1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 William Harris Papers

 Pawtuxet, R.I.

 Papers, 1638-1845. Bulk, 1677-1700.

 Size: .75 linear feet.

 Catalog number: MSS 480

 Processed by: Unknown. Finding aid by Rick Stattler, March 1996

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            William Harris (1610-1681) was one of the original settlers of the town of Providence in 1636. The following year, he became one of the proprietors of the Pawtuxet Grant, a tract of land located in present-day Cranston, R.I., a few miles south of Providence. After 1659, much of this valuable land was offered to newer settlers, and Harris and the other original proprietors became involved in a protracted dispute over their legal claim. Harris travelled to England four times in an attempt to secure his claim to the land. In 1680, he was captured by Algerian pirates; he survived to be ransomed, but then died a few weeks later. William Harris' descendants continued the disputes over the Pawtuxet lands for many years after his death.

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Scope and content:

            The bulk of this collection consists of original documents of the immigrant William Harris (1610-1681) relating to the ongoing Pawtuxet land disputes. Most of them are dated from 1677 to 1681, including some copies of earlier documents made in 1677. There are also several letters regarding the capture and ransom of William Harris from 1680 and 1681.

            Small parts of the collection have been generated by William's son Andrew Harris (1635-1686), his son Andrew Harris Jr. (1676-1725), the senior Andrew's son Toleration Harris (1685-1767), and Toleration's son Joseph (1713-1786). There are also many documents copied or compiled by Harris descendants Moses Brown (1738-1836) and his step-son William Jenkins Harris (1808-1893), including both historical and genealogical material.

            This collection is one of the largest unified collections of seventeenth-century Rhode Island papers at the R.I.H.S.L. It is related to MSS 17, the Harris Family Papers, which also include a small amount of William Harris material. There are also other Harris documents in the miscellaneous papers held by the Society, including an important ten-page letter by William Harris describing the events of King Philip's War.

            Most of the documents in this collection were published in 1902 as part of Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, volume X, which compiled all of the various known collections of William Harris papers. At the time, this particular collection was still held by the Cushman family, and each of the letters are cited as part of the "Cushman Papers."

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            This collection seems to have passed in a direct line of descent through the following: William Harris the settler, to Andrew, to Toleration, to Joseph, to Elisha, to Bates, to William J. Harris. William J. Harris seems to have inherited some of the research notes of his step-father Moses Brown (who was also a descendant of William Harris but does not seem to have added any original Harris papers of his own). The full collection then passed on to William J. Harris' daughter Mary Elizabeth Cushman (1838-1915). The first volume of papers was placed in the Historical Society before Mary Harris Cushman's death in 1915; a second volume arrived around 1941, probably through her son Franklin R. Cushman (1870-1952). The collection was originally known as the Harris-Cushman Papers or the Cushman Papers.

            Moses Brown's complicated relationship to the Harris family might be useful to explain. His grandmother, Ann Harris Brown, was the sister of Toleration Harris. Moses Brown was also raised by his uncle Obadiah Brown, whose wife was Mary (Harris) Brown, a daughter of Toleration Harris. Moses married his first cousin Ann Brown, daughter of Obadiah and Mary (Harris) Brown. His third wife was Sarah (Lockwood) Harris, widow of Bates Harris, a great-grandson of Toleration Harris.

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Processing note:

            This collection seems to have once been bound in two scrapbooks, and was probably removed into individual folders around 1975. It is currently housed in archival flat folders, but in non-archival boxes. Some items relating to Moses and Obadiah Brown seem to have been removed to the various Brown family papers.

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Box 1. Includes original scrapbook pages 1-45.

Pages 1-25 are dated 1638-1675, and are mostly marked as copies made for William Harris from official records.

            Pages 26-45 are dated 1677-1678, regarding land dispute. 

Box 2. Includes pages 46-90, dated 1678-1694.

            Pages 46-61 are dated 1678-1679, regarding land dispute.

Pages 62-76 are dated 1679-1681, and contain correspondence regarding Harris' voyage to England, capture, ransom, death and estate.

Pages 77-90 are dated 1681-1694, and mostly regard William Harris' estate and land claim. They are mostly addressed to his widow Susannah Harris and their son Andrew Harris Sr., but include copies of earlier documents.

Box 3. Includes pages 91-131.

            Pages 91-97 are dated 1705-1720, mostly Andrew Harris Jr.

Pages 98-106 are dated 1727-1765, from Toleration and Joseph Harris, and also many later historical notes.

Pages 107-109 are a series of letters between Moses Brown and Thaddeus M. Harris regarding the history of the Harris family.

Page 110 includes correspondence between William J. Harris and Thaddeus M. Harris, 1845 and 1846, and a receipt from the estate of Moses Brown to William J. Harris dated 1836.

Pages 111-131 are preceded by the note "All papers after this page are copies (in the handwriting of Moses Brown or William J. Harris) of documents, the originals of which are arranged in the foregoing pages."

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Brown, Moses (1738-1836)

Cushman Papers

Harris, Andrew (1635-1686)

Harris, Joseph (1713-1786)

Harris, Toleration (1685-1767)

Harris, William (1610-1681)

Harris, William Jenkins (1808-1893)

Harris Family

Harris-Cushman Papers

Pawtuxet Proprietors

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