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slides: James Clayton Sattel’s RI Views: Historic Little Compton

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Photographer James Clayton Sattel is passionate about Rhode Island, particularly those shores, crags, and vistas of his home island: Aquidneck.

This week, Jim heads to Little Compton to capture scenes that resonate with its long and fascinating history. Church, barns, headstones, and fields hold these stories deep inside, particularly under winter snows.

To see more of or purchase Sattel's distinctive views, go here.


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Distant roots

According to 17th century land evidence, the area now known as Little Compton was originally inhabited by the Sakonnet tribe, who were led by Awashonks. Awashonks' people lived in Wilbour Woods in the winter time and at Sakonnet Point in the summer time. Her step-son Mamannuah lead a separate Sakonnet tribe in the Adamsville area. The two leaders had frequent disputes over land and vied with each other to be recognized by the English as the sole Sakonnet leader.

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The first European settlers in Little Compton were Englishmen from Duxbury, Massachusetts in the Plymouth Colony who sought to expand their land holdings. After first attempting negotiations with Awashonks, they petitioned the Plymouth Colony, which granted them their charter.  Among these 32 original proprietors was Colonel Benjamin Church. In 1675, Church built his homestead in Little Compton, just prior to King Philip's War.

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There are about 57 historic cemeteries in the town. Colonel Benjamin Church and his family are buried in the Little Compton Commons cemetery, as is Elizabeth Pabodie, the eldest daughter of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of Mayflower fame (Large tower marker in foreground). The stones in the cemetery reflect a style of carving similar to that found both in Newport and in Boston during the same time period.

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Little Compton's Common Historic District features various Greek Revival and Victorian buildings, a Congregational church and a town common, one of only two remaining in Rhode Island. The common contains a large colonial cemetery with many graves, including those of American Revolution veterans and other notable individuals. The area was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

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Commons II

The entire town commons is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Land for the common was designated in August of 1677 and has been used ever since as both a religious and civic center for social activities in the town.

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General Store

The general store on the Commons is Wilbur's General Store, established in 1893. Here, you can buy anything from groceries to hardware, fresh meats to fine gifts and toys.

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Wilbor House

This historic eleven room farmhouse depicting 17th, 18th, and 19th century life in Little Compton is now the headquarters of the Little Compton Historical Society and stands on land purchased from the Sakonnet Indians in 1673. Built by Samuel Wilbor in about 1690, the original house consisted of only two rooms, one above the other, and a cramped stairway and attic, typical of 17th-century New England homes.

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Spite Tower

Another distinctive feature of the town is the "Spite Tower" found in the village of Adamsville. Local lore claims that the tower was constructed to obscure the line of sight of a town local. While most stories involve members of the local Manchester family, there is no consensus as to the true history of the structure. According to the present day owner of the building, the Tower was built above an artesian well. There was a pump that brought the water to a holding tank on the third floor that sent water, via gravity feed, to main house's water tank to provide running water. The building was constructed circa 1905. The chauffeur's residence was on the second floor of the tower.

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Wilbour Woods

The history of Little Compton is not all about the buildings. Awashonks' people lived in Wilbour Woods in the winter time and at Sakonnet Point in the summer time. They are every bit as wild now as they were then.

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Treaty Rock

These rocks are where Benjamin Church and the Sakonnet Indians established a treaty basically saying that the Sakonnets would stay true to Plymouth, and not join King Philip in the War of King Philip.

At the start of King Philip's War in 1675, Plymouth colony authorities put out a call for "nonhostile" Indians to turn themselves in. In return, they would be granted amnesty. In response, several hundred Indians surrendered to authorities in Plymouth. But instead of granting them amnesty, they were rounded up and shipped off as slaves to Spain.


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