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An Historic Rhode Island Home ("Pastuxet")


To the Greenes of Rhode Island this ancestral home can never be known by any other than its ancestral name, Occupasuetuxet, the Indian appellation of those level 'meadows through which the river flows,' shortened to 'Pastuxet' for convenience in conversation. It was the life-long home of a Chief Justice and an Associate Justice of a Rhode Island court, the home of a Speaker of the House of Deputies, and the birthplace of one of the most brilliant heroes of the Revolution, who laid down his life in his country's service. Many distinguished men have been entertained under its roof as the guests of successive generations of Greenes, Dr. Benjamin Franklin being perhaps the most famous.

The house now known as 'Cole's' or 'Elm Lawn' was built by Deputy Governor John Greene for his son Job, who married Phebe Sayles, a granddaughter of Roger Williams. It was a most elegant house for its day. Professor Isham in his book. Early Rhode Island Houses, names it seventh in his chronological list of ancient houses still standing in the State. Consequently there are but four now standing which are older, as two have been recently destroyed. The old stone chimney is gone and a large addition, now itself old, was attached to the house, but the framing of the first story is intact and Professor Isham speaks of the elaborate hand-carved mouldings adorning the great beams which are still in place in the ceilings.

The glory and hospitality of Pastuxet reached its height during the long life of Philip Greene, son of Job. Born in the old house in 1705, he died there full of honors in 1791; and he, too, lies in the family burying ground. Like all his ancestors, he was Assistant and Deputy in the General Assembly, and in 1759 he became an Associate Justice of the Court of Common Pleas of Kent County, serving continuously on the bench of that court for twenty-five years, during eight of which, from 1776 to 1784, he was Chief Justice of the Court, holding that high office through all the troublous years of the Revolution. At that early period Rhode Island had no true Supreme Court. Five judges, one from each of the five towns, were chosen annually by the General Assembly to act as a 'Supreme Court of Judicature and Gaol Delivery,' and in 1768-9 Judge Philip Greene served as a Justice of that court. The Judge was of commanding presence and of able mind.

Intensely patriotic, he gave largely of sheep, cattle, and money to support the army. And he gave a son, his eldest, the brilliant Christopher Greene, born at Pastuxet, 1737, Colonel Commandant of the Rhode Island brigade, killed in 1781 in a night attack upon his camp, over whose remains the State of New York has just raised a monument in the cemetery where they lie at Yorktown, N. Y. Colonel Christopher Greene, the 'Hero of Red Bank,' the conqueror of Count Donop, was a brave officer, a valiant fighter and a noble gentleman. His father, Judge Philip Greene, built a house for him when he became of age and gave to him a large tract of land where the villages of Centreville, Arctic, and Riverpoint now lie.

The old house at Pastuxet was always filled with company in Judge Philip Greene's day. One of his nieces, who lived to the great age of one hundred and two, and who is well remembered by the writer, says when she got permission to go to visit at Uncle Philip's 'she felt as if she was going to heaven.' She said one could never go there without finding company. Whole boat-loads of the Block Island friends would sail up for a week's stay. Deborah Ray, wife of Simon Ray, of Block Island, the mother of the Catherine Ray who married Governor William Greene, and the grandmother of the piquant 'Kitty Littlefield,' who won the heart and hand of General Nathanael Greene, was the sister of Judge Philip Greene. All the famous men who gathered around Governor William Greene and General Nathanael Greene were the honored guests of Judge Greene under the roof of Pastuxet. Tradition at close range tells of the attentions of Dr. Benjamin Franklin to 'Betty,' the witty and haughty youngest daughter of Judge Philip, who would have none of him. Another notable relative and guest was Thomas Wickes, brother of Mrs. Philip Greene {nee Elizabeth Wickes), herself an intellectual woman. Updike, in his Narragansett Church, speaks of Thomas Wickes as 'a very remarkable man.'

Assisting in this open-handed and open-hearted hospitality were the old family servants, the nine or ten slaves of Judge Greene, who had more slaves than any other landowner in the town of Warwick, save Jeremiah Lippitt, the Town Clerk, whose daughter Anne was the wife of Colonel Christopher Greene, and whose daughter Welthian married Judge Philip's only other son, William.

This William Greene, the only surviving son of Judge Philip, became by his father's will the owner of Pastuxet. 'He possessed fine literary tastes, but in scholarship mathematics was his forte,' and the same was true of his soldier brother. Colonel Christopher Greene. In 1784, when, by reason of advancing years, Chief Justice Philip Greene declined to serve longer, this son, William, was elected an Associate Justice of the same Court of Common Pleas of Kent County, but owing to delicate health, he was able to serve but one year.

At the death of Judge William Greene in 1809 the old home became by will the property of his youngest son, Jeremiah Greene, all of whose eight children were born in the house. It was not in 1817, but in January, 1823 that the place was sold to Mr. Edward Cole's father, for the daughter of Jeremiah Greene who still survives was bom in 1818 and her youngest brother in 1822 in the ancestral home. The writer's maternal grandmother, another daughter of Jeremiah Greene, was also born in the old house.

As to the old elms that are justly the pride of the Cole family today, one was planted by Judge Philip himself and one was planted by Christopher, a son of Judge William Greene, as he himself told his niece, who still lives. Betty, daughter of Judge Philip, also set out an elm, which was blown down by a gale some years ago.

It is pleasant to know that the spirit of hospitality clung so strongly to the old house, after the last of its Greene owners left it, and that after the royal feastings of reason and flow of soul of the days of the Greenes came another dynasty to continue the good old custom.

May the ancient house long stand and may the day be not far distant when a suitable monimient shall mark the spot near by, where rest the remains of so many loyal servants of the Colony and State of Rhode Island.

Mary Ann Greene, Providence, Sept. 6, 1901.