Back in June 2022, I visited Casey Farm located in Saunderstown, RI about half an hour’s drive south of Providence. Historic New England (HNE) owns this massive property, which spans over 300 acres between Narragansett Bay and the Pettaquamscutt River. The space includes a Georgian style house, multiple barns, outbuildings, more than ten miles of stone walls, a family cemetery, working gardens, heritage breed animals, and a weekly farmers market. There is a lot to take in!
During the guided tour, visitors learn the history of Casey Farm. Beginning in the 18th century, the property supported multiple generations of the same family with surnames including Morey, Coggeshall, and Casey. In 1750, Daniel Coggeshall Jr. constructed the earliest buildings so he could grow grain. For later generations, the farm was a rental property, with two rooms saved as summer vacation housing. Descendent Edward Pearce Casey and his wife Lillian Berry bequeathed to the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), the precursor to HNE, and the society took over the property upon Berry’s death in 1955.
Notable residents include Silas Casey and his wife Abigail Coggeshall Casey (an excellent first name), who were the only owners to live on the property full time. Religion must have been an interesting topic at the farm. Silas was a Congregationalist, a descendant of Puritans and perhaps a relative of those who banished Abigail’s Quaker family from Massachusetts Bay Colony because of their beliefs. Their parlor now holds a miniature museum inside a museum, and paintings hung in the room serve as examples for how clothing styles change over time. Both Silas and Abigail maintained the style of clothing particular to their denomination as seen in their portraits hanging side by side in the parlor of the house at Casey Farm. Another portrait in the parlor shows General Thomas Lincoln Casey, Sr., grandson of Silas and Abigail, who graduated first in his class from West Point in 1852. After serving in the Civil War, he aided in the completion of the Washington Monument. In his portrait, he wears the classic Regulation Dress Coat given to Union officers.
The sites and programs of HNE emphasize the lives of people often forgotten in history, and Casey Farm is no exception. “Three Sisters RainKeep”, a sculpture designed by artists Allison Newsome and Deborah Spears Moorehead, represents the corn, beans, and squash grown by Native Americans, including the Narragansett who live in Rhode Island. Moorehead is a member of the Seaconke Pokanoket Wampanoag Tribe. Additionally, Casey Farm celebrated Juneteenth on the day after my visit, using historical research about the property and surrounding area to guide the event. While the Coggeshall family had Quaker members, and the religious group later became known for their anti-slavery activism, the Quakers did not ban slavery for their members until the 1790s. The family likely had indentured servants as workers, and they may have owned enslaved people, as was common for families of their means. Researchers at HNE continue to learn more about the family and the farm.
Six generations of the Casey family are buried in Rhode Island Historical Cemetery North Kingston 65. Unlike other New England colonies that later became states, the strict separation between church and state in Rhode Island prevented the formation of town commons and community cemeteries. Instead, families buried their deceased loved ones in the fields near their home or in a small church cemetery. According to the Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission of the State of Rhode Island, the area is known to have at least 2833 cemeteries in varying states of upkeep. The cemetery at Casey Farm received diligent care, surrounded by a stone wall and away from the public.
Casey Farm is more than an incredibly preserved farmstead. Local farmers collaborate with the organization through Community Supported Agriculture, allowing Rhode Islanders to buy a share of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, which last from June to October, and support a family of four. A share costs $570 annually and subscribers pick up their produce every week along with receiving a household membership to HNE. Casey Farm is home to heritage breed farm animals, including Peking ducks, Dominique and Rhode Island Red chickens, Berkshire pigs, several breeds of turkeys, and a pair of albino rabbits. Koi and hydroponic plants live in a trough near the entrance.
Guided farm tours are $25 for a full family, $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $5 for students and children, and $0 for Historic New England members (like me!) and North Kingston residents. The tours are on Saturdays from late May through October with rolling starts between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and on Tuesdays from June through early October held hourly from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. The tours are 45 minutes long, although I received a personal tour that lasted for 90 minutes because I had so many questions and plenty of guides were available. Wear sturdy shoes and be prepared to walk. Visitors interested in exploring the grounds but unable to visit in-person or easily navigate the space can take the self-guided Casey Farm tour available online. The weekly farmers markets, held on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. during the months of May through October, are free to the public.
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Abigail Epplett leads a dual life as a freelance digital marketing consultant for small humanities-focused organizations and as a customer experience design creative specialist at lab equipment manufacturer Waters Corporation. She holds an MA in Museum Education from Tufts University, where she researched the history of New England from Plymouth to the Civil War. To learn more about her adventures with museums, visit her current blog at abbyeppletthistorian.blogspot.com.