Elleanor Eldridge


Elleanor Eldridge - Lilly Library Holdings


Elleanor Eldridge


Elleanor Eldridge of Warwick, Rhode Island, born in 1874, was the granddaughter of Mary Fuller, a Narrangaset Native American whose tribe sold some of their large tracts of land to purchase Elleanor's grandfather Thomas out of slavery. Elleanor's mother married a former slave who had gained freedom for his military service in the American Revolution; he had also been promised land for his service but this never materialized. Nevertheless, her parents were able to work and acquire their own land and build a house where Elleanor and her 8 siblings lived, 5 of whom lived to adulthood.

At age 10, Elleanor started working. When she was approximately 17 years old, she went into business for herself, weaving, spinning, nursing, and performing duties as a washerwoman. She made enough to purchase a land lot and build a small house which she rented for $40 per year while she continued to live in her now-deceased parents' house with her oldest sister Letisse.

In 1815, Elleanor started a business papering, white-washing, and painting, and nursing in private homes in New York in the winter. By 1819, she used her savings to buy a land lot and built another house for rent. She went on to build an addition on one side of the house to live in herself, and another addition for rent. The land and improvements were financed from her own savings. She borrowed $240 at 10% interest from a gentleman from Warwick to purchase 2 additional lots of land. She also leased a gangway for street access. When the owner of the property across the gangway offered to sell the property and premises, she was ready to purchase it to secure the use of the gangway. She paid $500 out of $2,000 and took out a mortgage for the rest, which she later paid off. Elleanor then expanded the home she had built on the first lot she had bought.

In 1831, Elleanor fell ill while traveling to Massachusetts with her brother.  She was unaware, though, that someone who she saw while traveling had spread a rumor in her hometown of Providence that she died while she stayed for an extended period with her brother. On her return to her home in Providence, she found that an attachment had been laid on the property mortgaged for $240 by the heir of the original creditor from Warwick who had died. The heir assured her that the attachment was only laid because he thought she had died, and he promised to honor the original arrangement which was for her to pay the 10% interest yearly. She offered to pay $100 toward it but was unable to, so she paid the interest and traveled to Connecticut to work.

However, while she was in Connecticut, the heir laid an attachment. This time, it was against her home, not the 2 lots which the $240 note was related to. Elleanor's home was then valued at $4,000, and it was sold to satisfy the $240 note, although the 2 lots to which the note related would have been more than sufficient to liquidate the debt. The sheriff never advertised the sale, and the auctioneer sold it at the first bid. That bid was from the heir himself, who was therefore able to acquire Elleanor's home for $1,500. He then evicted all of her tenants, who were people of color.

Elleanor then sought to repudiate the sale, but the court held in favor of the sheriff, even though 3 witnesses testified that the sale had never been advertised like the sheriff alleged it had.  After a lengthy battle in the courts, during which the creditor/purchaser failed to honor several settlement proposals, Elleanor was able to recover her home for $2,700. Although the home had been acquired mortgage free, it was now heavily encumbered, since she had to borrow funds to repurchase it.

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