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From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:


The Location of the college was first in Warren, Rhode Island. James Manning, who had been sent to Newport in 1763 with the proposal for a Baptist college in the Colony, had settled in Warren and was soon appointed the first pastor of the new Baptist Church there, an offshoot of the church in Swansea, organized in November 1764. There he conducted a Latin school and, after he was named president of the College in September 1765, students of the College met in the Warren parsonage along with the Latin school students.

In 1769, when a building for the College was considered, Warren was first agreed upon as the location. But, according to Morgan Edwards, “some who were unwilling it should be there, and some who were unwilling that it should be anywhere, did so far agree as to lay aside the said Location, and propose that the county which should raise most should have the College.” The next contender as a site for the College was East Greenwich, but only a few days after its application, Moses Brown wrote to his brothers on October 23, 1769, that a conversation with Governor Darius Sessions had convinced him of the advantages of Providence as a site. Sessions, who was not elected a Trustee of the College until the next year, nevertheless, in anticipation of the special meeting of the Corporation to consider the several locations, prepared a statement of his views on the attributes of a suitable place. Among his requirements were “a clear and wholesome air, not subject to epidemical disorders ... where the morals of the inhabitants are not corrupted ... civil and religious liberty is encouraged ... there are assemblies of the different denominations ... so that the young collegians may join with them in the several modes of worship in which they have been educated.” Furthermore he required a town where building materials were good and cheap, workmen skillful, and the necessities of life plentiful and reasonably priced. The town should be large enough “so that upon commencements, or other public occasions, the large number of people that usually attend may be agreeably entertained and provided for.” The business of the town should be varied, “so that the students may become thoroughly acquainted with men as well as books, that when their academical studies are finished, they may not be finished blockheads.” Private libraries should be accessible to the students and the town should be conveniently located for the parents to send and to visit their sons. Finally, no site should be considered where “a hard frost, or high and contrary winds ... might greatly affect the institution, by cutting off all supplies of fuel, provisions and other necessities.”

At the Corporation meeting, November 15, 1769, John Cole, Moses Brown, and Hezekiah Smith presented a memorial on behalf of the principal inhabitants of Providence to have the college located there. They cited advantages of the city, noting its central location, cheap living and availability of materials and workmen for building, also the presence of four schoolhouses, a public library, and two printing offices. They also mentioned that Providence had raised a large sum of money in support of this venture, and concluded “by observing that it is necessary in the execution of all matters of a public nature, that the undertakers have a zeal for promoting it. This qualification we are conscious we have ...” The Corporation rescinded an earlier vote to locate the college in Bristol County and voted for Providence as the location, with the condition that this vote would not be binding if another community should raise a greater subscription. James Manning wrote an anonymous letter to Nicholas Brown outlining a strategy for locating the edifice in Providence. Since it was likely that Newport might raise a larger amount of money, he suggested that the Browns offer to build the edifice themselves at less expense than would be possible elsewhere. Following this line of reasoning, the Browns prepared a minute account of the cost of the building in Newport. Moses Brown noted in a memorandum that, while Newport could be said to have raised 158 pounds more than Providence had, the cost of building in Newport would exceed the cost of building in Providence by 578 pounds, which amount, when added to the subscription raised by Providence, clearly made Providence the higher subscriber by 416 pounds. Next the Brown family acquired the land for the college. Part of the land, where the Edifice was built, originally was part of Chad Brown’s “home lot,” which extended from South Main Street up the hill as far as Hope Street. One of Chad’s sons had sold it to Daniel Abbott. In January 1770 the Browns bought it from the present owner, Samuel Fenner, and sold it to the College.

Those who had wanted the college to be in Newport did not give up easily. On February 23, 1770, according to the diary of Ezra Stiles, William Ellery visited him to discuss a charter for another college to be located at Newport, and a charter for the rival college was passed by the lower house of the General Assembly at the February session, but deferred by the upper house until the next session, when it was rejected. The Corporation of Rhode Island College had in the meantime addressed to the General Assembly a remonstrance, stating its anxiety about the effect of another College on the subscribers to the existing college, and requesting that the Assembly “would be pleased to countenance and encourage the present Institution and College in this Colony, and not permit, or suffer, any other to be set and established to rival, and ruin it.”

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.

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