John Warner

 

John Warner was born in England possibly about 1589 to Timothy and Margaret (maiden name maybe Dover) Warner. He married Pricilla Holliman, daughter of Ezekiel and Susannah Holliman. There is some dispute whether John and Pricilla were married in England or Rhode Island. According to some sources he arrived in America in April 1635.

 

John Warner was one of the earlier inhabitants of Providence Plantation—following the “twelve loving friends” Roger Williams initially welcomed to Providence. He was one of the signers of an agreement known as the Providence Agreement (1637):


"We whose names are hereunder desirous to inhabit in the town of Providence, do promise to subject ourselves in active or passive obedience, to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for public good of the body in any orderly way, by the major assent of the present inhabitants, members of families incorporated together into a town fellowship, and such others as they shall admit unto themselves, only in civil things."


He had one of the “home lots” and he was involved in the early government of Providence. The History of Warwick, Rhode Island states that he also served as Secretary of the General Court of the Colony of Providence Plantations. He also served on a committee of four to settle disputes over the dividing line of the inhabitants of Pawtuxet and Providence.


Records testify that there were many disputes within the community, often over boundary lines between Pawtuxet and Providence and disputes over civil government of the colony. Sometimes the inhabitants even came to blows and Massachusetts Bay Colony eventually became involved.


As described in the Samuel Gorton biography, a number of those at Providence decided to remove themselves a further distance from Massachusetts’ jurisdiction. John Warner along with ten others, purchased from Miantonomi, chief sachem of the Narragansett, what was called the Shawomet Purchase for “…one hundredth and ffortie 4 ffatham of wamppampeague.”


Although Warner was one of the original purchasers of Shawomet (Warwick), he like others did not move there immediately following the purchase—hoping to harvest his crops at Providence before he and his family moved.  As Massachusetts Colony became more “aggressive” towards the settlers, those remaining at Providence were compelled to leave.


The little group of settlers at Shawomet had little time for quarrel, setting to work immediately to build shelter and provide for their families. There was“no strife” among the “half a dozen men” and really no need for any kind of judiciary as they were diligently laboring to clear the forest and erect four cabins in less than a year before they were “carried off to Boston.”


September 12, 1643, John Warner, along with others living at Warwick, were summoned to Boston by the Massachusetts Court. The men did not comply, in fact wrote a scathing letter in reply (believed written by Samuel Gorton) rejecting the summons and soon, Massachusetts sent a contingent of officers and soldiers to arrest them. The men, learning of the approach of the officers, resisted—barricading themselves inside one of the homes. The arresting officers even attempted to burn the house, but the group managed to put the fire out. The officers called for reinforcements and it was then that the men of Warwick surrendered with the agreement they would go with them to Boston if allowed to go as neighbors. The officers agreed to their request until they came forth, then bound them and paraded them through the towns on the way to Boston. It was the opinion of the magistrates that these men "held blasphemous errors which they must repent of" or go to trial. The men were jailed, tried, convicted and sentenced to hard labor in chains and leg irons in various towns with strict orders not to speak their “heresies.”


The people of the towns treated them with great kindnesses and the public sentiment was such that the magistrates had no recourse but to release them all, with threatenings of death if they found them in Massachusetts jurisdiction, which of course at this time, Massachusetts asserted that even Shawomet was under their jurisdiction. One of the men, Francis Weston died from the hardships of the imprisonment and labor. The difficulties the group endured and subsequent successes finally attained are described in greater detail in the biography of Samuel Gorton.


John Warner was Warwick’s first town clerk. Historians commented on the records, writing that “…they were more than ordinarily neatly kept; much of them written in good stenography.” He served as a member of the Town Council, and also Deputy and Assistant for the town of Warwick from 1647 to 1652.


John Warner became cross-wise with the Warwick Town Council over a dispute with a Dutch trading expedition who had boarded with him while their boat was anchored there. In settling their accounts there was a disagreement and the Dutch appealed to the court for assistance.  Warner didn’t appear in his own defense which brought an automatic judgment against him. There was a list of charges against him but the one that seemed to carry the greatest consequences was : “For his employing an agent in his behalf to write to the Massachusetts; thereby going about to enthrall the liberties of the town, to the great indignity of the honored State of England, who granted the said privileges unto us.”  This was considered a breach of the “grand law” [1]  of the town.


He was removed from holding office, no longer allowed to vote in matters concerning the town and a notice was posted that his house and property would be forfeited because of “breach of the grand law” until at such time he met with them to resolve the issues.


"That the house and land of John Warner situate and being in the sayd towne be attached forwith upon suspicion of unsufferable treacherie against the town, to the forfeiture of the sayd house and land…”


The property was released back to him within the next month but in the process of all the dissension, John Warner made arrangements for he and his family to return to England, leaving only his baby daughter Rachel behind in Rhode Island. It is recorded in the town records that he conveyed all of his holdings to the town for the use and support of his daughter Rachel. A number of accounts state that he died at sea about 1654—possibly enroute to England or returning to Rhode Island. There is some dispute of where Pricilla died, one account listing her death in Warwick, Rhode Island in 1652, another stating she died in London.


Ezekiel Holliman, John Warner’s father-in-law, later sent for his grandson, John Warner, Jr. to return to Rhode Island to inherit his grandfather’s property. According to dates, it appears he would have been a child when he returned to Rhode Island. Sources list his birth at Shawomet Plantation as August 1, 1645.


In 1659, John Warner Jr. bound himself to William Field of Providence as an apprentice “by consent of overseers or fathers…ensuing agreeing to keep his master’s secrets, not frequent taverns or ale houses, etc., to be found by William Field with convenient apparel, meat and drink and lodging and not to be assigned by his master to anyone without consent of overseers, nor was he to be removed out of the Colony and when set free to have one new suit of apparel.” In 1665 he drew a lot in a division of lands and also that year he had a legacy of a young mare from William Field.


John Jr. was involved in the civil affairs of the town of Warwick, serving as Deputy to the Assembly  in 1672, 1674, 1679, 1683, 1685 and 1690. Records also show he contributed to the building of the Quaker meeting-house at Mashapaug.


He married Ann Gorton, Samuel Gorton’s daughter, and they had ten children. Their daughter Mary Warner married Jeremiah Westcott, Stukely Westcott’s grandson. John Warner Jr. died in 1712 in Warwick. 


Doyle Davidson and David Kaspareit are both descendants of John Warner and John Warner, Jr.


 Compiled by Kathryn Currier
July 20, 2012

 

[1] “The ‘grand law’ was a compact made by the town in 1647, and confirmed the following year, by which the inhabitants bound themselves not to convey their lands to any other jurisdiction, on pain of disenfranchisement and of forfeiture of the whole estate to the town.” (The History of Warwick)

 

Sources: The Life and Times of Samuel Gorton by Adelos Gorton (1907); The History of Warwick, Rhode Island: from its settlement in 1642 to the present time: including accounts of the early settlement; One Hundred and Sixty Allied Families by John Osborne Austin; Randall and Allied Families at Rootsweb; 1999 Perry Streeter @ mailto:perry@streeter.com @http://www.perry.streeter.com.

 

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