The Pawtuxet Rangers are an important part of Warwick’s history, and last November, the Rangers recovered an important part of their history at an auction house in Boston and have brought it back to its rightful place.
Due to friends throughout the re-enactment community, Col. Ron Barnes and the company learned a copy of their 1774 charter was going up for auction at Skinner Auction House in Boston. Part of the mission of the Pawtuxet Rangers is to perpetuate the history of Rhode Island, Warwick and Pawtuxet, so they were serious about obtaining the document that dates from about 1776.
After their creation in 1774, the Pawtuxet Rangers remained active until 1847 when they were disbanded. Then in 1974 they were resurrected and have since worked to preserve their history through educational presentations, re-enactments and ceremonial appearances such as marching in the Gaspee Days Parade.
While the Rangers’ story has been preserved and celebrated, Barnes explained that, with the exception of The Armory Hall on Remington Street, which was built in 1843, the Rangers have no items from colonial times.
The original charter of the Pawtuxet Rangers was issued on Oct. 29, 1774. Prior to November, it was thought there had been only two versions of the document; the original, which is in the State Archives on Westminster Street in Providence, and a copy that would have been sent to the Rangers; that copy has since been lost. The version obtained by the Rangers is believed to be a third, transcribed by the company clerk, John Waterman Jr., in 1777. Skinner Auction House has a non-disclosure policy, so Barnes, a director of information technology, was unable to learn how the charter ended up in an auction house, but the Rangers were determined to return it to Pawtuxet.
“The company felt so strongly, we committed $6,000 to bringing this document back to this armory,” said Barnes during a press conference Thursday at Armory Hall.
After attempts by Mayor Scott Avedisian to have the document donated in return for a tax deduction failed, Barnes traveled to Boston for the auction with a friend and member of the Sons of the American Revolution named, appropriately enough, John Adams. Barnes had never been to a traditional auction before, so he needed time to learn the process.
According to Barnes, Skinner Auction House can present 100 lots every hour. The charter was Lot 89, so Barnes and Adams used time to their advantage.
“We had to wait a little less than an hour, so we used that time to learn the lingo of the auctioneer,” explained Barnes.
Time allowed Barnes to learn about an auction house’s reserve, or minimum price they will sell an item for. If no one bids the reserve or higher, the item remains unsold. According to Barnes, the charter was valued between $4,000 or $5,000 but no one bid, so the value went down. Eventually, the auctioneer asked, “$1,500, yes or no?” That was Barnes’ clue to raise his paddle. “When they say yes or no, that’s it,” says Barnes. Because of his observation, Barnes was able to bring home a piece of Pawtuxet history for a third of the estimated value.
“I was a little nervous,” said Barnes. “I could have raised my paddle at $4,000; it took learning and patience.”
Now, the Rangers are working to raise funds through donations to cover the cost of purchasing, preserving and displaying the document in their armory, in addition to an alarm system that has been installed in the 170-year-old armory to protect the document and other artifacts, such as the original door to Sabin’s Tavern.
The tavern is where colonists gathered before setting off in long boats to burn the British ship Gaspee on June 9, 1772, as it was aground on Namquid Point.
Currently, the copy of the charter is at the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass. It will be ready in roughly four months.
In the meantime, organizations throughout the area have pledged to help recuperate the funds used to bring this document back to its home, including the Pawtuxet Village Association and Gaspee Days.
During the press conference, Mayor Avedisian presented Barnes and Major Ken Gilbert of the Pawtuxet Rangers with a check for $1,000 from the city to help.
“[The charter] needs to be conserved, displayed properly and the building needs to be protected,” said Avedisian. “We love to call ourselves the birthplace of the American Revolution and it is important to bring documents such as this home.”
While all of the Rangers are happy to have this document, Gilbert feels a personal connection to John Waterman Jr., the clerk who made it. As a resident of Pawtuxet, Gilbert grew up watching the company march in parades and always wanted to join but never thought he could.
When Rangers presented at a CCRI history class Gilbert was enrolled in, he learned a personal connection was not necessary to join. Over 25 years, Gilbert, a quality control technician in his civilian life, has worked his way up from musket man to adjutant. An adjutant is a staff officer that not only assists the commanding officer, but also is responsible for correspondence. “It is a great thing to know [Waterman] was doing the same thing I do today, copying documents and probably making a copy for himself.”
Now that the charter is ready to come home, Barnes hopes that more pieces of Ranger history will be uncovered.
“They say once you find one thing, you find more that are out there,” said Barnes.
Following this experience, Barnes has subscribed to the Skinner Auction House and set up keyword searches on eBay to send alerts when items regarding Pawtuxet or Rhode Island militias are put up for sale. Hopefully, the Pawtuxet Rangers of the 21st century will be able to restore the history of their 18th century brothers-in-arms.
Community members who wish to donate to the fundraising efforts can log on to the Rangers’ website, www.pawtuxetrangers.com, or send a check to 59 Remington St., Warwick, RI 02888. The Rangers ask that you put “charter” on the check and include an email address so they can send an invitation to an unveiling party. All donations are tax-deductible.