Elizabeth M. Wilson, South Kingstown’s First Woman Town Clerk

Elizabeth M. Wilson of Wakefield was appointed by Town Manager Stephen Alfred in November, 1978 to succeed Foster Sheldon as Town Clerk. The first woman to hold the position since the Town’s 1723 incorporation, she was also only the fourth person to serve as Town Clerk in 120 years, and the first one to be appointed to the post–formerly, Town Clerks had to be elected. She had a long record of government and volunteer service, and had served as Deputy Town Clerk for 4 years prior to her appointment.

The Great Gale of 1815



The Great Gale of 1815 battered South Kingstown (which then included Narragansett), sweeping away the Point Judith Lighthouse and taking numerous lives there and at Narrow River. Its severity was not surpassed until the 1938 Hurricane. Both Nailer Tom’s Diary and Cole’s 1889 History of Washington and Kent Counties describe this storm.

The 1723 Incorporation of South Kingstown, Rhode Island

The place we know today as South Kingstown was for thousands of years, and still is, part of the home of the Narragansett Indian nation. Things changed rapidly here in the 1600’s, when English colonists began arriving in ever-increasing numbers. After several turbulent decades, the colonists prevailed in establishing control of the area.

The Rhode Island Colony’s General Assembly, acting under the authority of the King of England, over time divided the Narragansett Country into various towns, including, in 1674, one called Kingstown (named for King Charles II (1630-1685).

By 1722, Kingstown was proving too large to manage as a single town. That year, the General Assembly put in motion the process of dividing it. Finally, on February 26, 1723, the members “voted and enacted” that Kingstown should be divided into North Kingstown and South Kingstown, and that both towns should “govern themselves accordingly.” Since that time, South Kingstown has had a place in the roster of Rhode Island cities and towns.

Robert Beverly Hale Library

Robert Beverly Hale (1869-1895), beloved son of Edward Everett Hale and a promising writer himself, died unexpectedly in his mid-twenties of typhoid fever. His family and many friends raised money and collected books to establish a library in his memory near the Hale family’s Matunuck summer home. Dedicated June 26, 1897, the Hale Library continues to offer library books, media, programs, and services to South Kingstown residents.

A Brief Early History of South Kingstown High School

A new “South Kingstown High School” opened in October, 1880 with 48 students. It was funded by student tuition payments and bequests from Edward Mott Robinson (1800-1865) and later Rowland Hazard (1829-1898). Despite its public-sounding name, until 1904 “South Kingstown High School” was open only to students who could pay tuition. Public sentiment eventually rallied toward town support, and the town’s 1903 Financial Meeting voted to enable the High School’s adoption into the town’s school system. This was ratified a year later, and free high school education became available in South Kingstown.

Here is an early picture of South Kingstown High School. It was located near the corner of Columbia and School Streets. The building was later moved down School Street. 

An overview of mills in South Kingstown

Indigenous communities knew and revered local rivers and streams for millennia before Europeans arrived in the area now known as South Kingstown. After the 1658 Pettaquamscutt Purchase imposed changes in land use, water-powered mills of numerous kinds began to dot the landscape.

Grist mills still in operation (producing corn meal from Rhode Island Flint Corn) include the 1703 Samuel Perry Grist Mill in Perryville, and the 1696 Kenyon Grist Mill in Usquepaugh. Biscuit City and other locations also had grist mills prior to 1800.  

The Saugatucket River powered a fulling mill (for processing wool) at that time.  Rowland Hazard (1763-1835) became a partner with owner Benjamin Rodman (1725-1821?), in 1802. Hazard, an innovator with ties to southern markets, reportedly installed in Peace Dale the first carding machine in any Rhode Island mill in 1805, and a power loom in 1813. His sons Isaac Peace Hazard (1799-1874) and Rowland Gibson Hazard (1801-1888) introduced additional power sources and developed a large and thriving enterprise.

The Rodman family, notably Daniel Rodman (1805-1880) and Samuel Rodman (1800-1882), who were related to the Hazards, also prospered in the town’s 19th-century textile industry, with mills in Rocky Brook, Wakefield, and Mooresfield.

These operations, like many in Rhode Island, produced kersey woolens and Kentucky jean cloth, also known as slave or Negro cloth, for southern markets. After the Civil War, some mills did not survive. The Hazard enterprise was able to diversify; the family sold it in 1918.

Some additional locations with 19th-century textile mills in South Kingstown included Usquepaugh, Glen Rock, Green Hill, Perryville, and South Ferry.  Not all these buildings survived, but some mills, and a significant amount of mill workers’ housing, remain standing in repurposed use today.

Jessica Wilson

Local History Librarian, South Kingstown Public Library


Bossy, Kathleen and Mary Keane. Lost South Kingstown. Kingston RI: Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, 2004.

Rhode Island Historical Society Finding Aid for Peace Dale Manufacturing Company.

Wilson, Jessica. “Joseph P. Hazard’s 1825 Peace Ville Map”. SKPL History Blog, July 2020.