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.
Local History Librarian, South Kingstown Public Library
Bossy, Kathleen and Mary Keane. Lost South Kingstown. Kingston RI: Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, 2004.