Arthur Fenner

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Arthur Fenner
4th Governor of Rhode Island
In office
May 5, 1790 – October 15, 1805
Lieutenant Governor Samuel J. Potter[1]
Preceded by John Collins
Succeeded by Henry Smith
Personal details
Born (1745-12-10)December 10, 1745
Providence, Colony of Rhode Island, British America[1]
Died October 15, 1805(1805-10-15) (aged 59)
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.[1]
Resting place North Burial Ground
Political party Country Party
Spouse(s) Amey Comstock

Arthur Fenner (December 10, 1745 – October 15, 1805) served as the fourth Governor of Rhode Island from 1790 until his death in 1805. He has the seventh longest gubernatorial tenure in post-Constitutional U.S. history at 5,641 days.[2] Fenner was a prominent Country Party (Anti-federalist) leader. Around 1764, Fenner joined several others as a petitioner for the chartering of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (the original name for Brown University).[1]

Early life[edit]

Fenner was born in 1745 to a prominent family in Providence in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. His ancestor Captain Arthur Fenner (1622–1703) had been a member of the Town Council, an associate of Roger Williams, and fought in King Philip's War.[1] His parents were Arthur Fenner, Jr. (1699–1788) and Mary Olney. The Fenner family owned the wharf where the Gaspee Affair occurred in 1772.[3]

During the American Revolution he served as a lieutenant in Hitchcock's Regiment in 1775 during the Siege of Boston. He then served as a captain in Babcock's/Lippitt's Regiment of Rhode Island state troops in 1776.


He served as governor of Rhode Island from 1790 to 1805 and died in office. Fenner was governor of Rhode Island when it became the last of the thirteen states to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790. The following quote is from the Dictionary of American Biography:

In March 1790, the contest between Federalists and Anti-Federalists in Rhode Island reached its height, (and) the long-delayed convention to decide upon the adoption of the Constitution (had) been called, (with) Governor Collins having become unpopular in consequence. (With the elections approaching,) Deputy-Governor Owen was offered the governor-ship by the Anti-Federalists, but declined to serve. ‘A movement,’ says Arnold, ‘was made in Providence to form a coalition party. The Newport committee united with them in proposing (to put on the ballot) Arthur Fenner, an Anti-Federalist. The Anti-Federalists triumphed, and on May 5, 1790, the general assembly declared Fenner governor and Samuel J. Potter deputy-governor.
Opposition to entering the Union was so strong, … (that a vote to adopt the Constitution) was delayed until the last week in May, and when on the 29th, a decision was reached, the vote stood thirty-four to thirty-two in favor of adopting the Constitution.
Governor Fenner was very popular, and continued in office, serving at the time of his death.

Significant events during Fenner's time in office:

  • George Washington visited Rhode Island (August 1790)[1]
  • The Providence Bank was established (1791)[1]
  • The Weybosset Bridge was rebuilt (1792)[1]
  • The Blackstone Canal was begun (February 1796)[1]
  • President John Adams visited Providence (1797)[1]
  • The Great Fire on the west side of South Main Street, opposite the foot of Planet Street, did $300,000 worth of damage (January 21, 1801)[1]

Personal life[edit]

Governor Fenner married Amey Comstock (born ca. 1749; died September 5, 1828, in her 80th yr.), daughter of Gideon Comstock of Smithfield, Rhode Island.

His son, James Fenner, gave up his position as a US senator to be elected governor two years after his father’s death. James served from 1807 to 1811, from 1824 to 1831, and from 1843 to 1845. Arthur and Amey Fenner were members of the First Baptist Church in America, at Providence. They had five children:

  1. Arthur Fenner, Jr. (born November 9, 1766 – died September 27, 1837); fifer in various companies; lived at Fairfield, New York in 1827; married Lydia Sabin (born 1766), daughter of Thomas Sabin, on December 8, 1787. They had Harriet Elizabeth (born February 7, 1805 – died May 2, 1829).
  2. Amy (born February 16, 1769 - died May 7, 1772, age 3).
  3. James Fenner (born January 22, 1771 – died April 17, 1846); Governor of Rhode Island, married Sarah Jenckes.
  4. Joseph (born ca. 1773 – died July 18, 1797 in Providence, age 24).
  5. Sally (born 1778 – died August 21, 1794 at Newport, age 16).


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Rhode Island. Providence: National Biographical Publishing Co. 1881. pp. 136–137. 
  2. ^ Ostermeier, Eric (April 10, 2013). "The Top 50 Longest-Serving Governors of All Time". Smart Politics. 
  3. ^ "Fenner Family Tree". Retrieved March 30, 2015. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Collins
Governor of Rhode Island
Succeeded by
Henry Smith