Shady Lea Blog

Robert Rodman, early owner of the ‘Shady Lea Mills’

The grave site of legendary Civil War hero, Isaac Peace Rodman, who was born and buried in South Kingstown, Rhode Island and died after being shot in the famous Battle of Antietam, has fallen into disrepair, laments the Providence Journal and this historian’s blog.

His nephew, Robert Rodman, has much better manicured monuments marking his life. At one time, Robert owned this mill and three others in North Kingstown. He’s well-known as one of the area’s most successful Rhode Island businessmen of his era.

robert rodman“By many who knew him he was called a shrewd man of business,” according to this book (p. 378), “and that can be safely said of anyone who in this day and age of sharp competition can acquire a million in the regular channels of business.”

Robert Rodman, who served for a term in the state legislature, mostly manufactured cloth at his four North Kingstown mills, which were each population clusters in the 1800’s because of the businesses. Or, more precisely, because of their abutting rivers and waterways.

He also owned the Lafayette Mill on Ten Rod Road, one at Silver Spring just up the Mattattuxet River from here.

His family first came to Newport in the 1600’s, and the Rodman’s were one of the first families to settle in South Kingstown in the early 1700’s. Robert was raised just south of here at “the west end of the Post road at its junction with the highway leading to Westerly from Tower Hill.” And his neighborhood seems like it was a ton of fun.

“That community then had few helps and some hindrances to the formation of noble characters in the boys who were educated in it,” according to this 1908 book. “Horse racing and other less unobjectionable sports gave Tower Hill a wide reputation, and a Tavern with its open bar was one of the fixed institutions of the place.”

Nonetheless, when Robert was 22 years old he left home to run the Lawton mill in Exeter, and in the 1840’s took over the Silver Spring mill just upstream from here. He then sold his factories for a farm – exactly where it was I’m not sure – and a couple shipping vessels. But by 1847, he was back in the manufacturing game, having bought the Lafayette Mill, which made woolen goods and “Kentucky jeans.”

When the Civil War began to erupt, he began to make a lot of money through government contracts. “In a few years, he purchased the mill at Silver Sprint in which his first venture was made, and shortly thereafter a mill at Shady Lea.”

Prior to his ownership, perhaps this mill was used to make kersey cloth, but Rodman retrofitted it to manufacture warp, the little metal rivets on blue jeans.

According to this official family genealogy, :

In the spring of 1848 he resumed business at Lafayette, R. I., where he has since been engaged in the manufacture of ” Kentucky jeans.” He commenced with one set of machinery and twelve looms, , and gradually increased his facilities until his looms number 414, including those in his factories at Silver Spring and Wakefield. In addition to the manufacture of woolen goods, he also makes the warps used in his jeans, manufactured by him at his factory known as the ” Shady Lea Mills.”

And he was known as a pretty good guy. “Not, however, for the qualities of head as for the qualities of the heart is the memory of Robert Rodman cherished today,” gushes this book about him.

He always held radical views on business ethics, maintaining in theory and in practice that the civil law imposes often less obligations than the higher moral law, and that a man may not always gain, and hold all that the civil court allows.

According to land records, Robert Rodman, dba Rodman Manufacturing Co., purchased 77 acres, or all of Shady Lea Road and adjacent properties, in 1883, but from who and for how much I don’t know…

…Stay tuned…

Post navigation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *