History Notes is a biweekly entry in the Sun Rise that features a passage from the Johnston Historical Society. This week’s story comes from March 2012.
Growing up in Thornton in the 1950s, I and everyone else seemed to know of Indian Rock.
It was a huge boulder with openings that you could climb into, and I doubt if any of the kids thought of it as anything more than another fun thing to play on. I know that I had never heard of Hipses Rock.
In later years, I read of the importance of this gift from the ice age – a glacial erratic is the correct geological term for the rock – and learned that the boulder had an official name, Hipses Rock. An old, unsourced newspaper account tells us that the rock “Shows Indian Head Distinctly.”
I have never looked for the likeness, but this would seem to be the reason that locals called it Indian Rock. As for why it acquired the name of Hipses, there is no definitive answer. One story passed down through time is than an old Indian woman was named Hipsie or Hipsabeth by the early English settlers. She was said to have built a lean-to next to the rock that she lived in. She was also said to be a skilled woman doctor that was trusted by the English pioneers. Her fame caused her to be remembered after her death in the name of Hipses Rock.
The newspaper article describes stories of ghosts associated with the rock. It was asserted that “sighs and groans and other weird noises” could be heard in the vicinity. The author of the article did say that the wind blowing through the trees, running water falling over the rocks, and the hooting of an owl helped out the story.
Another possible meaning of Hipses that can be found in the literature is that it is a corruption of the Latin word, “Hesperus,” one meaning of which is “to the west.” Sidney Rider, in his “Book Notes,” has a picture of Hipses Rock that is sub-captioned: “Hesperus, the Most Western Bound.” The rock was the most western bound of the lands conveyed from Miantinomi and Canonicus to Roger Williams.
In trying to back up his claim that Hipses came from Hesperus, Rider gives two other examples of place names in the area that are taken from Latin or from early English literature. Not conclusive evidence, though!
Rider said that he searched all of the records of early families dwelling near the place, and he found no evidence of any name resembling Hepsy or Hephzibah. Therefore, he said, you must look elsewhere for the derivation of the name Hipse or Hipses.
This, of course, does not mean that there was no person in the area that the rock was named after. There is probably no way of knowing now if there was such a person. All we do know if that Rider found no evidence of them.
So, in conclusion, this is a short article because there is not a lot of information out there on the derivation of the name. As with the earlier authors, we can only speculate on why this wonderful piece of history is called Hipses Rock.