William Brenton

William Brenton (c. 1610–1674)[1] was a colonial President, Deputy Governor, and Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and an early settler of Portsmouth and Newport in the Rhode Island colony. Austin and other historians give his place of origin as Hammersmith in Middlesex, England (now a part of London), but in reviewing the evidence, Anderson concludes that his place of origin is unknown.[2][3] Brenton named one of his Newport properties "Hammersmith," and this has led some writers to assume that the like-named town in London was his place of origin.[4]

William Brenton
Governor William Brenton grave medallion
11th President of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
In office
Preceded byBenedict Arnold
Succeeded byBenedict Arnold
2nd Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
In office
Preceded byBenedict Arnold
Succeeded byBenedict Arnold
1st Deputy Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
In office
GovernorBenedict Arnold
Preceded byposition created
Succeeded byNicholas Easton
Personal details
Bornc. 1610
Diedautumn, 1674
Newport, Rhode Island
Spouse(s)(1) Dorothy ________
(2) Mary Burton
ChildrenBarnabas, Martha, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Mehitable, Jahleel, William, Abigail, Ebenezer
OccupationBuilder, selectman, assistant, president, commissioner, deputy governor, governor

Boston, Portsmouth and Newport

Brenton was in Boston by October 1633 when he was admitted to the church there,[2] was made a freeman in May 1634, and later the same year was appointed to oversee the building of a jail house.[3] He was a Boston selectman from 1634 to 1637, and in 1635 was appointed to a committee to consider the incident when Massachusetts magistrate John Endecott defaced the English flag, and to report to the court to what extent Endecott would be censured.[3]

Brenton was a Deputy in Boston from 1635 to 1637, but following the settlement of Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island (called Rhode Island) by the followers of Anne Hutchinson, he became a resident there, and in late August 1638 was directed to oversee work on the prison.[5] It appears that Brenton was not a follower of Hutchinson, or of her brother-in-law John Wheelwright, as he was not disarmed, and he also returned to live in Boston at a later time.[6] In April 1639 he was one of nine men who signed an agreement to settle Newport, and appears to have changed residence, being present at a general meeting there a year later.[7] However, by 1643 his residence was once again given as Portsmouth.[7] From 1640 to 1647, while William Coddington was the governor of the two Aquidneck Island towns of Portsmouth and Newport, Brenton was the deputy governor.[5] In February 1649 Brenton was again living in Boston, when he was given liberty to "set up a porch afore his house" there.[4]

Terms as president and governor

From 1652 to 1657 Brenton was once again a selectman, and in 1655 became a freeman of Newport.[5] In 1660 he succeeded Benedict Arnold as President of all four towns of the Rhode Island colony, serving for two one-year terms, and also serving as a commissioner during this period.[5] One issue facing this administration was the land speculation of Humphrey Atherton in the Narragansett country (later to become Washington County, Rhode Island). A committee was appointed to deal with Atherton and his company about his land purchase, and arrange terms upon which Atherton might enter the colony.[8] If the Atherton company refused to confer, then they would be forbidden from entering their lands.[8] The committee reported only partial progress on this issue, and would continue at a later session.[8]

One of the first acts of Brenton's administration was to proclaim that King Charles II of England be recognized as the Supreme Civil Magistrate of the colony, and the day of 21 October was set aside as the date of public recognition for the new king.[9] Also during this administration, a commission was issued to Dr. John Clarke, Rhode Island's agent and diplomat in London, with the intent of seeking a new charter from the king, and a committee of three members from each town drew up instructions for Dr. Clarke.[10] The new charter, delivered from England in 1663 during the tenure of Brenton's successor, Benedict Arnold, was characterized by historian Thomas W. Bicknell as "the most liberal and enlightened charter the world had then known."[10] When Arnold was named by the charter as the first Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island, Brenton was named as the first Deputy Governor.[10] When Arnold stepped down as governor in 1666, Brenton became governor of the colony for three consecutive one-year terms.[5]

Later life and legacy

South West Point, by Joshua Appleby Williams
Shoreline on Brenton Point in the 19th century

In 1658 Brenton was granted 8,000 acres of land on the Merrimack River,[4] a tract which was called Brenton Farm and later became the town of Litchfield, New Hampshire.[11] In 1670 he was residing in Taunton in the Plymouth Colony.[4] Even though he was living in Taunton, in 1672 he was once again elected governor of the Rhode Island colony, in absentia, but refused to serve.[6] He died sometime after 25 September 1674, when he was involved in a land deed, but before 13 November of that year when his will was proved at Newport, where he died.[1] One source says he eventually became a member of the Quaker church,[12] but this is not supported by Anderson who gives his church affiliation only as the Boston (Puritan) church.[2] He had been a highly useful member of the colony, serving as an office holder or legislator for nearly 40 years.[13] Brenton's Point and Brenton's Reef in Newport are named after him, and Hammersmith Farm, where United States President John F. Kennedy was married to Jacqueline Bouvier, was named for his property in Newport.[14]


Brenton was first married, by 1634, to a woman named Dorothy, who apparently died soon thereafter, leaving a single son, Barnabas, who was baptized in Boston on 24 January 1635.[1] There is no further record of this son.[1] Nearly a decade later, by about 1644, Brenton married Martha Burton, the daughter of Thomas Burton, with whom he had nine children.[1] Martha died shortly before Brenton, in 1672 or 1673.[1] Their daughter Mary married future colonial Rhode Island Governor Peleg Sanford, the son of John Sanford who succeeded William Coddington as governor of Portsmouth and Newport under the Coddington Commission.[1] Their daughter Sarah married Joseph Eliot, the son of Puritan minister and missionary, John Eliot.[1]

Brenton's son William (died 1697) had a son Jahleel (1691–1767), who served as the first commander of the Artillery Company of Newport. He married as his first wife, Frances Cranston, the daughter of Governor Samuel Cranston, and had 15 children, the eighth of whom was also named Jahleel.[15] This Jahleel (1729–1802) was a loyalist during the American Revolution, lost his property in Newport, and became an admiral in the British navy. He in turn had a son, Sir Jahleel Brenton (1770–1844), who also had a distinguished career in the British Navy, attaining the rank of vice admiral.[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Anderson 1995, p. 222.
  2. ^ a b c Anderson 1995, p. 218.
  3. ^ a b c Austin 1887, p. 252.
  4. ^ a b c d Anderson 1995, p. 220.
  5. ^ a b c d e Austin 1887, p. 254.
  6. ^ a b Anderson 1995, p. 224.
  7. ^ a b Anderson 1995, p. 219.
  8. ^ a b c Arnold 1859, p. 275.
  9. ^ Bicknell 1920, p. 1026.
  10. ^ a b c Bicknell 1920, p. 1027.
  11. ^ Brenton 1877, p. 4.
  12. ^ Rust 2004, p. 107.
  13. ^ Bicknell 1920, p. 1028.
  14. ^ Rhode Island State Parks 1976.
  15. ^ Austin 1887, p. 255.
  16. ^ Theodora DuBois Papers 2004.


  • Anderson, Robert Charles (1995). The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620–1633. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society. ISBN 978-0-88082-120-9.
  • Arnold, Samuel Greene (1859). History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Vol.1. New York: D. Appleton & Company.
  • Austin, John Osborne (1887). Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island. Albany, New York: J. Munsell's Sons. ISBN 978-0-8063-0006-1.
  • Bicknell, Thomas Williams (1920). The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Vol.3. New York: The American Historical Society. pp. 1025–1028.
  • Brenton, Elizabeth C. (1877). History of Brenton's Neck from 1638. John P. Sanborn, printer, Mercury Office.
  • Rust, Val D. (2004). Radical Origins, Early Mormon Converts and Their Colonial Ancestors. University of Illinois Board of Trustees. ISBN 0-252-02910-0.

Online sources

Further reading

External links

Aquidneck Island

Aquidneck Island, officially Rhode Island, is an island in Narragansett Bay and in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, which is partially named after the island. The total land area is 97.9 km2 (37.8 sq mi), which makes it the largest island in the bay. The 2000 United States Census reported its population as 60,870.

Aquidneck Island is home to three towns, from north to south: Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport.

Boston Board of Selectmen

The Boston Board of Selectmen was the governing board for the town of Boston from the 17th century until 1822. Selectmen were elected to six-month terms early in the history of the board, but later were elected to one-year terms.

In colonial days selectmen included William Clark. At the time of the American Revolution, the selectmen were John Hancock, Joseph Jackson, Samuel Sewall, William Phillips, Timothy Newell, John Ruddock, John Rowe and Samuel Pemberton.

Brenton Point State Park

Brenton Point State Park is a public recreation area occupying 89 acres (36 ha) at the southwestern tip of Aquidneck Island in the town of Newport, Rhode Island. The state park offers wide vistas of the Atlantic Ocean where it meets Narragansett Bay. The park lies adjacent to the Newport Country Club, part of Newport's Ocean Drive Historic District. It is managed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Division of Parks and Recreation, and is overseen by the staff at nearby Fort Adams State Park.

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Hammersmith Farm

Hammersmith Farm is a Victorian mansion and estate located at 225 Harrison Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island, United States. It was the childhood home of First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, and the site of the reception for her 1953 wedding to U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy. During his presidency, it was referred to as the "Summer White House".

List of colonial governors of Rhode Island

This is a list of the "judges," presidents, and governors of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations from 1638 to 1776.

List of early settlers of Rhode Island

This is a collection of lists of early settlers (before 1700) in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Most of the lists are of the earliest inhabitants of a particular town or area.

List of lieutenant governors of Rhode Island

The Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island is Daniel McKee. He assumed office January 6, 2015.

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Rhode Island Royal Charter

The Rhode Island Royal Charter was a document providing royal recognition to the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, approved by England's King Charles II in July 1663. It outlined many freedoms for the inhabitants of that colony and was the guiding document of the government of Rhode Island over a period of 180 years. It was the oldest constitutional charter in the world at the time of its retirement in 1843.

The charter contains unique provisions which make it significantly different from the charters granted to the other English colonies. It gave the colonists freedom to elect their own governor and write their own laws, within very broad guidelines, and also stipulated that no person residing in the colony could be "molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any differences in opinion in matters of religion."

The charter was not replaced until 1843, after serving for nearly two centuries as the guiding force of the Colony and then the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Historian Thomas Bicknell, a 19th century commissioner of schools in Rhode Island, described it as "the grandest instrument of human liberty ever constructed."

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Werner von Janowski

Werner Alfred Waldemar von Janowski, (Abwehr-codenamed "Bobbi"; Allied-codenamed WATCHDOG), was a captured German Second World War Nazi spy and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's first double agent. He is believed to have been a triple agent by some, underscoring the RCMP's inexperience in espionage.

Due to power struggles between the Canadian and British intelligence agencies during the Second World War and the RCMP's inexperience, Operation Watchdog was a failure. Janowski provided little significant intelligence to the Allies: no Abwehr agents were arrested and no U-boats were captured, despite his apparent cooperation. Within a year the operation was shut down and Janowski was sent to a prison in Britain.Janowski disembarked from the German submarine U-518 submarine at Chaleur Bay, four miles west of New Carlisle, Quebec, around 5 a.m., on November 9, 1942. His destination was Montreal, having first to stop in New Carlisle so he could take the first train out.

At 6:30 a.m., under the alias of William Brenton, Janowski checked in at Hotel New Carlisle. The son of the hotel owner grew suspicious of him, due to inconsistencies with the German spy's story. He used an out-of-circulation Canadian note when paying his bill to the owner's son and when he left to wait at the train station the suspicious son of the hotelier followed him.Constable Alfonse Duchesneau of the Quebec Provincial Police was alerted to the situation, and he boarded the train car just as it was leaving the station. Duchesneau intercepted Janowski, who maintained he was William Brenton, a radio salesman from Toronto. When his baggage was searched, Janowski immediately said to Duchesneau, "Searching my luggage won't be necessary. I am a German officer who serves his country as you serve yours."After his capture and interrogation, the Canadian military attempted to locate the German submarine in which Janowski had arrived. Despite an extensive search of Chaleur Bay, both the warship HMCS Burlington and assisting Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft were unable to locate U-518.In late August 1943, Janowski was sent to England, where he was incarcerated at Camp 020. He remained there for the duration of the war. He was repatriated to an internment camp in the British Zone of Germany in July 1945. Released in 1947, Janowski had no home to return to, as Allenstein and most of East Prussia had been annexed by Poland and its population expelled. He eventually found work as a translator, and in the 1960s worked for the German Navy. Janowski died in Spain in 1978 while on a holiday.

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