A shift, a common piece of women’s underclothing in the eighteenth-century that was shaped like a long t-shirt and worn next to the skin to protect outer clothing from sweat and body oils, is now a rare, and thus special, artifact to have in the collection. Few exist today because they were not considered important keepsakes in their time, but instead everyday clothing to be worn until they deteriorated beyond use. The shift in the Carpenter Museum’s collection was patched many times by its owner in an effort to prolong its life: at both shoulders, on one sleeve, and in three areas on the front of the garment. Patching was preferable to making a new shift, which would have required much labor—from growing and processing the flax to spinning the thread to weaving the linen. Finally, a woman would have cut the fabric and sewn the garment together by hand. The owner of this shift cross-stitched her initials, HR, on the front directly below the neckline. She still has not been identified, however, as Rehoboth vital records list many Reeds, Rounds, Richmonds, and Robinsons at the end of the eighteenth-century and among those many Hannahs, Huldahs, Hopestills, Hepzibeths, and Hesthers. The only other clue we have is the shift owner’s body type. The dimensions of the garment reveal that she was approximately 5 feet 2 inches tall and rather stoutly built.
This side chair, likely owned by William Blanding (1747–1830) and his wife, Lydia (Ormsbee) Blanding, of Rehoboth, adapts a design created in England and soon embraced in Philadelphia, New York, Newport, and Providence. Prominent features include a rococo scrolled splat, pairs of deep gouges on the ears of the crest, and broad flutes on the front legs, which end in tapered feet. According to furniture scholars, it is uncommon to find a side chair from this period in such excellent condition. It retains its original red stain finish, the pins holding the joints are intact, and the unusual front legs have not been modified. The chair was donated to the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society soon after its formation in 1884 by its first treasurer, William Willett Blanding. A bachelor dairy farmer living at 103 Broad Street, Blanding inherited and preserved many of his prominent family’s possessions, including those of his grandfather William Blanding, a Revolutionary War veteran, and his uncle Dr. William Blanding (1773–1857), a well-known physician and naturalist who recorded and described early Rehoboth structures in his 1848 sketchbook of childhood reminiscences. Other gifts by William Willet Blanding include his grandfather’s pipe box, a boot jack, a pewter teapot, and his uncle’s apothecary balance scale.
The barrel of a matchlock musket that was likely used by Plymouth Colony militia commander Myles Standish (c. 1584–1656) is one of the more interesting gifts the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society received upon its founding in 1884.
Donor Asaph L. Bliss Jr., a Taunton hotelier, likely acquired it directly from James Hall, a Boston steel engraver who oversaw the 1856 excavation of the Myles Standish home site in Duxbury, Massachusetts, where the barrel was found. Hall’s endeavor is now considered one of the nation’s first professional archaeological digs. Two years later, in 1858, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published his famous narrative poem The Courtship of Miles Standish, which romanticized Standish and ignored his reputation of committing ruthless acts against the Native Americans who interacted with the English. Standish became a folk hero in the eyes of many Victorian-era Americans, including the founders of the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society, who reverently described him as “one of the Pilgrim Fathers.” They must have been pleased to receive the musket barrel, especially because James Hall, a descendant of Standish, kept most of the finds of the excavation during his lifetime. (They are now housed at the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society and Pilgrim Hall Museum.) It is perplexing that Hall chose to sell or give away the musket barrel, one of the major discoveries of the dig according to former Pilgrim Hall curator Stephen O’Neill. Archaeologist Craig Chartier theorizes that Hall may have wanted it to come to Rehoboth, as this is where Standish’s last military campaign occurred in 1645 when he and his men headquartered here waiting to attack the Narragansetts. Notably, the artifact is considerably warped. This could have occurred in a fire, which Hall found evidence of during the excavation. Looking at other physical evidence, Chartier concludes the barrel was bent on purpose by someone to make it inoperable.
This wall map, created from surveys made by civil engineer, surveyor, and cartographer Henry Francis Walling (1825–1888), is the oldest known published map featuring Rehoboth’s present-day borders, which were finalized in 1812 when the western portion of the town became Seekonk. Walling grew up in Providence and worked for a civil engineer there until about 1850, when he began his own business. The first maps he published were of five towns in Bristol County, of which this is one. He went on to establish a successful map-making business in New York and later worked for the U.S. Geological Survey. The map is valuable today, for it gives us evidence of the locations of schools and businesses, as well as the names of individual property owners in the mid-nineteenth century. Like other Walling maps, Rehoboth features illustrations in the margins. Depicted are the Congregational Church in Rehoboth Village and three prominent residences: those of Lyman Pearce’s home on Pleasant Street, Benjamin Peck’s house on Water Street, and James Blanding’s home on Broad Street. Elm Cottage, as it is referred to, is the house where James’s son William Willet Blanding, a founding member of the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society, lived his whole life and collected his family’s heirlooms. Until recently, this copy of the Rehoboth map had always hung at 191 Reservoir Avenue, formerly the home of printmaker Peter Chalmers and identified in 1850 as the property of James Horton II.
The flax breaker, hatchel, and flax wheel in the Museum’s collection were considered some of the most significant artifacts to the founders of the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society. They created a special exhibit on spinning in one corner of the Antiquarian Room at the new Goff Memorial Hall, which they illustrated and explained in great detail in Historic Rehoboth: Record of the Dedication of Goff Memorial Hall (1886). The book also chronicles a program that took place on April 23, 1886, when several older residents, “whose combined ages were 464,” demonstrated the “lost arts” of preparing and spinning flax and wool into thread using these implements as well as a swingling knife, wool cards, a wool wheel, and a clock reel. Early Rehoboth residents made their own linen and wool cloth for everyday items, such as bedding, towels and work clothing, since buying imports from England was costly and therefore reserved for fine apparel. Most commonly, townspeople chose linen, which was made from easily grown flax plants and held up to much wear. Production, however, was time-consuming, involving up to twenty separate steps. In that process, the breaker broke up the hard outer stalk of the plant. The hatchel straightened and cleaned the interior fibers, separating the long and short strands (each used for a different purpose). Finally, the wheel, much smaller than that used for wool, spun the fibers into thread.
Joseph A. Carpenter Jr., a beloved Rehoboth resident descended from one of the founders of the town, enjoyed a successful career as an art director, artist, illustrator, and cartoonist. After serving in the Army’s Air Corps during World War II, he graduated from Rhode Island School of Design. He was an art director at the oil filter manufacturer Fram Corporation in East Providence for twenty-four years. During this time, he contributed humorous cartoons and illustrations to many publications. He spent much of his retirement painting oil portraits of friends and watercolors of landscapes. This watercolor of the Carpenter Museum in Rehoboth Village epitomizes his sketch-like style, which captures the play of light and shadow over the wind-swept buildings and grounds. Joe’s deep commitment to the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society and the Carpenter Museum, where he served as a trustee for many years, spoke to his strong interest in history. Here he neatly sums up the town’s past by not only portraying its history museum surrounded and emphasized by the bare branches of a foreground tree, but by prominently featuring a stone wall, a symbol of the town’s agrarian past when barriers of this sort demarcated farmland boundaries. Also included are the 1838 Congregational Church (before the Parish House was added to the back in 1985), and the eighteenth-century Jonathan Wheaton House at the far right, which served over the years as a post office, general store, masonic hall, and doctor’s office, as well as a residence to several generations of Carpenters.
This color photograph of the overflowing dam in the center of Rehoboth Village captures the local consequences of the record rainfall Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island experienced in the early spring of 2010. A series of large low-pressure systems that moved through the region from late-February to mid-March dropped between 17 and 25 inches of rain. Runoff into rivers and streams peaked in late March and early April, exactly when photographer Richard Benjamin documented the waters from the east branch of the Palmer River spilling furiously over the village dam. Benjamin, who lives in Rehoboth, also gave the Museum a photograph he took of the Perryville Dam in North Rehoboth on the same day, April 5, 2010, which shows water spreading out into the surrounding woods after it cascades over the crest of the dam. Regional flooding was so severe that Barack Obama declared a Presidential Disaster on March 29, 2010. Bristol County was among the jurisdictions that received more than $100 million in federal assistance. Benjamin, who worked as a photojournalist for the Providence Journal for 27 years and now takes fine art photographs of Rhode Island, has done work for the Carpenter Museum in the past, including documenting the 1993 raising of the E. Otis Dyer Barn exhibit space and creating a series on farming practices in Rehoboth. His photographs, whether recording the harvesting of crops or the height of a natural disaster, find the beauty in both the everyday and the extraordinary.
This is the only existing musical clock made by Peregrine White, an important early American silversmith and clockmaker working in Woodstock, Connecticut. It was made for Asahel Carpenter (1731–1809), who lived in a section of Old Rehoboth that is now part of Seekonk. Asahel was a wealthy farmer who owned large amounts of land, much of it in Ohio. His granddaughter reported in 1880 that he had “moved in the highest circle of society,” which might explain his commissioning of an elaborate musical tall case clock. Asahel bequeathed the clock to his son Wooster Carpenter (1777–1858), initiating a tradition in which the clock has been passed down through four more generations of Carpenters. The clock plays seven tunes, including Nancy Dawson and Handel’s Minuet, which are listed on the arch of the Boston-made painted iron dial. Once the selector hand is manually moved to the listener’s choice of song, the clock plays the tune three times through on every third hour using ten hammers on ten bells. Peregrine White made very few clocks in general, but those he did produce are considered of the highest quality. A respected clock conservator said recently that this is the best musical clock that he has heard. The case housing the clock is attributed to Nathan Lombard, a very important early American cabinetmaker from Sutton, Massachusetts, the town where Peregrine White was born. The carved elements and flaring French feet, which at first seem out of place on a Federal-style case, characterize his style. Lombard is also known for creating intricate inlays, seen here in the elaborate floral motifs on the front of the case.
Over the years, six individuals have donated twenty-three pieces from the Chinese export porcelain services that Revolutionary War veteran Colonel Thomas Carpenter III (1733–1807) had commissioned in January 1792 for each of his four sons. During this period of the Old China Trade (which began in 1784), the Chinese began to decorate porcelain specifically for the American market, using Western motifs like the cobalt and gilt star design seen here. The partial collection includes a tea caddy, two teapots, two helmet pitchers that when turned upside down become candlesticks, a sugar bowl, six tea bowls and saucers, three plates, and two bowls. Each hand painted item contains a son’s monogram in the center. The Museum has pieces from two of the services: those owned by Stephen (b. 1765) and Peter (1773–1814). Thomas (1758–1837) and James (1767–1812) were also given sets. Colonel Carpenter was one of Rehoboth’s most prominent and prosperous citizens during the Revolutionary period. Before and after the war, he amassed and farmed large tracts of land in the center and northeast sections of town, worked as a surveyor, and was active in town affairs. During the conflict, he became renowned locally for leading a regiment that saw fighting near White Plains, New York, and Newport, Rhode Island. His wealth and prestige are symbolized in the monogrammed porcelain services he purchased from Canton—only the affluent had the means to special order personalized china at this time.
According to an 1860 handwritten label in its former display case, this iron kettle or cauldron belonged to the Wampanoag grand sachem Philip (or Metacom, c. 1639–1676). It was probably used for cooking over an open fire in his camp. The Wampanoag traded food and other natural resources with the English for durable kettles that replaced more fragile pottery vessels. This kettle was taken as booty by Captain Benjamin Church (c. 1639–1718) early in the bloody conflict that came to be known as King Philip’s War (1675–1678) after Church and his men invaded Philip’s Mount Hope homeland. Church later became the Puritan hero of the conflict when in August 1676 he led the group that captured and killed King Philip, effectively ending the war. Church, who reached the rank of colonel, kept the kettle as a trophy during his life. After his death in 1718, some of Church’s personal property was sold at auction, where Philip Wheeler of Rehoboth bought the kettle. He gave it to his daughter Martha, who married Sylvanus Martin of Rehoboth. She gave the kettle to her daughter, also named Martha, upon her marriage to Colonel Christopher Blanding of Rehoboth. Martha Blanding died at age 95, bequeathing the kettle to her son. He bore the surname of each of his ancestors who had owned the kettle—Wheeler Martin Blanding.