The Real Reason Why the Charles Frederick Herreshoff Family Left Point Pleasant Farm in 1856
Reprinted from November 2013
By Nathanael Greene Herreshoff III
There has been much speculation why the Herreshoff family moved. One of the many supposed reasons was that the parents wanted to live in downtown Bristol so that the children could more easily attend school. Only my cousin historian Henry A. L. Brown and I know the real reason. It had to do with a dispute between Charles Frederick (1809-1888) and his older brother John Brown Herreshoff (1805-1861) in regard to their mother’s will and the ownership of Point Pleasant Farm, which was located on Poppasquash Point in Bristol, Rhode Island. The move affected the entire future history of the Charles Frederick’s family and their descendants.
As the following documents indicate Providence merchant John Brown (1736-1803) acquired Point Pleasant Farm and part of Prudence Island shortly after the Revolutionary War. These properties had previously belonged to Tories loyal to the British crown.
John Brown deed in Popposuash in the Township of Bristol 12 November 1781 221 ¾ acres Sum of 3,293./6/3 Dwelling house, barns, out-houses & all other the excepting the Barracks erected by the state (Farm belonging, formerly to William Vassal and forfeited to the State).
Conveged by Act of Assembly – by Joseph Clarke General Treasurer Recorded Book 4, page 225 Feb 10th 1793 by Jos. Russell Town Clerk.
John Brown deed to Prudence Island in the Town of Portsmouth 897 acres Sum of 5114./9/6 formerly------------------- the same farm lately belonging Joseph Wanton, Jr and forfeited to State of RI on 21 November 1781
Recorded Town of Portsmouth book 798, page 129 19 Day May 1783. John Thurston Town Clerk
Shortly after their marriage, John Brown’s daughter Sarah Brown Herreshoff (1773-1846) and her Prussian immigrant husband Karl Friedrich Herreshoff (1769-1819) (A) came to live at Point Pleasant Farm, while her older sister, Abigail Brown Francis (1766-1821) came to live at John Brown’s other country estate, Spring Green in Warwick, Rhode Island.
After 1821, Abigail’s son John Brown Francis (1791-1864) lived at Spring Green (B). During most of his lifetime he served as head of the families who were descended from John Brown. He also handled many of their legal and financial affairs. He was later Governor of Rhode Island (1833-1838) and a United States Senator (C).
After John Brown’s death in 1803, his wife Sarah Smith Brown (1738-1825) was left a life interest in the John Brown House on Power Street in Providence. It is now part of the Rhode Island Historical Society. After Sarah’s death, the house then passed into the possession of her son, James Brown (1761-1834).
When James died in 1834, Sarah Herreshoff was left 5/6 of the house and his nephew John Brown Francis 1/6. By a partition deed of April 21, 1835, Sarah came into full possession of the house and three acres to the east went to John Brown Francis.
Shortly thereafter Sarah moved from Point Pleasant Farm to the John Brown House. In the 1840 census she is listed as living there with her son John, and her three daughters, Anna (1802-1887), Sarah (1803-1882), and Agnes (1807-1849). Her son Charles Frederick and his family continued to live at Point Pleasant Farm.
Karl Friedrich anglicized his name to Charles Frederick Herreshoff after he came to this country. Also, research by the author indicates that Karl Friedrich was born in 1769 instead of 1763, the date usually given.
Descendants of John Brown Francis have continued to live at Spring Green, including Henry A. L. Brown, who lives there now.
John Brown Francis was Rhode Island’s first governor of Irish descent after 1800. The Francis family came to America from Dublin. The governor’s maternal great grandmother, Hope Power Brown, was also of Irish descent.
The Will of Sarah Brown Herreshoff (1773-1846)
I Sarah Herreshoff of Providence in the State of Rhode Island makes this last will and testament in manner following. This is to say-
I give devise and bequest to my daughters Ann, Sarah and Agnes their heirs and assigned all the property and estate of every kind that may be remaining at the time of my decease of which was given to me by the will of my mother.
I give devise and bequest to my son John Brown Herreshoff his heirs and assigned all the estate both real and personal that may be remaining at the time of my decease or that which was given to me by the will of my father John Brown, whether situate in this state of in the State of New York or Ohio or elsewhere. But this devise upon condition that my said son shall at all times hereafter provide at his own expense, for the comfortable support of his three sisters, my daughters, above named, so long as they respectively remain unmarried.
My will further is that all the rest and residue of my estate both real and personal shall remain undivided until my grandson James Brown Herreshoff, son of my son Charles Frederick, he shall attain the age of twenty-one years – And that until such time and not withstanding anything herein before written, My said son Charles may continue in the occupation of the farm in Bristol now occupied by him & receive the profits thereof to his own use – excepting that my son John and his sisters may have the privilege of anything without paying any rent there for that part the dwelling house and appurtenances from said farm which is usually occupied by me and them when resident at said farm – And also until the time when my grandson shall attain the age of twenty-one years, the mansion estate in Providence where I now reside may be occupied by my son John and his sisters, as at present without rent. Allowing to my son Charles and family, the privilege of the occasional use of the same rooms now occasionally used by them. And until my grandson attain to said age, all the expenses of his education shall be paid by my executors from my estate. And until the same time the income of all that part of my estate not herein before disposed of or provided for shall be received by my executors who after paying there from all my debts, funeral expenses and expenses of settling my estate & the expenses of my said grandson’s education-shall at least as often as once in each year pay the remainder thereof in equal fifth parts to my five children before named their heirs and assigns for their own use respectively.
And subject to the preceding provisions in relation to the property remaining undivided I give devise and bequest all the rest and residue of all my estate real and personal whether situate in this state, or elsewhere to my afore named five children, their heirs assigns forever & excepting only that in consideration of an advance of three hundred dollars heretofore made by me to my son Charles his share of my said estate shall be chargeable with payment of six hundred dollars to his brother John his heirs and assigns and of the same sum for each of his sisters their heirs and assigns-
I shall appoint my said sons John Brown Herreshoff and Charles Frederick Herreshoff executors of this my will and revoke all former wills by me made.
In testimony where of I have hereto set my hand and seal this twenty second day of May in the year of our lord one thousand eight hundred and forty four.
(signature) Sarah Herreshoff red seal
Signed sealed published & declared by the said Sarah Herreshoff as and for her last will in the presence of us, the subscribers, who at her request in her presence & in the presence of each other have hereto subscribed our names.
Providence (signatures) Hope Ives
Moses B. Ives
Robert H. Ives
Sarah’s former will was revoked. This will was signed sealed and dated May 22, 1844. Witnesses were Sarah’s first cousin Hope Brown Ives (1773-1855) and her sons Moses Brown Ives (1797-1857) and Robert Hale Ives (1798-1875).
The request for the execution of the will took place on December 14, 1847 and was signed by John Brown Herreshoff, Charles Frederick Herreshoff, Ann B. Francis, Marshall Woods, C.L. Lewis and C.L. Herreshoff.
Notes Concerning Some of the People Listed
Ann Brown Francis (1828-1896) – Daughter of Governor Francis
Marshall Woods (1833-1901)- Husband of Ann Francis
C.L. Lewis (Caroline) (1813-1865) Sister-in law of Charles Frederick
C.L. Herreshoff (1837-1924) Daughter of Charles Frederick and Julia Lewis Herreshoff (1811-1901).
A careful reading of the will seems to give the impression that Sarah favored the interests of her grandson James Brown Herreshoff over those of her five children and four grandchildren. This may have something to do with her feelings about the relations between her sons or their ability to properly manage their affairs. This might particularly apply to Charles Frederick, since she left the farm to her son. This later was the cause of a dispute between the brothers.
The $300 un-repaid loan Sarah had given to Charles Frederick and other events indicate that he was not very good at managing his financial affairs. In the mid-1830s Governor Francis was notified by a bank that Charles Frederick had failed to repay a $50 loan which the governor had cosigned.
It is concluded by the author and other that the John Brown House was left to James. It was sold in 1852 to Sarah’s first cousin Hope Brown Ives. One item of interest is that when the family was moving out of the house a bureau which was being lowered from the third story crashed and was destroyed. In 1852 the entire Herreshoff family took up residence at Point Pleasant Farm.
The following is an extract from a letter written by Elizabeth Francis (Mrs. John Brown Francis) (1796-1866) to her daughter Elizabeth Francis (1833-1901) at Miss Dutton’s School, New Haven, Connecticut.
My Dear Elizabeth, Spring Green
10 Feby 1851
Omitted body of correspondence
John Herreshoff as your father wrote Sally (1834-1904) (another daughter) unbossomed himself respecting his brother (Charles Frederick and his nephew James or Charles 1839-1917). I do hope your father will keep clear of their affairs, he has enough of his own. If John were wise he would settle and divide his estate… take his sister’s shares (Anna and Sarah) and leave Frederick (Charles Frederick) to manage for himself. If he goes on as he probably will having all in common…a common distress and a round quarrel will be the result before 6 years.
Omitted balance of correspondence
Elizabeth Francis Harrison Francis was Governor Francis’ second wife. His first wife was Ann Carter Brown (1795-1828) who was the mother of Anne Brown Woods.
As this letter indicates John and Charles Frederick were in dispute over their mother’s will and the ownership of Point Pleasant Farm.
The following letter was written by Governor Francis to Charles Frederick Herreshoff whom he addresses as Frederick. The two men were first cousins.
Providence March 24th, 1856
As I promised when you were here I requested an interview with your Brother’s, & he came up a few days afterwards, when imparted to him the contents of your note, and advised him to terminate this angry controversy by conveying to you in fee the Point Lot. He peremptorily refused this & evidently not relishing my proposal soon took leave and I saw nothing more of him until today when he handed me your last note to him, the tone of which is, I am sorry to say, harsh & threatening and of course ill advised on your part. I renewed my advice to him today but with no other effect than what I am about to narrate and I beg for you for the sake not to turn a deaf ear.
John wont do a thing on compulsion your threat to bring suit and to break his Mother’s will, incenses your brother to the highest degrees—as long as you hold this language and this menacing attitude you have in my opinion, nothing but disaster & ruin in prospect.
You cannot break you mother’s will. You have the testimony of three witnesses against you-two of them are living to reiterate & substantiate their first testimony, moreover you have Sally Eaton & myself and doubtless relatives who if compelled to bear witness, must acknowledge that your Mother repeatedly expressed the determination to do what she did do-& that in our opinion she was in a state of mind to make a Will. The time too has gone by for a reversal of the Will. It is too late for an appeal. What then is to be done?
My advice is to throw yourself on the magnanimity of your brother. You are mistaken and your mind has become morbid when you call him as you did in your last note “your enemy.” I agree with the Messrs. Ives in advising you to abandon the Farm at once.
Give John time for the sober second thought, and my word for it, he will evince to you that he is not destitute of the feelings of a brother. Give him time to recover the tone of his mind & his generous nature will manifest itself. I pledge myself that he is incapable of any thing mean or ungenerous.
I will aid as far as I can to soothe and pacify him so will other Friends. I would advise you acceptance of his January proposition to take the Wanton farm [Prudence Island] but if you cant bring your mind to this alternative, quit the Farm at once, I implore you, and a reaction in John’s mind is inevitable – I know him too well to doubt.
I am not authorized to promise anything but I give assurance of hope that all your fraternal relations will be restored as soon as you have raised the Olive branch.
Overcome your disappointment and anger and have the manliness to leave Point Pleasant voluntarily. Only consider the peril in which you involve your Family when you have severed them & yourself from your Sisters & Brother as you are sure to do by disputing your Mother’s will.
Friend & relative,
JOHN BROWN FRANCIS
Governor Francis indicated in the letter that no one would support an attempt by Charles Frederick to break his mother’s will and that his position was untenable and he had no choice but to move away from the farm. One possibility was to move to the Wanton Farm on Prudence Island which was owned by the Herreshoff family. Shortly thereafter Charles Frederick and his wife Julia decided to move across the harbor to a house located at 142 Hope Street which was then owned by William Bayley. The Herreshoffs rented the house until 1863 when Julia Herreshoff bought it back from Rachel Bayley with a mortgage. The fact that Julia bought the house herself may be another indication that Charles Frederick was not very good at handling his financial affairs.
Sally Mason Eaton (1804-1864) was the daughter of John Brown’s youngest daughter Alice (1777-1823) and her husband James B. Mason (1774-1819). Sally named one of her sons Charles Frederick.
Sarah Herreshoff’s will was transcribed by the author from the Providence City Archives. The copies of the 1851 and 1856 letters are from the collection of Henry A. L. Brown. Much of the rest of the content of the article is from sources owned by the author and his personal knowledge.
The author would like to thank Henry A.L. Brown and Paul Campbell of the Providence City Archives and his staff for their assistance.
The author would very much appreciate any feedback in reference to this newsletter and any previous ones. Him email address is Nath3@aol.com.