Sidney S. Rider (1833-1917) was born in Brainard’s Bridge, Nassau County, New York in 1833 and died in Providence in 1917. He attended schools in New York and Pomfret, Connecticut. Coming to Providence as a boy, he went into the book business, eventually taking over the store of Charles Burnett. After the Civil War, Rider began publishing pamphlets on Rhode Island history. In 1883, he started a twice-monthly magazine called, Book Notes, a publication he continued for thirty-three years. It was jammed full of reviews, lively ” sometimes cantankerous ” criticism, and opinionated essays that challenged then current interpretations of Rhode Island history.
In today’s bibliography of the New England states, edited by Roger Parks, there are more than 100 citations for Sidney Rider. Some of them, like The Lands of Rhode Island as They Were Known to Caunounicus and Miantunomou, were books of nearly 300 pages in length. Many of Rider’s little essays in the Book Notes dealt with the origins of Rhode Island place names, but others were fractious, acerbic jabs about historical forgeries, misdeeds, and abuses of power ” both historically and contemporaraneous with his own day.
Unfortunately Rider’s major work has gone unpublished. His factually accurate, minutely-detailed, and very valuable analysis of “The Development of Constitutional Government in Rhode Island” reposes, almost unnoticed in twenty-seven scrapbook volumes in the library of the Rhode Island Historical Society.
In the long-standing controversy between Roger Williams and William Harris of Pawtuxet over the true boundaries of Providence, Rider sided with Harris. In the power-play by William Coddington to become the governor-for-life of Aquidneck Island, Rider took the side of Coddington’s adversary, Roger Williams. Of the pressing issues of his own time, Rider was a neo-Dorrite progressive reformer; he frequently took jabs at the politically corrupt Republican boss Charles R. Brayton whom he blamed for the suicide of his brother.Ironically, it was one of Brayton’s contemporary robber-baron utility magnates, Marsden J. Perry, who bought Rider’s own collection of historical books and manuscripts ” particularly the important materials pertaining to Thomas Wilson Dorr’s constitutional uprising ” and presented them to Brown University, where they have become the famous Sidney S. Rider Collection–one of the truly great treasure troves of Rhode Island history.