Gregory Dexter

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Gregory Dexter
7th President of Providence and Warwick
In office
Preceded byJohn Smith
Succeeded byNicholas Easton (as President of all four towns of Rhode Island Colony)
Personal details
Northamptonshire, England
Providence, Rhode Island Colony
Spouse(s)Abigail Fullerton
ChildrenStephen, James, John, Abigail
OccupationPrinter, stationer, commissioner, town clerk, deputy, president, Baptist minister
front page to Roger Williams' A Key into the Language of America crediting Dexter as printer

Gregory Dexter (1610–1700) was a printer, Baptist minister, and early President of the combined towns of Providence and Warwick in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. He was in New England as early as 1644 when he had a five-acre lot assigned to him in Providence. He had been in the printing business in London, and still operated that business in 1643 when his establishment printed Roger Williams's translation of the Narragansett language. As an experienced stationer, he offered his expertise to the printing operation in Boston in 1646, asking for no compensation other than an annual almanac.

Dexter became active in colonial affairs in 1647, as the four towns of Rhode Island Colony were consolidating into a unified government. He became a commissioner from Providence during the early 1650s, after William Coddington had received a commission to remove the two island towns of Portsmouth and Newport from the unified government. Dexter became the President of the combined towns of Providence and Warwick during the final year of the split government, and the four towns were reunited with his successor. Dexter was a Baptist and, following his presidency, he renewed his association with the Baptist church in Providence, becoming the pastor of the congregation in 1669. He was considered to be very pious, seldom smiling, and in social interaction was always ready to engage his company with a sermon.

Early life[edit]

Dexter may have been born in the village of Northamptonshire, England, where his father Gregory Dexter was baptized in 1581 and continued to live with his family until his death. Young Gregory Dexter is found in London, apprenticed to Elizabeth Aldee on December 3, 1632 for a term of eight years, and admitted to freedom in the Stationer's Guild on December 18, 1639.[1] Even before he completed his apprenticeship, he became involved in secret printing on behalf of Puritan authors, and he was questioned in 1637 for printing pamphlets written by imprisoned Puritan William Prynne.[2] After he was made free of the Stationers, Dexter gained a reputation for printing controversial tracts often critical of the crown and church, including The Protestation Protested by Henry Burton and King James his Judgement of a King and of a Tyrant.[3] He printed a pamphlet on "Prelatical Episcopacy" for John Milton.

Dexter and his wife Abigail were both imprisoned for printing pamphlets deemed subversive by the House of Lords and the House of Commons. His presses and printing equipment were seized in a raid by the Crown's Stationer's Company on February 5, 1644 which left the Dexters without the means to continue their business in London.[4] Dexter traveled to New England later that year, where he joined Roger Williams and was given a five-acre lot at Providence Plantations, and he and 38 others signed an agreement in July 1640 to form a government there.[5][6] This agreement gave authority to five selectmen to handle the business of the town, leaving difficult matters to arbitration.[6] He possibly returned to England, as his printing establishment in London published Williams' book A Key into the Language of America in 1643, the first English translation of an American Indian language.[5] He was in New England in 1644 with Williams in Providence, as he joined the Baptist church there.[5] He continued to work as a printer, and he was asked in 1646 to get a printing operation running in Boston. He requested no remuneration for his services; he only asked that they send him their almanac once a year.[5]

Rhode Island[edit]

Roger Williams had obtained a patent for the Rhode Island colony in 1644, yet the island towns of Portsmouth and Newport continued to be governed separately from Providence and Warwick. In 1647, the town of Providence elected Dexter as chairman of a committee to meet with similar committees from the three other towns to organize a united government of the four towns.[7] The unification was accomplished, and Dexter was a member of the General Court of Trial under the new government in 1648. In 1651, William Coddington was successful in getting a commission in England making him the governor of the two island towns of Portsmouth and Newport, leaving Providence and Warwick with a separate government for three years from 1651 to 1654. During these years, Dexter was a commissioner from Providence, then the town clerk of Providence from 1653 to 1654, and also President of the two towns of Providence and Warwick from 1653 to 1654. [7]

Dexter family monument, North Burial Ground, Providence

One of the first acts of his administration was to order his predecessors John Smith and Samuel Gorton to appear before the General Assembly and answer charges of misdemeanors occurring during their terms.[7] Another act of Dexter's was to enter a remonstrance against the two island towns for their warlike stance against the Dutch, for fear that this would "set all New England on fire, for the event of war is various and uncertain."[7][8] At the conclusion of his term as president, Dexter reinvigorated his association with the Baptist church in Providence, and he became pastor of the congregation about 15 years later, upon the death of Rev. William Wickenden.[9] In the Royal Charter of 1663, Dexter was one of several prominent citizens named in the document which brought broad freedoms to the inhabitants of the colony.

Dexter was at Long Island for part of King Phillips War from 1675 to 1677.[5] This was the greatest crisis that had yet visited the Rhode Island colony, and the General Assembly desired to have the "advice and concurence of the most judicial inhabitants". They voted, therefore, that they should have the company and counsel of 16 persons in their next sitting, one of whom was Dexter.[5]

Dexter continued his association with the Baptist Church late into his long life. He died at an advanced age in Providence, and is buried in the North Burial Ground there. Baptist historian Morgan Edwards writes, "Mr. Dexter was not only a well bred man, but remarkably pious. He was never observed to laugh, seldom to smile. So earnest was he in his ministry that he could hardly forbear preaching when he came into a house or met with a concourse of people out of doors. His religious sentiments were those of the Particular Baptists."[10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Records of the Company of Stationers of London, Freeman’s Register, 1605-1703, on FHL microfilm 1482675, and Apprentices Register, 1605-1666, folio 123, on FHL microfilm 142671
  2. ^ David R. Como, Radical Parliamentarians and the English Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 36-37.
  3. ^ Como, Radical Parliamentarians, 94–97, 134–137.
  4. ^ Como, David R. "Print, Censorship, and Ideological Escalation in the English Civil War." Journal of British Studies, vol. 51, no. 4, 2012, pp. 820–857. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  5. ^ a b c d e f Austin 1887, p. 288.
  6. ^ a b Bicknell 1920, p. 1006.
  7. ^ a b c d Bicknell 1920, p. 1007.
  8. ^ Arnold 1859, p. 247.
  9. ^ Cutter 1914, p. 1929.
  10. ^ Bicknell 1920, p. 1008.


  • Arnold, Samuel Greene (1859). History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Vol.1. New York: D. Appleton & Company.
  • Austin, John Osborne (1887). Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island. Albany, New York: J. Munsell's Sons. ISBN 978-0-8063-0006-1.
  • Bicknell, Thomas Williams (1920). The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Vol.3. New York: The American Historical Society. pp. 1001–1006.
  • Cutter, William Richard (1914). New England Families, Genealogical and Memorial... Vol.4. Lewis Historical Publishing Company.

Further reading[edit]

  • Swan, Bradford (1949). Gregory Dexter of London and New England. Rochester, NY: Leo Hart.

External links[edit]