2010-03-04 / Island History

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosemary Enright
Winter is the Jamestown Historical Society’s time for planning, and this winter, we’ve had a lot of planning to do.

The summer exhibit at the museum has been our first concern. The exhibit for summer 2010 is “Farm Life in Jamestown: A Look at Our Farms, Past and Present.”

The society’s collection contains many objects used on Jamestown’s farms in the 19th and early 20th centuries. A large barn loom will be the center of the exhibit, surrounded by other household objects and farming implements. Historic maps showing the decline of farmland from about 90% of the island in1850 to about 12% in 2004 are being digitized for display and study. We’re bringing together lots of information about who lived and worked on the farms from 1708 – the earliest year for which detailed data is available – to the present.

The Conanicut Grange Jamestown Farm Viability Committee will also have a panel in the exhibit presenting the present and future of the farms.

As a preview to the summer exhibit, the JHS has mounted a display of some smaller farm objects, including a model of the Jamestown windmill, in the Lawn Avenue School. We also plan to invite the school children to the museum to see the full exhibit before it opens to the public on June 20.

This year, in addition to the displays themselves, the society wants to print a booklet that will contain detailed information that would give visitors greater insight into the historical information exhibited and would provide a permanent record of Jamestown farms.

Windmill Day, Aug. 7

The JHS hasn’t sponsored Windmill Day in several years – since 2004, in fact. Several factors – including our capital campaign and other major projects – interfered with our plans to alternate Battery Day in odd-numbered years and Windmill Day in even-numbered years. This year, with the help of the Farm Viability Committee, we’re getting back on schedule.

You’ll be hearing lots about this event as the date approaches, but mark your calendars now. The farms and the windmill will all be open to visitors on Saturday, Aug. 7. We’re planning on providing transportation to minimize parking and traffic issues. It will be fun.

George Washington

in Jamestown

A couple of members brought to our attention Ged Carbone’s article in the Feb. 21 issue of the Providence Journal about Washington’s 1781 trip across Narragansett Bay. His version varies slightly from the traditional Jamestown version.

He wrote: “On March 6, 1781, about 20 elite horsemen, selected for their size and good looks, rode down the South Ferry Road in South Kingstown, bound for the ferry landing where the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus now stands. At their center rode General George Washington, attired in his blue coat with gold epaulets, a black cockade pinned in his hat. Washington and his party boarded a barge for Newport.”

Compare this to the report of the same event in Walter Leon Watson’s “History of Jamestown,” published in 1949. “...on March 6, 1781, Job Watson, ever on the look-out from his watch tower on Tower Hill, reported that General Washington, with eight officers and aides as a body guard, had passed on his way to the ferry to Jamestown. The sailboat ferries were waiting for them at Old South Ferry and they landed on Jamestown about 2 o’clock. They crossed the island on Ferry Road (Narragansett Avenue) to the East Ferry where the admiral’s barge was waiting to convey General Washington directly to the Duc de Bourgoyne [sic].”

The Duc de Bourgogne was the flagship of the French expeditionary corps. According to contemporary accounts, Washington met with the comte de Rochambeau and his general officers on board the ship before proceeding to Newport.

Watson doesn’t tell us his source – aside from his reference to Job Watson – for his description of Washington’s passage through Jamestown on his way from his headquarters near West Point to Newport. In support of the story, however, is both geography and current military practice. It is unlikely that the French would have sent a barge – a launch-type boat intended mainly for rowing – around Jamestown in March when a ferry run by the Franklin family serviced the route between South Kingstown and Jamestown. For the shorter trip across the East Passage from East Ferry to Newport harbor, a barge makes sense, since it was the preferred vessel for carrying naval officers ashore and transferring official parties.

In 2006, 225 years after the combined forces of Washington and Rochambeau defeated Cornwallis to end the American Revolution, re-enactors and others interested in preserving the heritage of Franco-American cooperation set out to mark the route that the armies had taken from Newport to Yorktown. The combined forces marched north from Newport through Providence and Pawtucket, and then west to Connecticut along what is now Route 14. Red, white and blue shields with a gold fleur de lis in the lower right quadrant and “W3R” for Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route at the top are posted along the route.

Jamestown is not considered part of the W3R march because Washington crossed the island prior to his meeting with Rochambeau. In the early 1930s, at the time of the 150th anniversary of Washington’s visit, historic markers were placed on Narragansett Avenue noting the path that Washington and his party presumably took.

Return to top