Historic Museum and Armory in East Greenwich, RI

October Speaker: Paul Caranci, "The Hanging and Redemption of John Gordon"

Monday, October 13, 2014

Local historian Paul F. Caranci's latest book, The Hanging and Redemption of John Gordon, brings to life a chilling episode from Rhode Island's past. On a frigid day in 1843, Amasa Sprague, a wealthy Yankee mill owner, left his mansion to check on his cattle. On the way, he was accosted and beaten beyond recognition, and his body was left face-down in the snow. What followed was a trial marked by judicial bias, witness perjury and societal bigotry that resulted in the conviction of twenty-nine-year-old Irish-Catholic John Gordon. He was sentenced to hang. Despite overwhelming evidence that the trial was flawed and newly discovered evidence that clearly exonerated him, an anti-Irish Catholic establishment refused him a new trial. On February 14, 1845, John Gordon became the last victim of capital punishment in Rhode Island.

Please join us for a fascinating look at a little-known but significant part of Rhode Island history. As always, your guests are welcome.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Caranci is a third-generation resident of North Providence and has been a student of municipal and state history for many years. Together with his wife, Margie, he founded the Municipal Heritage Group in 2009. He is also on the board of directors of the Heritage Harbor Museum and the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. Paul has served as Rhode Island's deputy secretary of state since 2007 and was elected to the North Providence Town Council, where he served from 1994 to 2010. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from Providence College and is currently enrolled in the master's program at Roger Williams University.


RSVP … Social hour begins at 5:30, followed by STEAK FRY at 6:30 p.m. (Fee is $15.) Please RSVP to Sue Hawksley at 401/732-9805 or by email at shawksley@aol.com by Friday, October 10.

This event is only open to Varnum Continental members. If you would like to join the Varnum Continentals ($35/year), please visit this link.

Upcoming Events

October 13: Varnum Continentals Annual Meeting. Election of Officers for 2014-2015. Speaker TBA. "Bring-a-friend-night." Varnum President Chris Feisthamel encourages all members to bring a friend to the October meeting. With so much to offer – a lively social hour, informative and engaging speakers, great steaks, and of course, the Armory and its collections – let's show friends and acquaintances what the Varnum organization is all about.

November 10: Varnum Members Meeting and steak fry. Speaker: Ron Barnes.

November 11: Veterans Day. The Varnum Continentals, RIM, will be marching in the East Greenwich Veterans Day Parade on Main Street. Not a uniformed member? No problem … we invite you to march with us in the "Veterans Corp." Look for more details next month.

December 8: Varnum Members Meeting and Steak Fry (speaker TBA).

Varnum News goes virtual … Beginning with the October issue, we will no longer be printing and mailing hard copies of Varnum News. The newsletter will be delivered by email only. If you do not have access to email, please notify us (401/884-4110) and we will make other arrangements.

Dues reminder … Annual dues notices will be going out soon. Renewals are due October 1 for the 2014 – 2015 membership year. We thank you in advance for your continued support.

Historic East Greenwich Hill & Harbor Scenes!

As part of our Art at the Armory Exhibit earlier this season, the Varnum Continentals released archival fine art reproductions of two beloved paintings from the Varnum House Museum collection. The original oil paintings from which the fine art prints were created were painted ca. 1860 by Dr. Daniel Howland Greene, physician, local historian, and artist. Greene wrote the History of the Town of East Greenwich and Adjacent Territory: From 1677 to 1877.


These fine art prints, on canvas, will be available at Greenwich Gallery (B&H Framing), at 514 Main Street, East Greenwich. The prints are available in two sizes: 16 X 20 and 24 X 30 and may be purchased stretched and ready-to-frame or rolled in a tube, suitable for shipping. Prices range from $125 to $250. Each comes with a certificate of authenticity.

To purchase your print, please visit Greenwich Gallery or call John Adams at 508/735-4283 or

Proceeds from the sale of these prints will help with the cleaning and restoration of artwork in the collections of the Varnum Memorial Armory and Varnum House Museums.

Kady Brownell: A Rhode Island Vivandiere

By Varnum Member & Trustee Brian Wallin

Kady BrownellThe presence of women on the battlefield caring for the wounded goes back for centuries. Although women today serve in front-line duties, that wasn't an accepted practice in the past. However, in the Civil War, there are many stories, some legitimate and others questionable, about women who donned uniforms and fought beside men on both sides of the battlefields. Countless others contributed by providing nursing care and support services behind the lines.

Vivandieres, as the more assertive women were known, had a direct connection to active fighting men, most often as daughters of officers, for example. These women, usually in some type of uniform, braved the battlefield and were sometimes armed. Most were not directly involved in combat. Vivandieres apparently originated among the French Zouaves in the Crimean War. The colorfully attired Zouaves caught the fancy of American militias and in keeping with European tradition, many units had one or more women, known as "daughters of the regiment," among their ranks.

By the outbreak of the Civil War, American Zouave militia units saw action on both sides, and the women went along. In 1864, General U.S. Grant banned women from military encampments, but they continued to go on the battlefield to care for the wounded and provide care and comfort behind the lines. Some served as spies.

As many as 250 were believed to have fought in combat. They managed to enlist and conceal their identities until they were killed or wounded. Others made it through the war without their true identities revealed.

At least one, Mary Wise, who served with the 34th Indiana Regiment, was paid for her service by order of President Abraham Lincoln. Their numbers are unknown and their contributions were never formally recognized, although their actions are documented in numerous personal histories. However, among eight women who openly fought as women is a Rhode Islander, Kady Brownell. Most women fought in male attire, but Kady dressed in her version of a female uniform. She fought in her husband's units in two Rhode Island regiments.

This is her story.

Brownell was born in 1842 in South Africa, the daughter of a British Army Colonel, George Southwell. Kady's mother died soon after, and the infant wound up in the care of the McKenzie family, who eventually emigrated to and settled in Providence.
While working in a textile mill in Central Falls, Kady met a man named Robert Brownell. They fell in love, but there was a slight complication. Robert was already married. His wife discovered the romance and divorced him. The records are dim regarding whether or not Kady and Robert went on to be officially married, but they lived as husband and wife. Along came the Civil War, and like many young men, Robert volunteered for service in the First Regiment Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry. Off he went. Kady tried unsuccessfully to follow him, but she talked Governor William Sprague into helping her reunite with her husband.

Kady was named a "daughter of the regiment" and became a color-bearer for the 1st Rhode Island. At the First Battle of Bull Run, she became separated from her husband and joined the rout of Union soldiers. She and Robert were reunited in Washington from whence they returned to Providence and were mustered out after their tour. Robert was not a quitter and volunteered again, this time with the First Regiment Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. Guess who went along? This time, Kady and Robert served under General Ambrose Burnside in North Carolina. At first, she again carried the colors, but was later ordered to provide nursing care to the wounded. Robert was among the Union soldiers who wound up in a military hospital where he was again reunited with Kady. After recovery, he went back to Rhode Island and she was by his side. Both were again mustered out. This time, Kady received official discharge papers, apparently the only woman to be so recognized
by the Union Army.

The Brownells moved on to Connecticut and settled in Bridgeport, where she was accepted into the local GAR post on the basis of her discharge papers. In her later years, she was also granted a government pension ($8.00 a month). She and Robert moved to and worked in New York City. Over the years, the depth of her service was often questioned, but enough supporters existed to drown out the naysayers. Kady lived to the age of 72 and died at a charity hospital outside New York City. Her still-living husband managed to scrape together the money to send her body back to Rhode Island where she was laid to rest in the North Burial Ground in Providence. Now here's the kicker to our story. Robert had her buried in the same plot as his first wife. Given his monetary circumstances, it was probably just common sense. Robert never made it back to Providence to join his two wives. He wound up in an unmarked gravesite in East Harrisburg Cemetery, Pennsylvania, a year later.

Thanks to Frank Grzyb, author of Hidden History of Rhode Island and the Civil War and Rhode Island's Civil War Hospital (Frank spoke at a recent Varnum meeting about the latter) for much of the information in the above story.


Varnum Continentals Membership Calendar

-- Monday, October 6, 2014 -- Executive Committee Meeting

-- Monday, October 13, 2014 -- Varnum Continentals Annual Meeting


Varnum House Museum (1773), 57 Peirce Street, East Greenwich, RI 02818-3338
Varnum Memorial Armory, 6 Main Street, East Greenwich, RI 02818-3827
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