Heritage/history groups mark graves of Revolutionary War soldiers

From left, Irene Blais, president of Woonsocket Historical Society; Ed Walker, NSHA Cemetery Restoration Team Leader; Marcel St. Germain, member of the Friends Meeting; Christine MacWilliams, commissioner to RI Historical Cemetery Commission; and Rich Keene, presidentof the NSHA, stand in front of the Friends Meeting House.

NORTH SMITHFIELD/WOONSOCKET – Their deaths pre-date the founding not only of North Smithfield, but of Smithfield before it, and renewed efforts to remember their service and sacrifice have brought together organizations from across Rhode Island with an interest in local history and preservation.

A Veteran Grave Marking Ceremony was held on Saturday, June 17 at the Smithfield Friends Meeting Cemetery in Woonsocket. The event honored Flag Day through a collaboration between the Rhode Island Society of Sons of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, the Woonsocket Historical Society and the North Smithfield Heritage Association.

The groups marked the graves of four Revolutionary War soldiers – and honored a fifth – by placing flag holders and flags at the burial sites. It was organized as part of an ongoing effort to clean and restore cemeteries throughout northern Rhode Island, and to mark gravestones of historic significance.

The Smithfield Friends Cemetery, located just past the North Smithfield town line across the road from Union Cemetery, is the oldest in northern Rhode Island, with the corresponding church the region’s oldest congregation, noted NSHA President Richard Keene. The congregation’s first meeting house was built in 1719 in a spot that became part of Smithfield when it was incorporated in 1731, giving it its name.

When the town of North Smithfield was founded in 1871, the Globe and Bernon districts were annexed to Woonsocket.

“Everything this side of the Blackstone was once part of Smithfield,” Keene explained.

When those early burials had filled the space, the neighboring Union Cemetery was created.

“That was probably the time when the first (Union) burials started,” Keene said.

And while the Friends burial grounds predate the town, the cemetery holds prominent people in what is now North Smithfield.

Among them is Walter Allen, born in Sandwich, Mass. in 1759, to parents Capt. John Allen and Elizabeth Card Spooner.

“He was the one who built a lot of the houses on Great Road,” Keene said. “He was a prominent business man back in the day.”

A master carpenter, Allen is credited with building the Steven Brownell House, the Seth Allen Tavern, the Joel Aldrich House, and the Walter Allen House.

Keene noted that Allen’s grave was already marked with a veteran’s flag, and that the historical groups have not yet been able to confirm his service, but he still received mention on Saturday.

Flags were placed, meanwhile, on the graves of Joel Bradford, James Brayton, John Earl and Chad Smith.

Bradford was was a Mayflower descendant and 6th generation descendant of Gov. William Bradford. He served as a Private for 16 months of actual service in infantry and artillery; 5 months as a quartermaster in the Navy.

Brayton was born in Newport in 1740 to a slave woman who was sold to Preserved Brayton of Rehoboth. Preserved’s wife, a Quaker preacher, eventually freed her slaves, each receiving a sum of money and their freedom papers, with a choice to leave or stay and work for wages. They were given the surname Brayton. Shortly after James Brayton married, he moved to Smithfield and purchased land from George Comstock. He built his house paying for the land as a day laborer.

Earl was a Sergeant Major in the Continental Regiment at the Campaign of 1782, for which he received a certificate of service. According to one source, he was also a shipmaster and during the Revolutionary War the vessel under his command was taken by a British ship. He died in Smithfield in 1816, at age 78.

Smith was born in 1762 in Glocester, and served in Capt. William Barton’s Co. and Col. George Peck’s Regiment, the Smithfield & Cumberland Rangers. Both he and his wife, Elizabeth Clark Purington, were buried in the Friends Cemetery and although officials have you to locate his grave, they have found his wife’s, and posted a flag there on Saturday.

The brief program featured remarks by Rebecca Fairbank, regent of the Beacon Pole Hill Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution; Chris Sparks, president, of the RI Society of the Sons of the American Revolution; and Irene Blais of the Woonsocket Historical Society, as well as Keene, and will be followed by coffee and pastry collation at the Friends Meetinghouse.

Keene noted the collaboration is part of the ongoing effort by NSHA and others to preserve and mark long-forgotten graves, and the history they hold. Recently, across the road at Union, Keene organized volunteers in search of flag holders that once marked many veterans’ graves.

“We uncovered dozens of flag holders that have been buried over the years,” he said.

The public was invited to attend Saturday’s event, which is also supported by United Veterans Council of Woonsocket and the RI Historical Cemetery Commission.

Editor’s note: The above article was edited following Saturday’s event.  

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