Establishing a new community: early Lincoln map

A map of a portion of the Town of Lincoln, copied from Beer’s Atlas of Rhode Island by I.C. Burgess, Oct. 1874 for the Joint Special Committee setting off part of the town.

In 1871, the General Assembly approved an act establishing new communities in the State of Rhode Island, to include Lincoln.

LINCOLN — The town of Lincoln has hit a significant milestone: its 150th birthday year.

Lincoln was part of the Providence colony established by Roger Williams from 1636, but the area wasn’t settled by colonists until the late 1660s, just before King Philip’s War. A wilderness of sorts, it was then known as the North Woods, or Outlands, of Providence.

The Blackstone Valley was home to various Native American groups for thousands of years before the area was settled by Europeans. Narragansett, Nipmuc and Wampanoag tribes long occupied the land that currently comprises Lincoln.

The first colonial families in town were predominantly colonists from Providence and Quakers from Massachusetts, seeking a place to practice their religion freely without persecution. The Arnold family, one of the first to establish roots in Lincoln, was made up of Quakers who donated land for a meetinghouse to be built on Great Road.

The earliest settlers made their farms along the Blackstone and Moshassuck Rivers, though King Philip’s War from 1675 to 1676 halted development for some time and devastated the local tribes.

In 1731, Providence opted to break off into several new communities. Modern-day Lincoln was part of Smithfield, and the circa-1694 Valentine Whitman House, which still stands on Great Road, was the site of the first meeting of the town.

Notably, Central Falls was the center of Smithfield, and still holds the town’s early records. There were only four dwellings recorded there in 1822.

On Jan. 21 of that year, a special town meeting was called to vote on the separation. When attendees voted in support, a committee was created to introduce the subject to the state legislature.

The committee, which included Thomas A. Paine, Job Shaw, the Hon. Charles Moies and George Kilburn, presented the matter to the state that month, and received permission to separate on March 8.

Interestingly, the town was referred to as “Lonsdale” in the document, before the word was crossed off and replaced with “Lincoln.”

At the time of the split, Smithfield’s population dropped from 12,317 to 2,338 residents. The news made few waves, buried deep in the local newspaper, without a headline.

Lincoln inherited a cash sum of $2,500 from its mother town, along with many of its records and a share of $26,000 in debt.

Since its formation, the general structure of governance of the town hasn’t changed much. It is still led by the Town Council, and the annual budget is still approved by taxpayers at a financial town meeting. The town shifted to add a town administrator in 1958.

Lincoln’s first council, elected in June of 1871, was made up of Moies, who served as president, John A. Adams, Joseph Tillinghast, Benjamin Comstock, Stephen Wright, Hazard Sherman and William D. Aldrich.

According to Albert J. Wright’s 1878 book on the History of the State of Rhode Island, the council adopted Smithfield’s town ordinances at its first meeting, though a separate committee was created to establish a new code of ordinances.

Wright noted that, “after a considerable discussion as regards the name to be given to this new town, it was finally agreed upon that the name of the town should be called Lincoln, in commemoration of the martyred president of the United States.”

The final boundaries of the community were established in 1895, when Central Falls broke off into its own municipality.

Today, Lincoln covers a triangular tract of roughly 19 square miles.

Though the town is far from the oldest community in the state, Wright wrote 143 years ago that its history is “not without interest,” and that “the continued activity and energy of its citizens are only required to give the town of Lincoln a degree of enterprise and thrift unsurpassed by any of her sister towns, and to assure it unbounded success in the future.”

Note: This is the beginning of a multi-part series covering the history of Lincoln, marking the community’s 150th anniversary. Future installments will explore daily life in Lincoln 150 years ago, the industries that made the community, and various historical sites that help tell the story of Lincoln’s past.

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