Gregory Dexter

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Gregory Dexter
7th President of Providence and Warwick
In office
Preceded by John Smith
Succeeded by Nicholas Easton (as President of all four towns of Rhode Island Colony)
Personal details
Born 1610
Northamptonshire, England
Died 1700
Providence, Rhode Island
Spouse(s) Abigail Fullerton
Children Stephen, James, John, Abigail
Occupation Printer, 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' translation of the native languages. 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 the colony were consolidating into a unified government. He later 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 towns were re-united 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]

It is thought Dexter may have been born in the village of Old, Northamptonshire, England, where his father also named Gregory, 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 3 December 1632 for a term of eight years, and admitted to freedom in the Stationer’s Guild on 18 December 1639 (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). Dexter gained a reputation for printing controversial tracts often critical of the crown.[citation needed] He printed a pamphlet on "Prelatical Episcopacy" for the poet John Milton. While in London Milton became involved with the Baptist church and began corresponding with Roger Williams in New England.[citation needed] About 1644 Dexter was in New England where he was assigned a 5-acre lot in Providence, and in July 1640 he and 38 others signed an agreement to form a government there.[1][2] This agreement gave authority to five selectmen to handle the business of the town, leaving difficult matters to arbitration.[2] He possibly returned to England, because in 1643 his printing establishment in London printed Williams' book, A Key into the Language of America, the first English translation of a Native American language.[1] If he had actually left New England, then he returned in 1644, rejoining Williams in Providence, and joining the Baptist church there.[1] He continued to work as a printer, and in 1646 he was requested in Boston to get the printing operation running there. For his services he requested no remuneration; he only asked that they send him their almanac once a year.[1]

Rhode Island[edit]

Though Roger Williams had obtained a patent for the Rhode Island colony in 1644, 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.[3] The unification was accomplished, and under the new government Dexter was a member of the General Court of Trial in 1648. In 1651 William Coddington had been 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 from 1653 to 1654 was President of the two towns of Providence and Warwick. [3]

Dexter family monument, North Burial Ground, Providence

One of the first acts of his administration was to order his two predecessors, John Smith and Samuel Gorton, before the General Assembly to answer charges of misdemeanors occurring during their terms.[3] 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."[3][4] At the conclusion of his term as president, Dexter re-invigorated his association with the Baptist church in Providence, and about 15 years later, upon the death of Rev. William Wickenden, became pastor of the congregation.[5] 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.

During King Phillips War, from 1675 to 1677, Dexter was at Long Island for part of the duration.[1] This was the greatest crisis that had yet visited the Rhode Island colony, and the General Assembly, desiring to have the "advice and concurence of the most judicial inhabitants" voted that in its next sitting the body have the company and counsel of 16 persons, one of whom was Dexter.[1]

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. The Baptist historian, Morgan Edwards, wrote of him, "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."[6]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f Austin 1887, p. 288.
  2. ^ a b Bicknell 1920, p. 1006.
  3. ^ a b c d Bicknell 1920, p. 1007.
  4. ^ Arnold 1859, p. 247.
  5. ^ Cutter 1914, p. 1929.
  6. ^ Bicknell 1920, p. 1008.


Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]