Descendents Celebrate EG Former Slave Turned Revolutionary War Patriot

by | May 12, 2019

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Winsor Fry fought in Revolutionary War battles, including the Battle of Red Bank and the Battle of Yorktown. He withstood the terrible winter at Valley Forge. He was pardoned by Gen. George Washington. He was a former slave. He was from East Greenwich. 

We don’t tend to think about slaves here in East Greenwich. But ask Bruce MacGunnigle, our resident historian. Or ask Winsor Fry’s descendents, five of whom have been inducted into the Daughters of the American Revolution. Slavery may have ended here decades before the Civil War, but slaves are a part of the history of East Greenwich.

Winsor Fry, who died 1823, had been forgotten until very recently, when his history as a patriot of the Revolutionary War was uncovered, and his grave, sitting just outside Glenwood Cemetery in a private backyard, was finally identified.

His family, in Massachusetts, Baltimore, and beyond, gathered in East Greenwich earlier this month to mark the gravesite designation of their ancestor as well as the 90th birthday of Fry descendent Barbara Boyd. The East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society hosted the event at their headquarters, the Old Jail on Water Street, including a ceremony that had been planned for the graveside but had to be brought indoors because of the rain.

The discovery of Winsor Fry’s gravesite was some serendipity: a combination of Bruce MacGunnigle’s research, Winsor’s ancestors’ interest, and a homeowner with knowledge that someone was buried on her property.

Winsor Fry had been the property of one Thomas Fry, according to a document uncovered by MacGunnigle. He had been willed to one of Thomas Fry’s children, Joseph, but sometime between the writing of the will in 1773 and Winsor’s enlistment in Continental Army in 1775, he must have been freed. Fry was still in the army in 1780, but his story took an improbable turn, as recounted by Barbara Boyd in the video clip below. He was caught stealing from the military commissary – “a quantity of beef, candles and rum” as well as some meal. He was sentenced to death, but an appeal to Gen. Washington through his commanding officer, Col. Christopher Greene, seems have to worked. Washington granted clemency. Fry fought with the army for three more years and, eventually, was granted a pension for his service. 

MacGunnigle’s article about another East Greenwich former slave, Ichabod Northup, caught the eye of Barbara Boyd’s sister in Baltimore.

As MacGunnigle states in his very engaging article about Fry (find it here: Winsor Fry / Rhode Island Roots), it’s not exactly clear why the town ended up bequeathing burial land for Fry and some family members, but the records show they did. That’s where Joyce Shaw enters the picture. When she and her husband bought their house on Hemlock Drive in 1970, there was a small cross in the backyard, not far from the boundary with Glenwood Cemetery (which sits on the southwest corner of Middle and Cedar streets).

Historic Cemetery 91 includes the gravesite of Winsor Fry, former slave and Revolutionary War patriot.

Joyce recalls wondering who’s grave it was. Nobody knew. Over the years, that part of the yard became overgrown. When she learned about Winsor Fry, she decided to honor the discovery. Today, that part of the yard is cleared and there is a new gravestone marking the spot. 

Boyd, her two sisters and two daughters have since the discovery of their connection to Winsor Fry, have been inducted into the Daughters of the American Revolution. MacGunnigle, who’s worked proved pivotal in that discovery, spoke of Winsor Fry at their induction in 2016.

*The grave is clearly visible from the top of Glenwood Cemetery, but is on private property. 

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May 13, 2019 9:59 am

I once delivered papers in this neighborhood and seem to recall seeing this cross…I understand a large horse farm occupied the cedar heights subdivision there…wonderful discovery but how is that fry ends up at this spot

May 13, 2019 10:35 am

After reading this piece more carefully I suspect others were buried there w their graves marked by field stones…has anybody further probed the area as these stones often sink straight down into the soil rather deeply…

Alan Clarke
Alan Clarke
May 13, 2019 11:15 am

That yard has many stones that may or may not be grave markers. Like every historic cemetery in East Greenwich, it needs a proper survey with ground penetrating radar, if possible. If this story interests people, there are some 85 other historical cemeteries, each with their own stories. The town’s cemetery commission would welcome any help they can get to answer some of these questions. The commission is short one or two members and would welcome anyone wishing to join. Call the town’s Planning Office for more information.

Charles Roberts
March 27, 2020 1:57 pm

I was proud to be present at the presentation of this gravestone at the greenwood Glenwood Cemetery.


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