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Sample of the colonial signature of Joseph Bucklin 4th

Joseph Bucklin  4th - Biography

JOSEPH BUCKLIN (JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, WILLIAM,) was born 20 February 1719/20 in Coventry, Kent, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, a colony of England. He married Zereriah Sabin 29 September 1751.

"Be it remembered that Capt. Joseph Bucklin departed this life December 27, 1790, on Monday at four minutes after 2 o'clock P.M. after a lingering disease, appearance quietly and easy in mind, and was buried the day following in the common burying ground North End of Providence. Aged 70 years, 10 months and one day."

Joseph 4th was a prominent merchant in the area of Providence, Rhode Island.  From 1759, until his death in 1790 he shows up on lists of occupants of Providence buildings, as a landowner having houses, wharfs, barns, and shops. .He operated ships both as an owner and also as his own ship captain (from which his title of "Captain" comes).  It is significant that he gave his title in his will as "Merchant" and not as "Mariner".   A merchant was someone who made their money by a wholesale importation or exportation of goods to or from the colony. Although Joseph had piloted his own ships, and thus had the title of Captain,  his ships were a means to the end of his being a merchant.

Joseph Bucklin's forbearers were consistently referred to in documents as "Gentleman" or "Yeoman", and Joseph Bucklin 4th continued the line of Bucklins of relative wealth and social importance. [Gentleman and Yeoman were titles that indicated a person of importance because of wealth and status, not as someone who worked because of need to earn a living. {Wood, 1991}]. 

Providence of Captain Bucklin's period had a flourishing maritime trade, a merchant aristocracy, a few industries, a body of skilled artisans, a newspaper, a stagecoach line, and several public buildings. Fortunes of many of the merchants and ship owners had been built on the export of lumber, fish and rum, and the importation of tea and sugar and molasses, and slaves.  Whaling was the basis of a thriving candle factory. Tea, sugar, sugar, molasses and rum were examples of items which the English tried to tax and the Providence merchants preferred to import without paying the tax.  Joseph was one of those merchants.

At least by 1760, Joseph Bucklin 4th started using ships to gather and trade merchandise.  In that year rented a sloop from Esek Hopkins. Joseph’s account book and other papers in the manuscript department holdings of the Rhode Island Historical Society suggest that until the Revolutionary War he was moderately successful in a business pattern that involved conservatively sending out only one ship at a time to increase his capital. 

Joseph's outfitting of his own ships expanded to include a blockmaker's shop and sales of labor materials for the repair or outfitting of ships of other merchants.  This  business of repairing and outfitting ships was centered on his warehouse and wharf on the Great Salt Cove, on the North side of the Great Bridge.  Joseph's outfitting facilities included a  block makers shop, a specialized craft shop making the wooden "blocks", a pulley or set of pulleys set in a casing,  used in lifting objects by mechanical advantage. A number of "blocks" were used on board every sailing ship, and the business would be a consistent source of income.

Bill from Joseph to Esek Hopkins for repair of Brig ProvidenceIn November 1760,  the same year Joseph rented a sloop from Esek Hopkins,  Esek paid Joseph for repairing the planking on the keel of the brigantine Providence, paying both for the materials and also for wages for skilled labor (Bucklin's black slave Prince Bucklin). (The signature at the top of this page is taken from Bucklin's  bill to Hopkins for the repairs.)

The brigantine Providence has a history that connects Joseph Bucklin with the other merchants of Providence,  The ship was commissioned in 1757 by Stephen Hopkins, then governor of Rhode Island, as a privateer to seize goods of France. Esek Hopkins was the captain of the privateer ship. After the Seven Years War, the brigantine Providence continued in use. In 1768 it was partly owned by Joseph Bucklin the 4th, together with Nicholas Cooke and Benjamin Cushing.  In 1768 he served as his own master of  the brigantine Providence (for the combined owners) when it was confiscated for being involved in smuggling. Joseph sued to recover the ship and the rum seized as contraband.  He won the case, and costs were assessed against the customs collector.  Read the Admiralty Court opinion.  The ship was again seized by the English, by Capt. Linzee, commanding the Beaver, shortly before the Gaspee attack in 1772.  After the Revolutionary War the ship was owned by John Brown. Read the history of the brigantine Providence.

Thus, Captain Bucklin himself had been accused of smuggling of rum, and was well acquainted with the merchants of Providence, including John Brown, the leader of the Gaspee attack.

Bucklins were prominent in the Providence/Pawtucket area. In 1761 Joseph Bucklin was one of those who petitioned the legislature to get the streets of Providence paved,  and was appointed, together with John Brown, as one of the directors of the Providence Street Paving Lottery.  The appointment suggests Joseph Bucklin was a prominent merchant by that time.

Joseph Bucklin 4th participated in advisory capacities in public committees involved on the Revolutionary War.  He was involved with supervising the work in the fortification of Fort Independence, guarding the port of Providence.  Joseph 4th was a member of the Rhode Island's legislatures "Committee of Correspondence" that was organized to coordinate the resistance of the colonies to England.  Joseph 4th was also one of the committee formed by Providence to see to the enforcement of the ideas of the First Continental Congress.  These were important committees, on which were the important merchants of the day.

The Bucklins of 1772 owned great stretches of the land across the Seekonk River from Providence. (Click on the thumbnail map to get an idea of the large size of the Bucklin family holdings, which were larger than the entire city area of Providence.) Indeed if one crossed the river to travel to Boston, it was impossible not to travel on Bucklin family land.  The Bucklins, owing for over 100 years the entire east side of the Seekonk River, at the Pawtucket falls area, with the only bridge to cross the Seekonk River were always a family of substance and entitled to respect.

One does not see accounts of Bucklins being involved politically in Rhode Island.  This was natural, for among other things, the Bucklin family holdings were centered in Pawtucket and Rehoboth, on the east side of the Seekonk River -- which was then part of Massachusetts.  The Pawtucket/Rehoboth town area, just prior to the Revolution, had more people and buildings that Providence, and it was natural that the Bucklin family continued its major presence there, rather than in Providence.  Further, the Massachusetts Bucklins would not be freemen entitled to vote in Rhode Island town matters, and because the Bucklins tended to be Baptists or other non-conformists to the churches of Boston, they would not be involved centrally in political events in Massachusetts.  

There appear no records of social interactions between the Brown and Bucklin families.  A clue may lie in the fact that Joseph Bucklin 4th had one of the earliest and best lots on the west side of the Providence River. When the compact part of Providence was expanded west of the Market Square and across the river, this new portion of Providence, with its new street of "Westminster Street" was intended by the early occupants to be a portion of the town not under the social  rule of the Browns and the aristocratic merchants and politicians associated with Brown.  The very name "Westminster Street" was chosen by the early owners of land on the west side of the Great Bridge to honor the Westminster parliamentary constituency in England.  Westminster had a  large and socially diverse electorate and was one of the few parliamentary constituencies espousing the new Radical Whig ideas.  The Radical Whigs of Westminster advocated the most liberal English thought of the era, including the belief that every man, without regard to property ownership or social status, had the right to vote, and the belief that liberty consisted in frequent elections by all men to change government dominated by a few. 

In 1772, when Joseph Bucklin 4th was 52 years old, somebody named Joseph Bucklin fired the first shot in the Revolution against England. That Joseph Bucklin wounded the English ship captain in Rhode Island's capture and burning of the English ship "Gaspee". That person was Joseph (4th)'s son, Joseph (5th) Thus, Joseph Bucklin 4th' s son was the "Joseph Bucklin" who fired the shot which hit the British ship captain in what sometimes is said by historians to have been the first deliberate military engagement of the Revolution.  The King proclaimed a reward of 1000£, and ordered if the person who shot the English captain was found, the traitor would be brought to England for trial. The Bucklins obviously had reasons for hoping that the American Revolution did not end in failure, with the instigators of the Revolution being hanged as traitors.

Here are more facts about  Joseph BUCKLIN, 4th, Capt.

JOSEPH1 BUCKLIN, 4TH, CAPT. was born 20 Feb 1719/20 in Coventry, Kent, RI1,2, and died 27 Dec 1790 in Providence, RI3,4.

CAPT. JOSEPH BUCKLIN, 4TH,  was the fourth in an unbroken line in Rhode Island of Joseph Bucklins, starting with the son of William Bucklin, the 1630 colonist from England that moved to Rhode Island in 1645.

Joseph Bucklin is shown on the 1759 list of those who had property at risk of fire in the compact part of Providence. There had been a serious fire the year before and many buildings were destroyed.  The 1759 assessments for fire protection were based on the value of the property in the area considered to be at most risk of fire because of the "compact" nature of that part of Providence.. 

Joseph Bucklin was assessed 20 pounds, which placed him in the upper 25% of persons according to amounts assessed for buildings in the town. The assessors did not include in his assessment anything for the next door building  of Bucklin and Donnison which the assessors described as "House &c 4.th[sic] order with a Wharf Lot".  That building was assessed to Donnison.  Joseph was assessed for the house and buildings described as being the third lot from the river, beginning at the bridge, on the West side of the river, on the North side of Westminster Street. [Chase Papers, box 1, f. 21]  (the Bucklin and Donnison joint building was the second from the bridge)  Joseph Bucklin and Donnison also had a joint merchant building of some sort southerly, near Fields point, but it was not assessed, which suggests it was not in the "compact:" part of the town.  This was the area preferred for the easy unloading of ships, which suggests a warehouse as the Bucklin and Donnison building located there.

To understand Bucklin's comparative wealth, other than noting his 1759 assessment in the upper quartile of property owners, compare Bucklin's 20 pound assessment with the 40 pound assessment of merchant Obadiah Brown, clearly the major merchant force in Providence at the time, with operations as diverse as a rum distillery  and a spermaceti candle works factory.  likewise one might compare Bucklin's assessment with the 30 pound the assessment of Ambrose Page, who at the time had two houses, and four warehouses. [Chace Papers, box 1, f. 6] 

Joseph's main house stood next to that of Sam Butler, whose property was described by the assessor as "A tolerable good house and wharf well furnished." When the assessors went next to Joseph's property, they described five structures that they assessed as "[1]A House better than the former ---[2]Wharf, [3]Store ;& [4]Block makers Shop -- all good and compleat -- and  [5]Stable."  This comparison by the assessors with their other assessment indicates Joseph's  properties were in good condition.

The nature of Joseph being both a ship captain and also a merchant is illustrated by the assessors designating him in 1759 as a "mariner" but still being taxed him for " a house, store, block making shop & wharf, all good and complete, and a stable" at the "N. Sd. Market" [Chace Papers, box 1, f. 18]. [See also Kinsley Cooper's remarkable 1771 inventory of the houses of Providence.], plus a second wharf and house on the waterfront at South Main street. 

The later census of Rhode Island in 1774 shows Joseph 4th heading a household in Providence consisting of three males above the age 16 (himself, his son Joseph 5th, and one other male), two females above the age 16 (his wife and daughter Nancy), one female under the age 16 (his daughter Sally), and three blacks.  The additional white male and three blacks is consistent with Joseph doing a good merchandise and/or ship repair business in the town of Providence.

The Bartlett Error. 

Abstract: From the available evidence, we come to the conclusion that Bartlett simply was wrong in his statement identifying the occupation and social prominence of the Joseph Bucklin that was Bowen's "youthful" companion on the raid.  The Bartlett Error is contradicted by the facts.

Discussion: Because of Joseph 4th's clear prominence as a merchant and ship captain, consistently being referred to with the title "Capt." in news articles because of his merchant ship adventures, there is one published item about Joseph Bucklin 4th that does not make logical sense. That published item is a 1861 statement of John Russell Bartlett. Bartlett was a Secretary of State of Rhode Island who in that year published 125 copies of a privately printed multi-volume Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations between 1856 and 1865. In this privately printed edition he added his own observations.   In footnotes to text "Benjamin Page5, Joseph Bucklin6, and Turpin Smith7, my youthful companions," at p. 20 with no sources given, Bartlett describes the occupation of these three "youthful companions" by stating the post-war occupations of Page and Smith.  Startlingly, in the undocumented 1861 footnote regarding the Bucklin who was in the attacking group of men, Bartlett says about that Bucklin:

"JOSEPH BUCKLIN, was well known in Providence and kept a prominent restaurant, or place of resort, in South Main Street, where gentlemen resorted for their suppers.. Here, too, they assembled, to discuss politics, and where, possibly, the expedition which destroyed the Gaspee, was discussed, as well as at Mr. Sabin's house, which was near it."

Bartlett was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Joseph Bucklin 5th never owned or operated a "prominent restaurant".  He was simply too young to have owned or operated commercial property before his Revolutionary War death at sea. There is no evidence that the 19 year old "youthful companion" of Bowen ever had a restaurant, and it is highly unlikely that he did.  (The further "where possibly the expedition ...was discussed"  observation of Bartlett seems nothing but raw speculation.) 

Likewise, there is no evidence that even Joseph Bucklin 5th's father ( Captain Joseph Bucklin 4th) ever was a restaurant owner or ever had an inn or similar "place of resort"  Captain Joseph Bucklin 4th was a merchant, and his business records available at the Rhode Island Historical Society suggest nothing but a merchant and mariner occupation. (His business records show no inn, restaurant or such business. Joseph Bucklin 4th was in all records consistently referred to "Capt." and for his merchant and shipping interests. He  participated in town events on the basis of being a merchant (e.g., participating in the committee formed by Providence to see to the enforcement of the merchandise importation ideas of the First Continental Congress.) Joseph Bucklin 4th does not show up on the tax lists or licenses as having any tavern property but rather only as having wharfs and buildings for his merchant and ship repair / outfitting businesses. he fact that he was socially prominent and unlikely to operate an illegal business, plus that no license for an inn was every issued to him suggest he did not operate anyplace that sold liquor (a necessity for eating in those days).

The main properties of Joseph Bucklin were all west of the Great Bridge. The only property of Joseph that was on South Main Street was a building and wharf owned by the mercantile partnership of Bucklin and Donnison. The building was not near Sabin's' tavern, but rather at the Fields point area. Fields point was an area preferred for the easy unloading of ships, which suggests the "building and wharf" owned by the mercantile partnership of Bucklin and Donnison was a warehouse. 

Bartlett Bartlett (1805-1880) was not born in time to be either a participant or witness to 18th century events.  Bartlett cites no source for his footnote observation regarding Bucklin.

Most likely causations of the Bartlett Error. Imperfect notes by Bartlett of oral information gathered orally by Bartlett from Bowen is the most likely  reason for Bartlett's error. Bartlett's description of Bucklin's "place where gentlemen resorted for their suppers" and discussed the attack bears a remarkable resemblance to Bowen's written statement that the boats left from "Fenner’s wharf [on South Main Street], directly opposite to the dwelling of Mr. James Sabin, who kept a house of board and entertainment for gentlemen."

Further, speculatively, the fact that Captain Joseph Bucklin 4th's first wife was a Sabin (although she was not immediately a part of the tavern keeping Sabin families) and the Sabin tavern was on South Main Street, caused confusion when Bartlett in the 19th century looked at his 18th century notes and wrote his "where possibly" footnote statement about 18th century events in Captain Bucklin' s businesses of  the 18th century.

Bartlett may have been further confused by the tact that there was a "a prominent restaurant, or place of resort" operated by a Bucklin in Providence.  But is was not a Joseph Bucklin who was involved and it was a North (not South) Main Street property There was a place licensed to sell liquor owned in 1759 by one Jonathan Bucklin, who operated it as a tavern at a prominent location in town. (Note: the 18th century written abbreviations for "Joseph" and "Jonathan" are difficult to distinguish and are sometimes confused by researchers reading the common, small, crowded, handwriting of that century.) 

Futhermore, in 1770 or sometime before 1770, the tavern business of Jonathan Bucklin was transferred to Richard Olney, who operated the property as a prominent tavern  and "place of resort." (See, e.g., William Weeden, Early Rhode Island: A Social History of the People (New York: The Grafton Press, 1910) at p. 324: "Richard Olney kept an inn at the sign of the “Crown,” a two-storied house of wood, two doors above the Court House. The Town Council occasionally met there.")  All indications are that Olney was the best known Innkeeper in town (used for town meeting, site from which the Boston stage coach left) et cetera). Richard's son - Simeon. -- son of the best known Innkeeper in town --- was in the group of men attacking the Gaspee.  And Simeon  did take over the operation of the Tavern after the Revolutionary War, and did live well into the next century.  Bartlett's description of Joseph Bucklin 5th seems a mistaken 19th century appending to the Bucklins of 18th century items about the Olneys, perhaps caused by confusion of which families who owned which taverns and when they were owned.

Conclusion: Bartlett was wrong in his undocumented footnote assertion that the shooter at the Gaspee attack, 19 year old  Joseph Bucklin 5th, who died in 1781, while the War was still ongoing, after being gone from Providence for most of the war, "was well known in Providence and kept a prominent restaurant, or place of resort, in South Main Street." 

Appendix: The Bartlett Error apparently is the source for those later writers who have erroneously stated that the 19 year old "youthful companion" of Bowen operated a "place of resort" in South Main Street. Some of those writers compound the error by stating that that the Gaspee shooter was alive after the end of the Revolutionary War. That is wrong. Joseph 5th died, lost at sea, in 1781. His death is documented in the handwritten record in the family bible of Joseph Bucklin 4th. It was his father, Captain Joseph Bucklin 4th,  who lived in Providence into the next century.

More Facts About Capt. Bucklin 4th

Facts About the Ship Providence owned by Capt. Bucklin 4th, and its Seizure.

Map and Facts about the Property of Capt. Bucklin 4th

Facts about the Captain's son -- Joseph Bucklin 5th

Facts that Joseph Bucklin the 5th (not the 4th) who was the Gaspee shooter

Facts about Capt Bucklin 4th's father (Joseph Bucklin  3rd)

Partial BibliographyBrowse the Joseph Bucklin book shelves

References on any page in this website are to materials listed in the our Library Catalog.]

Bucklin, George W. Three hundredth anniversary Bucklin family, 1634 - 1934. Broomall, PA, 1958. 

Concannon, John, "Biography of Dr. John Mawney," http://gaspee.org/MawneyBio.html (8/07/2003).

"Fields point, a historical account of the fortifications." Providence Journal. "

John Robinson v. the Brigantine Providence." Court of Vice Admiralty in Rhode Island, 1767. 

Joseph Bucklin Society. "Bucklin Family Archives." Tempe, AZ.

Rhode Island Historical Society. "Rhode Island Historical Society Manuscripts." Providence. 

Staples, William R. Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee. Edited by Richard M. Deasy, Rhode Island Revolutionary Heritage Series. Providence: Rhode Island Publications Society, 1990. 

Woodstrup, Thomas E. Captain Benjamin Page, A Forgotten Rhode Island Hero of the American Revolution, Rediscovered in Sycamore, Illinois.