Thomas Nichols and his brother (or half-brother), Edmund first arrived in Portsmouth, Rhode Island about 1650 where they stayed about four years. Upon arrival they purchased land in Portsmouth and built the Overing and Page Farm, later called the Prescott Farm. This farm was restored in 1973 and is now open to the public. In 1654 Thomas and Edmund moved to Newport, Rhode Island. Pictures of that farm as it is today appear on this page.
About 1659, Thomas married 17 year-old Hannah Griffin, daughter of Robert Griffin of Newport. Thomas was thirty-five, which would give him a birth date about 1624. Thomas was elected a freeman in 1664, served as a jurman on June 7, 1671 and was a deputy (a member of the colonial legislature) in the years 1679, 1685, 1686, 1690 and 1698.
Thomas Nichols loaned the use of his ships from his maritime shipping business to move troops and supplies from Plymouth, MA to the ports along Narragansett Bay and to the garrison at Wickford during King Philip's War. After the Indians were defeated, the ships returned the colonial troops to their homes and brought the wounded to Newport. These were the important services rendered by Thomas for which he was awarded 5,000 acres of land land in East Greenwich. Thomas died in East Greenwich between 1708 and 1711.
His son, Robert, also has interesting ties to Newport. In 1698, Robert married as his second wife, Mary Mayes. Through his marriage, the Mayes house at Newport came into the possession of the Nichols family, who continued to own it, with the exception of a single year, for over two hundred years. The house evidently became an inn before the Nichols family acquired it. William Mayes the elder, father of Robert's wife, was granted a license to keep a tavern as early as 1687.
William Mayes the younger, Mary's brother, was the notorious pirate Lord Bellomont had set about to bring to trial in 1699. Mayes' return from pirating in the Red Sea "with vast wealth" had been an eagerly awaited event in Newport, RI that year and Newport citizens showed no desire to help Lord Bellomont catch this man. Mayes therefore managed successfully to die unhanged. In 1702 William the younger was granted a license to sell "all sorts of Strong Drink" at the family inn which eventually became the Whitehouse Tavern, the oldest surviving tavern in America. The Robert Nichols family continued to keep the Whitehorse tavern. Mary Nichols kept the tavern after her husband's death until their son, Mayes, took over in 1716.
Photos © 1997 Elliot J. Wilcox
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