First of all let me say I am no expert on the Rhode Island Arnolds. But until you find one, here is what I know about them. Of all the email I get, a good 25% contains questions about the Arnolds, so I’m putting some thoughts down here.
There are two original Rhode Island Arnold families:
- The Smithfield Arnolds (Thomas Arnold). Early descendants tend to be in Providence or north of Providence.
- the Pawtuxet/Warwick Arnolds (William Arnold). Early descendants tend to be south of Providence.
I am descended from the Smithfield Arnolds, with a possible unproven connection to the Pawtuxet/Warwick Arnolds.
My Smithfield Arnold line of descent is: my grandmother Edna May Darling – her father Russell Earl Darling (1883-1959) – Addison Parmenter Darling (1856-1933) – Ellis Aldrich Darling (1824-1883) – Nancy Ann Aldrich (1800-1879) – Marcy Ballou (1778 – ?) – Lucy Arnold (c1755 – ?) - Thomas Arnold (1733-1798) – Thomas Arnold (1705-1765) – Richard Arnold (1660-1745) – Richard Arnold (1643-1710) – Thomas Arnold (1600 – 1674).
Let’s start with the Smithfield Arnolds
Descendants of Thomas Arnold of Smithfield, Rhode Island are in luck, because some excellent work has been done on this line by noted genealogist Richard H. Benson, The Arnold Family of Smithfield, Rhode Island (2009). If you are tracing your genealogy and you think you are descended in this family, you should own this book, or at the very least, borrow it through interlibrary-loan at your local library and study it carefully.
Benson begins with a review of the misconception that William and Thomas were brothers, or otherwise closely related. That idea is based on a rather spectacular failure in 1870’s genealogy – a genealogist was hired to do research in England, and returned with an appealing and mostly faked report. This misinformation was repeated for a couple decades, then disproved. My recommendation to anyone researching Arnolds in Rhode Island is to treat the two families separately, and ignore any implication – in older, otherwise dependable works – that there was a relationship.
He goes on to provide documentation of the first five generations of the Thomas Arnold descendants, with an extensive bibliography. In many cases names of the 6th generations are given. Some of the more famous descendants include:
- Welcome Arnold (1745-1798), Providence merchant and possible conspirator in the 1772 burning of the schooner Gaspee
- jurists Thomas Arnold (my 7x-great grandfather; see his grave here) (1705-1765) and his son Peleg Arnold
- Eleazer Arnold (1651 – 1722), son of the original settler Thomas, whose large “Splendid Mansion” house survives today in Lincoln (formerly Smithfield), Rhode Island and is known as the Eleazer Arnold House.
Eleazer Arnold and others helped to build an early Quaker meeting house nearby. The first few generations of this family tended to be Quakers.
And now, the Pawtuxet/Warwick Arnolds
William Arnold was a contemporary of Roger Williams, and settled in an area south of Providence, along the bay, called Pawtuxet (now part of Warwick and Cranston). Unlike many early English settlers, he actually brought documentation with him of his family’s vital records back in England. So genealogically speaking, the family was off to a good start.
William prospered, and accumulated significant property. There is more about William’s life on Wikipedia. His son Benedict became the first Governor of the State of Rhode Island. Proud, perhaps, of that name, there were an additional four succeeding generations in a direct line that carried the name, leading to Benedict Arnold, born 1741 in Norwich, Connecticut.
Our own Benedict Arnold
I suppose, rightly or wrongly, most Americans do not feel sympathetic to Benedict Arnold, the American Revolutionary War military officer who became discontented with his lot and transferred his allegiance to the British, and fought on the other side. As familiar as the name is today, and as despised as it is, I think feelings ran even higher in the 19th century.
This leads me to the reason I personally am very angry with Benedict Arnold. In the 19th century, Rhode Island was the home of one of New England’s leading genealogists, a pioneer in the field, the person responsible for a great deal of the early work on Rhode Island vital records and cemetery transcription. James Newell Arnold founded a genealogy journal, The Narragansett Historical Register, produced the 21-volume Vital Record of Rhode Island, and performed some similar work in nearby states.
Why didn’t James N. Arnold produce a definitive genealogy of the Arnolds, including the William Arnold descendants? I mean, the index cards were probably sitting right there in his undoubtedly crowded and dusty genealogy study. I have only begun to explore his manuscripts, but there certainly was no published compiled genealogy. I have a suspicion that he might have neglected this because he didn’t want to admit his kinship with Benedict Arnold. My suspicion is based on a remark of his that I read years ago and failed to record (I had no idea I was related to the Arnolds then) claiming that Benedict was absolutely not descended from any Rhode Island Arnolds. Although I suppose it’s possible he was fascinated with collecting and editing information, not so much with analyzing and compiling it. I wonder if I will ever figure this out?
For a slight indication of the spirit of denial, this is from the index of my digital copy of the 1935 book “The Arnold Memorial” by Elisha Stephen Arnold (marked as a “Genealogical Society of Utah” copy).
Which Benedict Arnold appears on page 132?
The page ends with a list of his children. It’s a bizarre rendition of the life of traitor Benedict Arnold which, I should think, fooled no one. I wonder if the crossed-out index entry was meant to deny that this Benedict belonged in this lineage, or to simply express displeasure at his existence.
What we do have on the William Arnold descendants
So, lacking the truly good work we could have had from James N. Arnold, we must turn instead to a variety of inadequate compiled genealogies on the William Arnold descendants. They are listed at the bottom of this page.
The books tend to focus on the wealthier descendants – perhaps that is by necessity, since Warwick vital records are far more complete among well to do families, and there are more probate and real estate records for such families, or perhaps it is somewhat intentional. Because of that original documentation by William Arnold and a few generations of his descendants, the early genealogy is quite complete. It’s the later generations that get spotty.
If you are studying Arnolds
In each of the two Arnold families, there was of course a great deal of intermarriage with the other early local settlers in that region. For the Smithfield Arnolds, this means the Comstocks, Smiths, Ballous, Whipples, Steeres, Aldriches, Buffums, Manns, and Inmans. If you descend from these Arnolds, you have interesting ancestors in the other lines, too. Remember that what was originally Smithfield is now Smithfield, North Smithfield, Lincoln, Greeneville, Cumberland, and Woonsocket. My Arnold ancestors lived at one point in Union Village, North Smithfield, and some of their graves are at the Union Cemetery.
For the Pawtuxet/Warwick Arnolds, there was intermarriage with the Greenes, Gortons, Holdens, Wickes, Westcotts, Rhodes, and Carpenters. Settlement of Warwick spread quickly to the south and west of Pawtuxet and eventually the towns of West Warwick and Coventry were split off. Cranston was nearby on the north and East Greenwich on the south. Certainly, for descendants, a visit to the village of Pawtuxet is in order, plus the Warwick Historical Society which is located up the road in the John Waterman Arnold House.
In the beginning, Warwick and Smithfield held agricultural settlements which grew out of Providence, with accompanying forges, grain mills, etc. But around 1800 small textile mills began to spring up around Rhode Island’s rivers and streams. Both locations were impacted, resulting in mill towns like Woonsocket and West Warwick. Although there is less manufacturing going on in those locations today, many of Rhode Island’s towns show remnants of many overlapping historical eras – several centuries of growth and change. Surprisingly, even the late 1600’s era can be glimpsed from time to time along the bay, in rural areas like northern Cumberland and western Coventry, in historic cities such as Newport, and in the many small historic sites such as Smith’s Castle in North Kingstown.
If you have a mystery in this line, you are welcome to leave a query here in the comments. Perhaps someone else will have an answer. But please also use the sources I’ve listed below and the “Free Rhode Island Resources” link up top to see what you can find, as well as many other research strategies. Perhaps you could add a few sources that you know of in the comments. The Arnolds are not easy to research; there are a LOT of them, and many other early families in other states. Good luck!!
Some sources for the Smithfield Arnolds
Benson, Richard H. The Arnold Family of Smithfield, Rhode Island. Boston: Newbury Street Press, 2009. Available for sale on the NEHGS web site.
“Eleazer Arnold” by William Greene Roelker in Rhode Island History, vol. 11, no. 3, (July, 1952) p. 81 (picture of the house on cover). Available on this Rhode Island Historical society web page.
Greene, Welcome Arnold. “Notes on Genealogy of the Arnold Family.” Providence: typescript, c1840 – 1914. Located at Knight Memorial Library; paper copy available at New England Historic Genealogical Society Library, Boston.
Richardson, E. History of Woonsocket. Woonsocket, R.I., 1876. Link opens the Archive.org pdf download.
“Some Arnolds of Smithfield, R.I”. by H. Minot Pitmann in Rhode Island History, vol. 13, no. 4, (October, 1954) p. 111. Includes a correction to the “Eleazer Arnold” article. Available on this Rhode Island Historical society web page.
Some sources for the Pawtuxet/Warwick Arnolds
Arnold, Charles Robbins. The William Arnold Outline: a list of persons surnamed Arnold, descendants of William Arnold of Providence and Pawtuxet, Rhode Island. 1983. [link goes to FamilySearch screen for the book]
Arnold, Elisha Stephen. The Arnold Memorial: William Arnold of Providence and Pawtuxet, 1587-1675 and a genealogy of his descendants. Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Publishing Co., 1935. [link goes to FamilySearch screen for the book]
Arnold, Ethan L. An Arnold Family Record, 323 years in America: a record of some of the descendants of William Arnold and his son, Governor Benedict Arnold of Rhode Island, and his grandson, Benedict Arnold, Junior: 1635-1958. Salem, Mass.: Higginson Book Co., 1997. [link goes to FamilySearch screen for the book]
Arnold, W.H. (William Hendrick). The Arnold Family. reprint Salem, Mass.: Higginson Book Co., 2002.
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