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Abner Soule–Cornelius Soule–Cornelius Seabury House

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c. 1770, 1809. Late 1980s, converted to offices. 3852 Main Rd.
  • Abner Soule–Cornelius Soule–Cornelius Seabury House (John M. Miller)

Set back in generous grounds is the Soule-Seabury House, which began as a south-facing (toward East Road), center-chimney house, two stories high, with corner quoining. Abner Soule (sometimes spelled Sowle), who erected the house, was a whaler, blacksmith, and Revolutionary War hero. He passed on his blacksmith shops, on the very corner of the house site at the intersection, to one son in 1808; his twin, the famous sea captain, Cornelius, received the house and farm (he soon controlled the blacksmith shops as well). Immediately, Cornelius more than doubled the original house. The 1809 addition to the north made a square of the previously rectangular house and added a dormered, hipped roof (rising to a centered platform now minus its railing and an additional balancing chimney). The modernized plan permitted a central hall through the house between the chimneys. The new west front (on Main Road) features a pattern of openings progressively reduced in number from ground story to dormers which is both unusual and visually effective. Five on the first story; three on the second; finally, two dormers squeezed between the two chimneys. Together they impose a pyramidal overlay across the nearly double- squared field of the elevation. The old front (toward East Road) may have established the pattern—or those dormers may have been altered to agree with the new front. So puzzles remain.

The colorful Cornelius was, however, barely in residence. Active initially in the China trade, he became the skipper of the pride of John Jacob Astor's sailing fleet, the Beaver. In 1811, Soule sailed this vessel from New York with men and supplies to reinforce Astor's newly established fur trading post, Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River. He reached Astoria on May 6, 1812, exactly two decades after Captain Gray, from the same Tiverton hamlet, who had discovered and named the Columbia River. Finally, in a letter of 1814 from Canton, China, Captain Soule deeded over his Tiverton property in payment of his debts to a cousin, Cornelius Seabury, a merchant at Tiverton Four Corners. Four years later, in 1818, Captain Soule perished with all hands when his ship went down off the Philippines. The new owner, previous to opening his Four Corners store on a lease from his cousin, had had a career as a merchant in Boston and Newport, interrupted by a fabulously successful sealing expedition to the Indian Ocean, followed by marriage and a stint as a farmer. His descendants occupied the house into the 1970s.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Abner Soule–Cornelius Soule–Cornelius Seabury House", [Tiverton, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-TI9.1.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 485-486.

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