Colonel Patrick Henry Quinn

Inducted: 2013
Born: 1869
Died: 1956

Patrick Henry Quinn was born on December 16, 1869, in the Warwick mill village of Phenix, son of Peter and Margaret (Callahan) Quinn. His parents displayed their patriotism for America and its traditions by naming their son after the fiery Virginia Revolutionary War patriot famous for his defiant statement, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Quinn followed the successful path of many ambitious Irish Catholics by interlacing labor union activity with legal training and Democratic Party activism within the even larger framework of his ethnicity and religion. He was a masterful speaker and belonged to most of the civic clubs and organizations of his day.

With a grade school education, Quinn entered the Clyde Print Works as a finisher and remained there for nine years. Like so many others in the state, he spent his childhood as a child laborer. Quinn studied life through observation and reading books at the end of the workday. These were the formative years of his life. Denied the opportunity to complete his education at school, he studied privately and took pains to analyze people as they came under his observation. It was during this period that his talents as a leader and organizer came to the attention of the leaders in the National Council of the Knights of Labor, and he became the trusted lieutenant of Terence V. Powderly, chief executive and the brainiest leader of what was then the strongest labor organization in the land. Even as a boy, Quinn was interested in politics. In 1880, he assisted in the organization of a company of boys who marched in the parade for General Winfield Scott Hancock, who was running for the Presidency against James A. Garfield of Ohio. When the Cleveland-Harrison campaign was opened, he made speeches for the Democratic nominee, although he was under legal age at the time.

In 1891, he became a bookkeeper and salesman for William R. Brown and Company of Providence, and during this period, his abilities came to the attention of Edward L. Gannon of the law firm of Tanner and Gannon, and that accomplished lawyer advised him to study law. He took advantage of the advice and began his studies under Gannon, at the same time retaining his position with Brown and Company on a part time basis. He was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island in August 1895, and to that of the United States Circuit Court, January 18, 1897. Willard B. Tanner, senior member of the firm of Tanner and Gannon, had been elected Attorney-General and upon Quinn’s admission to the bar the firm of Gannon and Quinn was formed, which continued to function until the death of Mr. Gannon, March 15, 1896. For a number of years, Quinn practiced alone, eventually forming a partnership with Charles H. Kernan and, on January 1, 1918, admitting to the partnership Robert E. Quinn, his nephew. In November 1897, Quinn wed Agnes Healey of Providence, who died in February 1907 after only ten years of marriage. Patrick took a second wife, Margaret M. Conners of Providence, on July 22, 1909, by whom he had one son, Thomas Henry.

Quinn helped to create the state’s thirty-ninth municipality, the densely populated industrial town of West Warwick. When it peeled away from Warwick in 1913, Quinn served as first president of the new town’s council. The Rhode Island General Assembly approved this division of Warwick, with Quinn as its leading advocate, to safeguard Republican ascendancy in that original town, the eastern part of which was predominantly rural. Quinn was the consummate politician. His litany of political positions in Warwick and West Warwick was unmatched. In 1893, he began his decades-long participation in the state convention of the Democratic Party. Ten years later, he became a senior aide to the Democratic reform Governor Lucius Garvin, who conferred upon Quinn his cherished title of colonel. In 1900, he became a delegate to his first of many Democratic National Conventions and, in 1914, he was the unsuccessful standard bearer of his party in the race for governor.

Possessed of an inherent talent for organization and leadership, which was illustrated in graphic fashion during his early years, Quinn was esteemed throughout Rhode Island for his high character and his great professional abilities. Although frequently engaged in important public affairs, he never neglected his private work, and his clients were always his loyal friends, even though some of them may have been unsuccessful in their battles at law. His victories were always greater than his defeats, for his erudition in the intricacies of the law had been coupled with an indefatigable industry and a great talent for impressing juries with the justice of the cause he represented. Called to represent the people in many public offices of honor and responsibility, he never failed to justify the selection and has acquitted himself with credit in all cases. Espousing the Democratic cause in political campaigns, he was a valuable instrument in bringing out the vote and a priceless lieutenant on the platform, where his oratorical powers were greatly appreciated and productive of desired results.

In 1893 he was a delegate to the Democratic State Convention, and since that year, except for 1914, when he ran for Governor of Rhode Island, he had been a delegate at every convention. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that nominated William Jennings Bryan at Kansas City in 1900 to that which nominated Alton B. Parker at St. Louis in 1904, to that which nominated Bryan again in Denver in 1908, and in each instance was unanimously elected to his seat in the conventions. In 1898, he was elected secretary to the Democratic State Central Committee and served in that capacity for five years, then being elected chairman for three years. For ten years, he was chairman of the Warwick Democratic Town Committee and, in 1899, was elected Judge of Probate for Warwick, being the first judge elected, the Court of Probate having formerly been the Town Council. In the same year, he was also elected town solicitor and, in 1906, was again elected both judge of probate and town solicitor. In 1903, he was appointed senior aide on the staff of Governor Garvin and commissioned a colonel. As a unanimous public recognition of the esteem in which he was held, the citizens of Warwick, irrespective of political party affiliations, presented Colonel Quinn with a life-size portrait of himself. And in 1914, he was his party’s standard bearer in the governorship race.

In 1916, he attended as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention that nominated Woodrow Wilson at St. Louis and, at this convention, was chosen as Rhode Island’s member of the Democratic National Committee. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in New York in 1924, when as chairman of the Rhode Island delegation, he cast the unanimous vote of this delegation one hundred times for Alfred E. Smith, and again in 1928, was chairman of the Rhode Island delegation when Governor Smith was nominated for the Presidency.
Quinn was secretary, director in the Phenix Lace Mills, and treasurer of the Warwick Lace Works. He was also a director of the Pawtuxet Valley Free Library Association; a past president of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of Rhode Island; a founder and former president of the Catholic Club of Rhode Island; one of the founders of the Providence College; past chief ranger of Court Warwick, Foresters of America; a past grand knight of Gibson Council, Knights of Columbus; member of the American Bar Association; Robert Emmet Literary Association; Providence Lodge, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; Warwick Aerie, Fraternal Order of Eagles; and Benjamin Franklin Lodge, Provident Fraternity. He belonged to the Catholic, Radical, Turks Head, Columbus, and Noonday clubs.

Patrick H. Quinn died on March 12, 1956, at 86. He was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2013.

For additional reading:
Historical Cruise of the Ocean State, by Dr. Patrick T. Conley, Rhode Island Publications Society.

Scroll to Top