Colonial Meetinghouse

Meetinghouse to Tavern - A Well-Trodden Path

In his 1898 book, A History of Barrington Rhode Island, Thomas William Bicknell wrote, "The principal tavern in most towns, as in Barrington, was near the meetinghouse, and from each was a well-trodden path to the door of the other." Records indicate that the meetinghouse--located at 461 County Road in the area now known as "Old Barrington Village"--was within walking distance of four taverns.

Although the Village's taverns do not appear in records until some years later, the story of the local meetinghouse begins in 1663 at Nockum Hill. On the opposite side of the Hundred Acre Cove, Reverend John Myles, a Baptist Minister from Swansea Wales, established the first meetinghouse of what was to become Barrington. Twelve years later, Myles' original meetinghouse was destroyed and his congregation scattered as a result of the conflicts between the colonists and indigenous peoples during King Philip's War (1675-1678).

In 1678, following King Philip's War, the community's meetinghouse was rebuilt in the area now known as Tyler Point at the southern end of New Meadow Neck, then part of the Baptist Town of Swansea, Massachusetts. This location was to be the "nucleus" for a 'place of trade'.

In 1711, as the population shifted and the Congregationalists grew in number, the meetinghouse location moved once again-this time to the corner of Jenny's Lane and Rumstick Road. A petition to form a new town was submitted to the General Court of Massachusetts. Seven years later (1717), approval was granted to form a new town with a 'learned and orthodox minister'. The town of Barrington Massachusetts (named for Governor Samuel Shute's brother - John Shute Barrington) was founded.

In 1737, thanks to a gift of land by Joshua Bicknell, the meetinghouse moved to its present 461 County Road location. Although the story of its move is likely a fanciful legend, some believe that the meetinghouse was floated from its former Jenny's Lane location up the Barrington River. The circa 1737 structure was replaced in 1806 and has since undergone multiple renovations necessitated by time and hurricane-related storm damage.

In 1770, Barrington reincorporated as Barrington Rhode Island. This shift from Massachusetts to Rhode Island followed ratification of the joint resolution between the two colonies granting all land within three miles east of the Narragansett Bay shoreline to Rhode Island. At that time, the meetinghouse served not only as the focal point of civic and religious activities, it was also the seat of town government.

On July 23, 1770, Mr. Henry Bowen, Collector of Taxes, petitioned the Barrington Town Council at the meetinghouse and was 'licenc'd to keep a publick House of Entertainment' - the second of four nearby taverns. And so, Bicknell's story of the "well-trodden path" from the meetinghouse to tavern began anew!

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461 County Road, Barrington, RI 02806