I have to admit, after the DeWolfe media frenzy about that family’s discovery that they made their money in the slave trade, I was alarmed when I found that multiple generations of the Tompkins family had lived in Rhode Island during the height of the Atlantic slave trade. Even if they were not involved in shipping, all the ancillary trades that go into supporting the shipping industry are tied to that profit source as well. So for this week of #52ancestors I picked an ancestor whose life would have touched on this dark period in American history.
Samuel Tompkins, son of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Waters Tompkins, was born 24 May 1681 in Little Compton, Rhode Island. He was a middle child in a family of ten. He married late for that time, he was almost 31 years old when he married Sarah Coe (1690-1741) in 24 January 1712.
Samuel and Sarah produced twelve children over the next eighteen years.
- Joseph Tompkins, b. 26 Oct 1712
- John, b. 14 Sep 1714
- Elizabeth, b. 8 Dec 1715
- Christopher, b. 8 Dec 1715
- Abigail, b. 28 Jan 1717
- Nathaniel, b. 19 Nov 1719, d. 20 Jan 1724
- Gideon, b. 19 Nov 1720, d. Mar 1774
- Micah, b. 20 Jan 1722, d. May 1771
- Benjamin, b. 26 Jan 1723
- Augustine, b. 19 Mar 1725, d. 16 Feb 1747
- Prescilla, b. 6 June 1726, d. 18 Aug 1739
- William, b. 17 Oct. 1730, d. Nov 1768
Little Compton and the neighboring town of Tiverton were first established as part of Massachusetts in the middle of the 17th century. In 1673, the town was plotted and twenty-nine settlers made claims, most of them Puritans. Later in 1747, the state of Rhode Island formed and the towns became part of that. A Colonial Census was done at that time and Samuel is listed in Little Compton, New Port County.
I have had a great deal of trouble finding records of Samuel but one of the most useful has been the will and estate papers for his father, Nathaniel Tompkins. Nathaniel appears to have been a farmer rather than a mariner, which I have to admit relieves me in many ways as many of the mariners in this part of Rhode Island were involved in the transatlantic slave trade.
Nathaniel’s will is sent through probate in 1724 and names Samuel as the executor. There is a very helpful inventory of the personal property held at the time of his death which includes one mare, five cows, one yoke of oxen and fifteen sheep. There is also mention of one and a quarter acres of land. This makes me wonder if land has already been given over to Samuel or one of his siblings, as that is too little land to feed all those animals.
I have also read through many years of the Town Records for Little Compton, which are a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of a Puritan community in the 18th century. I have found print sources that state Samuel Tompkins died in 1760 but the Town Records did not confirm this. They did, however, document the response of the community to a small pox break out that year and I wonder if that is what caused Samuel’s death in May.
But the real answer lies in Samuel Tompkins’ will. Or does it? I have reviewed all of the pages in the Town Records covering the Council minutes, the will, and the inventory done in June of 1760. None of these records mention slaves or indentured servants. However, my ancestor is his son Benjamin Tompkins, who receives very little in this will (compared to his siblings) and I don’t know if that means that he was given money or property before Samuel’s death and therefore gets little of the estate. It is possible that Benjamin was given a slave or indentured servants were transferred to him before 1760. I am not off the hook yet, I need to look hard at the next generation.