Bulgarmarsh to Sin and Flesh — exploring Tiverton names

By Susan Anderson
Posted 3/4/21

Tiverton has a lot of interesting and unusual names for roads, waterways, swamps, and hills. Granted, most are from the native Wampanoag names for them, and other more modern ones may be from family …

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Bulgarmarsh to Sin and Flesh — exploring Tiverton names


Tiverton has a lot of interesting and unusual names for roads, waterways, swamps, and hills. Granted, most are from the native Wampanoag names for them, and other more modern ones may be from family names. But there are still a few that have people wondering and asking: How did Bulgarmarsh get its name? Were there bears near Bears Den Road? What on earth is The Gut? Why is it named Sin and Flesh Brook? Were there wildcats living at Wildcat Rock in Weetamoo Woods? Who was Jack that he had an island named after him in Seapowet Marsh? Jiley Hill, Hellburn Woods, Sucker Brook, and Bliss Four Corners may be other questionable names in town you’ve wondered about.

Let’s start with those that have been around since the original inhabitants of Tiverton, the Wampanoag tribe. Pocasset is the original name they had for Tiverton, meaning “place at which a strait widens.” Early colonists also used this name for the town until 1695, as shown on early maps of that period. Other native names for places in Town include: Puncateest, Seapowet, Nanaquaket, Nonquit, Quaket. Weetamoo Woods is named after the Wampanoag sachem who lived in this area, the daughter of Sagamore Corbitant and sister-in-law of King Philip.

Sucker Brook, originally Succor Brook, runs north from Stafford Pond to Watuppa Pond. Its large trout (legend has them weighing nearly 100 pounds) were fished by the Wampanoag village of one hundred wetus of families located where the Tiverton Casino is now. The brook is also the eastern boundary of the Pocasset Swamp where colonists and Wampanoags (including King Philip and Weetamoo) fought the last battle in Tiverton of King Philip’s War in 1675. “Succor” means “give assistance and support in times of hardship”, so this brook is aptly named for its aid to the town’s original inhabitants.

Another brook associated with the natives is Sin and Flesh Brook. Although the majority of the hostile natives had been cleared from Pocasset after King Philip’s War, there were still a handful here and there in the area. Six were in the vicinity of the brook when Quaker Zoeth Howland rode by on his horse, traveling from Dartmouth for the Quaker meeting in Newport. They attacked him, mutilated his body and threw it in the water near the foot of Highland Road. His friends, upon discovering the outrageous act, called the brook “Sinning Flesh River,” and the name evolved over time to what it is now.

Moving on to “English” names, Bulgarmarsh Road was originally New Bedford Road, since it ran to New Bedford, and is designated as such in early deeds and maps of the area. It became what it is known by now from “Bulgar’s Marsh,” located along its roadway.

Bliss Four Corners is named after Cyrenus Bliss, who built his house and general store/post office at the corner of Bulgarmarsh and Crandall Roads in the early 1800s. (The building was demolished when BayCoast Bank purchased the site; Guimond’s was the previous occupant before the sale.)

Fish Road is named for the Fish families who lived on the road which they knew as Eight Rod Way. Henry A. Fish lived near the corner of what is now Souza Road (the house is still there), and George W. Fish lived farther north, also on the western side (the house is no longer there). Their family cemetery is also on the road near where George’s house used to be.

Although maps may show “Hellburn Woods,” it was also “Helbun.”  Located about two miles east of the Stone Bridge area, extending several miles north and south of Bulgarmarsh Road, “Helbon” was what the colonists named this area because it abounded with grape vines and fruit, calling it after its ancient counterpart. Helbon was an old city in Asia Minor, celebrated for its grapes and the richness of its vines.  The prophet Ezekial mentions the wine of Helbon in the scriptures. The name of Helbon is both classical and scriptural and shows that those who gave it to this area of Tiverton had knowledge of both. Unfortunately, through the years, the name has been desecrated by others as a reproachful phrase. Often applied to the Town of Tiverton when said that someone comes from Hellburn Woods, the impression is meant to be considered as “he can’t know much, or there is no telling what he may do.”

One of the definitions of “gut” is “a narrow waterway.” Locals have named the location where the Sin and Flesh Brook empties into Nanaquaket Pond as The Gut. Stone foundation ruins of the John Gray House and Tavern (pre-1700) can be seen on the shore of The Gut on Bridgeport Road. (The house was later occupied by Joseph Church, the founder of Joseph Church & Sons fishing industry in the mid-1800s, and the tavern used as a seine house.)

Jack’s Island was indeed an island originally, but is now connected to the mainland north of Seapowet Marsh as a small, hilly peninsula along the Sakonnet River. The island was purchased by Jack Sanford who started a business there, renting skiffs and picnic spaces, and selling refreshments. There was once a cannon used in France and a World War II tank in a park-like setting, however these are no longer there. It is currently an Audubon refuge for breeding ospreys.

As to Wildcat Rock and Bears Den, there probably were bears and wild cats living in those environs “back in the olden days,” since the surrounding habitat would likely have supported them in early Pocasset. But only the original inhabitants and early settlers know for sure.

This is February’s “Tale,” written for the Tiverton Historical Society’s website. For other interesting “Tales of Tiverton,” visit www.tivertonhistorical.org and click on the tab of the same name at the top of the page.

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