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Stephen Harris

Note: Stephen Harris appears in two different tours on this site. As a member of the Captain General’s Cavaliers during the Expedition to Rhode Island in 1788, he appears in the Battle of Rhode Island Tour. And, as one of the owners of the house at 135 Benefit St. made famous by “weird fiction” author H.P. Lovecraft as “The Shunned House,” he appears in the H.P. Lovecraft Tour.

Harris was the son of David Harris and Martha Jenckes, of two of the oldest families in Providence, and was born on December 28, 1755 (or possibly 1753). His first wife was Hannah Mawney, sister of fellow Cavalier and Gaspee Raider John Mawney, whom he married in 1775. Sadly, Stephen and Hannah had two sons who died in quick succession; their third son, Stephen Jr., was their only child to survive to adulthood.

John Mawney had also been the original of the house at 135 Benefit Street; he sold it to Stephen Harris in about 1785.

Hannah died only a few years later, in 1789, and in 1792 Stephen married Abigail Cushing, daughter of Benjamin Cushing, Sr. Interestingly, the wedding ceremony was performed by John Mawney, the brother of Stephen’s first wife, who was now a Justice of the Peace.

Stephen and Abigail’s first child, a daughter, also died young—this succession of dead children in the house was exaggerated by Lovecraft in his story to the claim: “Nor was any child to be born alive in that house for a century and a half.” However, Stephen and Abigail went on to have six more children, five of whom lived past retirement age.

Little is known about Stephen Harris beyond these bare genealogical outlines, and his Revolutionary War participation. He died on May 25, 1817, at the age of 62. His gravestone in the North Burial Ground was carved by the prestigious local carving family, the Tingleys.

Further Reading

A history of the 135 Benefit Street house is contained in a WORD document that can be downloaded here

Catherine Beyer Hurst, MBA, Writer and Community Historian

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