A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Of Proxies and People

A member of the Rhode Island Historical Society for over 30 years, Daniel C. Schofield, 79, of Westerly, passed away on January 24, 2017.  He was avid Rhode Island historian and a well-respected collector of historical political artifacts and documents. Today we commemorate some of his favorite research topics.

Mr. Schofield collaborated with friend and fellow Rhode Island historian Russell J. DeSimone on several groundbreaking research projects that delved into the R.I.H.S. collections. The first was the Broadsides of the Dorr Rebellion (Providence: Rhode Island Supreme Court Historical Society, 1992.) This book is required reading for all scholars and students of the Dorr Rebellion of 1842. Many of the featured broadsides are part of the R.I.H.S. Broadside Collection, G1157.

Their most recent project was the monumental A Survey of Rhode Island Election Tickets (2015) which is hosted on the University of Rhode Island’s Digital Commons website. In 2014 and 2015 you could often find Mr. Schofield and Mr. DeSimone deep in quiet conversation at our Robinson Research Center as they meticulously went through the election tickets, also known as “proxies”, in the R.I.H.S. collections. Sometimes their interest in the Dorr War intersected with their new project.

1842 Prox, Broadside Collection, G1157

1842 Prox, Broadside Collection, G1157

The last dedicated work on the topic was R.I.H.S. Librarian Howard M. Chapin’s (1887-1940) “Eighteenth Century Rhode Island Printed Proxies” for volume 1 of American Collector Magazine in 1925. Chapin identifies the first extant R.I. prox as one printed for the 1744 election. At that time Ann Franklin was the printer in the colony so he assumes it came from her press in Newport although there are no identifying marks such as type ornaments.


1744 Prox, “Chapin #1”, Broadside Collection, G1157

Rhode Island was the first English colony in America to issue printed election ballots, starting in the mid-1740s. According to Gov. Samuel G. Arnold’s History of Rhode Island,  the word “prox” used for an election ticket is even a purely Rhode Island word originating as early as 1647, “when upon the first departure from a democratical form of government , the representative system was introduced, and voting by proxy was permitted.” This was mostly for the convenience of the freemen who had been required to vote in person at Newport.

Mr. Schofield and Mr. DeSimone seemed to know all the known Rhode Island proxies by sight and I was always amazed at how few notes they needed to take.  They could tell you which institution held what imprints and generously shared this knowledge in their 2015 survey.

Born in Pawtucket, R.I., Mr. Schofield served with the U.S. Army Reserves and was a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He worked for Wheeler Middle School in North Stonington, Conn. as a history teacher for 37 years before retiring in the late 1990’s. He was a former member of Arnold Mills Methodist Church, and is remembered as a kind, thoughtful and loving family member.

~Phoebe Bean, Librarian


2 comments on “Of Proxies and People

  1. Richard Slaney
    4 February 2017

    Thanks Phoebe, nice to see a good person remembered.

  2. The Time Treasurer
    8 February 2017

    Another sad death in the RIHS family. My condolences.

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