No ‘notorious scandals’

hanton-city-1
What remains of Hanton City. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

In a small section of the town of Smithfield, Rhode Island, all that remains of a once thriving village are a few stone foundations and three legible gravestones. For nearly two centuries, many have speculated about the fate of the residents of Hanton City, an abandoned village named after the Hanton family who once resided there.[1] The settlement is a considerable distance from all the other settlements in Smithfield which were occupied at the time of its existence, leading many to wonder about its purpose, as well as the reason it was eventually abandoned.[2]

The three legible gravestones in the cemetery within Hanton City’s former boundaries belong to members of the Alfred Smith family. Alfred Smith was born on 27 February 1770 and died on 15 October 1828. He was the son of Daniel Smith (born 1 March 1723 and died in Smithfield 25 February 1797) and Else Mowry (born 5 November 1738 and died 18 November 1795). Another gravestone is for Eliza, the wife of Alfred, who was born 17 September 1785 and died 25 February 1840. Lastly, there is a gravestone for Emor, their son, who died 11 February 1826.[3] Unfortunately, these names do not provide any context for the existence of Hanton City, as the Smith family seems to have lived a relatively quiet life, not appearing in any notorious scandals or being known for any illicit activities.

The lack of information on the only known names from the area did not curb speculation surrounding the now-abandoned village. Several theories have been put forth over the years, including the one that the residents were a band of runaway slaves or Native Americans; that they were residents of the town’s ‘poor farm’; or that they were loyalists during the American Revolution.[4] The latter theory is rooted in the fact that Samuel Vernon (a Tory from the town of Newport) and many other like-minded individuals were banished to Smithfield and Glocester.[5] These theories all have inherent flaws, however, and as such, cannot be substantiated.

[The] Smith family seems to have lived a relatively quiet life, not appearing in any notorious scandals or being known for any illicit activities.

The most likely scenario regarding the village’s origins and ultimate fate was presented by a resident of the area who was born in Hanton City c. 1809, Thomas Hanton. In 1889, the Providence Journal published a piece titled “A Buried City,” which contained excerpts of an interview with Thomas. In the article, it is stated that the settlement was developed in the 1730s and was home mainly to tanners and boot makers whose primary income was derived from the sale of goods in the markets of Providence.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Rhode Island became a national leader in the development and application of mill technology, reducing the need for individual craftsmen, and thus crippling the economic situation among residents of Hanton City.[6] As for the fate of the village’s residents, according to Thomas Hanton “they had all got poor, sold out to anybody, and died off.”[7] Unlike some of the more sensational theories about disease or political dissidence, the information provided by Thomas Hanton offers a plausible explanation for why the town came to be abandoned by the middle of the nineteenth century.[8]

[Conjecture] over the history of Hanton City has continued well into the twenty-first century.

Much like the village itself, the story from the Providence Journal seems to have been lost over time, and conjecture over the history of Hanton City has continued well into the twenty-first century.

Notes

[1] Jim Ignasher, Remembering Smithfield: Sketches of Apple Valley (Mt. Pleasant, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2009).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Smith Family Graves in Smithfield, RI, USGenWeb, http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~rigenweb/stones/smith_graves.html, and Robert and Catherine Barnes, Genealogies of Rhode Island Families from Rhode Island Periodicals (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983), 2: 57–60.

[4] Ignasher, Remembering Smithfield.

[5] The Diary of Thomas Vernon [microform]: a Loyalist, Banished from Newport by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1776: With Notes by Sidney S. Rider (Providence: S.S. Rider, 1881).

[6] William G. McLoughlin, Rhode Island, A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986), 120.

[7] Ignasher, Remembering Smithfield.

[8] Ken Brown Sr., Smithfield (Mt. Pleasant, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2008), 127.

About Zachary Garceau

Zack Garceau is a Researcher at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. He joined the research staff after receiving a Masters Degree in Historical Studies with a concentration in Public History from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a BA in history from the University of Rhode Island. He specializes in French-Canadian Genealogy and Sports History.

9 thoughts on “No ‘notorious scandals’

  1. Since the article mentions tanners, perhaps also as in the Catskill region of New York, once the ready supply of trees (hemlock in the case of the Catskills) which supplied bark for the tannic acid required by the tanneries was used up, tanners moved on to where a ready supply of such bark still existed.

  2. A look at the land records would probably give some additional information on at least who owned the land where that this tiny village stood. Since they’re buried there, perhaps the Alfred Smith family owned property there.
    Hanton Village isn’t listed in the 1894 Geographic Dictionary of RI by Henry Gannett.

  3. Are they related to the Smiths of Smithtown Long Island? They are from Conn. Roswell Parish wrote a geneology on them. The book may still be at Yale.

    Curious.

  4. This is the first time I have seen anything written regarding Smithfield RI, I have a 4 Gr Grandfather, Joseph Enos, who is listed as coming from Smithfield to marry Jemima Darling in 1779 in Mendon, Mass. Is there any record of this person in Smithfield? I do not know where Joseph Enos came from but some have mentioned he immigrated from The Azores. Any help with learning more about Joseph Enos in Smithfield or before would be greatly appreciated. Linda Freeland

    1. Rhode Island Vital Records up through 1850 were published by James N. Arnold’s “Vital Record of Rhode Island”. It’s all available on Ancestry.com, and perhaps on the NEHGS’s website as well. I find Ancestry much easier to use.

    2. Linda, 3 of m ancestors were named Ebenezer Enos. None of my papers easy to get at right now, but I think my Joab Enos is also your relative. Please email me, will get back to you on this.

      1. Susan, I was so surprised and happy to hear from you. I am not familiar with the names Ebenezer or Joab in my Enos line but all things are possible! Would enjoy discussing this with further..my email is /Buckeyemuffy40@gmail.com Looking forward to hearing from you.

    3. Hi, Linda! I am related to Joseph Enos as well. My grandfather’s Y-dna has been extensively tested, and it seems that the theory that Joseph Enos was from the Azores looks to be very possible. My grandfather’s closest DNA matches had families that originated on Pico and/or Faial island in the Azores. 🙂

  5. From Rhode Island State Census 1885: ” At “Hanton City” which is a corruption of the family name Herrenden, is a granite ledge that was at one time worked.”

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