to sell the land. Seals are about the size of a dime. I would love to know what William’s seal looked like. Jo Ann Butler and I think that it was a D for Dyer, because of the reverse impression it made on the flap of paper next to the place where the seal was.
Two engraved seals and a
silver pendant of an anchor seal
by Suegray Jewelry of Newport.
At this time, several men shared seals, and Roger Williams and Benedict Arnold were known to use the image of an anchor to seal documents. Three years later, in 1648, William Dyer presented the Rhode Island assembly, for which he was Recorder and then Secretary of State, with an ivory-handled seal that had an anchor on it. See my article at  The anchor logo is still the symbol of the state of Rhode Island. 

The paper was a yellowed "laid" paper, with texture lines rolled onto the paper when it was made. The paper was made of linen rags, and imported from England. There were no paper mills or factories in America until 1690.


Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:
and of these books:
·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)


  1. This is sooooooo exciting..... William and Mary Dyer were my 10 great grandparents, Samuel along with Anne Hutchinson II (grand daughter of same famous name) were my 9th. I live in Washington State.... I would love to have copies of these papers..... as well as reading some of your books. Can I pay you for copies and shipping?

    1. Thank you, Genie. Always glad to meet someone with the same interests! You can buy the books at Amazon by clicking the links at the end of the article above, or, if you want them signed, I can ship the three volumes to you, but at a higher cost than Amazon because I don't enjoy the deal they have with the USPS. The publisher ships to me at my expense, and then I ship to the customer. But I have done it, and can do again. Let me know your desire. I'm happy to accommodate you.

      As for the land deed, the publishing rights belong to Newport Historical Society, which is why I blurred the image above. If you contact them by phone or their website, you can ask for a jpeg to be sent to you by the free Dropbox app. NHS charges at least $25 for each page scanned or photographed. The transcription of the document is not provided by them. It was done by author Jo Ann Butler, with research commentary and background by me.

      By the way, once you have the image, you should not share it without written permission from NHS, as the image is copyrighted to them. Not the original deed, of course, but the image itself. They're a nonprofit and their conservation and archival storage are benefiting us and future generations.
      So why am I able to reproduce and sell copies of the Dyer letters (see tabs on this site)? Because I have written permission from the Boston archives that hold those documents, from when I purchased the scans.

  2. I know this is from awhile ago, but the Thomas Applegate you mentioned is my 11 times Great-grandfather! He was apparently very outspoken and was in court quite a bit.

    1. Hi, Joanna. I also find it fascinating that Thomas Applegate and Herodias Long Hick's first husband, John Hicks, both left Newport and moved to Flushing in the same year. Hicks was a troublemaker in Newport, having had to post a bond that he wouldn't beat up Herodias. Then Herodias went to cohabit with George Gardner, to whom this land deed was made.


Reasonable, thoughtful comments are encouraged. Impolite comments will be moderated to the recycle bin. NO LINKS or EMAIL addresses: I can't edit them out of your comment, so your comment will not be published. This is for your protection, and to screen out spam and porn.