1.   Historical note

2.   Provenance

3.   Processing note

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 Providence Voter Lists

 1770 - 1848.

 Size: 0.25 lin. ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 214, sg 14

 Processed by: Robin Flynn, March 1998

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Freemen were owners of land who, unlike the proprietors of the town, were not entitled to any share in the division of common lands. Proprietors and freeholders, together with their eldest sons, constituted the voting class of the town of Providence. In order to qualify to vote, the freeman's land had to be worth a certain amount of money which varied from time to time. Eventually the value amount became fixed at $134.00, and only those meeting the set amount of value, and their eldest sons, were qualified to vote. Inhabitants on rare occasions could be admitted freemen "by courtesy." In his history Town and City Government in Providence, George Wilson stated that "A careful record was kept after a time of those admitted 'by producing deed' and as 'eldest son'"; and he quoted another historian's observation that the freeman system "...attached the franchise, 'not to the inhabitant,' but to the soil; and as a wrong principle always leads to error, it fostered family pride by a distant imitation of the English law of progeniture."

            The freeholder system of voting changed in the decade after Providence was incorporated as a city (1832). The restrictions in the voting system meant that only about one-third of the male population over 21 years of age was qualified to vote. The estimation that only one-third of this group actually voted meant that the affairs of the city were controlled by merely one-ninth of those who, under more liberal qualifications, would be eligible to have a say. The city's population slowly grew after its incorporation, but many young men migrated out because of the restricted franchise. A conflict between the existing body of government and those who wanted to expand the voting franchise led to the Dorr War, which in turn led to a more liberal constitution. This constitution granted limited voting rights to any male qualified by residence and age, regardless of property ownership: upon payment of a $1.00 registry tax, they could vote for civil officers of state and towns, but those who did not own property valued at a minimum of $134.00 could not vote for Providence city council, propositions to impose taxes, or expenditure of money in any town or city.



Wilson, George. Town and City Government in Providence (Providence, Tibbitts & Preston,             1889).

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            The 1840 list of freemen who voted at the presidential election was donated in 1873 by Henry T. Beckwith. The John Brown Barton list of Providence voters, dated 1825, was donated in 1890 by Albert Barton, and the 1770 list of east-side freemen was donated by Mary Rivers in 1900.

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Processing note:

            The papers were placed in archival boxes and folders. The provenance of the collection was researched and an inventory was compiled.

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Box 1, folder 1. List of freemen on east side of the river, 1770

Box 1, folder 2. List of freemen who voted for representatives for U. S. Congress, 1814

Box 1, folder 3. List of Republicans and Federalists, 1818.

Box 1, folder 4. List of Providence voters (compiled by John Brown Barton), 1825

Box 1, folder 5. List of persons proxed for L H Arnold, 16 May 1832;

            - list of subscribers who donated to cost of presidential election, 1832;

            - list of freemen, Ward 2, July 18, 1832

Box 1, folder 6. List of the freemen of the City of Providence who voted at the Presidential             election, 1840

Box 1, folder 7. List of Providence voters, 1842?

Box 1, folder 8. Copy of the Third Ward register up to December 31, 1842

Box 1, folder 9. List of voters in Pawtuxet district, 1848

Box 1, folder 10. Name list, undated

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Voting - R.I. - Providence

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