2010-01-07 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright
Happy New Year! Our first event of 2010 will be a program about the Battle of Rhode Island, given by Larry McDonald on Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the meeting room of the library. The talk is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Jamestown Philomenian Library and the JHS.

The Battle of Rhode Island took place on Aug. 29, 1778, and was the largest land battle fought in New England during the American Revolution. The battle is significant, as it was the first demonstration of the alliance between French and American forces that would bring victory at Yorktown three years later.

Speaking from the viewpoint of Captain Thomas Cole, commander of the Third Company 1st Rhode Island (the Black Regiment), who participated in the battle, McDonald will tell of the efforts of Generals Sullivan, Greene and Lafayette to combine forces with the French fleet under Admiral d’Estaing to drive the British, Hessian and loyalist forces from the bases that they had established in Newport and Jamestown in 1776.

This memorial stone was found during the 1992 renovation of the Isaac Carr House. Photo courtesy of JHS This memorial stone was found during the 1992 renovation of the Isaac Carr House. Photo courtesy of JHS McDonald plans to bring to his talk physical reminders of the Revolutionary War era, including a musket, books and miniatures of those involved in the Battle of Rhode Island.

A member of the JHS and the Friends of the Conanicut Battery, McDonald has – in the uniform of Le Regiement de Bourbonnais – represented the French at the JHS Battery Day at our Conanicut Battery Historic Park Battery Days. A committed re-enactor of Revolutionary War events, he is the line major for the Varnum Continentals of East Greenwich and participated in the 225th anniversary commemorations of the battles of White Plains, Saratoga, Rhode Island, Yorktown and The Hook (near Gloucester, Va.) between 2001and 2006.

McDonald graduated from Providence College with a degree in history and has a master’s and professional certificate from Rhode Island College in rehabilitative therapy. He is a U.S. Army veteran and retired from the reserves as a lieutenant colonel.

CAP grant

We’re very proud to announce that we have received a $7,190 grant from Heritage Preservation, the National Institute for Conservation, to hire both a professional conservator to assess the JHS collection and an historic preservation specialist to assess our historic buildings.

During its 98-year history, the JHS has collected many objects, documents and photographs pertaining to Jamestown. The Society also owns or has a long-term lease on three historic buildings – the windmill (1787), the Quaker meetinghouse (1786- 1787) and the museum (1886). It also has responsibility for the Revolutionary War battlements at the town’s Conanicut Battery Historic Park.

This past fall, as part of the ongoing process of evaluating how well we are fulfilling our mission to care for and preserve our collection and our buildings, we applied for a grant under the national Heritage Preservation Conservation Assessment Program (CAP). With the money received, we’ll be able to hire two outside consultants.

Each consultant will spend two days on site doing evaluations. One of them will focus on the collection, assessing, for instance, whether our storage methods are adequate to prevent deterioration and whether our policies are clear and enforceable. The second consultant will evaluate the three historic structures and our methods for maintaining or repairing them.

These external reviews will be completed before November. The reports, with recommendations for improvements and prioritization guidance, will impact JHS collection activities and budget allocations in 2011.

Boston Post Cane

Did everyone read Arlene Petit’s letter to the editor in the Christmas Eve edition of the Jamestown Press about Jamestown’s Boston Post Cane? The ebony cane with its elegant gold cap, received from the Boston Post in 1909, was supposed to be passed down to the oldest citizen in the community. Ten R.I. towns still follow the tradition. Jamestown’s cane has been missing since 1921, when the third recipient died.

But Arlene and others interested in our history have not given up hope that the cane will be found. Sometimes, objects reappear after a long time. The JHS recently discovered the whereabouts of two memorial stones that had been put in front of the Thorndike Hotel in 1907. The stones, honoring Dr. David D. Birney and John Price Wetherill, were found supporting steel lally columns during the 1992 renovation of the Isaac Carr House on Narragansett Avenue. The contractor, Mike Sharp, recognized the names, but didn’t know the history of the stones. He gave the Wetherill stone to a Wetherill descendant and kept the Birney stone. Not until this fall when Colleen Smyth saw the Birney stone in Mike’s yard while she was walking her dog did the story of the stones come to light.

Return to top