Wilkins Updike (1784-1867), a member of the noted Cocumscussoc family of North Kingstown, was the youngest of eleven children of Lodowick and Abigail Updike and himself the father of twelve. Wilkins moved to the village of Kingston as a young man after the Updikes lost Cocumscussoc through business reverses, and for many years he represented South Kingstown in the General Assembly.
Updike was one of the leading lawyers and orators of his era and a close and effective ally of Henry Barnard and his own neighbor Elisha R. Potter, Jr. in the cause of state educational reform. As a historian, Updike’s most notable works are Memoirs of the Rhode Island Bar (1842), a detailed account of the development of the legal profession in Rhode Island, and his classic History of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett, a fascinating study of South County life, described by another historian of that region as “a volume alone in its class, at once a foundation for the history of the Church in this commonwealth and a picture of its early social life.” Updike was also an authority on public finance and wrote a detailed treatise on Rhode Island’s Revolutionary War debt and its disposition.
Wilkins Updike died in Kingston on January 14, 1867 at the age of eighty-four, eulogized by his associates in the General Assembly, who knew him best, as “this old-fashioned gentleman, this vigorous and honest legislator, this hospitable and warm-hearted citizen, almost the last of a generation of true Rhode Island men.”