William Coddington

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For other people named William Coddington, see William Coddington (disambiguation).
William Coddington
Memorial marker for William Coddington dedicated on 200th anniversary of Newport founding
1st Judge (governor) of Portsmouth
In office
Preceded by position established
Succeeded by William Hutchinson
Judge (governor) of Newport
In office
Preceded by position established
Succeeded by Himself as governor of Newport and Portsmouth
Governor of Newport and Portsmouth
In office
Preceded by William Hutchinson as Judge of Portsmouth
Himself as Judge of Newport
Succeeded by John Coggeshall as President of Rhode Island
1st Governor of Newport and Portsmouth (under Coddington Commission)
In office
Preceded by Nicholas Easton as President of Rhode Island
Succeeded by John Sanford
5th and 8th Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
In office
Preceded by Nicholas Easton
Succeeded by Walter Clarke
In office
Preceded by Benedict Arnold
Succeeded by John Cranston
7th Deputy Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
In office
Governor Nicholas Easton
Preceded by John Cranston
Succeeded by John Easton
Personal details
Born c. 1601
Marston, Lincolnshire, England
Died 1 November 1678
Newport, Rhode Island
Resting place Coddington Cemetery, Newport, Rhode Island
  • Mary _______
  • Mary Moseley
  • Anne Brinley
Occupation Merchant, treasurer, selectman, assistant, president, commissioner, deputy governor, governor
Religion Puritan, Quaker

William Coddington (c. 1601 – 1 November 1678) was an early magistrate of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and later of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, serving as the Judge of Portsmouth, Judge of Newport, Governor of Portsmouth and Newport, Deputy Governor of the entire (four-town) colony, and then Governor of the colony. Born and raised in Lincolnshire, England, he accompanied the Winthrop Fleet in its voyage to New England in 1630, becoming an early leader in Boston. Here he built the first brick house, and became heavily involved in the local government as an assistant, treasurer, and magistrate.

Being fairly liberal in his political and religious views, he supported the dissident minister, Anne Hutchinson, whose religious opinions led to her banishment from the Massachusetts colony. Being politely dismissed from the colony, he was the lead signer of a compact to form a Christian based government away from Massachusetts. Encouraged by Roger Williams to settle on the Narragansett Bay, he and other supporters of Hutchinson bought Aquidneck Island of the Indians, and settled there, establishing the town of Pocasset, later named Portsmouth. He was named the first "Judge" of the colony, a Biblical term for Governor. A division in the leadership of this town occurred within a year, and he left with several others to establish the town of Newport at the south end of the island.

In short time, the towns of Portsmouth and Newport united, and Coddington was made, by continuous election, the governor of the island towns from 1640 to 1647. During this period, Roger Williams had gone to England to obtain a patent to bring the four Narragansett towns of Providence, Warwick, Portsmouth, and Newport under one government. Done without the consent of the island towns, these two towns resisted joining the mainland towns until 1647. Though Coddington was elected President of the united colony in 1648, he would not attend the meeting, and complaints against him prompted the presidency to go to Jeremy Clarke. Very unhappy with Williams' patent, Coddington returned to England where he was eventually able to obtain a commission, separating the island from the mainland towns, and making him governor of the island for an indefinite period. While initially welcomed as governor, complaints from both the mainland towns and members of the island towns prompted Roger Williams, John Clarke and William Dyer to go to England to have Coddington's commission revoked. Being successful, Dyer returned with the news in 1653, but disagreements kept the four towns from re-uniting until the following year.

With the revocation of his commission, Coddington withdrew from public life, focusing on his mercantile interests, and becoming a member of the Religious Society of Friends. After nearly two decades away from politics, he was elected Deputy Governor in 1673, then Governor the following year, serving two one-year terms. The relative calm of this period was shattered during his second year as governor of the colony, when King Philip's War erupted in June 1675, becoming the most catastrophic event in Rhode Island's colonial history. Though not re-elected in 1676, he was elected to a final term as governor of the colony in 1678 following the death of Governor Benedict Arnold. He died a few months into this term, and was buried in the Coddington Cemetery on Farewell Street in Newport.

England and Massachusetts[edit]

Born in Lincolnshire, England, Coddington was likely the son of Robert and Margaret Coddington of Marston.[1] His presumed father was a prosperous yeoman, and when in Rhode Island the younger Coddington possessed a seal with the initials "R.C.," likely that of his father.[1] The source of his education is not known, but that he was well educated is apparent from his correspondence, and from his considerable command of English law.[2] As a young man he married by about 1626, and had two sons baptized at St. Botolph's Church in Boston, Lincolnshire, but both died in infancy and were buried at the same church.[1] His first wife was Mary, and speculation exists that she was Mary Burt, because Coddngton once mentioned his "cousin Burt" in a letter.[3] Also in 1626 he was one who resisted the royal loan, called the Forced Loan, and his name was recorded on a list for doing so the following winter.[3]

Coddington was elected as a Massachusetts Bay Assistant on 18 March 1629/30,[4] while still in England, and sailed to New England the following month with the Winthrop Fleet. His first wife died during their first winter in Massachusetts, and he returned to England aboard the Lion in 1631, remaining there for two years. During this visit to England he married in Terling, Essex, Mary Moseley who came back to New England with him in 1633, and who was admitted to the Boston church that summer.[5]

Coddington was a leading merchant in Boston, and built the first brick house there.[6] He was elected a Boston Assistant on multiple occasions from 1632 to 1636, was the colony's treasurer from 1634 to 1636, and a Deputy for Boston in 1637.[4] He was also a Boston selectman in 1634, and was on several committees overseeing land transactions in 1636 and 1637.[4]

Rhode Island[edit]

The first government established in what would become Rhode Island occurred in 1638 when on 7 March of that year a group of 23 individuals, while still in the Boston area, formed a "Bodie Politick" based on Christian principles.[7] Coddington's name appears first on the list of signers of the resulting document, sometimes called the Portsmouth Compact. The signers, largely supporters of Anne Hutchinson who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for her religious opinions, elected Coddington as their "Judge," using this Biblical name for their ruler or governor.[7] Not sure where to establish their new government, Roger Williams persuaded the group to purchase land of the Indians along the Narragansett Bay. This they did, and established their new colony on Aquidneck Island, naming the settlement Pocasset, which was soon renamed Portsmouth.[7]

Portsmouth Compact with Coddington's signature first on the list

Within a year of the founding of this settlement, there was dissension among the leaders, and Coddington, with three elders and other inhabitants, moved to the south end of the island, establishing the town of Newport.[8] In 1640 the two towns of Portsmouth and Newport united, and the name of the chief officer was changed to Governor, with Coddington elected to that position.[8] The two island towns grew and prospered at a much greater rate than the mainland settlements of Providence and newly established Shawomet (later Warwick). Roger Williams, who envisioned a union of all four settlements on the Narragansett Bay, went to England to obtain a patent bringing all four towns under one government. Williams was successful in obtaining this document late in 1643, and it was brought from England and read to representatives of the four towns in 1644.

Coddington was opposed to the Williams patent. As the chief magistrate of the island he had a well organized and thoroughly equipped government which had little in common with the unorganized, discordant elements of Providence.[9] The Patent of 1643 would bring the island towns into civil union with another class of inhabitants with little education, property, or law and order.[9] Because of this, the island towns ignored the 1643 patent, and on 13 April 1644 the General Assembly of the two towns renamed the island from Aquidneck to the "Isle of Rhodes" or Rhode Island.[10] So unhappy was Coddington over uniting with the mainland towns that in August 1644 he wrote a letter to Governor John Winthrop in Massachusetts, letting it be known that he would rather have an alliance with Massachusetts or Plymouth than with Providence.[9] Though this did not happen, Coddington managed to resist union with Providence until 1647 when representatives of the four towns ultimately met and adopted the Williams patent of 1643.[11] This is also the year that Coddington's second wife, Mary, died in Newport.[12]

In May 1648, when the General Court (later the General Assembly) met in Providence, Coddington was elected President of the entire colony. He did not attend the meeting, however, probably because he did not support the patent, nor would he make a pretense of supporting it.[13] Charges were subsequently brought against him, though the nature of them was not recorded, and he was replaced as Governor by Jeremy Clarke.[13] The 1643 patent created little more than a confederation of independent governments.[14] In September 1648 Coddington made application for admission of the two island towns into the New England Confederation.[14] The ensuing reply let him know that the island would have to submit to the Plymouth government to be considered.[14] This was unacceptable to Coddington who wanted colonial independence for the two island towns.[14] They had a well organized government in which civil and religious liberty had been clearly defined and fully recognized, and these liberties would be lost in a government under Plymouth.[14]

Coddington commission[edit]

Exasperated by the existing situation, Coddington decided to go to England and present his case to the Colonial Commissioners in London.[14] He left his farm and business interests in the hands of an agent, and left on a mission to save his island colony to which he had devoted much of his fortune and energy.[14] On arriving in England, he found the country in the midst of a civil war, and he was delayed in getting the attention of the proper authorities.[15] He eventually met with his old friend and associate from the Boston government, Sir Harry Vane. Vane had helped Roger Williams obtain his patent, and was now being called upon to advise Coddington as to a course of action.[15] Governor Josiah Winslow of the Plymouth Colony was also in London at the same time, urging Plymouth's claims to the two island towns.[15]

On 6 March 1650 Coddington presented his petition for an independent colonial government on Aquidneck Island, free from the claims of Plymouth and free from union with Providence.[15] A year later, in April 1651, the Council of State of England gave Coddington the commission of a separate government for the island of Aquidneck and for the smaller neighboring island of Conanicut (later Jamestown, Rhode Island), with him as governor.[15] Vane gave his consent to this, thus annulling the patent given to Roger Williams several years earlier.[15] Vane recognized Coddington as a wise and effective chief magistrate, and allowed for him to serve in his new role as governor for an indefinite period, subject to the will of Parliament.[16] To complete the government, Coddington was to have a council of six men, elected by popular vote of the freemen.[17]

Coddington spent nearly three years in England, and while there he met and married Anne Brinley, the daughter of Thomas Brinley, and sister of Francis Brinley who settled in Newport in 1652 and built a large structure that later became the White Horse Tavern.[16] In August 1651 Coddington returned to the island.[17] Henry Bull of Newport said that Coddington was welcomed upon his return from England, and that the majority of people accepted him as governor.[17]

With his new commission, Coddington once again unsuccessfully sought a place for Aquidneck Island in the New England Confederation, consisting of the colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven.[15] Many writers and historians, particularly those sympathetic to the Providence and Warwick settlers, including Samuel G. Arnold, considered Coddington's commission and desire to join in the confederation to be treasonous.[15] Historian Thomas Bicknell, on the other hand, found Coddington's actions to be totally justified, accusing Roger Williams of usurping Coddington's successful island government with the Patent of 1643.[18] After all, Bicknell asserted, Coddington had been the chief magistrate of a flourishing island of nearly 1000 inhabitants, while the combined population of Providence and Warwick was about 200. In 1643 Roger Williams went to London without advice or instructions and returned in September 1644 with a patent for the colony, without the knowledge or consent of the island population.[18] The island government resisted the patent for several years until 1647, when they yielded to the experiment of the patent and merged with the mainland government.[16]

Revocation of commission[edit]

For reasons that are not clear in existing records, criticism of Coddington soon arose. The venerable Dr. John Clarke voiced his opposition to the island governor, and he and William Dyer were sent to England as agents of the discontents to get the Coddington commission revoked.[19] Simultaneously, the mainland towns of Providence and Warwick sent Roger Williams on a similar errand, and the three men sailed for England in November 1651.[19] Because of recent hostilities between the English and the Dutch, the men did not meet with the Council of State on New England until April 1652.[19] Whether true or not, Coddington was accused of taking sides with the Dutch on matters of colonial trade, and in October 1652 his commission for the island government was revoked.[19] Dyer was the messenger who returned to Rhode Island the following February, bringing the news of the return of the colony to the Williams Patent of 1643. The reunion of the colony was to take place that spring, but the mainland commissioners refused to come to the island to meet, and the separation of mainland from island was extended for another year.[19] During this interim period, John Sanford was elected as governor of the island towns, while Gregory Dexter became president of the mainland towns.[19]

The powerless Coddington withdrew from public life to tend to his business affairs.[20] The four towns eventually united in 1654, with Nicholas Easton of Newport chosen as president.[20] A general court of elections was then held in September 1654, and Roger Williams was elected president of the united colony, a position he held for nearly three years.[20] In time, Coddington briefly re-entered public life, and became a Newport commissioner on the General Court of Trials.[20] A committee was appointed to investigate Coddington's right to a seat, and sent a letter to the Council of State in England asking for a full accounting of all complaints entered against him.[20] The reply fully vindicated Coddington, and an investigation back home in Newport cleared him of all charges brought against him.[20] Finally able to accept the united government of the four towns, Coddington made the following oath in March 1656, "I William Coddington doe hereby submit to ye authoritie of His Highness in this Colonie as it is now united, and that with all my heart."[21]

Later career[edit]

Governor William Coddington House, a stone-ender in Newport, built around 1640, was destroyed in 1835. It sat adjacent to the White Horse Tavern, which sits on land originally owned by Coddington

Sometime in the early 1660s Coddington joined Governor Nicholas Easton and many other prominent citizens in becoming members of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers.[22][23] In March 1665 Coddington sent a paper to the Newport commissioners concerning Quaker matters.[22] He, and later his widow, often hosted Quaker meetings in their home in Newport, where the Quaker founder, George Fox, visited in 1672.[citation needed]

For most of the two decades following the demise of his commission to govern Aquidneck Island, Coddington remained out of public office, but he was still considered one of the colony's leading citizens, and his name appears in the Royal Charter of 1663. He eventually returned to serving the colony when in May 1673 he was elected as Deputy Governor under Governor Nicholas Easton. At the general election a year later he was chosen as Governor, with Easton's son, John Easton elected as Deputy Governor.[24] Little of note occurred during this administration, other than the establishment of peace between England and Holland, removing a large source of tension in the colonies.[25] Also, the township of Kingston was established in the Narragansett country, and became incorporated as the seventh town of the colony.[25]

In May 1675 the same officers were elected in the colony, tasked to handle the issue of weights and measures being brought into conformity with the English standards.[26] While a calm greeted this administration, the storms of war had been brewing for years, even decades. In June 1675 the peace was shattered when an Indian massacre at Swansea startled the colonies.[26] This began King Philip's War, the most devastating event to visit the colony of Rhode Island prior to the American Revolution. The mainland settlements of Warwick and Pawtuxet were totally destroyed during the war, and much of Providence was ruined as well. The island towns of Newport and Portsmouth had to be protected with a fleet of armed vessels.[27]

During the 1676 election, Walter Clarke was elected governor, and this administration saw the end of the war. However, the experience of the venerated elders of the colony was still sought, so in 1677 Benedict Arnold was elected governor, and upon his death a year later, Coddington was elected to his final term as governor. He was in office only a few months, dying at the beginning of November in 1678.

Death, family and legacy[edit]

This portrait is sometimes claimed to be of Governor Coddington, but is most likely his grandson, also named William Coddington.

Coddington died in office on 1 November 1678 and is buried in the Coddington Cemetery, Rhode Island Historic Cemetery, Newport No. 9, on Farewell Street in Newport, where several other colonial governors are also buried.[28] His grave is marked not only with the original marker, but a taller monument erected some years after his death.[29] His oldest son by his third marriage, William Coddington, Jr. was the governor of the colony for two terms from 1683 to 1685.[12] His son, Nathaniel, married Susanna Hutchinson, a daughter of Edward Hutchinson and a granddaughter of William and Anne Hutchinson.[30] His daughter, Mary, married Peleg Sanford, a colonial governor from 1680 to 1683, the son of an earlier governor, John Sanford [30] by his second wife, Bridget Hutchinson, and a grandson of William and Anne Hutchinson. His grandson William Coddington, the son of Nathaniel, married Content Arnold, the daughter of Benedict and Mary (Turner) Arnold, and granddaughter of Governor Benedict Arnold.[31] The portrait often ascribed to Coddington actually portrays this grandson, who was very active in colonial affairs, but never a governor.[32]

Coddington was usually at odds with Roger Williams, who described him in a letter, several years after the founding of Portsmouth (1638) as, "...a worldly man, a selfish man, nothing for public, but all for himself and private..."[33] While highly critical of Coddington for obtaining a commission to govern Aquidneck Island separately from Providence and Warwick, Rhode Island historian and Lieutenant Governor Samuel G. Arnold had this to say of him: "He was a man of vigorous intellect, of strong passions, earnest in whatever he undertood, and self-reliant in all his actions."[6] Historian Thomas Bicknell wrote, "...he rose to the achievement of a great personal and political victory, when foes became friends, his policy of statecraft vindicated, and Rhode Island Colony on Aquidneck assumed the position for which he had so stoutly contended and so shamefully suffered."[20] A harbor, street, cemetery, and apartment complex in Newport bear his name, and a restaurant in Middletown, Rhode Island, the Coddington Brewery, is named for him.

There is an unpublished full size portrait of William Coddington in Newport's Colony House.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Moriarity 1944, p. 185.
  2. ^ Anderson 1995, p. 395.
  3. ^ a b Anderson 1995, p. 398.
  4. ^ a b c Anderson 1995, p. 396.
  5. ^ Anderson 1995, p. 397.
  6. ^ a b Arnold 1859, p. 448.
  7. ^ a b c Bicknell 1920, p. 975.
  8. ^ a b Bicknell 1920, p. 976.
  9. ^ a b c Bicknell 1920, p. 979.
  10. ^ Bicknell 1920, p. 978.
  11. ^ Bicknell 1920, p. 980.
  12. ^ a b Austin 1887, p. 276.
  13. ^ a b Bicknell 1920, p. 981.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Bicknell 1920, p. 982.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Bicknell 1920, p. 983.
  16. ^ a b c Bicknell 1920, p. 985.
  17. ^ a b c Bicknell 1920, p. 986.
  18. ^ a b Bicknell 1920, p. 984.
  19. ^ a b c d e f Bicknell 1920, p. 987.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Bicknell 1920, p. 988.
  21. ^ Bicknell 1920, pp. 988–9.
  22. ^ a b Arnold 1859, p. 320.
  23. ^ Rust 2004, p. 107.
  24. ^ Arnold 1859, pp. 367–8.
  25. ^ a b Arnold 1859, p. 368.
  26. ^ a b Arnold 1859, p. 369.
  27. ^ Bicknell 1920, p. 1029.
  28. ^ "Gravesite of William Coddington". Find-a-grave. 2 November 2005. Retrieved 20 June 2011. 
  29. ^ Turner 1878, pp. 2–22.
  30. ^ a b Austin 1887, p. 278.
  31. ^ Austin 1887, p. 279.
  32. ^ Austin 1887, pp. 278–280.
  33. ^ Gorton 1907, p. 33.


External links[edit]

Political offices
New office Judge of Portsmouth
Succeeded by
William Hutchinson
New office Judge of Newport
Succeeded by
as Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island
New office Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island (Newport and Portsmouth)
Succeeded by
John Coggeshall
New office Governor of Newport and Portsmouth
Succeeded by
John Sanford
Preceded by
Nicholas Easton
Governor of Rhode Island
Succeeded by
Walter Clarke
Preceded by
Benedict Arnold
Governor of Rhode Island
1678 – 1678 (died in office)
Succeeded by
John Cranston