1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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    R.I.H.S. Library page

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 William Davis Miller Papers

 Historian, Providence, Rhode Island.

 Papers, 1769-1943. Bulk 1862-1943.

 Size: .75 lin. ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 629 SG 12

 Processed by: Robin Flynn, May 1999

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            William Davis Miller was born in Providence on November 5, 1887. He died in July, 1959. He was the son of Elizabeth LeMoine Davis and Augustus Samuel Miller, who was the mayor of Providence between 1902 and 1905.

            In his professional life, Miller was an historian, a naval officer, and a corporate vice president. Many of his interests seemed patterned after those of his ancestors. As a youth he attended local schools, including Hope High School. He graduated from Brown University in 1909 and attended Harvard Law School. During World War One, Miller enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He was commissioned an ensign in 1918 and remained on active duty until 1919. Between the two World Wars he held the rank of lieutenant commander in the U.S. Volunteer Naval Reserve. He returned to active duty in the Navy during the second World War, serving two and a half years in naval communications at Norfolk, Virginia. He was later stationed at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Navy Yard with the rank of commander.

            Miller was president of the Rhode Island Historical Society from 1932 to1934, and president of the Providence Public Library from 1929 to 1941. He published several books, pamphlets, and articles on Rhode Island and naval history, including a pamphlet on the furniture collection of naval surgeon Thomas Mawney Potter and studies of early South County silversmiths and landholders. He was involved as an officer and president of Providence Athenaeum and was a trustee of Kingston Free Library. He had memberships in numerous other academic, historical, and naval societies and libraries in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and England. Miller was a resident of Wakefield, Rhode Island. He died in Massachusetts in July, 1959. He had been a resident of Wakefield, Rhode Island.

            Some of Miller's publications, many of which were published through the Rhode Island Historical Society, are:

            The Capture of HMS Syren (1923)

            The Removal of County Seat from Tower Hill to Little Rest, 1752 (1926)

            Thomas Mount (1927)

            The Silversmiths of Little Rest (1928)

            Thomas Mount and the Flash language (1929)

            Samuel and Gideon Casey, Silversmiths (1929)

            The Samuel Sewall School Land and the Kingston Academy (1930)

            Some Ancient Roads in the Pettaquamscutt Purchase (1931)

            Correspondence of Esek Hopkins, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Navy (1933)

            The Narragansett Planters (1934)

            An Early Rhode Island Collector: Thomas Mawney Potter (1935)

            Ancient Paths to Pequot (1936)

            Volumes from bookshelves of old South County (1938?)

            Early Houses in the King's Province in the Narragansett Country (1941)

            Narragansett (1941)



Obituary, Providence Journal, July 7, 1959

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Scope and content:

            The collection is comprised primarily of Miller's research notes for his writing projects, and manuscripts and drafts (usually annotated) for the same. There are also numerous newspaper clippings, and some correspondence to Miller and a member of the Larned family, George H. (Huntington?) Larned, about whom little has been found. He may have been related to the Miller family.

            In some cases there are historical papers mixed in with Miller's research notes. These may be papers which were originally in the collection of Elisha Reynolds Potter, Jr. Miller used Potter's library for at least one of his own publications and probably for many others. Researchers may want to cross-reference Miller's papers with those of the other subgroups of MSS 629, especially Subgroup 3 (Elisha Potter, Jr.) and Subgroup 9 (silversmith Joseph Perkins). The papers of Elisha Potter Jr. include a series on Kingston Academy; the documents in the series were probably the source material for Miller's 1930 publication on the school.

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              Miller 's maternal grandparents were William Dean Davis, who was a first cousin to Elisha Reynolds Potter, Jr., and Mary E. Congdon. His great-grandmother was Elizabeth Mawney, sister of Mary Mawney, the second wife of Elisha Reynolds Potter, Sr. Miller became custodian for an extensive collection of his ancestors' papers and those of other connected families. In 1959, part of his collection was given by bequest to the Rhode Island Historical Society, and over 2000 documents were given to the University of Rhode Island. The University transferred its portion of Miller's bequest to the Society in 1968. The papers of all the related families can now be found in the twelve subgroups that comprise MSS 629.

            The notes on "Silversmiths of Colonial Rhode Island" were donated in 1977 from the estate of Mrs. William Davis Miller (Mary Heard Chew). The agreement among a group of young men regarding their engagements, 1869, was part of Miller's 1959 bequest.

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Processing note:

            The documents in this collection had been mingled in chronological arrangement with the papers of other South Kingstown families in a collection known first as the William Davis Miller Collection, then as the "Potter Papers". That collection was a merging of Miller's 1959 gift to the RIHS and the 1968 University of Rhode Island transfer, along with several other smaller gifts from various parties. In 1998, the collection was sorted into several family subgroups under a single collection number. The largest subgroups are numbers 2 and 3, the papers of Elisha Reynolds Potter Sr. and Jr., respectively.

            After separation from the rest of the collection, the William Davis Miller Papers were arranged by topic, and re-housed in acid-free folders and boxes. A January, 1940 issue of American Artist magazine containing an article on Ernest Hamlin Baker's Wakefield post office mural was transferred to the Reference Division. Two depositions by South Kingstown men Martin Murphy and Edward Lock, concerning their involvement in the capture of the ship Syren off Point Judith in 1777, and an account to Isaac Pearce concerning same, were transferred to the Revolutionary War Papers (MSS 673 sg2). Transcriptions of the depositions presumably made by Miller remain in this collection, in Box 2, folder 7.

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Correspondence and personal

Box 1.

Folder 1. Correspondence, George H. (Huntington?) Larned, 1862-1863 and undated

Folder 2. Miscellaneous, Augustus and Elizabeth LeMoine (Davis) Miller. The folder contains

            Agreement among Augustus Miller and friends re: their engagements, 1869

            Letter to Augustus Miller from Louisa B. Gaston, 1897

            Letter to Augustus Miller from Chris _____, 1905

            Bank statement, Elizabeth LeMoine Miller, 1932

            Postcard to Augustus? Miller from A.F. Miller, 1938

            Poem by Augustus Miller, undated

            Business card, A.S. Miller

Folder 3. Correspondence, William Davis Miller, 1924-1943 and undated

Folder 4. Receipts, William Davis Miller, 1918, 1932 and undated

Manuscripts, drafts, and research

Box 1.

Folder 5. "Background and Development of Naval Signal Flags"

Folder 6. "The Ministerial Land"

Folder 7. "The Narragansett Planters"

Folder 8. Drafts on the Narragansett Country and the term "Narragansett"

Folder 9. "The Original Landholders and their Lands in the Vicinity of Little Rest Hill"

Folder 10. "Shepherd Tom and the Narragansett Country"

Folder 11. "Silversmiths of Colonial Rhode Island"

Folder 12. "Thomas Mount and the Flash Language"

Research and supporting documents

Box 1.

Folder 13. Joseph Anthony? Photostats of account book, 1774

Folder 14. John Hull letterbook, notes and extracts

Folder 15. Little Rest (Kingston)

Folder 16. Edward Dalton Marchant (biographical sketch)

Folder 17. Narragansett Country

Box 2.

Folder 1. Potter homestead library: book lists and notes

Folder 2. Notes for "Silversmiths of Little Rest" (published 1928)

Folder 3. Notes for various silversmith articles

Folder 4. Supporting manuscript material, Little Rest silversmiths, 1769-1789

Folder 5. Samuel Casey (silversmith), biographical notes

Folder 6. Letter to Rowse Helme from Thomas Cranston re Cranston’s freedom, circa 1778

Folder 7. Notes on capture of H.M.S. Syren, WDM and Elisha R. Potter, Jr.

Folder 8. Copy of 1867 Narragansett Times article on Wilkins Updike, copy date 1938

Newspaper clippings and miscellaneous

Box 2.

Folder 9. Miscellaneous research. The folder contains

            Photostat of horse-breeding advertisement, Newport Mercury, 1767

            Account (photocopy), 1781

            Diary page of Ezra Stiles, 9/19 - 10/31/1777 (photocopy, from original at Yale University)

Folder 10. Miscellaneous. The folder contains

            Letter from James W. Hale to "brother Simon", 1860

            Letter to unknown recipient from "Lady Mary", undated

            Anonymous poem in book titled "David B. Lawton", undated

Folder 11. Newspaper clippings (photocopies), 1832, 1924-1948 and undated

Folder 12. Poems and typed manuscript, undated

Oversized storage:

            Newspaper clippings ("Olden Times" series and biographical), 1836-1877 and undated

            Newspapers, 1902-1938; includes 1905 issue of Evening Telegram reporting funeral of

                        Providence mayor Augustus Miller

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Anthony, Joseph

Casey, Samuel

Hull, John

Larned, George H.

Marchant, Edward Dalton

Miller, Augustus (?-1905)

Miller, William Davis (1887-1959)

Perkins, Joseph (1749-1789)

Rhode Island - History

Silversmiths - South Kingstown, R.I.

South Kingstown, R.I. - History

H.M.S. Syren

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