The Dorr Rebellion
The Chepachet Meeting House
and the Chepachet Free Will Baptist Church
in the Dorr Rebellion
(Prepared, 2004; Updated, June, 2007)
By Clifford W. Brown, Jr.
DORR DECIDES TO DISBAND
By Monday, June 29, it had become apparent to Dorr that his military demonstration in Chepachet had failed to create either a secure base from which to re-launch his government, or a rallying point for
his followers statewide. His forces there were small. Many of his adherents throughout the state had deserted him, renouncing the use of force in support of the People's Constitution. His appeal for
supporters to come to Chepachet and defend the People's Constitution, issued upon his arrival at Chepachet, had brought few responses. Former Congressman Dutee Pearce, a friend of Dorr's elected
to the Rhode Island Legislature under the People's Constitution, testified at Dorr's treason trial that he had visited Dorr in Chepachet on June 26, and informed him of the recent call for a new
constitutional convention by the Charter Legislature in which all citizens could vote for delegates. He also named important Dorrites who had deserted the cause, with some now actively supporting the
Charter government. Pearce urged restraint.105 Atwell presumably did so as well. Dorr himself admitted at this time to several witnesses his disappointment that more people had not rallied to his cause.106 There was one suggestion that Dorr's father (who opposed his efforts) had visited him in Chepachet, but this is highly speculative.107 He had, however, received a letter from his parents on a
previous occasion strongly disapproving of his actions,108 and both his father and brother, it is believed, were among the defenders of the Cranston Street Arsenal the night Dorr attacked it.109
In addition, news was reaching Dorr that military forces loyal to the Charter government (and far superior in numbers to his own forces) were on route to Chepachet. Faced with these facts, Dorr, after a
council of war (possibly with Sprague in attendance, although he later denied it), gave the order to his followers on the afternoon of Monday, June 27, to break camp and disband. The officers present at
the Council of War approved of his decision.110
General D'Wolf carried the order to Acote's Hill, and the fortifications were soon abandoned, leaving both cannon and much ammunition on the Hill. The young boys of Chepachet proceeded to take
immediate advantage of this abandonment by loading and firing the cannons, which caused much concern among the approaching troops loyal to the Charter government.
Dorr sent a letter announcing the disbandment of his forces to the authorities in Providence:
Having received such information as induces me to believe that a majority of the friends of the people's constitution disapprove of any further forcible measures for its support; and believing that a
conflict of arms would therefore, under existing circumstances, be but a personal controversy among different portions of our citizens, I hereby direct that the military here assembled be
dismissed by their respective officers.111
This was carried to Walter S. Burgess in Providence (perhaps by Amasa Eddy).112 Burgess transmitted it to General McNeill, Commander of the Charter forces, and the Governor.113 Dorr left town
around sundown that day, accompanied by Colonel Charles W. Carter, and traveled to Thompson, Connecticut, where he stayed that night at the Vernon Stiles Inn.114
The "Connecticut Road" heading west from the village, late 1800's. The Meeting House is just
visible on the right. During the night of June 28–29, this was the site of the encampment of the Newport Artillery Company, whose orders were to guard this road against a possible
incursion from the west. Thomas Dorr had passed along this road on his flight to Connecticut on June 27. It probably looked about like this at the time of the Dorr Rebellion.
Click on photo to enlarge.
THE SEIZURE OF ACOTE'S HILL
On Tuesday, June 28, the forces loyal to the Charter government arrived in Chepachet, some from the east and some from the south. Meeting House Proprietor Ara Hawkins, owner of Pew #13, who
lived south of the village, subsequently testified that a detachment of troops marching from Scituate Four Corners aggressively interrogated him and searched his barn and property (see his attached testimony).
The capture of Acote's Hill, by Henry Lord. From Glocester: The Way Up Country, compiled by the Heritage Division of the Glocester Heritage Commission, page 49, reproduced by permission of Edna Kent, editor.
Click on photo to enlarge.
The Charter troops seized the abandoned fortifications on Acote's Hill, with their commander, Colonel William Brown, mounting the ramparts and exclaiming, "Three Cheers for Rhode Island!" The troops
responded enthusiastically to his exclamation — according to the eyewitness account of William Rodman (who marched with the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery) recently published in the Rhode
Island Historical Society's Rhode Island History. The soldiers fired without effect (and perhaps without serious intent), on the spectators, mostly boys, standing on the Hill who had gathered to watch the
arrival of the troops from Providence. The troops attempted unsuccessfully to arrest the boys as they scattered, fleet of foot, from the scene — this according to subsequent testimony given by Clovis
Bowen, a long-time Glocester town Clerk and a once-and-future Proprietor of the Meeting House.
After securing Acote's Hill, the Charter forces commandeered the Pettingill-Mason House at its foot for use as a field hospital. This building, extant today, is being restored by the Glocester Heritage
Society as a Dorr War Museum.
The Pettingell-Mason House in front of Acote's Hill. This was designated as a field hospital by the Charter
force during the Dorr Rebellion. It is now being restored as a museum by the Glocester Heritage Society. Courtesy of the Glocester Heritage Society.
Click on photo to enlarge.
Thus the Battle of Acote's Hill passed off rather pleasantly for all concerned, with no one killed, no one wounded, and no prisoners taken — at least, it seems, on Acote's Hill. As civil wars go, Rhode
Island's was one of the most civilized.115
THE OCCUPATION OF CHEPACHET
The "Algerine" troops loyal to Governor King then proceeded to occupy the town, which was placed under martial law. They confiscated all arms that they could find, entering people's houses, stores,
and barns to do so.
According to Clovis Bowen there was considerable looting, especially by the troops from Bristol, and there was at least one incident where the occupying soldiers fired on a fleeing young man, wounding
him in the leg.116 A fair number of shots apparently were fired both at the time when Acote's Hill was taken and subsequently in the village when people failed to halt when challenged. No one, however,
was killed and hardly anyone wounded (none seriously). Either the Charter troops were remarkably bad shots or, more likely, they were very cautious when it came actually to shooting at people, this
despite many loud words uttered by both troops and by spectators — the one declaring an intent to kill and the other often urging them to do so.
Late 19th century picture of Main Street, Chepachet, site of much activity during the Dorr Rebellion and the
occupation of Chepachet. Courtesy of Glocester Heritage Society.
Click on photo to enlarge.
The most tense scene of the occupation occurred at Sprague's Hotel, recently vacated by Governor Dorr. According to Sprague's subsequent testimony, the Charter forces arrived in front of the hotel
where a small crowd had gathered. In a confused situation, some troops unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the entry of people into the Hotel. Those inside then closed and barred the door to the
tavern, whereupon, despite pleas by the owner to the contrary, the commander, Lt. John T. Pitman, fired through the keyhole, wounding George H. N. Bardine in the thigh. Thereupon the door was
opened and the troops took possession of the Hotel with its tavern, requisitioning the contents for their own use.117
Late 19th century picture of Lawton Owen's house to which George Bardine was taken after he was wounded in
the thigh by a shot through the keyhole of the front door of Sprague's Tavern. Courtesy of the Glocester Heritage Society.
Click on photo to enlarge.
At one point cannon were aimed at the Hotel, but at the interposition of citizens, they were turned about and fired in another direction, apparently without projectiles, causing no more damage than the
breaking of nearby windows.118 According to Rodman's account, they were fired in a "national salute" of twenty-six shots to honor each of the states in the Union at that time. According to other
testimony, quite a few musket shots were fired (one lodged in the attic of the Joseph Smith Olney Homestead up Putnam Pike), but aside from Bardine (who recovered completely), it seems that no one
was seriously wounded.
Prisoners, however, were taken, including Sprague. By Sprague's account these numbered "between one hundred and two hundred," roped together and marched to Providence. This number, given the
size of the town, seems questionable, but there were many witnesses to the procession of roped prisoners.119 Sprague himself was granted a parole and was not marched with the other prisoners, but
was sent to jail upon reporting to the authorities in Providence. He was kept there for at least three weeks, charged with treason against the state.120 Clovis Bowen, a leading citizen of the town, was
also indicted. Interestingly, we have seen no evidence that Amasa Eddy, Jr., was taken prisoner or indicted, although he was the insurgency's second-highest ranking officer after Dorr himself.
A reenactment of the march of prisoners from Chepachet to Providence, June 20, 1992, on the 150th Anniversary
of the Dorr Rebellion. Pictured are Rhode Island militia. Reproduced by permission of Edna Whitaker Kent, author of Images of America: Glocester, Rhode Island.
Click on photo to enlarge.
Troops were quartered in the village during the night of June 28-29. According to a map in Arthur M. Mowry's The Dorr War: The Constitutional Struggle, Colonel Brown's headquarters were at Sprague's
Hotel; the Light Infantry was billeted there. The Warren Artillery and Infantry were stationed at the home of Proprietor Samuel Y. Atwell. The Providence Marine Artillery was stationed at the home of
Pardon Hunt, probably a relative of Jeptha Hunt, a Meeting House Proprietor who did not vote on the People's Constitution. Part of the Third Brigade was stationed at the home of Jeremiah Sheldon (not
associated with the Church as far as we can tell), and part of it later at Atwell's. See accompanying map of Chepachet.
The Newport Artillery Company, under the command of Colonel William B. Swann, was quartered at the Chepachet Meeting House that night (see the attached log of the Newport Artillery Company).
Although it is possible that officers and some men were billeted in the Meeting House itself, it seems that the bulk of the forces — perhaps most of them — quartered in an encampment of tents, with a
guard placed around the camp at sunset.
Home of Jeremiah Sheldon (to the right of the road), which was occupied by the Third Brigade. This house was
later owned by Simeon Sweet, a member of the Chepachet Free Will Baptist Church. Courtesy of the Glocester Heritage Society.
Click on photo to enlarge.
Although part of this encampment may have been in front of the Meeting House, it is likely that it was principally to the west of the building (probably extending into the neighboring field) because there
were dwellings and other buildings to the east of the church at that time (as now) and one of the principal duties of the Company was to guard the "Connecticut Road" or "Thompson Pike" (now Putnam
Pike) which runs west from the Church.
The Company had in its possession two three-pounder and two four-pounder cannon cast by Paul Revere in 1797. Although it cannot be said with certainly, it is possible that some or all of these cannon
were taken to Chepachet on this tour of duty, and were stationed on the grounds of the Meeting House. The Company horses may well have been stabled in the carriage shed.
Neither the records of the Meeting House nor of the church make mention of the encampment. There is nothing to indicate that any damage was done to the Meeting House or that any repairs to the
building were made immediately subsequent to the encampment (the next recorded repair was to shingle the roof the following winter). All this suggests that the Newport Artillery Company was fully
respectful of the property of the Meeting House during its one-night encampment.
1842 document bearing the signatures of Jesse Phetteplace, Lawton Owen, Jeptha Hunt, Job Armstrong, William
Waterman, and Duty Evans, proprietors of the Chepachet Meeting House, calling for a special meeting to tax the pews to raise money to shingle the roof. Since reference is made to no other
repairs, and since no earlier call for a meeting took place that year, it can be assumed that the Meeting House was not damaged during the Dorr Rebellion.
Click on photo to enlarge.
The Newport Artillery Company left Chepachet on Wednesday, June 29, 1842, the last company to do so, and the two-day occupation of Chepachet was ended.
THE 1842 RESOLUTION OF THE SUFFRAGE ISSUE
Although the Dorrites had been dispersed, their agitations were ultimately vindicated. On June 23, even before Dorr arrived in Chepachet, the General Assembly operating under the Charter voted to call
a constitutional convention elected on the basis of adult male suffrage — the same basis as that of the People's Convention.121
The martial law which had been proclaimed by Governor King on the authority of the General Assembly during the Rebellion was suspended on August 8, 1842, but it was not soon repealed. Because it
was not, Glocester Town Meeting, on the motion of Samuel Atwell, refused to send delegates to the Convention. Notwithstanding this refusal, the Convention met on September 12, 1842, in Newport. It
completed its deliberations by November, and drew up a new constitution which contained many of the provisions desired by the followers of Governor Dorr, including suffrage reform and partial
apportionment reform for the House of Representatives (although the proposed apportionment of the Senate was far less equitable than it was under Dorr's constitution).122
Aside from Narragansett Indians, who were expressly denied the right to vote, all adult males (including black males),123 who were native citizens of the United States, could qualify to vote either by
paying property taxes or by paying a poll tax of $1. However, a property restriction was retained for the privilege of voting on financial matters in town meetings and for voting in elections for the
Providence City Council (The People's Constitution had a similar, but not identical set of restrictions). A property restriction was also retained for naturalized citizens, who had to own property amounting
to $134 in order to qualify.124 This restriction, not in the People's Constitution, remained in force for many years. Women, needless to say, had to wait more than three quarters of a century before they
received the suffrage. Also, the proposed constitution did not remove the judicial power of the legislature, which the Dorrites had strongly supported.
This proposed constitution was submitted to the voters in November, 1842, and was adopted by a vote of 7024 to 51, representing 27% of the adult male population of Rhode Island in favor (therefore
receiving support from a little more than half of the number of those voting for the People's Constitution the previous December). Many suffrage supporters boycotted the vote. Again, region was a strong
factor in the results. In Glocester, only 14% of the adult males voted for it, the second lowest percentage in the state.125 See MAP #5.
MAP #5. Percentage of adult males voting for the Constitution adopted in November, 1842 (by town). The
statewide percentage was 27%. Generally speaking, the same geographic patterns are found as in the previous referenda.
Click on photo to enlarge.
There were many charges made that this vote was taken under duress, and it clearly did not command the assent of half the adult male population of the state (as the People's Constitution had). Many
Suffrage supporters boycotted the referendum. Since it largely conceded the main point raised by the Dorrites, however, efforts to argue that the People's Constitution should take precedence never
gathered sufficient impetus to continue the crisis. This constitution, as amended and overridden in part by federal court rulings, remains in force today.
Thus the war ended in compromise, with the followers of Dorr grudgingly recognizing the legitimacy of the existing regime, and the regime itself grudgingly changing the Charter to accommodate most of
the demands of the insurgents. In this way a seriously extended right of suffrage came to Rhode Island — a major step towards universal adult citizen suffrage — which was not fully achieved until the
vote was extended to women in the 20th century and restrictions on naturalized citizens were eventually removed. In this struggle to extend Civil Rights (and certainly to bring matters to a dramatic
climax), it is fair to say that many Proprietors of the Chepachet Meeting House and many members of the Chepachet Free Will Baptist Church played an important, and perhaps at times, decisive, role.
THE PROSCRIPTION OF DORRITES
The Charter government proceeded selectively against a large number of citizens who had supported Dorr, although in many cases the they were not prosecuted with vigor. We have noted the
indictments against Proprietor Jedediah Sprague and once-and-future Proprietor Clovis Bowen. Indictments were sought against individuals for, among other reasons, serving in Dorr's legislature, for
serving as moderators or clerks of town meetings under the People's Constitution, for recording votes, for accepting the office of Justice of the Peace, for accepting the office of Sheriff, and for serving as
Secretary of State under Dorr. Famous among these was the indictment and trial of Martin Luther, who was convicted for serving as moderator of a Town Meeting in Warren, fined $500 and sentenced to
serve six months in jail. This case reached the United States Supreme Court, which ruled against Luther and upheld the validity of the Charter government.
In December, 1842, Franklin Cooley, a Representative from Providence to Dorr's Legislature, was tried for treason against the State of Rhode Island. Chepachet's Samuel Y. Atwell was his defense
attorney. The trial ended with a hung jury, and the State did not proceed against him a second time.126
There were also numerous episodes of Charter troops throughout the state breaking into private homes, confiscating weapons, and handling inhabitants roughly.127
Resistance, however, continued. Many Dorrites who had participated actively in the rebellion were at risk of being re-arrested or otherwise threatened by the continued existence of the threat of martial
law (under which dozens had been arrested right after Dorr's flight). Although martial law was suspended not long after the end of hostilities, the statute under which it had been invoked was not
repealed for several years, and served as a deterrent. Since Dorrite men were effectively restrained from political activity, many women, some of whom were Dorrite wives, took up the cause and
organized a series of clambakes in Glocester and elsewhere to keep like-minded participants in the movement in touch with each other. These also may have been held to raise money to help with the
cost of the legal fees of those arrested. In recalling this political activism on the part of Rhode Island women, it should be remembered that the Senaca Falls Convention took place only a few years after
the Dorr Rebellion.
Governor Dorr himself left the state immediately after his departure from Chepachet. Warrants were issued for his arrest for treason against the State of Rhode Island, and neighboring governors were
asked to help find him and extradite him.
Eventually he took up residence in New Hampshire, whose governor was an admirer, and who responded to calls for Governor Dorr's extradition by writing to "His Excellency Sam. W. King, acting as
Governor of Rhode Island," and stating that papers calling for Governor Dorr's extradition should come from the real Governor (Dorr). Thus matters passed until Dorr voluntarily returned to Rhode Island to
face the charges against him.
His return was in October 1843, and his trial was in Newport during the spring of 1844. He hired three lawyers to represent him: Samuel Y. Atwell of Chepachet, George Turner of Newport, and Walter S.
Burgess of Providence. Although Atwell participated in preparing the case, he was ill during the trial and did not appear in Newport until after it was over and Dorr was found guilty. Turner and Dorr
himself were the principal advocates for the defense. The trial took place, apparently by design, in an area of the state that had not been supportive of Dorr (perhaps due to the inability to obtain a
treason conviction in the Cooley case). The jury consisted almost exclusively of men whose political background and personal comments indicated prior hostility to Dorr. The Court consistently
throughout the trial ruled against the defense in terms of admissible evidence.128 Chief Justice Durfee, who had delivered from the bench a strong attack on Dorrite principles in March of 1842,129 was
especially vigorous in ruling against Dorr.
Law office of Samuel Y. Atwell, probably the location where Atwell helped prepare the case for the defense in
the treason trial of Thomas Dorr. Courtesy of the Glocester Heritage Society.
Click on photo to enlarge.
The facts, however, were beyond dispute: Dorr had acted as Governor in defiance of the Algerine Law, and he had engaged in, or at least supported, military action against the state (for which he was
accused of treason). Turner and Dorr attempted to introduce the extensive evidence that Dorr was serving under a constitutional arrangement endorsed by a majority of the adult males in the state, and
that he had a right to believe that he was a duly elected governor under that arrangement, but the court would not allow any such argument to be introduced. Turner argued that treason necessitated
malice, arguing correctly that no witness had given testimony to support the finding of malice on the part of Dorr. Turner also made an elaborate argument that treason could only be committed against
the United States and not against an individual state since states under the U.S. Constitution had given up many attributes of sovereignty — an argument adopted by the United States Supreme Court a
century later. The judges and jury in Dorr's trial, however, were not convinced, and Dorr was convicted.130
Atwell had partly recovered by the time the trial had concluded, and he moved for a retrial, presenting an eloquent argument that the verdict should be set aside because the trial had been held in
Newport County, not Providence County where the alleged crime of treason had taken place.
His arguments were in vain. Dorr was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was pardoned by the General Assembly in June 1845, after having served one year in jail. His full civil rights were restored to
him by the General Assembly in May, 1851. In February, 1854, the General Assembly, operating under its authority to overrule the courts (which, over the objection of the Dorrites, had not been taken
away from it in the new state constitution) passed a resolution annulling the judgment of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island against Governor Dorr. Ten months later, Thomas Wilson Dorr, vindicated,
died at the age of forty-nine. Samuel Y. Atwell, already a sick man at the trial in the summer of 1844, had died in October of that year.
Tempers eventually cooled, but memories did not quickly fade. In 1842, the Democratic Party of Rhode Island reorganized itself with Suffrage delegates in the majority.131 Meeting House Proprietor
Horace Kimball represented Glocester at this convention. In 1844, we find the Democratic Association of Glocester, meeting at the "Hall of Gen. Sprague" in Chepachet, and presided over by Amasa
Eddy, Jr., issuing a broadside appeal known as "The Chepachet Memorial," asking Congress to intervene to force the repeal of the statute under which the governor had declared martial law. Although
martial law had been suspended in August 1842, it had not been terminated. This appeal was reinforced by other Democrats in the Rhode Island Legislature.
Congress was urged to investigate the Dorr Rebellion, and did so, launching hearings in the spring of 1844, and issuing on June 7 of that year a massive report (commonly called "Burke's Report" after
the Chair of the investigating Committee). This report, written by Democrats, was critical both of the Charter government under Governor King and of President Tyler. If nothing else, it has provided
historians with a wealth of information about the episode.
Frontispiece, "Burke's Report." This contains some of the best eyewitness descriptions of the fortifications on
Click on photo to enlarge.
Although the political solutions satisfied many of the supporters of the Suffrage Movement and there was never again a threatened military operation against the state, the Legislature reorganized the
State Militia in 1844, with Glocester citizens finally being enrolled three years later, as shown in the accompanying list.
The Glocester Militia Roll, 1847. This list was complied pursuant to a reorganization of the Rhode Island
Militia in response to the Dorr Rebellion.
Click on photo to enlarge.
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Despite, or perhaps because of, their association with Dorr, many of the Suffrage Party who were Proprietors of the Meeting House and Church members from Glocester continued to serve in public
posts. Clovis Bowen served as Town Clerk for many years. Samuel Steere served as Senator from Glocester from 1843-1845, and Representative in 1849-50. Amasa Eddy, Jr., served as Senator from
Glocester from 1846-1848, and ran unsuccessfully for Governor as a Democrat in 1852. Samuel Potter served as Senator from Glocester from 1849-1850. George H. Browne was elected to Congress in
1860 and served one term, during which he enlisted in the Union Army and fought in the Battle of Fredericksberg. Later, he served from 1871-73 as Glocester Representative in the State Legislature.
William Steere served as Representative in the Legislature from Glocester in 1843; Jesse Tourtellot served in 1846.132
Monument to the achievements of Thomas Wilson Dorr. Acote's Hill Cemetery, Chepachet, Rhode Island.
Click on photo to enlarge.
The Dorr War is still recognized as a major moment in Rhode Island and American history. Luther v. Borden is still taught in Constitutional Law courses. A fair amount has been written about the
episode, and still continues to be written. In 1912, a monument was erected at the base of Acote's Hill commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Dorr Rebellion. In 1992 a major celebration was held
on the occasion of the Rebellion's 150th anniversary. Today, the Glocester Heritage Society is in the process of creating a museum, also at the base of Acote's Hill, in the Pettingell-Mason House,
which, as noted, was designated as a field hospital by Charter forces during the Dorr War. The current Proprietors of the Chepachet Meeting House and the current members of the Chepachet Free Will
Baptist Church are proud that their institutions are part of this history.
Pettingell-Mason House, site of field hospital for Charter troops during Dorr War. Site of future Dorr War
Museum, created by the Glocester Heritage Society.
Click on photo to enlarge.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Sources used in preparing this account include the records of the Proprietors of the Chepachet Meeting House and the records of the Chepachet Free Will Baptist Church Society; U.S. House of
Representatives Document #546, commonly called Burke's Report; Arthur May Mowry, The Dorr War; Or the Constitutional Struggle in Rhode Island, Providence: Preston & Rounds, 1901; Marvin E. Gettleman, The Dorr Rebellion, A Study in American Radicalism: 1833-49, New York: Random House, 1973; Russell J. DeSimone and Daniel C. Schofield, The Broadsides of the Dorr Rebellion,
Providence: The Rhode Island Supreme Court Historical Society, 1992; "The Chepachet Memorial" and issues of The New Age, cited by Gettleman, in the collection of the John Hay Library; "The Battle
of Chepachet: An Eyewitness Account," edited by Jane Lancaster, appearing in the Rhode Island Historical Society's Rhode Island History, Vol. 62, Number 1, pp. 16-24; the Log of the Newport Artillery
Company, originally made available by the Company through the kindness of Commander John Mack; Conley, Patrick, T., "No Tempest in a Teapot: The Dorr Rebellion in National Perspective," Rhode Island History, Volume 50, #3, August 1992; DeSimone, Russell J., "Dorrite Prisoners of War," unpublished manuscript (an excellent source based on public reports of prisoner interviews conducted
after the end of hostilities); Botelho, Joyce M., Right and Might: The Dorr Rebellion and the Struggle for Equal Rights, in four books, Providence: The Rhode Island Historical Society, 1992.
Thanks are due especially to Edna Kent both for her help in preparing the 1842 map of Chepachet, for permission to reproduce photographs from her books, and for many helpful suggestions. Her
knowledge of Chepachet history has been very useful to us in preparing this report; she is unquestionably the leading expert on the Dorr War in Chepachet. We also wish to thank the Newport Artillery
Company and Geoffrey Gardner for permission to reproduce the company log on this website and for photographs used to accompany that log. Thanks also go to the librarians of the Rhode Island
Historical Society. We also wish to thank the Glocester Heritage Society for permission to use many of the photographs accompanying this account. Documents reproduced here include some from the
John P. Steere, Sr., Memorial Documents Collection. Our thanks also go to attorney James Marusak for his very informative speech on the constitutional significance of the Dorr Rebellion, delivered at
the Chepachet Meeting House on June 23, 2007, during the celebration of the Rebellion's 165th anniversary. Our thanks also go to Marilyn Brownell who prepared the illustrations used for this "page" on
Dorr and who also made the maps and the pew chart — and to Jill Stevenson for her work in preparing the final version of the page. Finally, when working on the Dorr Rebellion, one must always offer
thanks to Dr. Patrick Conley, whose work on Dorr remains an inspiration to all who labor in that vineyard.
* * * * *
1. U.S. House of Representatives, 28th Congress, 1st Session, Rhode Island—Interference of the Executive in the Affairs of, Report 546, commonly called "Burke's Report" (after the Chair of the
Committee presenting this report), June 7, 1844, p. 814. Henceforth, this report will be referred to as "BR".
2. BR, pp. 625-35.
3. BR, pp. 623-24. With respect to the separation of powers issue, James Marusak argued in court that the Charter did indeed envision separation of powers, but the RI Supreme Court disagreed. He
recounted his argument in a speech at the Chepachet Meeting House, June 23, 2007.
4. These percentages are based on the estimated number of Freemen in BR, pp. 120-21, compared to the adult male population from the 1840 Federal Census of Rhode Island.
5. BR, pp. 271-74.
6. BR, pp. 209-219; 642-43.
7. BR, pp. 643-44.
8. Perry, Elizabeth A., A Brief History of the Town of Glocester Rhode Island, first printed, 1886 by the Providence Press company; edited and (importantly) indexed by Edna M. Whitaker Kent, Heritage
Books, 1995, p. 96.
9. BR, pp. 403-04. For a description of these events, see also, Botelho, Joyce M., Right and Might: The Dorr Rebellion and the Struggle for Equal Rights, Book Two, Providence: The Rhode Island
Historical Society, 1992, p. 29.
10. Gettleman, Marvin E., The Dorr Rebellion, A Study in American Radicalism: 1833-49, New York: Random House, 1973, pp. 37-38.
11. Gettleman, pp. 41-42.
12. BR, pp. 256-59; 404-07.
13. BR, p. 442.
14. BR, pp. 259-61; 407-09.
15. BR, pp. 851-64.
16. BR, pp. 185-202; 420-36.
17. Gettleman, p. 47.
18. BR, pp. 111-13. See also, Botelho, p. 32.
19. In the apportionment of the Rhode Island Senate each town had one Senator and Providence had two until the 1960's.
20. Gettleman, p. 50.
21. BR, pp. 353; 437-38.
22. BR, pp. 436-39. With respect to the fairness of the canvassing, see Mowry, Arthur May, Ph. D., The Dorr War or the Constitutional Struggle in Rhode Island, Providence: Preston & Rounds Co.,
1901., pp. 107-118.
23. The percentages are calculated as the Vote on the People's Constitution for BR, p. 119, compared to the 1840 Federal Census for Rhode Island.
24. BR, p. 443.
25. Gettleman, p. 63.
26. Gettleman, pp. 64-68.
27. Gettleman, p. 44.
28. BR, pp. 135-37. Also, see Mowry, pp. 119-27.
29. Russell J. DeSimone and Daniel C. Schofield, The Broadsides of the Dorr Rebellion, Providence: The Rhode Island Supreme Court Historical Society, 1992, p. 7. For a discussion of the nativist
dimensions of the struggle, see also, Conley, Patrick T., "No Tempest in a Teapot: The Dorr Rebellion in National Perspective," Rhode Island History, Volume 50, #3, August 1992, especially pp. 72-73,
but also throughout.
30. BR, p. 447.
31. Gettleman, p. 90.
32. Gettleman, pp. 83-85.
33. Gettleman, p. 92, note 32.
34. Gettleman, p. 91. See also, The New Age, April 8, 1842.
35. Biographical information on Eddy comes from Edna Kent, Glocester's leading historian, whose wealth of knowledge about the town is unsurpassed.
36. Gettleman, p. 84.
37. Perry, p. 97.
38. The New Age, April 8, 1842.
39. The Charter forces also held an election in April. For a description of the two elections held that month, see Mowry, pp. 128-38. For a biographical description of Browne, see Perry, pp. 96-97.
40. BR, p. 717.
41. Gettleman, pp. 101-02; BR, p. 874. See also, Conley, p. 76.
42. For the proceedings of the People's Legislature, see BR, pp. 447-69.
43. This was Welcome Ballou Sayles of Smithfield, not to be confused with Welcome Sayles who lived on the Glocester/Burrillville Town Line, who was the son of Ahab Sayles a Proprietor of the
Meeting House at this time, and who later inherited his father's pew.
44. BR, pp. 720-31.
45. For the journals of the Senate and House of Representatives under the People's Constitution, and a list of resolutions and legislation passed, see BR, pp. 447-69.
46. BR, pp. 875, 907.
47. For a general description of the attack on the Cranston Street Arsenal, see Mowry, pp. 181-97. Dorr's presence is not in question; for example, see BR, p. 907. Chepachet's representation included:
Jedediah Sprague, Angell Darling, William Aldrich, Nehemiah Smith, George Eddy, John Paine, and George Frissell. Seth Luther, a Providence native then working in Chepachet for Samuel Atwell, also
went down from Chepachet to the Arsenal. See DeSimone, Russell J., "Dorrite Prisoners of War," unpublished manuscript, passim. This excellent source is based on public reports of prisoner interviews
conducted after the occupation of Chepachet. Apparently Dorr left the state after the failure at the arsenal by way of Chepachet (see DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners ...," p. 29).
48. Gettleman, p. 131, n. 91.
49. BR, pp. 449-50.
50. BR, p. 449.
51. BR, p, 901.
52. BR, pp. 896, 901.
53. BR, p. 901. DeWolf and Comstock apparently visited Sprague subsequently in Chepachet. See DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 24.
54. See BR, p. 897.
55. BR, p. 342.
56. See BR, pp. 342, 897.
57. See, BR, p. 899. Dorr apparently had written to Major Allen two weeks before arriving in Chepachet, and it is entirely possible that he encouraged the arrangements being made for the military
demonstration on Acote's Hill. See DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 24. There is some dispute as to whether Allen or Sprague selected the ground (see, for example, DeSimone, ibid.), but there is
no dispute that Allen was active in preparations, and given Dorr's correspondence with him two weeks in advance of the encampment, it is hard to believe that Dorr was uninformed as to what was
transpiring in Chepachet.
58. See, for example, BR, p. 896.
59. Under the Meeting House Charter, it would have been possible for Dorr supporters to have claimed use of the Meeting House on weekdays for this purpose. The principle of the separation of church
and state was strongly held, however, and that might have meant that even ardent Dorr supporters would have hesitated before trying to use the Meeting House for this purpose.
60. BR, p. 890.
61. BR, pp. 887, 893.
62. BR, pp. 893, 894. See also the testimony of Welcome Alexander in DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 10. Alexander alleges that Dorr stated that "He would lay his bones there," an allegation
much discussed and disputed in testimony at Dorr's treason trial. See also the testimony of David M. G. Hamilton, ibid., p. 22, who said that Dorr's speech was effective in re-animating the troops.
63. BR, p. 887.
64. BR, p. 895.
65. BR, p. 887. The cannon were three and six pounders, according to one witness (BR, p. 327).
66. BR, pp. 894, 895.
67. BR, p. 881. There were apparently also pikes and spears fashioned locally. See, for example, the testimony of Andrew Knox in DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 14. There was also powder. Paris
Davis testified seeing a load of powder (which he understood came from Providence) being carried to Lawton Owens' house. See DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 14. Note the account says "Layton
Owens." George Eddy, the son of Amasa Eddy, Jr., testified that cartridges were made in George Frissell's shop and in (Lawton?) Owen's shop by several people for several days before the
encampment. He also testified that he brought cartridges to Chepachet from Woonsocket. See DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 24 and Frissell's testimony at p. 29.
68. BR, pp. 891, 903. Another witness was also told that the ammunition would have lasted only 15 minutes in a battle.
69. BR, p. 883.
70. BR, pp. 893, 894.
71. BR, p. 916.
72. BR, p. 916. William Potter referred to it as "the standard of '76," BR, p. 910.
73. BR, p. 757. See the map in Mowry, p. 209. This asserts that Acote's Hill rises 80 feet above its surroundings, with Tourtellot Hill rising 130 feet, and hence commanding it.
74. BR, p. 895.
75. BR, p. 910.
76. BR, p. 881. According to one account, DeWolf took command on Monday. See Desimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 22.
77. BR, p. 888.
78. BR, p. 897.
79. BR, p. 889; see also, p. 901.
80. These were from Walsh's Spartan Band of "Bowry Boys" who had escorted Dorr while he was in New York City. Their presence was used by Charter forces to excite rumors of "Foreign Invasion,"
although their numbers were, in fact, minuscule, and they apparently comported themselves no differently than the other troops present — that is, in respectable fashion. See, Gettleman, p. 128, n. 78;
135; BR, pp. 881, 889, 891.
81. See, for example, BR, pp. 891, 902.
82. BR, pp. 894-95.
83. BR, p. 909.
84. BR, p. 889.
85. BR, p. 901.
86. BR, p. 909.
87. BR, p. 916.
88. BR, p. 908.
89. BR, p. 887.
90. BR, p. 886. Bradley was also identified by Nehemiah Smith as Sprague's hostler, and a person who drilled troops in Chepachet. See testimony of Nehemiah Smith in DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...
," p. 10; and testimony of Paris O. Davis, ibid., p. 14.
92. BR, pp. 889, 916; possibly Launders. Note that Elisha Wilbour identified Stephen Rounds as a sergeant, Increase Getchell as a captain of the Woonsocket Company, and John Getchell as another
officer (DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 10); Welcome Alexander identified Nathan Whipple of Diamond Plain as a captain of his company (ibid., p. 10); Stephen A. Colwell identified Anthony Tucker
as Captain of the West company in Chepachet, but did not clearly say Tucker was at Acote's Hill (ibid., p. 18); Angell Darling identified William Aldrich as one of Dorr's officers (ibid., p. 29). Aldrich
appears to have been one of the more active Chepachet Dorrites throughout the events of 1842.
93. BR, pp. 888, 889, 891, 894, 897, 909.
94. BR, pp. 884, 885, 909. The guard house was apparently in Sprague's Tavern. See DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 24.
95. BR, p. 963 — this point was made by Attorney Turner in his argument to the jury at Dorr's treason trial. There is testimony, however, that there was liquor on Acote's Hill. See testimony of Elisha
Wilbour and also that of Welcome Alexander, DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 10.
96. BR, p. 916.
97. BR, p. 698. Provisions were also supplied by George Eddy, Amasa's son, with some of the flour coming from Lawton Owen. Atwell may also have contributed supplies. See DeSimone, "Dorrite
Prisoners...," p. 24. In addition, supplies may have come from William Aldrich, ibid., p. 29. Angell Darling also said that he responded to a request by Eddy to bake a barrel of flour; ibid., p. 29.
98. BR, p. 888.
99. BR, pp. 902, 909, 916.
100. BR, p. 902.
101. BR, p. 884, 886, 902. See Hartz, Louis, "Seth Luther: The Story of a Working Class Rebel," New England Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (September, 1940), pp. 401-18. See also, Luther's testimony in
DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," pp. 20-21. Luther apparently was doing work for Atwell in Chepachet before the Dorr Rebellion.
102. BR, pp. 883-84; 888, 910, 916.
103. BR, pp. 899, 916.
104. BR, p. 897.
105. BR, pp. 898, 905. Dr. Benjamin Nichols, a Senator under the People's Constitution, testified that he, too, went to Chepachet at the request of several prominent Dorr supporters, including Samuel
Wales, and urged Dorr to disband; he brought with him a letter from Walter S. Burgess, a close friend and supporter of Dorr, urging the same. Nichols left Chepachet with Dutee Pearce.
106. BR, pp. 897-900. Atwell clearly was not supporting Dorr in the use of force and, indeed, was temporizing during the period when Dorr's forces occupied Acote's Hill. See DeSimone, "Dorrite
Prisoners...," testimony of David Hamilton, p. 23; testimony of George Eddy, p. 24; testimony of Nicholas Power, p. 28.
107. See BR, p. 881. Also note that Otis Hawkins, who kept a tavern and toll gate four miles east of Chepachet, testified that Dorr's father "passed his house towards Chepachet, and when he returned
told him he believed the matter was to be settled..." DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," p. 8.
108. Gettleman, p. 86.
109. Ibid, pp. 121-22.
110. The Council apparently approved of the order to disband; see BR, p. 888.
111. BR, p. 310. See also, BR, p. 308.
112. BR, p. 917.
114. BR, p. 909.
115. We are aware of one death occasioned by the march to Chepachet — when a soldier attached to the Charter Forces shot and killed his brother-in-law serving in the same unit, but this appears to
have been the result of a personal confrontation (and a deranged condition on the part of the assassin), and had nothing to do with Dorr or politics in general. There was only one other death in the war,
that of Alexander Kelby of Pawtucket, who was shot by Charter troops, apparently without cause in confused circumstances, quite possibly by accident, at dusk during the early evening of June 27,
1842. See BR, pp. 292-307.
116. BR, p. 349.
117. BR, pp. 342-45.
118. BR, pp. 344-45.
119. See, for example, BR, p. 332, or BR, pp. 316-17. A letter from Esther Smith of Greenville to her sister Mrs. Noah Blanding of Attleboro, dated June 30, 1842, and in the possession of Russell J.
DeSimone, states, "...and before noon the main body came with fifty or a hundred prisoners all tyed [sic] together with cords it was a solumn [sic] sight I will assure you." According to a table on pages
31-32 in DeSimone, "Dorrite Prisoners...," 240 prisoners were interrogated. The following 24 prisoners from Glocester were interrogated according to DeSimone (passim): Edwin Aldrich, Mathewson
Andrews, Henry Bowen, Nelson Bowen, Caleb Bradley, Thomas Brown, George S. Carpenter, Stephen A. Colwell, Thomas Conley, Paris O. Davis, Stephen Davis, William Davis, George Eddy, George
Frissell, Otis Hawkins, Sterry Johnson, Seth Luther (living in Glocester at the time), John Paine, Ruel Place, Ethan T. Place, Nehemiah Smith, Stephen Smith, Jedediah Sprague, and Lee Steere.
120. BR, p. 346.
121. BR, pp. 233-35.
122. BR, pp. 225-26.
123. Voters were asked separately to vote on a provision explicitly to limit the franchise to whites. BR, pp. 232-33.
124. BR, pp. 221-23.
125. The percentages for MAP #5 are calculated from the results of this vote set forth in BR, p. 119, and the Federal Census of Rhode Island for 1840.
126. Gettleman, pp. 160-61, note 79.
127. See, for example, BR, pp. 317-324; 333-41. Also, see Mowry, pp. 223-37.
128. See BR, pp. 865-939, passim.
129. Gettleman, pp. 74-77.
130. The transcript of the entire trial and court rulings appears in BR, beginning at page 865. For a description of the trial, see Mowry, pp. 239-54.