Captain Thomas Cole

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Tim Cranston

More than two hundred years ago, the citizens of North Kingstown paid homage to a hero as they laid him to rest. On December 9th, 1805, Captain Thomas Cole, born and raised on the family farm in Boston Neck and later a citizen of the village of Wickford passed on into the next world. Cole’s heroics had occurred many decades earlier during the time of the Revolution. Thomas Cole, a commissioned officer under Colonels James Varnum, Nathanael Greene, Christopher Greene, and Stephen Olney, had served a remarkable seven long difficult years in that great struggle to establish our nation.

Cole was born in 1744, the second son of John and Ann Cole of Boston Neck. They lived on a portion of the large Cole family landholdings centered around what we now know as Rome Point. Indeed, Thomas Cole’s great-grandfather had been the very same John Cole who had ransomed back his future wife, Susannah Hutchinson, from the Swanzee Indians in the late 17th century. After their marriage, he brought her here to live on the 600-acre farm which had belonged to the Hutchinson family prior to its transfer to the Coles.

Thomas apparently was a trained carpenter and house builder, and evidence suggests that he carried out his trade in Wickford prior to the Revolution. All that ended though, in June of 1775, when the already trained militiaman enrolled as a Lieutenant in the 9th Company of the Varnum Continentals. As mentioned, his military career stretched across nearly eight years, during which he saw action at the Siege of Boston and the Battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, and Red Bank. Cole was quickly made a Captain and after suffering alongside General Washington through that harsh winter at Valley Forge, he was sent back to Rhode Island with Colonel Christopher Greene to raise, train, and command a battalion of enslaved men who were offered freedom if they served through the duration of the war. This battalion, forever known as the “Black Regiment”, went on to serve with honor at the Battle of Rhode Island and later at the Siege at Yorktown, an operation that eventually brought about the surrender of the British. Captain Cole resigned his commission in May of 1782 and returned home to Wickford.

Just a little over a year later, Thomas Cole and his wife Nancy (Bradfield) purchased a plot of land in the village on the Grand Highway (now West Main/Main Streets) at the corner of what was then Main Street but is now known as Pleasant Street and proceeded to construct the fine home that can be seen there today. There Thomas and Nancy raised five children – George Washington, Thomas, Bradfield, Nancy, and Horatio. As mentioned, Thomas Cole died in December of 1805. His namesake, Thomas Jr. later followed in his father’s footsteps and served in the War of 1812.

Some 200 years later, Thomas Cole again received his due. On Sunday, December 4th, 2005, members of the Varnum Continentals, the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), and The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) held a graveside service at the historic cemetery where he rests eternal.

About the Author

Tim Cranston can trace his Rhode Island roots back to 1637. It was then that his ancestor John Cranston, a young boy of 12, left Scotland as a ward of Jeremy Clarke, traveling aboard a sailing vessel bound eventually for Rhode Island. He was sent to the “colonies” by his father, a chaplain to King Charles, as he feared retribution would be rained down upon the boy by Cromwell during the long period of turmoil in England. Upon arrival he walked down the gangway to the young streets of Portsmouth and Newport and would later become colonial Governor. His son Samuel would marry the granddaughter of Roger Williamsand would become the longest standing governor in RI history. The Cranston family eventually settled in the villages of Wickford and Swamptown in North Kingstown.

Tim is the self-proclaimed arbiter of all things “Swamp Yankee” and local historian of Ye Old North Kingstown and South County. His popular local history newspaper column has run in the South County Independent for more than twenty years and has won two RI Press Association “Spirit of RI” and three Preserve RI Education Awards. The Town Council of North Kingstown honored Tim by naming him the Town’s very first official town historian. Tim is now working with the history department at the North Kingstown High School, aiding them in the development of a 12th-grade level RI history course.

The culmination of Tim’s efforts to learn about the details of the history of the village of Wickford, once RI Colony’s second most important seaport, is the “Walking in Olde Wickford” guidebook series, a four- volume set of handbooks on the history of this important South County village. Tim has partnered with Historic Wickford Inc. (HistWick) to create signage that is a self-guided walking tour and focuses not only on the history of the village itself but of all its inhabitants, beginning with the Narragansett people and including the contributions of women and people of color. Swamptown Enterprises and HistWick are now jointly engaged in a project to move all four of the Walking in Olde Wickford books into the virtual world on the HistWick website. Other recent research is his groundbreaking book, “”, as well as a historical fiction book for young readers, “The Day the Bay Froze”. Arcadia Publishing Company published his “North Kingstown 1880-1920” featuring the photo postcards of 19th century Wickford pharmacist Elwin E. “doc” Young. Tim is now wrapping up work on “We Were Here Too, Vol. 2 – Stories of Women’s History in North Kingstown”. 

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