BECOMING A CITY: The Growth of Providence from Fishing Village to Manufacturing Center by Margaret Dickie Uroff

BECOMING A CITY: The Growth of Providence from Fishing Village to Manufacturing Center

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People made Providence, and the signal contribution of a particular family makes this far more interesting than you'd imagine. To start with the settlement had no natural endowment except water, but the group who came with Roger Williams were highly motivated; when they had used up the small amount of arable land (and fellow-dissidents had swelled the population), they turned to sea trade to augment their income, thereby advancing from a subsistence economy. At this point the Browns emerged as exemplars of ingenuity and industry; James Brown married auspiciously, started the family fleet, expanded into related enterprises ashore; he also sired four sons whose diverse talents, fostered by James' brother Obadiah, would bring prosperity to themselves and to Providence. In chronicling their ventures (and adventures). Dr. Uroff provides telling particulars on the pre-Revolutionary West Indian trade; on the traffic in slaves; on candle-making as providing the first local product, the first experience in manufacture; on the colonial iron industry as teaching more complicated lessons. When the mercantile economy collapsed after the Revolution, the Browns had the means (the money, the know-how) and the foresight to enter manufacturing on a large scale; they welcomed Samuel Slater with his knowledge of British cotton-spinning machinery, and thus started Rhode Island toward becoming, by 1869, the most highly industrialized state. The effects on the people and the city are briefly summarized; particularly marked is the contrast between earlier adaptability and later lassitude.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 1968
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & World