On the afternoon of 24 September 1664, Thomas Brownell was killed in an accident while on his way from his farm at the northwest end of Rhode Island to Portsmouth. (The Brownells, as was typical of most settlers at that time, probably did not live on their farm. They would also have had a small lot in Portsmouth where they built their home and lived, going to their farm during the day to work.) Aged 56, Thomas left behind a wife, Anne, and nine children, ranging in age from nine to twenty-five years.
According to the testimony of Daniel Lawton, Brownell had stopped at the home of Lawton's father, Thomas Lawton, and upon leaving, invited Daniel, aged 21, to ride with him the rest of the way to Portsmouth. The ride soon became a race when Thomas put his horse to a gallop as they came down the hill near William Wodel's property, located about halfway between the Brownell farm and the town of Portsmouth. The younger man soon caught up with and passed Thomas.
As he continued the race to Portsmouth, Lawton looked back to see where Brownell was. Seeing his riderless horse running towards a swamp he immediately turned his horse around and caught Brownell's horse.
He then retraced his way until he came upon Brownell lying on the ground near a tree. He called out to him, but received no response and so dismounted to check on him. Taking him by the arms and seeing the great amount of blood on the ground, Lawton realized that Thomas Brownell was dead.
The following day a coroner's jury, with Samuel Wilbur as foreman, made an inquest into the accident. Testimony was taken from Daniel Lawton and details about the scene of the accident were given.
The jury's conclusion was that Brownell, riding furiously down the hill, was either thrown against or hit the tree. The broken reins of his bridle had been found next to the body and there was blood and hair sticking to the tree. HIs skull was broken and his "brains came out," thus causing his death.
(The above narrative is based on the following records found in Rhode Island Historical Society Collections, Vol. XXV [July 1932], "The Lands of Portsmouth, RI, and a Glimpse of Its People," by Edward H. West, pp. 32-33, as well as in the E.E. Brownell Collection.)
The testimony of Daniel Lawton aged about twenty-one years or thereabouts being according to law upon oath ingaged testifieth that yesterday in the afternoon Mr. Brownell being at the deponants fathers house, Mr. Brownell asked the depondant wither he would ride towards Portsmouth town along with him, the deponant answered he would so they both ride together, and when they were come down the hill at the head of William Wodels ground, Mr. Brownell put his horse on a gallop afore the deponant, whereupon this deponant also put on his horse and presently out run Mr. Brownell and got affore him, and so continued on his gallop some distance of way afore he lookt back but at length looking back to see where Mr. Brownell was he spied his horse running alone out of the way into a swamp whereupon this deponant forth with, not mistrusting emminant danger to the man ran and turned horse and brought him into the way where presently he saw Mr. Brownell lyinge on the ground, and the deponant called but none answering he lett horse goe and went up to him and took him by the arms, whereby and also by the efusion of very much blood from him on the ground he perceived the sayd Mr. Brownell was dead. This deponant doth testify the above written.
These to the Corroner Mr. William Baulston
Assistant - Wee of the Inquest being apoynted and Ingaged to
Sitt on the Body or Corps of Thomas Brownell of portsmouth; who
was found dead on the high way against the upper end of the land
of William Wodell yesterday being the 24th of this instant month.
the 25th Sept 1664
Samuel Wilbure, forman