Who was Abigail Congdon Packard?

I recently found that someone shared yet another photo from RISD of a Packard ancestor. As it turns out, Abigail Congdon, shown above, is related to Captain Samuel Packard whom I have written about before on this blog!: “Captain Samuel Packard…was married to a woman named Abigail Congdon and had a daughter with her which had the same name (Abigail)” while also quoting a Rhode Island Historical Society History which noted that “on December 13, 1789, Captain Packard had married Abigail Congdon…in 1798, Abgail (Congdon) Packard inherited a portion of the Congdon homestead farm on Boston Neck.” I also noted that records held by Family Search show that “Captain Packard and Abigail’s daughter died in 1860” and that “Abigail, Captain Packard’s wife, died in 1854.”

But who was Abigail? Well, the description by Susan Holloway Scott on Instagram is:

This woman’s dress is more bronze that true flaming-cheetos-orange, but hey, it’s the 1790s. Her portrait is by James Earl, younger brother to fellow-artist Ralph Earl. Arguably the more talented of the two, James unfortunately died of yellow fever at only age 35. Mrs. Packard is wearing a wonderfully complicated cap, and extra ruffled trim that runs from her shoulders down the sides of her dress. “Portrait of Abigail Congdon Packard” by James Earl, c1795,

One post which reprinted this painting (and the RISD description) noted that Abigail “wears a fashionable silk gown and a fine linen cap and fichu, matching him in both style and status.” It was further noted that only a few years later, “she inherited a portion of her father’s estate in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, where the family built a house and later expanded their land holdings,” adding that she later “helped establish the Providence Female Charitable Society, an organization aiding indigent women and children.” But there is much more! She is in the newsletter of the United Empire Loyalists’ of Association of Canada (UELAC), raising the question of whether she was a supporter of the British Crown.

Other than a Flickr user who guessed that Abigail was a “Rhode Island local who would have lived at and after the time of the revolutionary war,” it is worth noting her Find A Grave entry, which describes her as 93 years old, but says nothing more! The latter should definitely be improved and added upon by Packard researchers. The National Portrait Gallery’s Catalog of American Portraits describes the painting of her as “oil on canvas” and by a man named James Earl. The  latter was a Massachusetts native, who was then painting in Charleston, South Carolina, after painting in London from 1787 to 1794. Early himself was sympathetic to the British Crown as he “established a niche in London by painting Americans who had expatriated because of their Loyalist politics.” This implies that Samuel Packard, the husband of Abigail, was a loyalist,  as was Abigail herself. However, an article about Samuel in Rhode Island History (Vol. 1, No. 1, Jan 1942), a publication of the Rhode Island Historical Society, disputes this, showing how these Packards were in the wealthy elite of Providence, Rhode Island. This article notes that Samuel was the son of Nathaniel Packard, with his father owning land bordering varied streets in Providence, that Samuel was a “mariner, ship master, ship–owner, and merchant,” owning 39 ships, and that he was “an ardent admirer of George Washington,” even involved in secret work for him. By 1797, the article notes, Samuel,. his wife Abigail, and their family lived in a three-story-high mansion in Providence. The following year, Abigail inherited some of the ” Congdon homestead farm on Boston Neck” of which Samuel purchased the remainder of in the early 1800s, Later on Samuel would own land in Cranston, Rhode Island and even in Illinois, with his homes in Providence in North Kingston furnished with “fine furniture, china, and silver.”

The fact there was a house there at all is substantiated by pages 39 and 40 of  the 1914 Report of the Committee on marking historical sites in Rhode Island, published by the Rhode Island Historical Society. The same society currently holds a letter from Samuel Packard in Havana on April 5, 1797, and scattered other records on Packards. I can’t find his land in Illinois as of yet.

Thanks to the USGS’s Geographical Information Names System (GNIS), I was able to find an entry for the John Congdon Plot, which is also called the “Congton-Packard Cemetery” according to the citation they provided. [1] This plot, according to GNIS, is located on Boston Neck Road in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.  Looking on Google Maps at the coordinates they provided, you find that its near something called the Casey Farm, which currently raises “organically grown produce for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program” and has a nearby cemetery nearby. [2] But I have asked them about this.

Screenshot of the cemetery (on the left) with a close-up of the cemetery (shown on the right) taken from the Google Earth photograph of the area.

Despite this hurdle, I was able to find records within the Rhode Island Cemetery Database, run by that state’s historical society, which shows five Packards buried there, all with marble stones:

  1. Abby Packard (1802-1860)
  2. Abigail Packard (c. 1761-1854)
  3. John C. Packard (c. 1794-1827), has a carving of an urn/willow
  4. Capt. Samuel Packard (c. 1761-1820), has a carving of an urn/willow
  5. Samuel Packard, Jr. (c. 1804-1823)

Abigail is the one this article has been focused on and Samuel is her husband. Interestingly, there is also a Nathaniel Packard buried elsewhere in Rhode Island who is likely the father of Samuel. Other than this, the information on Samuel and Abigail is relatively sketchy, with a Find A Grave user, Carrie Anne Perez, reposting an death notice for an infant son of this couple in February 1799:

Otherwise, one can find the photographs of the gravestones, by Stan Arnold, of both Samuel and Abigail on their respective Find A Grave pages, but reposted here:

I did also find a mention of Capt. Samuel Packard in an August 1888 edition of Book Notes about a journey from Providence to Alexandria, Virginia in 1788, noting that “in August 1786, Mr. Olney Winsor, son of Mr. Samuel Windsor, long pastor of the first Baptist Church of Providence, made a voyage on the sloop Susan whereof Capt. Samuel Packard was master,” adding they later went ashore in Alexandria, stopping at a mansion and even visiting George Washington. [3] I did also find that Capt. Packard worked for the Providence Insurance Company in the early 19th century, insuring cargo such as boxes of sugar in places such as Havana. There were a number of other mentions in including in The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1794 and The Washingtonian in 1811 (about the capture of Bostonian on the high seas). One book by RISD provided a bit more context about their lives:

Captain…Samuel Packard of Providence…[had] success as a ship’s captain, merchant, and shopowner…indicated [in the painting of him] by the sailing vessel in the portrait’s background and the spyglass in his hand. He married Abigail Congdon (ca. 1761-1854), a descendant of one of Rhode Island’s earliest English settlers and owner of considerable property

I don’t want to rehash the records I looked at my post on Capt. Packard in March of last year, so I’m probably going to stop here for now. I will add that he may have signed, when he was caught for illegally trading in slaves off the African coast, a pledge to leave the slave trade forever and that his house was at a time on Westminster Street in Providence and that he was in Newport when the artist who painted his portrait was there, while he also remembered Washington fondly.  But, it was clear that Capt. Packard was a powerful personage in Providence.

From the early censuses of Rhode Island on Samuel Packard, we find that in 1790 he had no enslaved peoples, two women living in the household (presumably one whom was his daughter and another whom was his wife Abigail) and himself:

Pages 188 of the 1790 census for Providence, with page 172 providing the heading used here. Sorry for the distortion of the picture.

By 1800, there were three people under 10 years of age (one of which was male, two of which were female), one woman who was between ages 16 and 26, and another between age 26 and 45 (undoubtedly Samuel’s wife, Abigail), along with three other people in the household. No enslaved people were living in the household.

Page 197 of the 1800 census for Providence plus the top part coming from another census in order to define the terms below.

By 1810, Capt. Packard was living in the West District of Providence with one son between ages 10 and 16, another between ages 10 and 26, two daughters under age 10, one between age 10 and 16, another “free person,”  no enslaved peoples, and two woman over age 45. While it is obvious that one of the woman over age 45 is his wife, it is not known whom the other person is…

Transcribed from page 69 of the 1810 census for Providence as pasting it with the above categorization made reading the original text impossible.

For 1820, the census must have been taken after he died, as he is not mentioned in this census from what I could find.

But what about the earlier censuses? Well, we also know that he was mentioned in the 1777 Rhode Island Military Census and likely some other census documents, although searching census records he is only mentioned in 1777. For more information, on Rhode Island censuses, please see here. He is not found on the Rhode Island, Wills and Probate Records, 1582-1932 on Ancestry from a search I did, even when just focusing on Providence.

With that, this article concludes.For another day!


[1] The citation they provided was: “McAleer, Althea H., Beatrix Hoffius, Deby Jecoy Nunes. Graveyards of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. n.p.: The Author (McAleer), 1992.”

[2] It is implied this is the same cemetery, as they say on their website that “Tour the farmyard and cemetery, where six generations of Caseys are buried.” I sent them a message on February 27th, saying “Good morning. I was wondering if the John Congdon Plot (https://geonames.usgs.gov/apex/f?p=138:3:9593388300441::NO::P3_FID,P3_TITLE:1902089,John%20Congdon%20Plot) is on your Casey Farm property, as some of ancestors, Samuel Packard and his wife Abigail are there. I may visit sometime in the future not only because of that genealogical connection but due to my love of history and archives. I look forward to hearing from you.” While I await their response, I did read in the Rhode Island Cemetery Database that: “On the west side of Boston Neck Road (Rte. 1A), north of Casey Farm. It is adjacent to cemetery NK065, separated from it by a stone wall. Graveyard is clear of brush, cared for, unfenced. Entrance is by permission from property owner at 2265 Boston Neck Road, just north of the Casey Farm. Visited by Arnold 25 April 1880, his #53, “On land of the late Samuel C. Cottrell a distance south of his lare residence is an ancient burial yard of the Congdon family, wall in poor condition” Recorded by Althea McAleer, Beatrix Hoffius, and Deby Nunes for a 1992 book on North Kingstown cemeteries,” also noting the owner is Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, with a website that re-directs you to Historic New England that owns the Casey Farm.

[3] He is also mentioned briefly on pages 122 and 123 of Art & Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650-1830, in relation to the fact that he was sitting in an armchair.

One thought on “Who was Abigail Congdon Packard?

  1. Pingback: From slaveowners to liberators: the Packard family and slavery | Packed with Packards!

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