201029ind history

Silver Spring Lake in North Kingstown may look beautiful this time of year but, for writer G.T. Cranston, a recent sale of part of the land on the shore of the pond is a reminder that the past gets a little further away each and every year.

The recent sale of a parcel of land on the shore of Silver Spring Pond out of the hands of a Cranston family member has gotten me a bit melancholy these days. I guess melancholy is a common feeling for all of us in the lost year that is 2020, but this is different. It’s personal, and it’s all about a long-gone Cranston family couple Pardon and Abby Cranston.

Abby Cranston’s gravestone sits seemingly alone on the family plot out in the back of Elm Grove Cemetery. If you were to wander by, you might wonder why she was left here apparently all alone to rest eternal under the moss and grass of the cemetery. But here again, looks can be deceiving, as Abby is anything but alone. For here with her resides her entire extended family: the family of Abby (Davis) Matteson Cranston and her husband Pardon Thomas Cranston.

Pardon Cranston was born in 1837, the first son of local farmer Cyrus and Sally (Northup) Cranston. His younger brother was, you guess it, George T. Cranston, who went on to serve in the Civil War with distinction and came back a local hero who made quite a life for himself in spite of his humble roots. Pardon’s story was quite a bit different. You see, at some point in his early years, Pardon suffered a horrible farming accident which left him with only one arm. The fact that he survived the accident at that time in history is amazing in and of itself; however, it left him unable to serve his country in the war to save the Union. And from that point on, his life, and that of his brother’s, went off on very different paths. As a matter of fact, Pardon probably felt he had more in common with the biblical Job than with his popular politician brother.

Not only was Pardon left to tend to the family’s farm out in Swamptown, he was also the “man in charge” as his father Cyrus had died of tuberculosis just before the Great War had begun. So Pardon not only had to take care of the farm, he also had to tend to his widowed mother and younger siblings. All this with only one arm, no less. By the end of the war, Pardon’s burdens were lessened. His mother had remarried to local widower Benjamin Bicknell and his siblings were off on their own. With the sale of a portion of the family farm to his sister Emeline and her husband William Weeden, Pardon had sufficient funds to buy his own place. He purchased a sizable parcel of land on the northeast shore of Silver Spring from textile king Robert Rodman and began his own life. Soon after purchasing it he married a young widow, Abby (Davis) Matteson, and took her and her two children, George and Ida, to live with him on his Silver Spring Farm. Pardon and Abby went on to have seven more children of their own.

Trouble for Pardon began in 1886 when his 43-year-old wife of eighteen years passed away without warning. Pardon was now left with a brood of children ranging in age from 6 years old to in their early 20s. You can be sure the older ones, Pardon’s stepchildren, took on many of the duties performed by their mother. Pardon Cranston, as he had always done, just “soldiered on” as best he could. As the end of the 19th Century rolled around, Pardon, one by one, began to lose his children as well. Eldest son James died abruptly soon after his mother, daughter Daisy died of tuberculosis at age 20, daughter Minnie died during an epileptic seizure, and son Burrill contracted textile industry-induced “white lung” disease and died in his early 20s. Before Pardon knew it, four of his several natural children were gone. All were buried next to their mother in Elm Grove, albeit without headstones due to the costs involved. Additionally, Pardon also had to attend his brother George’s funeral in 1894.

After all this tragedy in one family, perhaps the most difficult moment for his three surviving natural children and two stepchildren occurred in 1905, when Pardon himself developed the malady we now characterize as Alzheimer’s Disease. Sons Charles and Byron and daughter Evelyn signed the papers to have him committed to the state hospital at the end of that year. Pardon T. Cranston died in June 1906. The family farm with all its “memories and ghosts” was left to his son, Byron Cranston, a popular Allenton area milkman.

Byron lived there for many years until one day in 1936, when he walked out into his front yard and took his own life with his hunting rifle. He had spent his entire 66 years there. Perhaps all the memories and tragic circumstances finally got the best of him. He, too, was buried in the family plot marked only by his mother’s gravestone with all the rest that had gone before him. The Silver Spring Farm, built by his father Pardon, then came into the possession of his grand-nephew George C. Cranston, my grandfather. It has stayed in the family for more than 150 years after Pardon purchased it from the Rodmans.

Pardon Cranston shows up a number of times in the historic archives of the old Wickford Standard. My favorite story is the one where he, the well-known one-armed farmer, ran down a run-away wagon carrying a neighborhood woman and her children. From astride his favorite horse, Pardon jumped across into the gap between them and saved the day. That’s the way I prefer to think of him: a heroic character who took what life gave him and did his best. I hope one day to place a marker stone upon his grave right next to Abby’s. Rest in peace Pardon.

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

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Mark Thompson


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