Years back, while working to find the parents of my ancestor Morgan Reynolds, I came across the name John Walker. He was listed simply as a relative, nothing more. I found this reference at FamilySearch.org.
Then I discovered his parents were Daniel Reynolds and Olive Walker. Eventually this led me to a long-established family in Rhode Island, the Walkers. In fact, one of the oldest buildings in that state is a house built by Olive’s ancestor Philip Walker, son of a woman only known as the Widow Walker.
The Walkers were from Weymouth, Dorset, in southwest England. Philip, about age 15, and his mother arrived in Plymouth Colony, perhaps in 1636 or 1640. They were part of a church group from Weymouth led by Rev. Samuel Newman.
The house, commonly known as the Philip Walker House, was burned to the ground during King Philip’s War in 1676, before rebuilding began shortly thereafter, recycling what could be salvaged, which included using the same foundation. The war was named after Metacomet, a chief of the Wampanoag people dubbed ‘King Philip’ by the Brits.
The original house was built in the early settlement of Rehoboth, the original name of East Providence, in 1643. Some of the charred timbers are still in the walls of the present kitchen. It is located at 432 Massasoit Avenue in East Providence.
Philip was a deacon in the Congregational Church and an amateur poet. He was one of the wealthiest men in Rehoboth. Walker’s house was unfinished at the time of his death in 1679, but completed by his heirs.
Descendants of the Walker family gave the house to the group Preserve Rhode Island. Most of the antiques were auctioned, but the East Providence Historical Society did acquire some, which are currently on display in the Philip Walker Room of the Hunt House Museum.
Students with the Historic Preservation Program at Roger Williams University, in cooperation with Preserve Rhode Island, have been working on aspects of the house, including restoration of the horsehair plaster. In 1991, students in a group project as a part of one of Philip Marshall’s classes compiled a documentation report of the house for the Heritage Trust of Rhode Island, predecessor of Preserve Rhode Island, and, in 2004, an expert in historic plaster led a Horsehair Plaster Conservation Workshop at the house.
An 1861 book on the Walker family, Memorial of the Walkers of the Old Plymouth Colony, is available at many sites online, including Ancestry and Google Books. It has been reprinted multiple times by various companies, and is available on microfiche. A short biography, with extensive research notes, on ‘Deacon’ Philip Walker is posted as part of the Plymouth Colony Archive Project at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.