Arthur Fenner

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Arthur Fenner
4th Governor of Rhode Island
In office
May 5, 1790 – October 15, 1805
Lieutenant Governor Samuel J. Potter[1]
Preceded by John Collins
Succeeded by Henry Smith
Personal details
Born (1745-12-10)December 10, 1745
Providence, Rhode Island[1]
Died October 15, 1805(1805-10-15) (aged 59)
Providence, Rhode Island[1]
Resting place North Burial Ground
Political party Country Party
Spouse(s) Amey Comstock
Religion Baptist

Arthur Fenner (December 10, 1745 – October 15, 1805) served as the fourth Governor of Rhode Island from 1790 until his death in 1805. He has the seventh longest gubernatorial tenure in post-Constitutional U.S. history at 5,642 days.[2] Fenner was a prominent Country Party (Anti-federalist) leader. Around 1764, Fenner joined several others as a petitioner for the chartering of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (the original name for Brown University).[1]

Early life[edit]

Fenner was born in 1745 to a prominent family in Providence. His ancestor Captain Arthur Fenner (1622–1703) had been a member of the Town Council, an associate of Roger Williams, and fought in King Philip's War.[1] His parents were Arthur Fenner, Jr. (1699-1788) and Mary Olney. The Fenner family owned the wharf where the Gaspee Affair occurred in 1772.[3]


He served as governor of Rhode Island from 1790 to 1805 and died in office. Fenner was governor of Rhode Island when it became the last of the thirteen states to ratify the Constitution on 29 May 1790. The following quote is from the Dictionary of American Biography:

In March 1790, the contest between Federalists and Anti-Federalists in Rhode Island reached its height, (and) the long-delayed convention to decide upon the adoption of the Constitution (had) been called, (with) Governor Collins having become unpopular in consequence. (With the elections approaching,) Deputy-Governor Owen was offered the governor-ship by the Anti-Federalists, but declined to serve. ‘A movement,’ says Arnold, ‘was made in Providence to form a coalition party. The Newport committee united with them in proposing (to put on the ballot) Arthur Fenner, an Anti-Federalist. The Anti-Federalists triumphed, and on May 5, 1790, the general assembly declared Fenner governor and Samuel J. Potter deputy-governor.
Opposition to entering the Union was so strong, … (that a vote to adopt the Constitution) was delayed until the last week in May, and when on the 29th, a decision was reached, the vote stood thirty-four to thirty-two in favor of adopting the Constitution.
Governor Fenner was very popular, and continued in office, serving at the time of his death.

Significant events during Fenner's time in office:

  • George Washington visited Rhode Island (August 1790)[1]
  • The Providence Bank was established (1791)[1]
  • The Weybosset Bridge was rebuilt (1792)[1]
  • The Blackstone Canal was begun (February 1796)[1]
  • President John Adams visited Providence (1797)[1]
  • The Great Fire on the west side of South Main Street, opposite the foot of Planet Street, did $300,000 worth of damage (Jan 21, 1801)[1]

Personal life[edit]

Governor Fenner married Amey Comstock (born ca. 1749; died 5 September 1828, in her 80th yr.), daughter of Gideon Comstock of Smithfield, Rhode Island.

His son, James Fenner, gave up his position as a US senator to be elected governor two years after his father’s death. James served from 1807 to 1811, from 1824 to 1831, and from 1843 to 1845. Arthur and Amey Fenner were members of the First Baptist Church in America, at Providence. They had four children:

  1. Arthur Fenner, Jr. (born 9 November 1766 – died 27 September 1837); fifer in various companies; lived at Fairfield, New York in 1827; married Lydia Sabin (born 1766), daughter of Thomas Sabin, on 8 December 1787. They had Harriet Elizabeth (born 7 February 1805 – died 2 May 1829).
  2. James Fenner (born 22 January 1771 – died 17 April 1846); Governor of Rhode Island, married Sarah Jenckes.
  3. Joseph (born ca. 1773 – died 18 July 1797 in Providence, age 24).
  4. Sally (born 1778 – died 21 August 1794 at Newport, age 16).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Rhode Island. Providence: National Biographical Publishing Co. 1881. pp. 136–137. 
  2. ^ Ostermeier, Eric (April 10, 2013). "The Top 50 Longest-Serving Governors of All Time". Smart Politics. 
  3. ^ "Fenner Family Tree". Retrieved 30 March 2015. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Collins
Governor of Rhode Island
Succeeded by
Henry Smith