Native American presence in old Arnold Graveyard


In 1910, Augustus Arnold could not resist the amount of money offered to him by Michael Carroll in exchange for his legacy, the longtime family homestead. The property, consisting of seven acres of land behind the Warwick Town Hall,
included the graveyard where many of his ancestors lay.

Known as the Captain William Arnold Lot, it was known to contain 11 bodies; eight interred beneath inscribed monuments and three beneath simple fieldstones. The burials included Captain William Arnold, who died in 1841 at age 79; his father Caleb Arnold, an innkeeper, who died in 1799 at age 74; his wife Ruth (Burkett) Arnold, who died in 1808 at age 46; his wife Elizabeth (Congdon) Arnold, who died in 1831 at age 63; his son William Arnold, who died in 1829 at age 30; Joseph Arnold, who died in 1855 at age 71; Joseph’s wife Sarah (Rice) Arnold; and Mary Arnold, who died in 1824.

The graveyard, which stood unprotected upon a small hill, was dug up on Dec. 1 of that year, the collected remains transferred to section H of Warwick Cemetery #34. During the exhumations, the decomposed bodies of an undis-closed number of Native Americans were located at the site and it was assumed they had been buried there long before the Arnolds claimed the area as their family burial ground.

In addition to the burials of Native American bodies, many native relics were unearthed. It would not be the first time, or the last, that modern-day digging would uncover buried history. When Europeans first arrived in Warwick, sometime around 1639, there were at least four sub-tribes of the Narragansetts residing there. They called the area of Apponaug “Oppenenauchack”, meaning “oyster.” The Europeans referred to it in their writings as “Aponahock” and “Aponake.”

During archeological work in Warwick during 1954 and 1955, archeologist William Fowler discovered 2,267 Native American artifacts upon ancient burial sites, seasonal settlements and areas which had held domestic structures.

In a refuse pit, Fowler discovered shells, the bones of deer and the bones of a bear. He also found several triangular hoes and pottery pieces as well as the skeletal remains of a woman who appeared to have been about 20 years old when she died somewhere around 950 AD. In his report, her skull was described as being flattened, probable evidence that she carried heavy items on her head regularly. Food items such as a shoulder of venison and a cooked wild fowl had been placed in front of the woman’s skull and covered, shingle-style, with oyster shells.

It appeared the natives had camped on the north side of Apponaug near a spring-fed stream which led to the cove. This assured them a close bounty of oysters, quahogs, clams and scallops. It was estimated that the land had been lived upon by humans since at least 100 BC.

That cold winter day in 1910, the eternal sleep of the Arnold family was disturbed after a little more than a century. The natives had lain at peace much longer before their own “final” rest was disturbed as well. It is assumed the bodies of the Native Americans were not moved along with those of the Arnold family.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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