1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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 Blackstone Canal Company Records

 Rhode Island and Massachusetts

 Records, 1825-1850

 Size: 0.5 linear foot

 Catalog number: MSS 296

 Processed by: Lori Salotto, June 2000

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            The idea to build a canal from Providence to Worcester had been thought of in the 1790s by John Brown. However, the idea did not meet fruition due to Boston blocking the effort. With the opening of the Erie Canal the idea of canal was brought to the foreground again in the 1820s. Investment capital was readily available in the 1820s and the principal investors from Rhode Island were Nicholas Brown, Thomas P. Ives, and Edward Carrington. In March 1823 the Massachusetts legislature passed an act of incorporation for a company to build a canal from Worcester to Providence. Rhode Island followed suit in June 1823 even though mill owners had serious concerns about water rights infringements by the canal company.

            Immediately upon incorporation, committees were set up to conduct surveys, buy right-of-ways, sell stock subscriptions, and negotiate contracts for construction. From 1823 to 1825 Rhode Island and Massachusetts had two separate companies set up to build the canal. They united in 1825 as the Blackstone Canal Company. Providence began excavating in 1824, while Worcester did not start until 1826. The company had thought the canal could be completed by 1827, but it was not functional until mid1828. July 1828 saw the first partial trip up the canal from Providence to Albion. The first complete trip between Providence and Worcester was in October, and then serious activity did not start until November.

            The Canal Company did well for the first couple of years, peaked in 1832, but decline from that point onward. 1833 saw the start of many suits against the company by mill owners for infringement on their water rights. Sections three through six of the company's charter delineated how they would regulate the water diversion and if they impeded on the mill owners they had one hour from the time of a lockage to restore the water. This proved to be impossible to accomplish. The company could not prove that it had not taken water below the low water line because they had not put a gauge on the instrument taking the water. After several years and many appeals the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the mill owners, in 1840, and fined the company $8,450. The judges had hoped that the mill owners would not seek payment and the company would change its ways. However, the mill owners had every intention of seeking redress. The company claimed they did not have the money for repairs of the canal, much less the money to pay the mill owners. After 1841 the canal company saw a steady decline in their traffic and revenue due in part to competition from railroads. By 1845 the Massachusetts part of the canal sold out to the Providence-Worcester Railroad. The Rhode Island section remained open until 1848 with virtually no traffic. The company had wanted to dissolve much earlier, but the manufacturers urged the state not to allow dissolution.

            The Blackstone Canal Company may have been a business failure, but it did have some positive effects. The failure came because of the issue of water rights issue, the need to close seasonally due to ice, and susceptibility to floods and drought. Unfortunately, the canal became obsolete due to the building of the railroad from Providence to Worcester. However, the company and the canal itself did open up and accelerate development in the Blackstone Valley; Providence increased in importance as a port; the canal had been a source of commerce for a time being, and had improved and regulated water flow in the area.


"Opinion of Judges of the Supreme Court Acting as Referees in Cases of William Allen and Others, Owners of Mills on the Blackstone River, Against the Blackstone Canal Company." Providence: 1840.

Greenwood, Richard E. "Natural Run & Artificial Falls: Waterpower and the Blackstone Canal." Rhode Island History 49, no. 2, (May 1991): 51-61.

Lewis, Edward.The Blackstone Valley Line: The Story of the Blackstone Canal Company and the Providence & Worcester Railroad, 5-12. Seekonk: The Baggage Car, 1973.

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Scope and content:

            This collection ranges in date from 1825 to 1850. It consists of board meeting records (minutes and various reports) and a locations and appraisals book detailing locations for the prosed canals with appraisals of each location. There is also a small folder of miscellaneous items which included stock certificates and various agreements with mill owners.

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            These records were apparently donated as part of a large collection of Thomas A. Jenckes legal papers by descendant Stephen Hunt Jenckes in 1941. The accession was identified by the tags reading "Thomas A. Jenckes Collection," which are similar to others used for 1941 gifts. The collection is also mentioned in a 1949 memorandum regarding the Carrington Papers.

            Other extensive records relating to the Blackstone Canal Company can still be found in the Carrington Family Papers (Mss 333), the Richard Ward Greene Papers (Mss 144), and the Thomas A. Jenckes Family Papers (Mss 127).

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Processing note:

            The bound volumes in this collection were foldered and along with a folder of miscellaneous material were rehoused in a Hollinger box.

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Box 1, folder 1. Board meeting minutes and reports, 1825-1850,

Box 1, folder 2. Locations and appraisals book, 1825-1833

Box 1, folder 3. Miscellaneous, 1825-1849

            Permission given to any two board commissioners to locate and build for the canal, 1825

            Stock certificates, 1827, 1830

            Copy of indenture between Welcome and Darius Farnum and the Blackstone Canal Company, 1827

            Contract made by Wilbur Kelly, on behalf of the Blackstone Canal Company, to Richard Loyd, 1829

            Copy of a citation in Blackstone Canal Company vs. James F. Simmons,1841

            Edward Mallett (?) selling his stock to William Chaises (?), 1841

            Deed from Blackstone Canal Company to Christopher and William Rhodes, 1843

            Deed from Blackstone Canal Company to Christopher and William Rhodes, 1847

Bill of sale from the Blackstone Canal Company to Christopher Rhodes for the Stone Lock and one dock, 1849

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Canals - Rhode Island

Carrington, Edward

Commerce - Massachusetts

Commerce - Rhode Island

Jenckes, Thomas A.

Transportation - Massachusetts

Transportation - Rhode Island

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