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Kingston Congregational Church Collection, 1835-1968

Historical note

Now located at the intersection of Upper College Rd. and Rt. 138 (2610 Kingston Rd.) in Kingston, Rhode Island, the Kingston Congregational Church had its beginnings as the "Church at Tower Hill." It is one of the first two Congregational churches in Rhode Island. The other church is located in Newport.

In 1657 a tract of land was purchased, for sixteen pounds, from Chief Sachems of the Narragansett Country by John Parker, Samuel Wilbore, Thomas Mumford, Samuel Wilson and John Hull Goldsmith. This land, known as the Pettaquamscutt Purchase, was situated in the town of South Kingston and measured about twelve square miles.

In 1668, the proprietors of the Pettaquamscut Purchase donated a tract of land amounting to 300 acres for the support of an orthodox minister. This tract of land became known as the "Ministerial Lands". In 1695, Reverend John Woodward of Dedham, Massachusetts and a graduate of Harvard, answered the call and came to Kingston, R.I. to preach at the "Church at Tower Hill". His successor was John Danforth. Later another Harvard graduate, Henry Flynt, Jr. became minister. He returned to Harvard however in 1699 and attained fame there as the "Tutor". In 1701, with the aid of Judge Samuel Sewall (of Salem witch trial fame) the community secured income to support the hiring of a full time minister. Judge Sewall managed the estates of his wife Hannah Hull, sole heir to one of the original Pettaquamscutt purchasers. Reverend Samuel Niles at the age of 28 was hired as the first full time minister. He was a native of Block Island and the first person in Rhode Island to graduate from Harvard University (1699). He served from 1702-1710. Judge Sewall and his wife also gave an acre of land to build a meeting house. It was located on Tower Hill on the corner of Post Rd. and Middle Bridge Rd.

Controversy erupted in 1723 when Reverend James McSparran, an orthodox minister of the Episcopal Church of Narragansett, claimed the valuable Ministerial Lands of the Pettaquamscutt Purchase for the Church of England. Reverend Joseph Torrey, a physician and minister became minister of the Congregational Church in 1732. His diligence and aggressiveness was equal to that of the Episcopalian, McSparran. After many legal wranglings, the dispute was decided in 1852. The claim of the Congregational Church to the land was upheld by King George II and his Royal Council. Rev. Torrey served as pastor for the next sixty years, serving until his death in 1791. There were only occasional services from that time until 1802 when Rev. Thomas Kendall was installed as minister of the Church at Tower Hill. He remained until 1818.

The population began moving toward the community of Kingston Hill or "Little Rest". This made it difficult to maintain a congregation in the present location of the church. A newly established society was created to administer the Ministerial Lands in 1820 with Elisha R. Potter (1811-1882) serving as Chairman. The Society decided to build a new meeting house on land donated by Elisha R. Potter in Little Rest. The present church has changed little since its dedication on January 17, 1821.

As one of the oldest established churches in America, the Kingston Congregational Church enjoys a rich history that continues to the present day.