1st 3 generations of the WATSON family

The WATSON Family of West Greenwich, Rhode Island – Part 2

A branch of the Watson family of Rhode Island settled in West Greenwich and lived there for nearly one hundred years.

The patriarch of this branch was Samuel, designated #7 in The American Family of John Watson of the Narragansett Country, Rhode Island. Samuel was the grandson of John Watson, and the son of Samuel2 and 1st wife Mercy (Helme) Watson. His line of descent as a 3rd‐generation Watson is rendered Samuel3 (Samuel2, John1).



Samuel #26 = Samuel Watson of the fourth generation (Samuel4); son of the patriarch
Patriarch = Samuel Watson of the third generation (Samuel3); first of the family to settle in West Greenwich
WG = West Greenwich, Rhode Island
LE = Land Evidence
TC = Town Council
Land evidence and town council records may appear in shortened form (vol:page), i.e., (2:37)
Document transcriptions, by the author, are set inside thin black borders


Table of Contents

Samuel Watson’s 1818 application for a federal pension, 1818

To read Part One, click here.

To read Part Three, click here.

Part Two

   Post‐War West Greenwich

   Samuel #26 Watson, son of patriarch Samuel



   Next Move

   Sojourn in Connecticut

   Trouble and Loss





   Final Years of Samuel #26 Watson

   Widow Abiah Watson


   More About the Town of West Greenwich

   Watson Properties in West Greenwich

   Why We Think Benjamin Watson Lived in Voluntown (not Sterling), Connecticut

   The Hazard Family of West Greenwich





Post‐War West Greenwich

In 1782 there were three Watson households in West Greenwich – those of patriarch Samuel3 and his sons Nicholas and Samuel Jr.

By 1790, that number had expanded to five: Patriarch Samuel3 Watson, his sons Robert, Nicholas, and Samuel Jr. – and Braddock Watson. There is no mention of Braddock Watson in The American Family of John Watson of the Narragansett Country, Rhode Island. We think Braddock is an unidentified grandson of the patriarch and possibly the son of Nicholas4 Watson. To read about Braddock Watson as mentioned in Nicholas4 Watson’s story, click here.

West Greenwich’s population reached its peak around 1790, right after the Revolutionary War. To quote WG Town Administrator Kevin A. Breene:

“The population in West Greenwich in the late 1700’s was between 2500 and 3000 residents. Mainly farmers, woodcutters and sawmill workers, and workers at the many small water-powered mills along the various streams in town. Through the 1800’s the population dwindled due to over-farmed land becoming unproductive, forest becoming depleted, and new and bigger mills in other towns which enticed residents to move out. They left for better farmland all across the mid west or for better paying jobs in the big mills.”

By 1800, the number of Watson households in WG was back down to three – those of brothers Samuel4 and Robert4; and Robert4’s son Samuel5.

The 1810 census shows five Watson families residing in WG. One of them was a black family headed by a man named Prince Watson. (Almost certainly, Prince’s surname was derived from the family who had owned his forebears. We know there were RI Watsons who had slaves.) Samuel4 Watson was the only child of the patriarch to continuing to live in WG – and he’d shed the generational suffix “Junior” since the patriarch was gone. Samuel4’s sons Hazzard and Benjamin now headed families of their own. Stephen5 Watson was living in WG, but his brothers John and Samuel had moved back to Exeter along with their father Robert4. In the next decade, Stephen5 Watson would move to Greene, Chenango county, NY, taking his by‐then widowed mother Rebecca with him.

People were leaving New England in groups of families, many of them headed to New York’s fertile farmland. Entire towns were founded by people who’d left the same village.

The population drain affected West Greenwich’s local economy (and that of neighboring Exeter). If the blacksmith left, with whom could you barter for horseshoes and nails? If the midwife moved away, who would help birth your babies? Those who remained behind would have struggled in ways large and small to maintain their basic quality of life. The decline in population also would have torn holes in the social fabric of West Greenwich’s farming families.

For more general info about the town of West Greenwich, click here.

Section Summary:

The year 1790 was the high water mark for West Greenwich, RI, both in terms of the general population and regarding the number of Watson households there. In the years after 1790, many people left to settle in New York and beyond. Various members of the Watson family were part of this westward movement. By 1810, Samuel #26 Watson was the only child of the patriarch still residing in West Greenwich.

4 generations of the Watson family


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Samuel #26 Watson, son of patriarch Samuel

Samuel4 WATSON (Samuel3, Samuel2, John1) was born circa 1753 (not 1749 as we’d originally thought), in Exeter, Rhode Island. Samuel married Abiah YOUNG on January 3, 1778 in Exeter. He died on December 19, 1834 in West Greenwich.
Samuel4 is designated #26 in The American Family of John Watson of the Narragansett Country, Rhode Island, in which he is assigned the wrong wife. (To learn more about this wrong‐wife assignment, we invite you to read Regarding Samuel #26 Watson.)

To avoid confusion, we will refer to the patriarch’s namesake son Samuel4 as “Samuel #26.”

Samuel #26 Watson is first of record in Rhode Island in 1762, the year in which he was mentioned in his brother Hazard’s will, along with his parents and siblings. We know more about Samuel #26 Watson, compared to his siblings, because he served in the Revolutionary War; and as an old man he applied for federal pension benefits. In his later years Samuel #26 fell into poverty, generating some records at the state and town levels.

When and Where Samuel #26 Was Born

When Samuel #26 Watson applied for a federal pension based on his Revolutionary War service, he provided conflicting details about his own age. Even Virgil D. White, author of Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, expressed frustration with the data in Samuel’s file, sprinkling his entry for Samuel #26 Watson with question marks.

West Greenwich RI 6 months levies 1780

A document from 1780, listing the names of West Greenwich men who served as “Six Months Levies” – short‐term soldiers – includes not only Samuel #26 Watson’s name but also his age at the time (27); his height (6 feet, 1¼ inches); where he was born (Exeter); and the color of his hair, eyes, and complexion (all recorded as “light”). This short‐term military service corresponds to the six months that Samuel #26 served in Col. Christopher Greene’s regiment, Capt. John Holden’s company.

This is how we came to understand that Samuel #26 was born in Exeter, Rhode Island, circa 1753 – not in West Greenwich and not in the earlier year inferred by the range of possible dates found in Samuel’s pension file. There is evidence in his pension documents to suggest that Samuel suffered some cognitive impairment in old age, affecting his memory of where and when he was born.

Samuel #26’s father, the patriarch, appears to have moved from Exeter to West Greenwich circa 1762 (see Early Paper Trail in West Greenwich). We may assume, then, that Samuel #26 moved with his family at the same time. Until patriarch Samuel3 Watson left West Greenwich around 1792, his namesake son Samuel #26 was referred to as Samuel Jr. in census and WG town council records.


Section Summary:

Samuel #26 Watson, son of patriarch Samuel, was born circa 1753 in Exeter, Rhode Island.

Documents from Samuel#26’s pension file give conflicting information about his age at various times. In his later years, Samuel struggled to recall details about his own history. A Revolutionary War era document listing the West Greenwich men who served in 1780 as “Six Months Levies” – short‐term soldiers – gives us better and more reliable information: Samuel himself would have provided his personal info when his name was put on that list.


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Samuel #26 Watson in the Revolutionary War

Samuel #26 Watson was the only one of the patriarch’s sons who did military service out of West Greenwich during the Revolutionary War.

On January 20, 1776, in West Greenwich, Samuel #26 enlisted as a soldier in the Patriot cause. He served in Capt. Thomas Gorton’s company, in the Rhode Island militia regiment commanded by Col. Christopher Lippett.

Col. Lippett’s regiment became part of the Continental Army on May 11, 1776. As a soldier in Col. Lippett’s regiment, Samuel Watson fought in the Battle of White Plains (New York, October 28, 1776). In the same regiment, Samuel served under Gen. George Washington during the second Battle of Trenton (New Jersey, January 2, 1777), and the Battle of Princeton (New Jersey, January 3, 1777). Samuel was honorably discharged from his Continental service on January 18, 1777, at Morristown, New Jersey.

After returning to Rhode Island, Samuel served in the Rhode Island state troops at various times, including one month’s service in 1777 as a substitute for his brother Freeborn Watson. In 1778 Samuel was drafted into a state militia regiment and served on Newport “one month or more” in Sullivan’s Expedition. This correlates with the timing of the Battle of Rhode Island.

The Battle of Rhode Island took place in August 1778, with French naval forces poised to assist the Patriot forces on land. The American forces outnumbered those of the British. But they failed to oust the British, due to a combination of extreme weather, unlucky timing, problems between the French and American commanders, and the fact that the British had the strategic advantage of prepared positions. The British occupied Newport for another year. They left the devastated city in autumn of 1779 to concentrate on New York and the southern states.

In the early part of summer 1780, Samuel enlisted for six months in Col. Christopher Greene’s regiment, Capt. John Holden’s company. These were Rhode Island state troops designated as a Continental Battalion. In Samuel’s own words, he “served six months on the Island of Newport and Providence in the state of Rhode Island.”

Samuel served other tours of duty as well, all in his home state. In applying for a Revolutionary War pension, Samuel recounted that he was “drafted and served two months or more on Boston Neck and Narragansett Bay guarding the shores if I recollect under Capt. George Willcox and Col. Charles Dyre.”

Samuel Watson and Elisha Sweet, another man from West Greenwich, both mentioned that Samuel served one month as a substitute for Jared Bailey, though they differ on what year this took place (Samuel said 1779; Elisha said 1781). Jared Bailey himself, in a deposition made for his own pension application, testified that he was “drafted in the State of Rhode Island for one month but could not go, but hired a Substitute for which [I] paid him fifteen dollars & equipped him.” West Greenwich town council records for September 29, 1781, include an item regarding those exempted from being fined for their inability to equip themselves with “war like essentials.” Samuel Watson was listed among the currently unarmed men. This may explain why Jared Bailey had to equip Samuel when hiring him to fight in his place.

Section Summary:

Samuel4 Watson Jr. was the only one of the patriarch’s sons to do military service out of West Greenwich during the American Revolution. In 1776 Samuel Jr. served in a Continental regiment under General George Washington. After returning home, he served at various times in Rhode Island state troops, including at the Battle of Rhode Island.


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Samuel #26 in West Greenwich town records, 1772‐1805

Samuel#26’s name first appears in West Greenwich town council records (book 3) in May 1772, when he was listed as part of a highway maintenance crew, for the district of Benjamin Tillinghast, along with his father Samuel3 and brother Nicholas4. Samuel #26 worked again on highway maintenance, this time in Thomas Willcox’s district, as noted in a town council entry for July 8, 1787. His brother Nicholas served on that same crew.

A town council item for November 28, 1791 (book 4) cites Samuel #26 (“Samuel Watson Junr”) in a formal complaint:

Whereas there is complaint made to this Council that Samuel Watson Junr is about to Erect a Small House in the highway [sic] in this town and near Nicholas Watsons [sic], whereupon Resolved as the Sense of this Council that the sd Samuel forthwith Remove Said Nucence [nuisance] as he will thereby avoid the penalty of the Law in such Cases made and provided —

We are mystified by this. Why on earth would Samuel #26 be building a house in the highway? (The author’s husband suggests it was an ideal place to build because it was already cleared.) Whether in, on, or along the highway – we think this is pretty strange. Since no further mention of the matter appears in subsequent town council records, apparently Samuel removed his Nucence.

Samuel #26 Watson was still able‐bodied enough to be assigned to another highway maintenence crew on October 27, 1794: “The district of Stillman Tanner, one of the overseers of the Highway, is to be the same as heretofore in that Squadron and the Persons to Do Duty under him on said way are Thomas and Charles Stone, Thos. and John Wilcox, Nathan Willcox, Thos. Wilcox Jr., Benedick [sic] Johnson, Smith Targee, Samuel Watson, and Storeyman Stone.” (book 4)

On October 24, 1805, Samuel #26 bought ten acres of land in West Greenwich, for $150, from his brother Robert4 (WG LE 3:264).

The description of the parcel indicates that Samuel already owned land adjacent to his brother’s acreage.

To all People to whom these presents Shall come Know ye that I Robert Watson of West Greenwich in the county of Kent and state of Rhode Island for and in consideration of one Hundred and Fifty Dollars to me in hand before the Ensealing hereof paid by Samuel Watson Jr. of said West Greenwich aforesaid I sell and dispose of unto him the said Samuel Watson Jr. to his Heirs and Assigns forever one certain Tract or Parcel of Land Situate Lying and being in West Greenwich aforesd contains Ten acres no more and not Less Bounded as followeth beginning and [sic] Samuel Watsons Southeast Corner being a Black Tree with Stones about it Standing southwest from Said Samuels House From thence about East to a Rock with a Large Stone upon it from Thence Northerly till – comes to – Southeast corner of my Lower Meadow fence and So Running Northerly by the said fence & Wall on the Grantor from thence West to Nathan Hoxsies Land as to make the aforesd Ten acres from thence Southerly by Nathan Hoxsies Land till – comes to said Samuel Watson Junr Land So Bound Southerly on said Samuel Watson & West on sd Samuel Watsons Land till it Comes to the first mentioned Bounds Together with all the privileges and Appurtenances thereunto belonging or in anywise appertaining To have and to hold the above Bargained Premises – him the said Samuel Watson his Heirs and Assigns forever to his – their own Proper Use forever I the said Robert Watson do for my Self my Heirs Executors and Administrators Warrant and Defend the above Bargained Premises to him the said Samuel Watson and his Heirs for – and am the True owner of the Same and hereunto Set my hand and Seal this 24 day of October 1805

October the 24 day AD 1805 thus personally appeared the above Subscriber Robert Watson and acknowledged the foregoing Instrument to be called a Deed to be his free act & Deed    Hand & Seal hereunto affixed before John Hazard Just of Peace

Recorded December 24 1805 by
Benjn Johnson Tn Clk


This deed was signed by Robert Watson, and witnessed by Elisha Sweet and Mary Griffith.


Section Summary:

Between 1772 and 1794, Samuel #26 Watson appears only a few times in West Greenwich town council records. He was listed in several highway maintenance crews; and he was cited in a formal complaint. In 1805 Samuel bought ten acres from his brother Robert4 Watson, the only formal record we have found of Samuel owning property.


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Samuel #26 Watson’s Wife and Children

Samuel #26 got married during the Revolutionary War. His bride was Abiah YOUNG, born circa 1756, the daughter of Benjamin Young Sr. We know from WG town council records that son Benjamin Young Jr.’s mother’s name was Rebeckah; likely she was Abiah’s mother also.

Samuel and Abiah were joined in marriage on January 3, 1778, in Exeter, by Elder John Pendleton. The Rev. Pendleton (1727‐1788) was associated with the First General Baptist Church at Richmond, Rhode Island.

Samuel and Abiah (Young) Watson made their home in West Greenwich and raised nine children:

  1. HAZZARD5, born in autumn of 1778; married Amy (---); died August 1822. To learn more about Hazzard Watson, click here.
  2. DANIEL, born circa 1780; married Elizabeth WILCOX; removed to NY; died 24 April 1872; buried in Clear Creek Cemetery, Ellington, Chautauqua county, NY. To learn more about Daniel Watson, click here.
  3. DAUGHTER*, born between 1781-1783
  4. BENJAMIN, born before 1785; married Mary “Polly” YOUNG; died circa 1824 (possibly in CT; also possibly in RI). To learn more about Benjamin Watson, click here.
  5. ALICE, born circa 1785; died 7 May 1855; never married; buried in “lost” Watson lot, Exeter, RI Historical Cemetery #EX169.
    To learn more about Alice Watson, click here.
  6. JEFFREY, born circa 1786; married Joanna “Annie” GALLUP; died 6 Jan 1864, Voluntown, CT; buried in Gallup Cemetery, Sterling, CT.
  7. ESTHER, born circa 1792; married Crandall LEWIS; died 30 Apr 1863; buried in the Allen James Lot, RI Historical Cemetery #WG050, Hazard Road, West Greenwich, RI.
  8. SARAH, born 24 Jan 1796; married Joseph RICHMOND; died after 1870.
  9. SAMUEL Jr., born 1799‐1800 in West Greenwich; married Penelope “Nellie” COREY; died 13 Oct 1875 in West Greenwich.
    To learn more about Samuel5 Watson Jr., click here.

Section Summary:

On January 3, 1778, in Exeter, RI, Samuel #26 Watson married Abiah YOUNG, born circa 1756, the daughter of Benjamin Young Sr.

Samuel and Abiah Watson made their home in West Greenwich, where they raised their nine children.


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The year 1790 may have been the high water mark not only for West Greenwich’s population numbers, but also for the Watson families that lived there.

In 1792 West Greenwich town council records identify Nicholas4 Watson as needing town support in the form of “necessaries” like firewood and house repairs. After November 1793, Nicholas disappears from WG records.

Patriarch Samuel3 and Hannah (Hazard) Watson likely left West Greenwich in 1792 to live with Silas4 in Pownal, Vermont.

After 1800, the family of Robert4 Watson began filtering out of West Greenwich to live in Exeter. After Robert died in 1810, his son Stephen5 moved to New York, bringing his widowed mother Rebecca with him and his family.

Being (possibly) the oldest among Samuel and Hannah (Hazard) Watson’s children, Robert married and started his family with Rebecca nearly twenty years ahead of Samuel #26 and Abiah. In 1800 Samuel #26’s oldest children were on the brink of marriage and starting families – while his last‐born child is not counted in that year’s census. The numbers for Samuel #26’s household in 1800 indicate seven children and two parents. The other “missing child” in this set of numbers is their oldest daughter, Mary, already the widow of Benjamin Griffin. Samuel and Abiah still had a house full of children, while Robert’s grandchildren were getting ready to leave the nest.

Section Summary:

Samuel #26 Watson married and started his family nearly a full twenty years behind his brother Robert4. In the years after 1800, Robert Watson’s children and grandchildren began moving out of West Greenwich. With the patriarch gone to Vermont and brother Nicholas4 vanishing from the records, Samuel #26 and his offspring became the only descendants of the patriarch still living in WG.


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We wonder if Samuel #26’s troubles began in 1805 with his purchase of those ten acres from his brother Robert. Did he borrow the money? If so, perhaps he was unable to repay it. The omission of Samuel #26’s name from the West Greenwich highway districts and property values list of September 1808 seems significant in light of what happened in October 1809.

A town council item from March 14, 1808, reveals another problem. Samuel and Abiah’s daughter Alice had an order on the town treasurer for $2.00 towards the upkeep of her ‘bastard’ child “laid to” Simeon Hoxie. This child, a son, likely was born before 1807, based on records we’ve found. Alice would have more out‐of‐wedlock children in the years to come.

We quote here what we explained in our article on Samuel #26’s brother Nicholas:

Illegitimacy was surprisingly common in those days; some women had multiple children out of wedlock. Nicholas Watson’s daughter and ‘bastard’ grandchild continued to live under his roof, as all of them effectively got pulled into the local poor relief system.

Part of the poor relief system in Rhode Island was to obtain the names of the men who fathered children out of wedlock. Sometimes women were reluctant to admit who had gotten them pregnant. In those cases, the midwife would wait until a woman was in the most painful part of her labor before demanding the name of the father – a practice that usually succeeded. In the language of the town council records, an illegitimate child would be “laid to” that man.

Thus, a town often was able to hold these men accountable for the financial support of their illegitimate offspring. The town would collect the money and then administer it over time to the mothers themselves or to other people caring for the mother and child.

In October 1809, Samuel #26 petitioned the state’s general assembly to extend to him the benefits of Rhode Island’s 1756 “Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors.” Essentially, Samuel was declaring bankruptcy and asking for protection. His creditor is not named.

As part of his petition, Samuel submitted a list of what he owned:


An Inventory of all the estate of Samuel Watson

One old Feather Bed and some Bedding very poor, three Chairs old & poor, one Chest, one old Iron Kettle, one Tea Kettle, three old pewter Basons [sic], three knives & forks old and poor, one old Pail, one old Washing Tub, one Ax, three or four old spoons.

Samuel  X  Watson

Washington &c At Exeter in the County of Washington on the 23rd day of October AD 1809
Samuel Watson Signer of the above Inventory made Solemn Oath that the same contains all his Estate & that he hath not to his Knowledge any real Estate in Possession, Remainder, or Reversion & never expects to have any, & if hereafter any should come to his Hands or Knowledge, he will chearfully [sic] add the Same to the above Inventory.

Before —

Robt Crandall J Peace


These proceedings continued in the following year:


State of Rhode Island

To the Honorable General Assembly to be holden at Newport in said State on the third Monday of June AD 1810

Samuel Watson of West Greenwich in the County of Kent, Laborer, humbly petitioning, shows that for many years he has had the Misfortune to be poor and is now utterly unable to pay his Debts, and is far advanced in years. That divers Executions are now pending against him which he is unable to pay and unless your Honors interpose in his Behalf he will suddenly be cast into prison there to remain at the Mercy of an unfeeling Creditor. Wherefore he prays the Honorable General Assembly to extend to him the Benefit of an act made & passed in June AD 1756, entitled an Act for the Relief of insolvent Debtors, & of the other Acts in Aid thereof, and in the Mean Time that all proceedings against him be stayed till the Merits of his Petition be tried and he as in Duty bound will ever pray

Samuel  X  Watson


In February 1812, Samuel’s petition was granted:


Samuel Watson vs. Creditors

Lodged May 17th 1810
Citation Granted

House of Rep. Feby 25 1812

Upon the petition of Samuel Watson of West Greenwich, Labourer, praying the reasons therein stated, that the benefit of the act passed in June AD 1756, entitled “An act for the relief of Insolvent Debtors” may be extended to him – voted Resolved that the prayer of sd Petitioner [illegible] and the same is hereby granted.

Voted and by order

Tho. Burgess


This favorable outcome was reported in an October 1813 edition of the Rhode‐Island American, and General Advertiser:

THIS may certify to all whom it may concern, that Samuel Watson, of West‐Greenwich, had an act, entitled, “an act for the relief of insolvent debtors,” passed in the year 1756, extended to him by the General Assembly, at their February term, A.D. 1812. – Robert Crandall

Samuel Watson didn’t have to go to debtor’s prison after all.

But he was still desperately poor.

Section Summary:

Before 1810, Samuel #26 Watson was dealing with two problems: His daughter Alice had a child out of wedlock; and he was unable to pay his debts. In 1809 Samuel sought bankruptcy protection from “an unfeeling Creditor.” While he was successful in gaining that protection, Samuel #26 remained a very poor man.


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Next Move

Samuel#26’s next move was, literally, to move out of West Greenwich.

He didn’t have the resources to do what many of his neighbors had already done: Move out of New England to live in New York state and beyond. Samuel’s son Daniel5 was one of these settlers, removing to Stephentown, Rensselaer county, NY, probably before 1820 (though he doesn’t appear in the census there until 1830). Instead, Samuel moved a mile or so directly west, to Voluntown, Connecticut (then in Windham county; later part of New London county). As the next section will show, Samuel and Abiah Watson may have gone to live with their son Benjamin.

This small move might have been meaningful in a big way. Any physical and/or financial support available to Samuel, aside from what relatives could do to help, would have come from West Greenwich, the town of his legal settlement. That is how welfare assistance was done in early America. Often, town “help” meant being placed in the home of someone willing, for a fee generated by local taxes, to attend to that poor person’s most basic needs. It was not a pleasant station in life.

A compelling part of this situation was the social aspect. Despite legal protection from “an unfeeling Creditor,” Samuel and his family could not shield themselves from becoming personae non gratae in their own community. Even in Rhode Island, people viewed things through the prism of Calvinistic values, which said that poor people manifested a lack of God’s grace: They must have done something wrong to deserve their fate.

It didn’t help that Alice Watson had borne a child outside of marriage.

Perhaps the short move to Voluntown, across the state line, was a way to escape the glare of judgement.

Section Summary:

In the years following Samuel #26’s bankruptcy, he moved across the state line to Voluntown, Connecticut. This move is significant in light of the fact that West Greenwich, the town of Samuel’s legal settlement, would have been responsible for his “poor relief.”


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Sojourn in Connecticut

In March 1813 Samuel #26 Watson’s son Benjamin5 sold land in West Greenwich to Israel Gates (WG LE 4:269):

To all People to whom these presents Shall come Greeting know ye that I Benjamin Watson of West Greenwich in the County of Kent and State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations yeoman for and in consideration of one Hundred and fifty Dollars to me in hand before the Ensealing here of well and truly paid by Israel Gates of the Town and County and State aforesd yeoman the Receipt whereof I do hereby acknowledge the said Benjamin Watson do sell & convey & confirm unto him the said Israel Gates two certain tracts or parcels of land Situate Lying and being in West Greenwich aforesd, one containing by Estimation Seven acres be the same more or Less Bounded as Followeth    Easterly on land of Jos Hoxsie — Northerly on Land of the said Israel Gates Westerly on Land of Elisha Sweet    Southerly on a Highway to the first mentioned Bound, with one Dwelling House thereon. The other tract contains two acres be the same more or Less Bounded as followeth    Northerly on the Highway    Westerly on the Tippecanset pond and Easterly on the [pond?] and Joseph Hoxsie to the first mentioned Bounds — with all the privileges and appurtenances thereunto belonging or in any wise appertaining unto Israel Gates his Heirs and Assigns forever

To have and to hold the above Bargained Premises and Privileges thereunto belonging unto him the Said Gates his Heirs and Assigns and I the Said Benjamin Watson am the true Sole owner and Lawful Authority to Sell the Same    I do bind my Self my Heirs Executors and Administrators to warrand [sic] and Secure Defend the Same unto him the said Israel Gates his Heirs and Assigns of the aforesd tract of Land    And I the said Polly Watson Wife to the sd Benjamin Watson do for the consideration above mentioned I do by these presents freely and fully absolutely Surrender my Right of Dower and power of thirds that I have or might have in the aforemd Tract of Land unto him the Sd Israel Gates his Heirs and Assigns forever. Whereof I have Set my hand and Seal this Eleventh day of March AD 1813


Tippecansett Pond

Benjamin and his wife signed this deed, “Polly” Watson signing with her given name of Mary. It was witnessed by Phebe and Hannah Tillinghast. Benjamin Tellinghast, Justice of the Peace, notarized the document on the next day. Town clerk Benjamin Johnson recorded the deed on May 8, 1813.

The reference to Tippecansett Pond in the above deed gives us a very good idea of where Benjamin Watson’s WG property was located. Tippecansett Pond is in the extreme southwestern corner of the town of West Greenwich, in the village of Escoheag. It is easy to find on a map because it’s shaped like a chicken, whose feet extend south over the town and county line into Exeter.

After selling his WG property, Benjamin moved his family to Voluntown, Connecticut.

We think that Benjamin took his parents into his household for a time, because Samuel was residing in Voluntown when he first applied for a Revolutionary War pension in 1818.

On January 20, 1818, Benjamin Watson of Voluntown, Connecticut, bought 74 acres of land in Exeter, RI, from Abel Casey of West Greenwich. It cost him $500.

On April 14, 1818, Samuel Watson of Voluntown, Connecticut, applied for a federal pension based on his Revolutionary War service. His pension commenced as of the date of his application, with his name being placed on the pension roll as of July 31, 1819. Payments toward his annual $96 allowance were made twice a year, in March and September.

Samuel #26 Watson now had the means to support himself and his family.

So he went back to West Greenwich to live.

Section Summary:

In 1813 Benjamin5 Watson, son of Samuel #26, sold land in West Greenwich to Israel Gates of that town. Subsequent records indicate that Benjamin and his family went to live in Voluntown, Connecticut, immediately west of WG.

Samuel #26’s application for a federal pension, made in April 1818, states that he, too, was a resident of Voluntown. Samuel was successful; his name was placed on the federal pension roll as of July 31, 1819. The 1820 census shows that Samuel and Abiah went back to West Greenwich to live.


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Trouble and Loss:


Households for Samuel #26’s sons Benjamin5 and Jeffrey5 Watson were enumerated that year in Connecticut. The census page on which their names are written appears to be labeled for the town of Sterling. We believe this is wrong, that the Connecticut town in which they were living all along was, in fact, Voluntown, immediately south of Sterling. (Please see our discussion of this matter in the Appendix.)

Jeffrey, whose name was recorded only two lines below that of his brother Benjamin’s, likely moved his family out of West Greenwich after the December 1818 birth of his son Jeffrey Jr. and before the census taker came calling in August 1820.

The only Watson families enumerated in West Greenwich in 1820 were those of Samuel #26’s oldest child, Hazzard Watson, and Samuel #26 himself.

The numbers for Samuel #26 and Abiah Watson’s household include a boy and a girl, both under ten years of age. These kids probably belonged to daughter Alice, who (per WG town council records) bore three children out of wedlock between ˜1806 and 1819. The younger adults in this family of six were siblings Alice (one female aged 26‐44) and Samuel – to whom the generational suffix “Junior” now passed – (one male aged 16‐25).

On November 7, 1820, Samuel5 Watson Jr. was jailed for burning down a barn belonging to Edward Richmond of Exeter, RI. Samuel5 Jr. confessed to having done this “horrid deed,” saying that he was influenced by two older men (one surnamed Tanner, the other Benjamin Bly). His incarceration late in 1820 doubtless caused great distress for the Watsons. But things were about to get much worse.

Section Summary:

Just when things seemed to be looking up for Samuel #26 and his family, his youngest son – Samuel5 Jr. – set fire to Edward Richmond’s barn in late 1820. For this “horrid deed” he was thrown in jail. It was only the beginning of a long stretch of trouble and loss.


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On January 22, 1821, son Benjamin5 Watson was imprisoned in the Kent county jail. The reason for his incarceration was that Thomas T. Hazard of West Greenwich “was in fear that [Benjamin Watson] would do him some private injury by burning his Mills or other property.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to see a connection between what Samuel Watson Jr. had done just a few months earlier and what Thomas T. Hazard was feeling threatened about. The Supreme Court Judicial Records Center in Pawtucket, RI, could not find court documents pertinent to any trial proceedings that may have shed light on this event. Ken Carlson of the Rhode Island State Archives thinks that a magistrate might have decided to incarcerate Benjamin without benefit of a trial, in what was the 19th century equivalent of a restraining order.

Benjamin submitted his first petition, asking to be released, to the Rhode Island General Assembly “to be holden at East Greenwich in the County of Kent on the third Monday of February AD 1821.” In that petition, he is described as “Benjamin Watson of Volentown [sic] in the State of Connecticut, Yeoman.”

Seventeen men signed Benjamin’s petition, following the words “We the Subscribers, being well acquainted with the aforesaid Benjamin Watson, and having read the foregoing Petition, do recommend the granting of the prayer of it — ”   The signers were John Casey; Wm Gallup; Kinyon Corey; Nathaniel Gallup; Thomas Backus; Benadam Gallup; Chester Gallup; John A. Gallup; Silas James; Henry Young; John Stanton; Josiah Barber; Jeremiah Hoxsie; Joseph James; Varnum Bitgood; Reynolds Barber; and Solomon Austin.

Benjamin Watson’s petition to be released was denied.

In the span of a few short months, two of Samuel #26 Watson’s sons were languishing behind bars. Samuel Jr. was still a single man, but Benjamin had a wife and numerous children who would suffer in his absence.

In March 1821, Samuel #26 Watson received his last pension payment (grand total: $278.36) before being dropped from the federal pension roll. Why did this happen? Because his service in Col. Christopher Lippitt’s RI Regiment – when it was considered to be part of the Continental Army – was determined to be short by three weeks from the required total of nine months’ time. Samuel probably didn’t learn of this until September 1821, when the next expected payment didn’t materialize.

Samuel #26 applied for reinstatement of his pension, but under the rules current to his situation he was denied.

Samuel Jr.’s trial, slated for April 1821, resulted in his being “remanded back to Prison.” He survived a near‐fatal bout of illness (later described as “Typhus”) to be brought to trial a second time in October 1821, when he pled guilty to the charges. Samuel Jr. would spend two more years in jail.

Section Summary:

In January 1821, less than three months after his brother Samuel5 Jr. was imprisoned, Benjamin5 Watson was jailed for allegedly “uttering threats” against Thomas T. Hazard of West Greenwich. Benjamin petitioned the Rhode Island General Assembly for his release.

In March of that same year, Samuel #26 Watson received his last pension payment before being dropped from the federal pension roll – because his Revolutionary War service was determined to be short by three weeks from the required total of nine months’ time.

In October, Samuel5 Jr. pled guilty to the charges against him.


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Benjamin Watson’s next petition for release was made in anticipation of the General Assembly’s meeting in May 1822. This time, however, he was described as being “of West Greenwich” rather than Voluntown. We are impressed to learn from this document that Benjamin had managed, however briefly, to break out of jail. That his priority on this occasion was to speak with “the Complainant” – Thomas T. Hazard of West Greenwich – suggests that Benjamin wanted to resolve whatever issue existed between them. Benjamin’s words plainly express his desperation regarding the welfare of his wife and children.

Benjamin Watson’s second petition to be released was denied. He filed his third petition in the weeks following.

We are surprised by Benjamin’s mention, in his third petition, of his “aged father in Connecticut, who is supported by a Pension from the United States.” Benjamin was imprisoned in January 1821, months after his father was enumerated in 1820 as a resident of West Greenwich, RI, not Voluntown, CT. And Benjamin seemed to believe that his father, who was dropped from the pension roll after March 1821, was still receiving a stipend from the federal government. To the best of our knowledge, neither was true.

For the third time, Benjamin was denied his freedom. At this point, the paper trail documenting Benjamin’s situation ends.

On the same day Benjamin filed his last petition, his brother Samuel Jr. filed his own. Samuel Jr. asked to be set free “upon condition that he shall leave this State and every other State in New England and not return again without being immediately subject to be apprehended and recommitted to prison.” In his offer to leave, Samuel Jr. mentioned “that he has two Uncles, one brother, and one sister settled in the westerly part of the State of New York, that his uncles and brother are farmers, who would gladly receive him to labour with them that he might obtain a living by honest industry.” (*The “one sister” to whom Samuel Jr. refers here may be the as‐yet unidentified daughter of Samuel and Abiah Watson.)

Samuel Watson Jr.’s petition was denied; he remained in prison.

Alice Watson had another baby. West Greenwich records for June 24, 1822 show that $3.90 was allocated for the support of Alice Watson’s fourth out‐of‐wedlock child, her second one with a man surnamed Hatch (WG TC 6:165).

Alice Watson testified, many years after the fact, that her brother Hazzard Watson – Samuel #26 Watson’s oldest child – died in August 1822 at age 43. We have no information regarding the circumstances of Hazzard Watson’s death, nor where he was buried. (To read Alice Watson’s deposition from December 1836, click here.)

We’ve found no document describing how Benjamin Watson got out of jail or even if he was released. That Benjamin’s youngest child, Elias Willoughby Watson, was born on March 25, 1823 in Voluntown, CT, suggests that Benjamin did get out of jail (one way or another) soon after his third petition was turned down in June 1822. (That’s an interval of nine months.)

Per family lore, Benjamin Watson died circa 1823‐25, when his son Elias Willoughby was still an infant. We don’t know how or where Benjamin died, nor where he was buried.

Benjamin’s wife and children went to live in Mendon, Massachusetts, before 1830. We don’t know exactly when this move occurred, or whether it was sudden or planned. Years later, some in this family returned to live in Connecticut, but not in Voluntown. None returned to West Greenwich.

In October 1823 Samuel5 Watson Jr. again petitioned the RI General Assembly to be released from jail. He was successful this time. After regaining his freedom, Samuel Jr. spent much of his life outside of Rhode Island; but he did not leave New England to live. He married, had children, lived in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and died in 1875 ... in West Greenwich.


Section Summary:

The year 1822 was a particularly bad one for the Watsons. In 1823 things improved for Samuel5 Watson Jr.

In May 1822 Benjamin5 petitioned again for release from the Kent county jail. This petition, which mentions a break‐out from the jail, was denied. Benjamin petitioned for the third time in June. Again he was denied his freedom. This is the point at which the paper trail on Benjamin5 Watson ends completely.

In June 1822 Samuel5 Watson Jr. submitted a petition for release. It was denied.

Alice Watson had another out‐of‐wedlock baby – her fourth child; her second one with a man surnamed Hatch.

In August 1822 Hazzard 5 Watson died. He was the eldest of Samuel #26 and Abiah Watson’s children.

In October 1823 Samuel5 Watson Jr. again petitioned the RI General Assembly to be released from jail. They granted him his freedom.


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On February 26, 1827, the West Greenwich town council voted that $4.45 be reimbursed to Benjamin Tillinghast “for articles furnished Alce Watson [sic]” (WG TC 7:96). This is the first and only reference to Alice Watson being given poor relief not explicitly associated with the upkeep of her children.

A couple of months later, John Hazard and his son Robert, both of West Greenwich, signed an affidavit on behalf of Samuel #26 Watson, in an effort to help him get his federal pension reinstated. These efforts weren’t purely altruistic. The Hazard family, prominent in West Greenwich, was closely allied with the town government. These men would have been interested in finding ways to deal with the town poor that didn’t involve local tax dollars. (To learn more about the Hazard family of West Greenwich, click here.)

This attempt to get Samuel #26 Watson back on the pension roll did not correlate with any recent change in federal policy. Congress had passed legislation on March 1, 1823, that allowed some pensions to be restored; but the shorter length of time Samuel had served “on the continental establishment” would continue to disqualify him until years later.

The affidavit by John and Robert Hazard read thus:


This may certify that I am acquainted with the bearer Mr Samuel Watson he is a very poor man, he lives in the town of West Greenwich State of Rhode Island he has at some times been assisted by said town toward the support of himself and family

West Greenwich Apl 21 1827

(signed) Robert Hazard
John Hazard


While everyone waited for an answer, the town of West Greenwich provided for Samuel’s most basic needs.

On February 4, 1828, the town council voted “that Thomas T. Hazard furnish Samuel Watson with one cord of wood at an agreed price of 2/3 – by agreement with said Hazard.” On the same day, Thomas T. Hazard was “allowed $1.63 for articles furnished Samuel Watson” (WG TC 7:110).

Thomas T. Hazard appears to have been an overseer of the poor. On March 31, 1828, he was “allowed $2.63 for wood and corn for Samuel Watson” (WG TC 7:112).

Consider for a moment that the man administering poor relief to Samuel Watson was the same man who had Samuel’s son Benjamin imprisoned allegedly for uttering threats. This must have been a bitter pill for Samuel and Abiah Watson to swallow.

It took a full year for Samuel’s appeal to produce a response. Andrew Judson (1784‐1853), judge of both the US District Court and the US Circuit Court for the state of Connecticut, wrote to James Barbour (1775‐1842), the 11th Secretary of War under President John Quincy Adams:


Canterbury, Conn.
April 26, 1828

Hon. James Barbour
Secy of War

Samuel Watson of West Greenwich says he has heretofore profered [sic] his application for a pension and now wishes me to forward some additional evidence which he has obtained. Watson appears to be miserably poor and ignorant. What has been done in his behalf, I cannot learn from him with any degree of certainty. Please consider his application and write me should there be any defects in his original application, and perhaps they may be supplied by the charity of his neighbors.

Your obt sert
Andrew Judson


Mr. Judson’s letter was answered two weeks later by James L. Edwards (1786‐1867), principal clerk of the US Pensions Office:


War Department
Pension Office
May 10, 1828


The documents which you transmitted to this Department in the case of Samuel Watson have been examined. There is no doubt of the facts set forth in the depositions exhibited: it is admitted that he might have served nine months in Lippet’s Regiment but not while it was on the continental establishment. It was reorganized as a continental regiment on the 11th of May 1776, from which time only he could have been considered a continental soldier; and on the 18th of January following he was discharged from the Army, making a period of service of only eight months and seven days. The act of March 18, 1818, under which he claims, extends to those only who served nine months. His claim cannot of course be admitted. It is proper for me to observe that this man’s name was once on the Pension List, but it was inscribed thereon under the erroneous impression that Lippet’s Regiment was placed on the continental establishment at an earlier period than May 11, 1776. The papers will remain on our files according to the regulations of this Department.

I am yrs
J. L. Edwards

Andrew T. Judson, Esqr


a pension document for Samuel Watson

Samuel’s appeal having failed, he remained on town assistance.


Section Summary:

Records from the years 1827 and 1828 show that both Alice Watson and her father received poor relief from the town of West Greenwich.

John and Robert Hazard of WG appealed for Samuel #26’s pension to be restored. That appeal was denied.

West Greenwich town council records for 1828 reveal that Thomas T. Hazard, the man who had Samuel #26’s son Benjamin jailed in 1821, was an overseer of the poor in WG. Thomas is on record for doling out poor relief to Samuel #26 Watson.


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Final Years of Samuel #26 Watson

In 1830, the only Watson household enumerated in West Greenwich was Samuel’s.

His household included one male child “under 5 years of age” and two females “of 5 and under 10.” The data from town council records suggest that Alice had her fourth and last child by 1822. But all three of these youngsters probably were hers – and Alice likely had more than just four children. The one mature female noted in this household was marked as “of 40 and under 50.” Alice would have been about 45 years old in 1830 – not too old to have a child under 5 years of age.

Samuel himself is accounted‐for in the column marked “of 70 and under 80” years of age, for Free White Persons, Males. This agrees with a birth year of 1753, as Samuel would have been about 77 years old at the time of this census. Somehow Samuel’s wife, Abiah, got missed when this census record was made. We have no particular reason to think she was living elsewhere.

On June 7, 1832, Congress approved a new act regarding pensions for the waning population of Revolutionary War veterans. Officers and enlisted men who had served at least two years were entitled to full pay for life. Those who had served at least six months would receive partial pay. Samuel Watson submitted his Declaration for a partial‐pay pension on September 11, 1832.

This Declaration contains a decent summary of Samuel’s wartime service and tells us who conducted this legal action. The document itself is a mix of pre-printed boilerplate, complete with crossed-out items, and the spidery handwriting of whoever drafted Samuel’s statement.

Note that John and Jeffrey Hazard, in their witness statement, incorrectly estimated Samuel’s age, inflating it by four years. On this occasion Samuel was unable to recall his own age as well as the fact that he was born in Exeter, not West Greenwich.

Samuel was, indeed, unwell. At the foot of his Declaration, which normally would have been drawn up in a court setting, was a statement, handwritten and signed by Robert Hazard, Justice of the Peace: “I hereby certify that the above applicant was unable to attent [sic] Court by reason of inability   This declaration was therefore taken at his residence.”


In Order to Obtain the Act of Congress, Passed June 7, 1832

State of Rhode Island
County of Kent

On this eleventh day of September, 1832, personally appeared before Robert Hazard, one of the Justices of the Peace for the town of West Greenwich in the county of Kent and State of Rhode island, Samuel Watson, a resident of said West Greenwich in the county of Kent and State of Rhode Island, aged Eighty-three years [this is incorrect], who being first duly sworn according to law, doth on his oath make the following declaration, in order to obtain the benefit of the Act of Congress, passed June 7, 1832.

That he entered the service of the United States under the following named officers, and served as herein stated:

As near as I can recollect that in the year 1776 I enlisted under Capt Thos Gorton in Col. Lippet’s regiment in the continental line and served therein nine months or more refference [sic] to the evidence in the war department as will more fully appear as I formally drew a pension under the Act of 1818 and was stricken off for the lack of a few days service. And after I was discharged from this enlistment in the year 1777 I enlisted under Capt Holden and served six months on the Island of Newport and Providence in the State of Rhode Island. The Col.’s name I do not now recollect. I was afterwards drafted and served on Newport one month or more in Sullivan’s Expedition in 1778 and was afterwards drafted and served two months or more on Boston Neck and Narragansett bay guarding the shores as I recollect under Capt George Willcox and Col. Charles Dyre and was a substitute afterwards for Jared Bailey one month in the year 1779. When I drew my pension before I resided in Voluntown in the State of Connecticut and I now reside in the town of West Greenwich aforesaid the place of my birth but I have no record of my age.

He hereby relinquishes every claim whatever to a pension or annuity except the present, and declares that his name is not on the Pension Roll of the Agency of any State.

Sworn to and subscribed, the day and year aforesaid.

Samuel  X  Watson


Robert Hazard, Justice of the Peace, signed the document also. A brief witness statement followed:


We, Jeffrey Hazard residing in the town of Exeter, and John Hazard, residing in the town of West Greenwich, hereby certify, that we are well acquainted with Samuel Watson who has subscribed and sworn to the above declaration; that we believe him to be eighty-three years of age [this is incorrect]; that he is reputed and believed, in the neighborhood where he resides, to have been a soldier of the Revolution, and that we concur in that opinion.

Sworn to and subscribed, the day and year aforesaid.


Both Jeffrey and John Hazard signed their own names, and Robert Hazard attested that they were credible witnesses.

And so, finally, Samuel Watson was again provided a pension for his Revolutionary War service.

Records indicate that Samuel’s name was placed on the pension roll for Rhode Island on February 11, 1833, with the commencement of the pension dated to March 4, 1831. His annual allowance of $60 was made twice yearly, as before.

Samuel would collect a total of $180 before his death at age 81 on December 19, 1834, in West Greenwich. There is no formal record of Samuel’s death in West Greenwich, nor any indication of where he was buried. We know the exact date of Samuel’s death only through documents associated with his pension.

Samuel Watson’s name showed up one last time in WG town council records. On March 30, 1835, it was “voted that Thomas T. Hazard have an order on the Town Treasurer for $1.40 for services rendered, before and at the funeral of Samuel Watson. Order granted” (WG TC 7:181).

Section Summary:

In June 1832, Congress approved a new act regarding pensions for Revolutionary War veterans. Samuel #26 was eligible for a partial‐pay pension, which he received after submitting a new Declaration in September 1832.

John and Jeffrey Hazard, who witnessed on Samuel’s behalf, incorrectly estimated Samuel’s age as 83 years. Samuel himself was so unwell that Robert Hazard, Justice of the Peace, had to go to Samuel’s residence to help him draw up his last application for pension benefits. Samuel’s testimony reveals that he could not recall his own age, or the fact that he was born in Exeter, not West Greenwich.

Samuel would collect a total of $180 before his death in West Greenwich on December 19, 1834 – at age 81.


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excerpt from letter of lawyer William Dyer

Widow Abiah Watson

An issue of Rhode Island Roots from 1982 includes an item naming the “widows who were granted Certificates for Pensions by the Probate Court of West Greenwich RI as their husbands were pensioners of the U.S.” Abiah is listed among the ten women recorded here; her certificate was granted on April 25, 1835. One widow was noted as “now resident of Coventry.” Abiah’s listing makes no mention of her living anywhere other than West Greenwich.

Later documents contained in the pension file – now labeled with a “W” to designate it as a widow’s file – identify Abiah Watson as a resident of the town of Voluntown, Connecticut.

What likely happened is that Abiah had to re‐apply for pension benefits following yet another act of Congress passed on July 4, 1836. Under the terms of this act, Abiah Watson was asked to prove that she and Samuel had married before the end of Samuel’s wartime service. This set off a flurry of depositions and letters written on Abiah’s behalf.

Abiah made her declaration before the Probate Court of the District of Voluntown on October 17, 1836. Daughter Alice also was resident in Voluntown in late 1836, as we learn from her deposition on behalf of her mother, dated December 28, 1836. (Abiah Watson also testified on behalf of her sister‐in‐law Waity Young, widow of Abiah’s brother Benjamin Jr., another soldier of the Revolution.)

It took a while, but Abiah ultimately succeeded in securing that pension. It probably didn’t hurt that she hired a lawyer, William Dyer (1802‐1875) of Central Village in Plainfield, Connecticut, to help her.

A letter written by Mr. Dyer on April 20, 1837, refers to Abiah as “an intelligent woman” and quotes her regarding the lack of documention for her marriage to Samuel Watson: “I do not think it strange if the marriage is not on record in the town where she was married, as she says ‘they had not then got things regular’.” (An excerpt of William Dyer’s letter is shown at right)

Records of payments made to Abiah, obtained at Ancestry.com, show that she received her widow’s pension through September 1843. The notation after that says, “See new roll.” The ‘new roll’ thus indicated is not found at Ancestry.com. Perhaps it survives at the National Archives in Washington, DC, where the Ledgers of Payments are preserved.

There is no indication in the pension file papers that Abiah returned to Rhode Island to live; her pension was always handled by the Connecticut agency. We don’t know where in Connecticut Abiah lived, or with whom. Perhaps her son Jeffrey, who stayed in the Voluntown area, gave her a home.

Yet Abiah Watson appears in the 1840 census – in West Greenwich – living alone. Her name appears second‐to‐last on the very last page of residents; and again, alone, on the final page where she was listed as a pensioner, age 84. Her daughter Alice and daughter‐in‐law Amy (widow of Hazzard Watson) also were enumerated in West Greenwich. These women were heads of their own households but seem to have lived some distance from where Abiah was enumerated.

By 1850, Abiah has disappeared from the records. Given that she was already quite elderly in 1840, as indicated by that year’s census of pensioners, Abiah died a very old woman some time after September 1843. We do not know where she was buried, but we hope it was alongside her husband of nearly 57 years, Samuel #26 Watson.

Section Summary:

On April 25, 1835, the probate court of West Greenwich granted to Abiah Watson a widow’s certificate for a pension.

Following another act of Congress, passed July 4, 1836, Abiah was required to prove that she and Samuel married before the end of Samuel’s wartime service. Abiah hired a Connecticut lawyer, William Dyer, to help her secure her widow’s pension under the new rules. In October 1836, when she made her Declaration before the Probate Court of the District of Voluntown, CT, Abiah Watson was a resident of Voluntown. And yet she appears in West Greenwich in the 1840 census, enumerated as living alone.

Abiah was pensioned at least through September 1843, the last time we find her named in any formal record. We do not know when she died or where she was buried.


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More About the Town of West Greenwich

The Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission wrote a preliminary survey report for West Greenwich (dated October 1978; available online here) that gives a nice overview of the town over time. It notes the general isolation of this town, compared to others in Rhode Island, especially as the railroad completely bypassed the area. The soil wasn’t that good, and the early roads discouraged east-west travel, essentially dividing West Greenwich into two distinct halves.

The history of the western half of town, notably the village of Escoheag – where the Watsons had lived since the mid-eighteenth century – bears the marks of the Hazard and Tillinghast families. Here’s what the survey report says about Escoheag:

“The only other settlement of note was at Escoheag, located in the southwestern portion of the town, near the Connecticut and Exeter borders. This southwestern corner was settled in the late eighteenth century by the Tillinghast family in a linear band of settlement, running from north to south. The Tillinghast-Hazard Place, built c. 1792 on Molasses Hill Road was used as a tavern in the mid-nineteenth century, a coaching stop for the East Greenwich to Hartford Stage. Although among the wealthier inhabitants of the town, the Tillinghasts and Hazards could not survive by farming alone – the need for a secondary livelihood was common throughout West Greenwich. The Tillinghast-Hazard Place was not only a working farm and tavern; a sawmill, gristmill and stone quarry were also located on the property. It is said that the Hazard family also ran a molasses factory on the property, pressing syrup from cane – a failed enterprise, but commemorated in the local name of the southern half of Hazard Road, Molasses Hill Road. A post office was located at Escoheag in 1848, run by Benjamin Tillinghast. A church was built in 1870 when Jason P. Hazard, a deacon of the West Greenwich Centre Baptist Church, broke with the congregation to set up his own. His Advent Church still stands.”

Watson Properties in West Greenwich

There are a total of twenty-five records indexed in West Greenwich that involve a Watson as either grantor or grantee in a land transfer. Seven of these involve an unrelated man – Alby Watson – who took up residence there in the 1840s following a brush with the law in his hometown of Coventry, RI. Of the remaining eighteen records, nine of them involve Robert4 Watson (son of the patriarch and Samuel #26’s older brother). There are a handful of records involving Samuel#26’s brother Silas and uncle Nicholas3 Watson.

We find three records pertaining to patriarch Samuel3 Watson; the dates of the transactions tell us which Samuel we’re dealing with. None of those three land evidence records involve the patriarch deeding any property to his son Samuel #26. On whose land was Samuel #26 living before 1805, when he bought ten acres from his brother Robert?

This lack of a paper trail extends to Samuel #26’s sons Hazzard and Benjamin. There is no record of Benjamin Watson buying land in West Greenwich; yet in 1813 he sold property in that town to Israel Gates. Either the records were lost somehow, or else there are significant gaps and holes in West Greenwich’s land evidence documentation.

The September 2000 issue of Rhode Island Roots includes an article about “Highway Districts and Property Values in West Greenwich.” A Town Council & Court of Probate held in West Greenwich on September 8, 1808 was convened for the purpose of dealing with the matter of local road maintenance. Names of residents, apparently grouped according to where they lived, were listed along with the “Valuation of Each mans Estate.”

There are five Watson men named in this document transcription. Samuel #26 Watson – who three years earlier bought ten acres from his brother Robert – does not appear in this WG property values listing.

Hazzard Watson’s name appears in the No. 6 district list; his estate valuation was marked with a flat line rather than a number.

We were startled to find Freeborn Watson listed in district No. 10. And we think this is a mistake.

Freeborn was Samuel #26’s brother. He was a resident of Pownal, Vermont, where their brother Silas was. Freeborn’s listing included the notation “Tanner Ld,” which seems to indicate that Freeborn Watson lived and/or worked on land belonging to someone named Tanner. Freeborn’s estate valuation was noted as “500” (dollars, we assume). We think it more likely that the man named in this entry was Freeborn Letson, who was enumerated in West Greenwich in the 1810 census. Ephraim Letson and William Ledson also are listed in district No. 10. Ephraim Letson seems to have been Freeborn’s father.

We find Benjamin Watson’s name in the district No. 13 list. Benjamin’s estate valuation was a flat line also. District No. 13 included Israel Gates, to whom Benjamin sold land in 1813. Israel was worth “1800.”

The last two Watson men listed are Stephen Watson and his son Gardner Watson, in District No. 14. Stephen was worth “800,” Gardner “100.” (Stephen Watson was the son of Robert Watson, Samuel #26’s older brother.)

There are plenty of folks in these listings whose personal estate was nil, just like Hazzard and Benjamin. The lowest number appearing on the valuations is 100. Perhaps anything less than that was considered too small to count toward road maintenance taxation.


Why We Think Benjamin Watson Lived in Voluntown (not Sterling), Connecticut

The 1820 US federal census records for the towns of Sterling and Voluntown, both then in Windham county, Connecticut, may have gotten reversed somehow.

The pages for Sterling – that town’s name written at the top – have “Voluntown” written perpendicularly on the left margin of all ten pages, with the word Voluntown appearing not once but twice on the ninth. The pages for Voluntown – likewise with that town’s name written at the top – have “Sterling” written perpendicularly on the left margin of all seven pages.

In an effort to learn more about this weird twist in the records, we called the Boston branch of the National Archives. George Sermuksnis answered the phone that day and took a look at the microfilmed images of the pages in question. He was flabbergasted; he’d never seen this before. Mr. Sermuksnis’s best guess was that somehow these pages acquired an extra layer of notation. To him, the sideways writing looked like it was replicated, carbon‐copy style, over multiple pages. And he agreed with us that the whole thing was pretty “squirrelly.”

Every scrap of information we have about Benjamin Watson’s time living in Connecticut points to Voluntown as his place of residence. He had children born there in 1815; he was “of Voluntown” when he bought land in Exeter, RI, in 1818; and his first petition for release from jail, written in 1821, refers to him as being “of Voluntown.”

Did Benjamin Watson ever own property in Voluntown? There is no record of him buying land in that town. The earliest land evidence in Voluntown for anybody named Watson dates to 1849, when Elhanan W. Watson Sr. (Benjamin’s nephew) bought property from Jareb and Olive Lewis.

Our best guess is that the Watsons – both Benjamin and his younger brother Jeffrey – were tenant farmers. The 1820 census, potentially flawed as it may be, notes that three people in Benjamin’s household were engaged in agriculture.

In case anyone thinks that town and county lines were being moved while Benjamin lived in Connecticut, here are some useful dates: Sterling was set off from Voluntown and incorporated as a separate town in 1794. Voluntown had been part of New London county but became part of Windham county when the latter was created from New London and Hartford counties in 1726. In 1881 Voluntown rejoined New London county.


The Hazard Family of West Greenwich

The Hazard family of Rhode Island was big, and it was successful in its mercantile ventures, notably their mills. Quite a few Hazard men also became prominent in law and politics.

Interestingly, they tended to marry each other. According to Caroline E. Robinson, author of The Hazard Family of Rhode Island, “In the early history of the family it was almost an exception to find a Hazard who did not marry a cousin, and it is a curious fact that the lines in which these marriages were the most frequent, were often marked by the strongest men and women, both mentally and physically.”

Jeremiah Hazard, of the third generation, reportedly was one of the eighteen men who were proprietors of the “Vacant Lands” that eventually were incorporated as East (and West) Greenwich. Perhaps he encouraged his son-in-law, patriarch Samuel3 #7 Watson to buy a stake in this land.

The Hazards who rose to prominence in the Escoheag area of Rhode Island include John, Robert, and Thomas T. Hazard, as well as Jeffrey Hazard of Exeter.

John Hazard (1766-1851), of the sixth generation, was the father of three daughters and two sons. His sons were Robert (1790-1871), who married his second cousin Amey Hazard, daughter of Jeffrey Hazard of Exeter; and Thomas T. (1792-1874), who was responsible for Benjamin Watson going to jail for perceived threats to his property.

We learn a great deal about Robert Hazard from his grandson’s biography as published in A Modern History of New London County, Connecticut:

NATT HAZARD–The Hazards of this review are descended from a well-known Rhode Island family founded by Thomas Hazard, who, coming from Boston in 1635, settled in the vicinity of Newport. There Thomas Hazard and his descendants became large land owners, scattering throughout South County [formally known as Washington county] and becoming broadly influential in the affairs of his time and generation.

Lieutenant-Governor Jeffrey Hazard, Mr. Hazard’s great-grandfather, lived in the locality known as Escoheag, in the town of West Greenwich, Kent county, Rhode Island, and was a man of very wide prominence in his day.

Robert Hazard, judge of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, also resided in this community, which, although now isolated from railroads and therefore a quiet section, was in those early days a busy trading center. Many men of national prominence, among them Daniel Webster, were guests in the homes of various members of the Hazard family.

John Randolph Hazard, son of Judge Robert Hazard, and father of Natt Hazard, was born in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, March 3, 1820, and educated in the public schools of his native town. He was the first postmaster at Escoheag, Rhode Island, and served in this capacity for a period of thirty years, and in connection with the post office conducted a general provision store.

Thomas T. Hazard is likewise lauded in his son Jason Perry Hazard’s bio, this one coming from Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island:

Hon. Thomas Tillinghast Hazard, father of Jason P., was one of the well known and leading men of Rhode Island in his day. He was born March 2, 1792, and received practically no educational advantages, but he was a man of a great deal of native ability and by study and observation became very well informed. After marriage Mr. Hazard located on the farm in the extreme western portion of the town of West Greenwich, and there resided the rest of his life. He was an extensive farmer and stock dealer, in which lines he became quite successful. He used to go into Eastern Connecticut to purchase sheep and cattle, bring them to his farm and there dispose of them. He also operated a saw and grist mill in addition to his other business, and the locality, Hazard’s Mills, derived its name from the location of his mills there. He was continually adding to his acreage, so that at the time of his death he was one of the largest land holders of Kent county. He remained active until a short time before his death, which occurred Aug. 2, 1874, and he was buried in a private cemetery on Escoheag Hill, near his late home.

In politics Thomas T. Hazard was a stanch Democrat, and was one of the most influential men in the workings of the party in Rhode Island. He was chosen a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly for thirty-two consecutive terms, and also held a few of the minor offices in West Greenwich. He several times declined the Democratic nomination for governor of Rhode Island, and also the nomination for Congressman, because he felt he was not fitted by education to accept them. Physically he was a man of about six feet in height, weighed about 180 pounds and possessed great strength. He was gifted with a strong force of character that brought him success in almost anything he undertook. He was strictly honest, and he despised underhanded methods of any kind. Plain and outspoken his position or views on any question were easily understood. He became a member of the West Greenwich Baptist Church and was one of its most liberal contributors and leading members.

We find a reference to Thomas Tillinghast Hazard in a Rhode Island History article about the anti-gallows movement in Rhode Island. In February 1852 the state succeeded in passing legislation abolishing capital punishment after years of heated debate. One of the champions of this campaign was Thomas Robinson Hazard (1797-1886), “not to be confused with pro-gallows Thomas Tillinghast Hazard who fought reform in the Senate.” Elsewhere in this article, Thomas T. Hazard is described as being “of West Greenwich.“

John, Robert, and Thomas T. Hazard lie buried in the Hazard Lot (West Greenwich Historical Cemetery #5) on the north side of Escoheag Road near where it becomes Molasses Hill Road. North of that, the Tillinghast-Hazard Place still stands on the east side of Hazard Road near the foot of Hazard Pond.

Jeffrey Hazard (1762-1840) was a first cousin to the John Hazard outlined above. He, too, had an impressive resumé. The Hazard Family of Rhode Island tells us that Jeffrey “married Amey, daughter of Thomas Tillinghast” and that “he was Lieutenant-Governor of the State from 1833 to 1835, and again from 1836 to 1837; he was also for many years Representative in the General Assembly, and Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and Judge of the Supreme Court from 1810 to 1818.”

While Jeffrey Hazard apparently did live in West Greenwich for part of his life, he lived much of it in Exeter, likely just south of the West Greenwich-Exeter town line. Jeffrey, his wife Amey (Tillinghast) Hazard, two of his three sons, and three other family members are buried in Exeter Historical Cemetery #2, on the west side of Escoheag Hill Road in Exeter, just north of Old Voluntown Road.



somewhat in order of their appearance in the text, and with no consistent format

Davis, George C., and Jean Adams Bradley. The American Family of John Watson of the Narragansett Country, Rhode Island. Kingston, R.I.: Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, 1983. Also cited as: John Watson and The American Family of John Watson.

White, Virgil D. Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files Volume III: N-Z. Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co, 1992.

Popek, Daniel M. They "...Fought Bravely, but Were Unfortunate": The True Story of Rhode Island's "Black Regiment" and the Failure of Segregation in Rhode Island's Continental Line, 1777-1783. 2016.
We wish to thank author Daniel M. Popek for generously sharing with us a digital copy of the West Greenwich 1780 Six Months Levies document that includes Samuel #26 Watson’s name and identifying info.

The RI Census of 1782, transcribed by the late Katharine U. Waterman of North Scituate, RI, and published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register).

Ancestry.com – our favorite source for census and military records.

General Assembly – Petitions Received, 1725-1890, 01/13/C#0165, Rhode Island State Archives, 337 Westminster St., Providence, RI 02903 (Samuel Watson’s petition for the benefits of RI’s “Act for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors. ”)

Rhode Island General Assembly – Petitions Failed / Withdrawn, 1811-1874, 01/13/C#0869 and C#1179, Rhode Island State Archives, 337 Westminster St., Providence, RI 02903 (petitions of Samuel Watson Jr. and Benjamin Watson).

The Rhode-Island American, and general advertiser: (Providence, RI) 1809-1823. October 22, 1813, Vol. VI, Issue 3. Accessed 31 May 2013 at this Rootsweb/Ancestry web page.

Samuel Watson file, no. W18249, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, micropublication M804, roll 2508 (Washington: National Archives); NARA, Frederick C. Murphy Federal Center, 380 Trapelo Rd., Waltham, MA, cabinet 32, drawer 1.

Casey, Gen. T. L. “Early Families of Casey in Rhode Island.” Magazine of New England History, Vol. 3, no. 2 (April 1893), pg. 115. Accessed at Google Books.

The National Archives; Washington, D.C.; Ledgers of Payments, 1818-1872, to U.S. Pensioners Under Acts of 1818 Through 1858 From Records of the Office of the Third Auditor of the Treasury; Record Group Title: Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury; Record Group Number: 217; Series Number: T718; Roll Number: 15.
Obtained at Ancestry.com. U.S., Revolutionary War Pensioners, 1801-1815, 1818-1872 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2007.

Rhode Island Roots, Vol. 8, page 26 (June 1982). Warwick, RI: Rhode Island Genealogical Society, 1975–. (Online database. AmericanAncestors.org. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2012.)

“Historic and Architectural Resources of West Greenwich, Rhode Island: A Preliminary Report” (October 1978); Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, Providence, RI. www.preservation.ri.gov/survey/publications

“Highway Districts and Property Values in West Greenwich.” Transcribed by Iain H. Bruce. Rhode Island Roots, Vol. 26, pages 85-91. Warwick, RI: Rhode Island Genealogical Society, 1975–. (Online database. AmericanAncestors.org. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2012.)

Robinson, Caroline E. The Hazard Family of Rhode Island, 1635-1894: Being a Genealogy and History of the Descendants of Thomas Hazard. Boston: Printed for the author, 1895.

Marshall, Benjamin Tinkham. A Modern History of New London County, Connecticut. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1922.

J.H. Beers & Co. Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island; Genealogical Records and Historical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens and of Many of the Old Families. Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co, 1908.

Mackey, Philip English. “‘The Result May Be Glorious’ – Anti-Gallows Movement in Rhode Island 1838-1852.” Rhode Island History 33, no. 1 (Feb. 1974): 19-31.

Herndon, Ruth Wallis. Unwelcome Americans: Living on the Margin in Early New England. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. (This book isn’t quoted in our text. But it has been such an outstanding resource for us that we would be remiss to omit it here.)

Gorton, Adelos. The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton: The Founders and the Founding of the Republic, a Section of Early United States History, and a History of the Colony of Providence and Rhode Island Plantations in the Narragansett Indian Country, Now the State of Rhode Island, 1592-1636-1677-1687 : with a Genealogy of Samuel Gortons’s Descendants to the Present Time, Compiled from Various Accounts, Histories, Letters, and Published and Unpublished Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Digitized by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 2015. The information on Mary (Watson) Griffin’s marriage to Hezekiah Gorton can be found on page 246. See also Supplement page 955 for clarification on what year they wed.

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We appreciate the assistance given to us by the following folks:

Kenneth Carlson, Reference Archivist at the Rhode Island State Archives in Providence. Mr. Carlson’s great enthusiasm for the history preserved at the Archives is matched only by his friendly, knowledgeable help.

George Sermuksnis, archives technician at the Boston branch of the National Archives. It was a pleasure to speak with him on the phone, even if we didn’t exactly solve the mystery of the unusually-marked census pages.

Anna‐Therese Kelly, librarian at Louttit Library in West Greenwich. She suggested we talk to Town Administrator Kevin Breene and helpfully provided his contact info.

Kevin Breene, West Greenwich, RI, Town Administrator. Mr. Breen responded generously to our email request for some West Greenwich history, showing a depth of knowledge due in part to having lived there all his life.

Andrew Smith at the Supreme Court Judicial Records Center in Pawtucket, RI. At our request, Mr. Smith went looking for court documents relating to Benjamin Watson’s incarceration in the Kent county jail. Even though he found nothing, we are grateful for his help. The lack of records in this case is “an answer.”

Cheryl A. Sadowski, Voluntown, CT, Town Clerk. She brought index books right to the telephone and consulted them for possible records of land ownership by the Watsons. Ms. Sadowski told us there were no Watson grantees in any land evidence prior to 1849, when Elhanan W. Watson, Sr., bought property from Jareb & Olive Lewis (a warranty deed). This suggests that neither Benjamin nor Jeffrey Watson (Sr.) were property owners in Voluntown. And it allowed us to understand that the farm on which Jeffrey lived in 1850 was likely the land that his son Elhanan (Sr.) purchased.

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© 2023 Elaine Schenot




Click here to read Regarding Samuel #26 Watson in The American Family of John Watson of the Narragansett Country, Rhode Island

Click here to see Images for Samuel #26 Watson

Click here to read Where’s Alice? The Location of the “Lost Watson Lot”