Digest>Archives> Jul/Aug 2015

The Other Benedict Arnold and his Ties to Beavertail Lighthouse

By Cheryl Vislay


You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Vintage post card of Beavertail Lighthouse from ...

In 1864, Ann Neal Goddard Shaw became Assistant Keeper at Rhode Island’s Beavertail Lighthouse, assisting her husband, Lighthouse Keeper Silas Gardner Shaw, who became keeper in 1858. Silas may have been a keeper at Beavertail longer than his wife, but Ann’s connection to the lighthouse can be counted in centuries.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
This portrait of Ann is labeled “Munny Muchmore” ...

Ann Shaw’s ancestor, Colonial Governor Benedict Arnold (not to be confused with his infamous great-great grandson, Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold) once owned the land where the lighthouse now stands.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Author Cheryl Vislay and son Sean (12th & 13th ...

Established in 1749, Beavertail Lighthouse is Rhode Island‘s first lighthouse and the third oldest light station in the United States. The current tower was built in 1856 and stands sentinel at the head of Narragansett Bay on Conanicut Island in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Old engraving of the original Beavertail ...

Nineteen year old Benedict Arnold and his family came to America from England during the Great Migration in 1635 first settling in Hingham in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Not long after, the family became dissatisfied with the colony and, following Roger Williams, eventually crossed the Moshassuck River to settle on the Indian lands which would eventually become Providence, Rhode Island. The Arnolds were one of the thirteen founding families of Providence. Later, the family moved to land north of the Pawtuxet River (now Cranston). Here Arnold became fluent in the native tongues of the Narragansett tribes and often acted as an interpreter.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Detail of a daguerreotype of Assistant Keeper, ...

In 1651, Benedict Arnold and his family moved to Newport where they settled permanently. Arnold became successful and, along with other Newport merchants, sought land on which to graze his animals. Jamestown fit the bill; it had plenty of open pasture, and being on an island, could naturally contain the animals.

You can see an enlarged version of this picture by clicking here.
>> Click to enlarge <<
Sean Vislay, 4x great grandson of Assistant ...

The merchants received permission to graze their animals from Sachems Canonicus and Miantonomi of the Narragansett tribe. Later, in 1657, a group of about 100 of the merchants purchased the land from, then Sachem, Cashasaquont. Arnold’s was the largest share of land based in proportion to his investment; he owned 1,411 acres from Beavertail Neck to Beavertail Point where the lighthouse now stands.

The merchants paid 100 pounds wampumpeag (the Indian word for “white bead”). Wampumpeag, or wampum, was Indian coin and was worth one sixth of an English penny for white shell and one third of an English penny for black, which was made from quahaug shell. Even then, there was a watch house and crude light built which was tended to by the Indians. The Jamestown Town Council charged Arnold with faithfully keeping the watch.

In 1663, the Royal Charter was delivered from England which officially recognized the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and named Benedict Arnold as Governor.

Ann, a descendant of Governor Arnold through her grandfather, George Washington Topham, was born and raised in Newport. Her grandfather’s grandmother, Ann Arnold, is the great granddaughter of Colonial Governor Benedict Arnold and is the aunt of the Revolutionary war traitor; Ann Arnold’s brother, also named Benedict Arnold was the traitor’s father.

The family has another connection to the traitor; George Washington Topham’s father, Colonel John Topham, led Rhode Island troops on the expedition against Quebec under this same Arnold (the traitor.) Arnold, a first cousin of Colonel Topham’s wife, was, at that time, a rising star in General Washington’s army. Amusingly, all of the papers handed down in our family documenting our Arnold ancestry begin with: “Our ancestor Benedict Arnold, not the traitor. Thank God!”

Colonial Governor Benedict Arnold once owned the Old Stone Mill, which still stands in Newport’s Touro Park. The mill is located on the far end of the lot that Arnold on which Arnold had built his mansion. The mansion has since been demolished, but the old Arnold burying ground still exists and lies between the Old Stone Mill and where the mansion once stood.

When Ann Shaw and her family left Beavertail Lighthouse, they moved back to Newport on Spring Street not far from where Ann’s ancestor, Colonial Governor Benedict Arnold, once had his mansion.

Editor’s Note - The author, Cheryl Vislay is originally from Queens, NY and currently lives in Mint Hill, NC with her husband Steve, 11-year-old son Sean, two horses, and three cats. She has been researching her family’s history for about six years; she is a member of the Winthrop Society and is a Historian and Recording Secretary for the Society of Mayflower Descendants, Charlotte, NC chapter.

This story appeared in the Jul/Aug 2015 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

All contents copyright © 1995-2024 by Lighthouse Digest®, Inc. No story, photograph, or any other item on this website may be reprinted or reproduced without the express permission of Lighthouse Digest. For contact information, click here.

to Lighthouse Digest

USLHS Marker Fund

Lighthouse History
Research Institute

Shop Online

Subscribe   Contact Us   About Us   Copyright Foghorn Publishing, 1994- 2024   Lighthouse Facts     Lighthouse History