Thomas Brownell Killed

On the afternoon of 24 September 1664, Thomas Brownell was killed in an accident while on his way from his farm at the northwest end of Rhode Island to Portsmouth. (The Brownell’s, as was typical of most settlers at that time, probably did not live on their farm. They would also have had a small lot in Portsmouth where they built their home and lived, going to their farm during the day to work.) Aged 56, Thomas left behind a wife, Anne, and nine children, ranging in age from nine to twenty-five years.

According to the testimony of Daniel Lawton, Brownell had stopped at the home of Lawton’s father, Thomas Lawton, and upon leaving, invited Daniel, aged 21, to ride with him the rest of the way to Portsmouth. The ride soon became a race when Thomas put his horse to a gallop as they came down the hill near William Wodel’s property, located about halfway between the Brownell farm and the town of Portsmouth. The younger man soon caught up with and passed Thomas. As he continued the race to Portsmouth, Lawton looked back to see where Brownell was. Seeing his riderless horse running towards a swamp he immediately turned his horse around and caught Brownell’s horse. He then retraced his way until he came upon Brownell lying on the ground near a tree. He called out to him, but received no response and so dismounted to check on him. Taking him by the arms and seeing the great amount of blood on the ground, Lawton realized that Thomas Brownell was dead.

The following day a coroner’s jury, with Samuel Wilbur as foreman, made an inquest into the accident. Testimony was taken from Daniel Lawton and details about the scene of the accident were given. The jury’s conclusion was that Brownell, riding furiously down the hill, was either thrown against or hit the tree. The broken reins of his bridle had been found next to the body and there was blood and hair sticking to the tree. His skull was broken and his “brains came out,” thus causing his death.

The above narrative is based on records found in Rhode Island Historical Society Collections.