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James N. Arnold Collection

Biographical note

James Newell Arnold (1844-1927) was a writer, editor, historian and genealogist specializing in Rhode Island history. Arnold was born on August 3, 1844 near the village of Knightsville in Cranston, Rhode Island to Captain James Lincoln Arnold, a farmer, and Amey Underwood. Arnold was a descendent of Thomas Arnold who joined Roger Williams in Providence in 1636, and of Benedict Arnold, Rhode Island colony’s first governor. Sometime in his childhood, Arnold contracted an ailment that led him to the use of crutches for mobility throughout his life. In 1868, James Arnold moved the family to a farm in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Following this move, Arnold began his project to inventory historic burial grounds and to document the history of old Narragansett families.

Arnold’s professional work as a historian and writer began in earnest in the 1880s. Arnold traveled throughout Rhode Island collecting and transcribing local church records, pension rolls, burial records and town papers. He edited and published The Narragansett Historical Register, an 8 volume set on the history of southern Rhode Island, from 1882-1891. During that time, he moved to Providence in 1884 and worked as the assistant to historian Edward B. Hitchcock. From 1891-1912, he compiled and published his seminal work, Vital Records of Rhode Island, the first comprehensive set of vital records for the state covering 1636-1850 in 21 volumes.

In addition to his work on Rhode Island history, Arnold researched his Arnold family genealogy extensively, located and transcribed Revolutionary War newspapers, researched the Narragansett Indian tribe, and wrote numerous newspaper articles. Arnold died at Dexter Asylum on September 27, 1927 and was buried in a family plot in South Kingstown. After his death in 1927, a group of volunteers continued transcribing his records and continuing his cemetery inventory project until 1935.