2007-07-12 / News

Interns help keep Jamestown history alive

By Michaela Kennedy

The history of the town of Jamestown is safe in the hands of three young women this summer. The interns, funded through the Rhode Island Foundation, are learning about library science while helping the town preserve precious documents dating back to the founding years of the 1600s.

The state grant money, allocated to the Jamestown Historical Society, pays for two interns, who put in 300 hours apiece. Duties include cataloging municipal documents, into a digital database. Rosemary Enright, president of the society, noted that two candidates asked for part-time work "so we are lucky to have three interns with us this summer." The anteroom of the Jamestown Historical Museum, the former public library, is their office location for the summer.

Enright explained that the student workers were creating a digital database for historical town records. The documents are scheduled to be preserved in the basement vault of the new town hall once it opens.

Laurel Richardson, a history major at the College of the Holy Cross, is the only full time summer intern. She finds the Colonial history of Jamestown an attractive aspect to the library work. "It (Jamestown) is a small town, which is great, but I get to learn about its history, too," she noted. Richardson, who grew up in California, is living only a short walk from the Jamestown Historical Museum.

The students agree that the chance to handle the historical papers is the best part of the job. Richardson has just started cataloging documents from the 18th century. "Since I love Colonial history, it's exciting," she commented, showing financial documents that were written in pounds and shillings.

Brianna Cohoon, an English major at Fairfield University, also lives on the island. Cohoon noted with a laugh that her fascination with the authentic documents crossed over into the surreal. Recently she has been focusing on creative writing in her college major. "I never thought about writing a time-period piece before this job," she revealed. "But handling the documents gets me thinking about writing stories set in Colonial times."

Beth Russell, from Wickford, is also a part-time intern. Russell was engrossed in parchments, many of which were indentured contracts, at the time of interview. "It was a way that the town would deal with orphans or wards of the town," she explained. She pointed to old documents bearing witness to births, marriages and deaths. Health documents were mixed in, including cases of smallpox, cholera "and an unspecified cow disease," she added.

Russell, who will soon earn a master's degree in library science at the University of Rhode Island, shows gratitude for the chance to work in Jamestown. Noting the narrow field available for research and studies in library work, "I'm lucky to supplement formal education with other opportunities," Russell said. Russell also does cataloging in the collections and research department at Mystic Seaport. "I was hired at Mystic on a grant also," she said.

The students agree that, only a few weeks into their internships, they already know more about the town than most locals, and are more than happy to share what they know.

To learn more about the community project and the interns, call the Jamestown Historical Museum at 423-0784. To explore documents from Jamestown online, go to www.jamestownhistoricalsociety. org.

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