Slavery at Smith's Castle

Link to Brief Biographies of Slaves at Cocumscussoc

Smith’s Castle was built in 1678 as a replacement for an earlier structure which was destroyed by the Narragansett Tribe during King Philip’s War. The land on which the house was built was known as Cocumscussoc and was the original site of Roger Williams’ trading post.

Williams was the founder of Rhode Island and a prominent Baptist theologian. He built the trading post on the site in 1637 to trade with the Narragansetts after receiving the land from the tribe. Eventually, Williams sold the trading post to Richard Smith to finance his trip to Great Britain to secure a charter for Rhode Island.

Later it was transferred to the Updike family of Wickford, and became a large slave-holding plantation which occasionally participated in the slave trade as well. Robert Geake describes the breadth of the plantation:

Rhode Island historian Robert Fitts discovered that,

The nineteen slaves noted in Daniel Updike’s probate inventory is the largest slave-holding listed in a primary source from Narragansett. Wilkins [Updike]’s father, Lodowick, was also involved in the slave trade. In 1802, Lodowick financed the schooner Betsy to go from Newport to the coast Of Africa with Stops at Savannah and the West Indies (Washington County Supreme Court 1802).

An 1802 insurance policy on Lodowick Updike’s schooner, Betsy, shows that [it] was loaded with a cargo of cheese, grains, flax, hemp, sugar and tobacco, [and] stopped at Savannah before continuing to the African coast and from there to the West Indies (Washington County Supreme Court Records n.d.). (Inventing New England’s Slave Paradise: Master/slave Relations in Eighteenth Century Narragansett, Rhode Island, Robert K. Fitts, 1998, p.24, 78)

Later still, apparently rushing to cash in before the pending abolition of the slave trade, Gilbert Updike in 1805 launched a slave voyage to Africa on the snow Mary, purchasing 100 captives, and then landing the surviving 85 in Cuba, almost half of them children. (David Eltis, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, ).


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"The plantation at Cocumscussoc would reach its peak about the mid-eighteenth century, encompassing some three thousand acres, exporting goods from both the stone dock at Cocumscussoc, and [Daniel Updike’s] brother John’s dock in Wickford, which included a warehouse and a large wharf, which jutted out towards Cornelius Island. Daniel Updike would leave 19 slaves on the plantation in the charge of his heir Lodowick Updike, who raised a large family at Cocumscussoc and oversaw the transformation of the Plantation during the Revolutionary War and its aftermath. The loss of slaves, both those who had fought for their freedom, and those later emancipated in 1784, as well as the loss of trade, was a death knell to the planter economy. The Updike’s attempted to diversify at the turn of the 19th century by expanding the family trade into Asia, before financial misfortune, the embargo of 1807-1809, and the War of 1812, forced the last heir Wilkins Updike to sell the plantation on December 31st of that year."

- American Plantations by Robert Geake, 2017

Daniel's inventory. Courtesy of Smith's Castle.

Robert Geake of Smith's Castle with the Medallion.