Benjamin Belcher, 1680/81–1716


shipwright, formerly identified as a joiner


Newport, Rhode Island


In her compilation of Newport furniture makers, Mabel M. Swan lists Benjamin Belcher as a joiner working in 1706.(1) Belcher was born on March 20, 1680/1, the youngest child of Josias Belcher (1631–1683), a wheelwright of Boston, and Ranis Rainsford (1638–1691), the daughter of Edward (1609–1682) and Elizabeth Rainsford (1607–1688). His paternal grandparents were Gregory (abt 1606–1674) and Catherine Belcher.(2) He was admitted a freeman in Newport on May 6, 1707.(3) He died on April 19, 1716 and is buried in Newport in the Governor Benedict Arnold graveyard.(4)

Belcher married first Phebe, who had three children: Benjamin (born 1704), a shipwright and mariner, Phebe (born 1708), and Edward (born 1711), a shipwright, all of Newport. After his wife’s death in 1713, he married second Sarah Collins (born 1690), the daughter of Arnold (ca. 1665–1735) and Sarah Collins. She had Arnold (ca.1715) and possibly Sarah (baptized 1717). In his will, dated April 14, 1716, in which he identifies himself as a shipwright of Newport, Belcher names as his executors he father-in-law Arnold Collins and brother-in-law John Beers.(5) The Newport Town Council Records indicate Beers became the guardian to Belcher’s son Benjamin on December 1, 1718.(6) The will bequeaths household goods, including “a Japan Looking Glass and a Chest of Drawers standing under the same,” to his daughter Phebe, a pair of pistols, a looking glass, and silver plate to his son Benjamin, and three lots of land to his wife Sarah. He described the lots as being bought of Jeremiah Bull, Robert Taylor, and Benjamin Bull, respectively. Belcher also gives his son Edward certain rights to these lots and likewise to another son if “the Child my wife now is with Should prove to be a Boy.”

The inventory of Belcher’s estate, taken by Nathaniel Coddington, William Coddington, and Newport joiner Daniel Gould (q.v), lists his household goods, which included a chest of drawers, looking glass, and two stands, all “Jappand,” as well as three slaves: “I Negro man,” “1 Negro woman,” and “1 Negro girl.” In his inventory of tools and shop supplies were: “Timber Plank boards and spurs and other Stuff in ye Yard 30-00-0” and “4 axes 5 Mauls 3 ads 3 Saws 2 Drawing Knifes augers and other Tolls with the Grind Stone 09-12-0.”(7)

The documentary evidence suggests he was a ship builder and not a furniture maker.

Dennis A. Carr

1. Mabel M. Swan, “The Goddard and Townsend Joiners, Part I,” Antiques 49, no. 4 (April 1946): 231; see also, Ralph E. Carpenter, Jr., The Arts and Crafts of Newport, Rhode Island, 1640-1820 (Newport: The Preservation Society of Newport County, 1954), 25; Wendell D. Garrett, “The Newport Cabinetmakers: A Corrected Check List,” Antiques 73, no. 6 (June 1958): 559.

2. Joseph Gardner Bartlett, “The Belcher Families in New England,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 60 (April 1906): 128–30; and James Rasmussen, “Edward Raynsford of Boston: English Ancestry and American Descendants,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 139 (October 1985): 296–300.

3 Bartlett, 133.

4 The Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Transcription Project,

5 Will of Benjamin Belcher, Newport, shipwright, April 14, 1716, Newport Town Council and Probate, vol. 3, p. 65–7, microfilm, Family History Library, Salt Lake City .

6 Newport Town Council and Probate, vol. 3, p. 237, microfilm, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

7 Inventory of Benjamin Belcher, taken April 26, 1716, Newport Town Council and Probate, vol. 3, p. 68–71, microfilm, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.