Casey Farm History
On March 30, 1702, the property now known as Casey Farm was purchased by Joseph Morey of Jamestown, Rhode Island, the first Casey ancestor to own the farm. Prior to 1702, the land had been involved in a long dispute between Connecticut and Rhode Island, dating back to its “sale” to a group of English colonists from both colonies by the Narragansett Indians in 1659.
Soon after he purchased the land, Joseph Morey gave the land by deed of gift to his daughter Mary, who was married to Daniel Coggeshall. Mary died in 1724, and the land passed to their son, Daniel Coggeshall Jr. Daniel Coggeshall Sr. was the grandson of John Coggeshall, one of the original incorporators of Rhode Island and its first president. He was born in England and immigrated to Boston in 1632, where he became prominent in the colonial government. He was banished to Rhode Island in 1637 or 1638 because, in his official position, he refused to condemn other religions, including Quakers, who were banned by the Puritans. After settling in Rhode Island, he became a Quaker himself.
Around 1750, Daniel Coggeshall Jr. and his wife, Mary Wanton Coggeshall, built the mansion house that still stands today. The gable-on-hip roof design, an expensive and showy style favored by traders in Newport and in the Bahamas, is still impressive. It was a prominent landmark for sailors along the western passage of Narragansett Bay. It stands 135 feet above sea level and about 1,320 feet from the shore.
The Coggeshalls had seven children. During the early to mid-eighteenth century, the Coggeshall family prospered from the farm. The close proximity of the farm to Newport, the second largest port in New England, provided the Coggeshalls with an immediate market for their tenants’ produce. Crops included corn, wheat, rye, barley, and apples for cider. An important product was Narragansett cheese, which was sold in large quantities in the southern colonies. Sheep were also raised. As Quakers, the Coggeshalls probably used indentured servants as laborers but it is unclear whether they owned slaves (Quakers outlawed slavery in the 1790s). By 1747, and probably much earlier, the family had established a cemetery on the property, which was used for burials until the 1940s.
Daniel Coggeshall Jr. lived on the property and managed it until 1772, when he moved into the home of his daughter and son-in-law, Abigail and Silas Casey. In 1774, Benjamin Gardiner took possession of the farm from Daniel Jr. due to Daniel’s failure to pay a mortgage on part of the land.
During Gardiner’s ownership of the property, the Revolutionary War directly affected the farm. During the British occupation of Newport in August 1777, the British army in the bay spotted a group of revolutionaries gathering at the Coggeshall house. The British fired their guns at the house and then sent soldiers on shore. Most of the American soldiers escaped, but some were injured, killed, or captured. A bullet hole from this attack still remains in the parlor door of the house.
Benjamin Gardiner occupied the farm from March 1775 until March 1783, when it was transferred back into the ownership of Daniel Coggeshall’s heirs. Daniel had passed away in November 1775. His daughter Abigail and her husband, Silas Casey, received a one-eighth share of the farm. In 1781, Silas Casey, a successful businessman and merchant, came into sole ownership of the divided estate. In 1787, Silas sold part of the farm to his father, Thomas Casey. A complicated set of dealings saw various parts of the estates in different hands throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
When Silas Casey died in 1814, part of the farm transferred to his son, Wanton Casey. Wanton had fought in the Revolutionary War, eventually going to France in 1779 for his health and to learn the mercantile business. During his stay, according to the family, he was the guest of Benjamin Franklin and also met the Marquis de Lafayette. He returned from France in 1783 and became a partner in his father’s business. Soon after he traveled to Ohio, where he was one of the founders of the town of Marietta, on the Ohio River, one of the first settlements west of the Allegheny Mountains. There he married Elizabeth Goodale. They returned to Rhode Island in 1793 and moved into the mansion house at the farm with their family. The Caseys had ten children that survived childhood.
Wanton Casey left the farm to their oldest son, Thomas Goodale Casey, while he in turn left it to his nephew, Thomas Lincoln Casey. Thomas Goodale Casey had improved much of the farm. At the time of his death in 1855, he was engaged in building a new barn. He had added a porch on the mansion house, and re-shingled and clap-boarded the house as well.
Thomas Lincoln Casey spent considerable effort proving his title to the land, since Thomas Goodale Casey’s will was declared invalid in the state of Rhode Island. The dispute over his will led to the division of the estate among eleven heirs. Thomas Lincoln Casey wrote A Historical Sketch of the Casey Farm, Boston Neck, Rhode Island, in 1881, in which he stated, “Some of the heirs were opposed to the division of the estate into sevenths, or its sale out of the family, regarding it as an heir-loom, which ought to be preserved, while others cared nothing for this sentiment, looking upon the farm simply as a piece of property, of which they owned a share, and in this view they were sustained by the law.” The farm was appraised at $10,500. Over the next fourteen years, Thomas Lincoln Casey endeavored to unite the property under one title. Some of the heirs quit-claimed their right and title to Thomas for one dollar, reserving visitation rights, which would later prove an encumbrance. He was able to recover full ownership of the farm for $3,678.12, and by 1875, owned the farm without any encumbrance whatsoever. Restoring the farm became his hobby.
Thomas Lincoln Casey graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1852, first in his class, and was appointed a lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers. During the Civil War he was stationed at Fort Monroe on the coast of Maine. In 1878, President Hayes and Congress appointed him to complete the construction of the Washington Monument, which, although construction began in 1848, had been abandoned due to design flaws. Casey redesigned the monument, which included strengthening the base, and Casey himself set the capstone in 1884. The monument was dedicated the following February. By 1888, he had risen to Chief of Engineers and Brigadier General. Among his achievements was overseeing the construction of the State, War, and Navy building.
Casey and his family lived in Washington, but he spent his vacations improving the farm while instructing the tenant family, the Goulds, on how the farm should be managed, such as rotating fields, planting crops, maintaining orchards, and fertilizing with seaweed. Casey completed the barn and rebuilt the sheep sheds, changing their frontage. He built a carriage house and woodshed, the roof of the ice-house, a new corn-crib, pig house, a new well-curb, and other outbuildings, and generally repaired all the buildings. He rebuilt many of the principal walls on the farm and “topped,” or rebuilt in a more formal manner, the walls bordering the main road crossing the estate. (Now the lane, Old Boston Neck Road.)
He planted one hundred American elm trees at the cost of $100. The elms succumbed to Dutch elm disease and the weakened trees were destroyed during the Hurricane of 1938. There are photos from the 1930s that show the farm house and the surrounding elms in their glory. One elm that probably grew from a seed of one of these trees has managed to survive and can still be seen towards the swamp meadow just beyond the corn crib.
Casey also improved a wild cranberry yard of about two acres in the swamp meadow. There are still cranberries growing there today, and evidence of the method used to flood the bog at the bridge near the southern end. Casey built the stone wall around the family cemetery, and purchased several of the monuments placed there. He had his grandfather, Wanton, and his grandmother, Elizabeth, disinterred from their grave sites in East Greenwich and reburied at Casey Farm.
Thomas Lincoln Casey and his wife, Emma Weir, had four sons. The first, Thomas Jr., became a captain in the Army Corps of Engineers. Their second child, Robert Jerauld, died at age one and is buried in the family cemetery. Their third son, Harry Weir Casey, was born in 1861 at West Point. Their fourth son, Edward Pearce, known as Ned, became an architect of merit in Washington, and worked with his father on the Library of Congress.
Harry spent his summers at the farm, often with his brother Ned, during the 1870s. From 1871-1880, Harry sent letters to his parents in Washington, D.C., which provide an interesting description of life on the farm with the tenant family. He reported escapades shooting his gun and sailing to Block Island. His letters also include complaints about the tenants, the Goulds, including Mr. Gould’s failures to comply with Thomas Lincoln Casey’s instructions, which were frequent and explicit:
“Mr. Gould hasn’t fixed the broken places in the walls yet.”
“Mr. Gould hasn’t filled in the pig pens yet, or done anything else except white wash the piazza, and he did that just a little while before we came.”
Harry also complained of Mrs. Gould’s cooking, “regulation” johnnycakes, and lots of comments about dirty dishes and poor laundering. His letters, while not always positive, give valuable information about daily life on the farm. Harry also took many photographs with a glass-plate camera, images that now preserve Casey Farm in the second half of the nineteenth century.
In September 1877, Harry enrolled in the Scientific Department of Yale College where he received a number of awards. Tragically, just prior to his junior year, he drowned off of Narragansett Pier on September 1, 1880.
In 1881, Thomas Lincoln Casey completed his book, A Historical Sketch of the Casey Farm, Boston Neck, Rhode Island, which describes the history of the farm and Boston Neck, as well as describing in detail the efforts to preserve the property intact and his many improvements on the farm. Perhaps the final paragraph sums up his love for the land: “As a piece of property, the place is nearly valueless...The soil generally is exhausted in fertility, much grown up in brush and swampy grasses, the Mansion house dilapidated, and the fields stony. But as the heirloom preservation of which many sacrifices have been made by my ancestors, and as a repository of the ashes of my beloved kindred, the place is beyond price, and I trust will ever be zealously guarded and cherished by me and mine.”
Thomas Lincoln Casey passed away in 1896. At the time of his death, he was overseeing the construction of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. with his son, Edward Pearce Casey. He left the farm to his sons, Thomas L. Casey Jr. and Edward Pearce Casey.
Thomas Jr. passed away in 1925. The farm came into the sole possession of Edward Pearce Casey. Sixteen days after his brother’s death, Edward Pearce Casey wrote his own will. He and his wife, Lillian Berry, had no heirs. Ned was friends with William Sumner Appleton, founder of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England, so he knew of the society, which was one of the only organizations that could be enlisted to preserve the farm at that time.
His will stated: “First, after all my lawful debts are paid and discharged, I give and bequeath to the SOCIETY FOR THE PRESERVATION OF NEW ENGLAND ANTIQUITIES of Boston, Mass., The Casey Farm located on Boston Neck, North Kingstown, Rhode Island, with all the appurtenances thereunto belonging, including the house built about 1745 and historic in that it bears the marks of an attack by the British during the Revolution; also…a permanent endowment, the income from which shall be used in maintaining the estate, including the burying ground thereon...Cultivation of the Farm shall continue and be maintained and the woods shall be preserved and the older trees not cut out as frequently recommended. This bequest will include, in addition, the contents of my dwelling and office comprising of old furniture, paintings, drawings, etc., much of which was taken from the Farm and should be returned; also genealogical material and a book written by General Thomas Lincoln Casey, giving the history of the Farm from the time of purchase from the Indians to be found in my library; also, documents wherever found.”
Edward Pearce Casey died in 1940, and his wife Lillian in 1955. Since that time, Historic New England has been operating the Casey Farm as a working farm, preserving the valuable land along the Narragansett Bay and teaching visitors about agriculture and preservation in Rhode Island.