2009-04-02 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright

Battery Day 2009 is just a month away on Saturday, May 9. The Friends of the Conanicut Battery and the JHS have big plans for the day and hope you can join us.

The events at the Conanicut Battery Historic Park start at 1 p.m. with rousing patriotic music by the Jamestown Community Band. The Artillery Company of Newport will announce the beginning of the ceremonies with a cannon salute across the West Passage from the earthwork battlements.

Major Blodget, Aide-de-Camp for General Nathaniel Greene and traditional host for Battery Day, played by Paul Brunelle, will welcome everybody. Captain Tew's 1st Company of the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment of Foot, the Varnum Continentals, and Ye Olde Lebanon Towne Militia— all dressed in uniforms of the colonial militia and Washington's Continental Army—will join the Jamestown Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion to salute the colonials who built the Conanicut Battery in 1776. Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts will be on hand to carry the flags of the United States armed services.

Members of His Majesty's 54th Regiment of Foot will commemorate the British and Hessian occupation from 1776 to 1779, while men of the Regiment Le Bourbonnais recall the French presence that followed.

Musket salutes from the military units and the Jamestown Band's renditions of national anthems of the three countries will accompany the raising of their flags.

Captain Tew's Company is setting up an 18th century encampment in the park to show how the troops lived during the American Revolution. Everyone is invited to stay and learn something about the day-to-day life of the troops. At the last Battery Day, members of the company demonstrated how to make musket balls out of lead over an open fire. They drilled on the park grounds and taught the Scouts some of their parade maneuvers.

Parking at the Conanicut Battery Historic Park is limited. The JHS will have shuttles running between Mackerel Cove and the park to bring those who arrive too late to find parking close by.

Thresholds: Step Inside History

May 9 is also the state-wide Thresholds: Step Inside History celebration. Twenty-six historic sites across the state—from the new Heritage Harbor Museum in Providence to the Westerly Armory—will welcome visitors free of charge from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jamestown's historic windmill and the Conanicut Friends Meetinghouse are two of the sites to visit. Make a whole day of it! Visit the Casey Farm or Smith's Castle in the morning, stop by the Jamestown windmill and the meetinghouse on your way back into town, and then head down Beavertail Road to Battery Lane to enjoy the pageantry of Battery Day.

It's a wonderful chance to tour Rhode Island's past.

Tennis Hall of Fame

Only two weeks later, Thursday, May 21, is our spring members only party. That evening the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum in Newport will be the site of a private party for the members of the Jamestown Historical Society. Wine and hors d'oeuvres will be served in the United States Tennis Association room. The museum director will be there to welcome us with a short presentation about the museum and the 1880 building designed by McKim, Mead and White in which it is housed.

The May column will have more details about the event, how and where to purchase tickets, and how to become a JHS member (if you're not already).

The Missing Keeper of Dutch Island Light

Several years ago Sue Maden began collecting information about the men who manned the lighthouse on Dutch Island in the West Passage. Dutch Island was included in the Conanicut Island purchase in 1657 and is still technically a part of Jamestown, although its ownership by state and national bodies since 1864 minimizes the town's impact on the area.

The stories of all the keepers - from William Dennis, who at 80 lit the first light in 1826 and kept it lit until the month before his death 16 years later, to Ernest Stacey, the last keeper of the light, who left the island in 1947—are engaging. One that the JHS researchers found particularly interesting was Stanley Gunderson, who tended the Dutch Island light from July 1934 to March 1935.

If you go to the Dutch Island Lighthouse Society website (www.lighthouse.cc/DILS), you won't find Gunderson listed. For some reason, his name is omitted from the official records. His story, told through correspondence and reports in his Lighthouse Service personnel file, is evocative of many stories from the Great Depression: post-war bureaucracy, positions lost through automation and downsizing, unsuitable jobs taken and lost.

His World War I discharge papers were lost, delaying his appointment to his first post. The lighthouse at which he served was one of the earliest automated. He took other jobs in the Lighthouse Service, including one as a laborer at Woods Hole, before coming to Dutch Island. His resignation letter from the Dutch Island post reads, in part, "I have been in poor health since I came here, a condition brought on directly by the worry of those months I have served at Great Pt. Sta. [Nantucket] under the extremely disagreeable conditions existing there." He was 45 years old.

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