William Cohoun, of Swansea, Massachusetts

Part Two; What We Do Know; Block Island, by Colleen Cahoon

The surname, Cohoun, is an anglicized derivative spelling of the Scottish original land name, Colquhoun, which is pronounced the same.  Known ‘phonetic variants and or mispellings’ of Colquhoun are :


We know for a fact, that William was listed among the first White Settlers on Block Island, off the New England coast, and that indigenous people resided there previously and after the arrival of Europeans.  His presence there, along with others, is documented in New England records and in articles that refer to those records. 

William Cahoone is noted in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. 105, published 1951, pages 169, 170, 171, 174, 175 in the article, “Notes on Block Islanders of Seventeenth Century” by G. Andrews Moriarty, A. M. , LL. B, F. S. A.

(As an ‘article’ rather than an actual document, it does contain elements of speculation, mingled with facts.)

Extracts from those pages are provided below. :

[Page 169] : The First Settlers

As has already been stated, at the time of the settlement and until it was given to Rhode Island in the charter of 1663, the Island was regarded as a part of Massachusetts. The earliest Block Island deeds are recorded in the Suffolk Registry of Deeds in Boston, and in these deeds Block Island is described as part of the town of Boston in the county of Suffolk.

New Shoreham (another name for Block Island) is unique among the early Rhode Island towns in that it was not settled by political and religious exiles from Massachusetts, but by orthodox Massachusetts Puritans.

After the purchase of the Island in the winter of 1660/61, a shallop was built on the Braintree shore (now Quincy, Mass.) to carry the settlers to the Island, and in the early spring of 1661 it was sent from Braintree to Taunton, where they went on board and embarked on the new venture.

The names of the first comers, as given in the early town records are as follows :

Thomas Terry, Samuel Dearing, Duncan McWilliams or McWilliamson, John Rathbone, Simon Ray, William Tosh, Tormut Rose, William Baker (Livermore writes Barker, but Burgess is probably correct), David Kimball, William Cahoone, Edward Vose, Nicholas White, William Billings, Tristram Dodge, and John Acres (cf. Livermore, pp. 16/17).

[pg. 174] The First Freeman (of Block Island)

At the May meeting of the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1664 the following persons, inhabitants of Block Island, were admitted Freemen of the Rhode Island Colony, at the request of Mr. James Sands and Joseph Kent:

Thomas Terry, Peter George, Simon Ray, William Harris, Samuel Dearing, John Rathbone, John Davies or Davis, Samuel Staple, Hugh Williams (provisionally), Robert Guthrie, William Tosh, Tormot Rose, William Cahoone, Tristram Dodge, John Clarke, Joseph Kent, and William Baker or Barker. (Rhode Island Colony Records, ed. Bartlett, volume II, p. 58.)

Stepping out of those references above and regaining my own voice, I happily report that to recap… we do know that William Cahoone was listed among the residents of Block Island, who in 1664, were admitted Freemen of the Rhode Island Colony. 

We know he was listed among the ‘first comers’ to Block Island.    We know that many of the first comers arrived from Taunton, Massachusetts, as early as 1661, on board a shallop built in Braintree, Massachusetts expressly for that purpose, but we do not have any exact arrival dates, for any of those early settlers and their families.

It is not unreasonable, to suppose that after that first trip, in 1661, that other trips were made… conveying people as well as supplies… with folks leaving and arriving… within those first three early years, leading to those residents of 1664, seeking recognition as Freeman.

Therefore at BEST, in my opinion, we can be open to the possibility, that William Cahoone/Cohoun may have been in Taunton, MA, as early as 1661, but we do not know that to be an absolute fact.  

We DO know… as absolute fact… that he was among those listed by name, in 1664, applying to Rhode Island, for recognition, as Freemen.

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