History of Mount Hope Lands and the Farm

Mount Hope (originally Montaup in Pokanoket language) is a wooded promontory on the eastern shore of Bristol, Rhode Island overlooking the part of Narragansett Bay known as Mount Hope Bay. Before the European settlers arrived in New England, the 7000 acres that make up the Town of Bristol were called the Mount Hope Lands and belonged to Massasoit Ousa Mequin, the great sachem of the Wampanoag Nation.

For those who study early American history, Bristol and Mount Hope Farm have more authenticity than the dubious “Plymouth Rock.” What became Mount Hope Farm was the summer camp of the Pokanoket Tribe of the Wampanoags – the same tribe that greeted the Mayflower in Plymouth in 1620 – so it is likely that the first “Thanksgiving Feast” was held on this property.

After Massasoit’s death, his two sons, Wamsutta and Metacomet, arranged with the court in Plymouth to have their names legally changed to the English names of Alexander and Philip. Soon after his brother died, Metacomet, now King Philip, began making alliances with other tribes and the King Philip's War soon began. The first battle took place near Mount Hope Farm in 1675.

King Philip made Mount Hope his base of operations. "King Philip's Chair," a rocky ledge on the mountain, was a lookout site for enemy ships on Mount Hope Bay. Philip was eventually defeated. The site where Captain Benjamin Church’s men killed King Philip in 1676 is located in nearby Misery Swamp. After King Philip’s War, Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts Bay Colony and Rhode Island all claimed this prized territory.

By a royal grant, King Charles II of England awarded all the Mount Hope Land to Plymouth Colony on January 12, 1680. On September 14, 1680, the Mount Hope Lands were sold to John Walley, Nathaniel Byfield, Stephen Burton and Nathaniel Oliver, four wealthy Boston merchants, for 1,100 pounds.

Nathaniel Byfield (1653-1733) became the first owner of Mount Hope Farm and adjoining lands. In 1702 Byfield sold Mount Hope Farm, consisting of about 550 acres, to his son-in-law Henry MacIntosh. His granddaughter Elizabeth MacIntosh Royall, the wife of Isaac Royall, Jr., of Medford, Massachusetts, inherited the Farm in 1744. The Royall family was among the wealthiest and largest slave-holding families in New England.

Isaac Royall (1720-1781) began to build a two story, gambrel roof, Georgian mansion shortly after 1745. In 1762 he leased it to Bennett Munroe “to be farmed.” Royall was a prominent loyalist and fled with his family to Halifax, three days before the Battle of Lexington. The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations then confiscated the Farm in 1776.

During the Revolutionary War, the house was used by Generals Stark and Sullivan and the Farm’s fields for an encampment by the 2nd Rhode Island Continental regiment. In 1783, the Farm was sold to Brigadier General Nathan Miller of Warren, who shortly thereafter sold it to William Bradford.

William Bradford (1729-1808) served Rhode Island and America with great distinction. He was a physician, a lawyer, a member of the colonial Assembly, and the first Deputy Governor (1775-1778). A leading Federalist, Bradford worked for Rhode Island’s ratification of the Constitution and became a United States Senator (1793-1797). In 1797 he returned to the quiet life at Mount Hope Farm, where he died in 1808. Bradford willed Mount Hope Farm to his son John (1768-1834). The Inventory of William Bradford’s estate reveals a complex agricultural operation that included 86 sheep, 55 lambs, 16 cows, 1 bull, 7 old and 33 young turkeys and large crops of corn and potatoes.

In 1836 John Bradford’s heirs sold Mount Hope Farm to Samuel W. Church (1803-1881), a wealthy Massachusetts grain and flour merchant. Church added the two story, hip-roof, Greek Revival middle section to the house, before moving with his 13 children to the old family farm on Poppasquash in 1854. A kitchen wing was added to the house in the 1890s and the Farm remained in Church ownership until sold by Church heirs to Rudolph L. Haffenreffer II (1874-1954), a Massachusetts brewer, in 1917.

The Haffenreffer family were industrial giants in Rhode Island, owning the Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. from 1932-1942, the Mount Hope Bridge from 1932-1955, and the Narragansett Brewery from 1933-1965. They undertook extensive restoration of the Governor Bradford House and developed the Farm, adding extensive gardens and Cove Cabin, the Caretakers Cottage and the North Pasture House as well as the Civil War era barn, which they relocated to the Farm. Prize Guernsey cattle replaced traditional sheep in the Farm’s pastures.

Rudolph Haffenreffer II, a collector of Cigar Store Indians, carousel figures and mastheads had a true passion for Native Americans. His large collection of artifacts, housed in the King Philip Museum, became the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, and was part of the 1955 donation of more than 300 acres of Mount Hope Farm to Brown University.

On July 4, 1976 Mount Hope Farm was listed in the National Register of Historic Sites and Places because of its historic and architectural significance.

After the death of Rudolph (“Pete”) Haffenreffer (1902-1991) and his wife Virginia, the Mount Hope Trust in Bristol acquired Mount Hope Farm in 1999. The Trust purchased the property for $3.3 million with the support of a $1.5 million bond issue, approved by the citizens of Bristol with more than 80% margin, a State Open Space grant of $400,000, a loan from St. Michaels Episcopal Church (that was repaid with the help of an angel), and a gift of $1 million by an anonymous donor.

Today, the Mount Hope Trust, a nonprofit corporation, operates Mount Hope Farm. Its mission is to preserve and protect the integrity of its natural assets and its historical structures. The Trust provides the public, visitors and guests with an extraordinary opportunity to learn, to understand, to explore, and enjoy five centuries of American history.

Click here to download a history of Mount Hope Farm.