Monday, May 05, 2014

In Search of Rhode Island's Lost Stony Fort (by JimP)

by JimP
The following laying out is believed to have been about 1703. It is recorded in the L.E. in the Secretary's office.
. . . until it comes to an old pair of barrs and the road to run to the eastward of Samuel Tifft's fence, until it comes to William Knowles NE corner and so by marked trees or bushes until it comes to the stony fort and then by marked trees through Ebenezer Shearman's farm, till it comes to a great rock not farr from a brook and so to untill it meets with marked trees in a corner of Jeremiah Harzard's farm . . ." (Collections 1835:224) 
COLLECTIONS of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Vol. III. 1835. Pg. 224. Providence, RI: Marshall, Brown and Company.
   Growing up, I heard local legends about the Narragansett Indian's "stony fort complexes". Certainly I have made dozens of visits to Queen's Fort, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and includes a complex of stone walls, standing stones, talus caves, and other features in and around a hill of enormous boulders. I knew about the Great Swamp Fort and Fort Ninigret with their contemporary accounts of partial construction with stone walls. I have also visited the Rolling Rock site with its interesting stone walls, possible use of quartz symbolism, stone-lined springs, and nearby "poor" graves. I am also familiar with the Gungywamp site in nearby Connecticut and its possible connection to a colonial account of a stony fort, "neare Pequot". But could there possibly be more?

One of two green epidote standing stones leaning against a boulder in the western wall at Queen's Fort.
There had also been some scant evidence of another stony fort. I have never been able to track down descriptive accounts in local histories, but I have found another piece to the puzzle -- the aforementioned quote found in the 1835 book from the Rhode Island Historical Society.

First, let me fill you in about what initially led me to believe there may be a lost stone Indian fort in Rhode Island. The screenshot below from Google maps shows two placemarks. The first, to the north, is the site of Queen's Fort -- the only stone Indian fort in New England that is recognized as a historic landmark. But more than six miles to the south -- lined in blue -- is a road named Stony Fort Rd. I had always found this curious. I thought Stony Fort Rd. would have been named after Queen's Fort. There is no stone fort that I know of within six miles of Stony Fort Rd. How can there be a connection to Queen's Fort if Stony Fort Rd. is six miles to the south?

The exact spot where the placemark for Stony Fort Rd. sits is on railroad tracks that run north/south. To the east of the placemark/tracks the road is called Stony Fort Rd. To the west of the placemark/tracks it is Wolf Rocks Rd.

Google Map showing the site of Queen's Fort to the north,
and Stony Fort Rd./Wolf Rocks Rd. six miles to the south.

It has been a mystery to me for decades -- but very recently I found the reference to the "stony fort" that I quoted at the top of this post and it has given me an important new piece to the puzzle. Although I am not entirely certain, it appears that the highway that is being laid out is what is today called the Old North Rd. to the south and Shermantown Rd. to the northeast.

But whatever that old highway is called today, the stony fort described in the entry cannot be Queen's Fort. The entry refers to the farm of William Knowles. From town records we know William Knowles owned land at a place called Little Rest Hill. In 1726, the Village of Little Rest was renamed Kingston, and today it is home of the University of Rhode Island as well as one of only two Amtrak stations in the state. Then, according to the entry, after reaching the stony fort the highway ran through Jeremiah Hazard's farm. Again, from town records, we know Jeremiah Hazard lived not far from Little Rest. At no point does the road laid out go six miles to the north where Queen's Fort is situated. So I can now, for the first time ever, rule out Queen's Fort as the origin of the name "Stony Fort Rd."

So now that we know the "stony fort" in the entry is definitely not Queen's Fort, what stony fort is being referenced? Since Stony Fort Rd. is also named Wolf Rocks Rd. to the west of the train tracks, could the entry be referring to Wolf Rocks? Wolf Rocks is a geological wonder in Rhode Island - a large 50-foot deep ravine filled with giant boulders. At one time, Wolf Rocks was a popular place for visitors. But since the 1970's, local landowners surrounding the site have discouraged visitors. As far as I know, Wolf Rocks has become all but forgotten except to locals.

The 50-foot deep ravine filled with boulders known as Wolf Rocks.
Queen's Fort is certainly a natural geological wonder itself. Most of it was made entirely by nature. Humans have embellished the site by building stone walls and other features. Could Wolf Rocks have been regarded as a stone fort in early colonial Rhode Island simply because it was an important place to the Narragansett Indians? Could the early colonists have called Wolf Rocks a stony fort simply because it reminded them of Queen's Fort to the north? Or is there another stone fort somewhere nearby, lost, forgotten, hidden in the North Kingstown woods?

An unknown collection of boulders between the site of Wolf Rocks and Wolf Rock Rd. Could this be the lost stony fort?
Of course, I still have more questions than answers. But I have a solid lead. Now all I need is a volunteer in or near Rhode Island to search a few land records and pin down an approximate location for the lost "stony fort". I need someone to help me poke around town records for the origin of the name Stony Fort Rd. Who wants to help this poor Arizonan solve a mystery and find the lost stone fort? Shoot me an email if you're interested!


Anonymous said...

In reading about Queen's fort, I found this mention of another old stone Indian "fort" nearby. Anyone heard of it?

"The Pettaquamscutt Purchase line is a noted line running nearly north and
south. The famous old Ten Rod Road runs through the entire length of this
town, from east to west. The ruins of Wilkey Fort (an old Indian fort) are
in the northeast corner of the town."

Dave C.

JimP said...

According to everyone from Sidney S. Rider to town records and state records, the land where Queen's Fort sits was once owned by the Wilkie family -- so Queen's Fort and Wilkie's Fort are one and the same.

But there's always a chance those sources have had it wrong . . .

JimP said...

Addendum -- NEARA Journal, Volumes 11-16, 1976 has a reference to stony fort.

"associated with the local Indians of the 17th Century. Not to be confused with Queen's Fort in the same town. Stony Fort is supposed to exist near the North Kingstown-Exeter town line."

So this has been a mystery for a long time - even in NEARA.

JimP said...

Addendum #2 - I found another reference and more information about the location of Stony Fort.

"Stony Fort is back of Carr's, east of Arnold Sherman's. The brook there is called Fort brook. See deed from Anthony Low to Jeffry Champlin. N. Kingstown Records." (Collections 1835:407)

COLLECTIONS of the Rhode-Island Historical Society, 1835. Vol. III. Pg. 407. Marshall, Brown and Company.

JimP said...

Addendum #3 - Another reference, more information, perhaps a map of the actual location, and evidence that it has been dug:

"Fortunatelv this statement may, it is believed, now be modified. That careful antiquarian and field worker in the early lore of the South County, Albert E. Lownes, states that he has traced an ancient path from the eastern shores of Wordcn's Pond to Stony Fort. From the evidence he has presented it would appear that it is certain that at last one of the Indian paths had been verified . . .Now as to this later path "by the Stone Fort." The situa- tion of Stone or Stony Fort is indicated on the map and is substantiated by an early deed. It would appear to have been a fort of some importance and from the domestic implements found in its immediate vicinity and from the large quantity of chips found, and to be found, a short distance to the northward, it may be believed to have been the center of an Indian settlement of considerable size." (Miller, 1937:38-46)

MILLER, William David, 1937. Ancient Paths to Pequot, in the Collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society, Vol. 30, April 1937, No. 2, pp. 38-46. Providence, RI.

Anyone have access to the papers of the old Narragansett Archaeological Society?

Anonymous said...

My associates and I are ready and willing to go and look for this structure or collection of stone structures. If someone could give us an approximate GPS, then we can try to get there within a week or so.

We will send pictures, measurements and other pertinent info to you and others, if we locate the approximate area of where to look. There would be nothing greater than to find evidence of some kind of stone fortification, whether dismantled or even in totall disrepair that had been either built by or used by our Narragansett Brethren long ago.

We also have much to share with those interested in stone structures in and around the R.I./Ct. border that have been located and doumented for each state, NEARA, as well as for both the Narragansett's and the Mohegans. We are committed to saving and preserving history, wherever we find it!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Jim. I should have thought of that! dc.

Anonymous said...


Just found the area you have shown us in your pictures. I know precisely where it is now!! As I said above, we will get there by Monday of next week for you!!!


JimP said...

Steve - I have counted at least five potential sites worth exploring using both Google Maps satellite view and Bing's bird's eye view on all sides of the promontory. I would appreciate learning about whatever you and your associates find. Of course, please be respectful of private land.

JimP said...

Also an FYI about me Steve -- I have met and hiked with Jim Egan -- showed him some petroglyphs many moons ago -- and I have been a friend of NEARA's for a long time.

Anonymous said...

The fort along with an old indian fort near the great swamp are shown on an 1895 Rhode Island atlas.

Unknown said...

I just bought on Stony Fort and would love an adventure in the near future.