190606ind history

A look at 25 Main St in Wickford.

You know there’s just no telling how many members of the “Society of Friends” rest eternal in the burying ground of the Wickford Quaker Meeting House which once stood just north of the intersection of Fowler and Friend Streets. Sure there are a handful of simple fieldstones and even a heavily eroded ancient marble headstone marking a number of graves here; but you see, back in the late 1700s and early 1800s when this congregation was in its heyday, no God-fearing Quaker would have ever expected any kind of marker stone commemorating their passing. In the minds of Quakers of that timeframe, gravestones were considered a manifestation of man’s vanity and were unacceptable. Besides, the good Lord, and your family, friends, and fellow Quakers knew full well where you had been laid after your earthly soul had gone on its final journey to meet its maker. So no stone was needed as far as they were concerned. The Wickford congregation of the Society of Friends met here for about 40 years. Quakers lived, died and were buried during those four decades, and this location was central to all that. I expect the bones of dozens of these “Friends” slumber in peace here and the spirits of many more are tied to this plot of land, those that left Wickford and those whose lives were taken by the Lord as they made their living upon the sea as so many did in that day.

One congregant we do know of that is buried somewhere here, lived a life of adventure; a life sometimes carried on  in direct opposition to one of the Society’s major tenets, the groups strong opposition to violence, conflict, and war. You see, this is the final resting place of Capt. Samuel Thomas of Wickford, and Capt. Thomas had to wrestle with his faith’s opposition to the ways of war, which stood in direct contrast to the love and passion he felt for his new nation, the United States of America. In the end, he put aside his faith for a time and accepted a commission in March of 1776 as the captain of the Third Company of North Kingstown volunteers in the War for Independence. He served as such until May of 1777, when he resigned this commission and re-enlisted in Col. Charles Dyer’s Rhode Island Regiment as an artilleryman. During this tour of service, Dyer hand selected Thomas to carry orders directly from General Washington across the bay and through the fray of the Battle of Rhode Island ordering a retreat. Sam Thomas was instrumental in assisting Sullivan’s troops in getting their artillery off of the island before they fell into British hands. He served whenever called, throughout the remainder of the war and at its end retired back to his life in Wickford. He died in January of 1839 and was buried quietly and humbly, as befitted a good Quaker, in the Wickford Quaker burial ground.

To this day, no marker denotes the final resting place of this brave patriot, and I guess that’s fitting and the way he would want it. We are reminded of Capt. Samuel Thomas by the two fine homes on Main Street that he lived in, and now we can remember him as well as we recount the story of his contribution to the beginnings of our nation.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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