In my branch of the Cranston family the name George is so common it gets down right confusing. My oldest son, as a matter of fact, is the sixth George in succession dating back to the original George Tillinghast Cranston, the famed Swamptown Merchant, Civil War hero, and State Senator. But we Cranstons don’t hold a candle to the Wightman family of our fair town’s Quidnessett section, who have taken the use of name George to an almost religious level. In the Wightman family plot alone, adjacent to the Wightman Homestead, there is a memorial boulder detailing the life and death of 10 generations of George Wightmans. If you thumb through the index of the three-volume Wightman Genealogy you would find two full pages of George Wightmans listed there. The Wightmans are truly serious about their Georges.
Ownership of the land that the Wightman Homestead sets upon can be traced all the way back to 1660, when Valentine Wightman, the older brother of the very first George, purchased the land from Sir Humphrey Atherton, Rhode Island’s very first real estate mogul. Valentine had been in these parts for quite a time, as he is noted in the historic record as a Narragansett and Wampanoag interpreter who worked primarily with Roger Williams. In May of 1682 Valentine sold his Quidnessett holdings to younger brother George, who had recently married a young lass he had met through this same brother. George’s marriage to Elizabeth Updike, granddaughter of Richard Smith of Smith’s Castle fame, joined together two of the most prominent families in all of the colony. The Updikes owned 2,000 acres or more centered around Cocumscussoc and George and his bride owned another 2,000 acres spread between Quidnessett, Exeter and Westerly. The Wightman Homestead was the centerpiece of this empire.
The house, as it is seen today, is a sum of many parts. A small portion of the southeastern side of the building traces all the way back to the 1690s. The main portion of the house with its period paneling, inverted Y-stacked chimney with chimney breasts and a built-in corner cabinet, and narrow sash windows is typical of early 18th century construction, while the big addition appears to be middle 19th century in style and composition. The house remained in the Wightman family more than 200 years, but after this the land’s record of ownership becomes complicated and convoluted with various portions of the farm often being encompassed in other large Quidnessett landholdings. For example, in 1905 a land division went right through the house itself, with Isaac Goff of the Mount View Farm owning the western half and Nathan and Mary Waldron of the nearby Waldron Farm owning the eastern side. In 1925 the whole parcel was reunited under one owner, Joseph Fletcher (for whom Fletcher Road was named) who ran it as Cedar Crest Farm. Cedar Crest Farm was styled as “the only harness horsebreeding operation in the region” and eventually was incorporated into the Knight Farm which was centered around the land that is now Quidnessett Country Club. By the 1950s the land was owned by the Swanson family and called Swanholme Farm. The Swansons ran it as a dairy farm until the middle 1980s, making it one of the few farms in the region in continuous agricultural production for more than three centuries.
The old farm is now just another housing development centered around Capt. John Wightman Lane (why it is not called George Wightman Lane is beyond me). But once it was home to generation upon generation of Wightmans, a family whose roots extend back to a man named Valentine who had the marvelous ability to be able to talk with the native people of the Narragansett lands.