2010-07-29 / Front Page

Island authors publish new history of Jamestown

By Geoff Campbell

Rosemary Enright and Sue Maden Rosemary Enright and Sue Maden Editors at the History Press in South Carolina were tenacious in their belief that a fresh and comprehensive history needed to be written about Jamestown.

They were equally tenacious that Sue Maden, who often receives the “local historian calls,” was the right place to start.

According to Maden, the folks at the History Press, who specialize in regional and community histories, had seen the New York Times piece: “Havens – Jamestown, R.I. – a Quieter New England Just Across the Bridge,” April 2, 2009. They persisted and eventually, Maden reached out to a familiar collaborator – Rosemary Enright.

Together, over a period of just about nine months, Enright, the writer and editor, and Maden, the hunter, gatherer and collector, worked from brainstorming to contract to publishing party. And while the book is somewhat longer than originally planned, Maden said, “There are 20 more volumes of this size in what we didn’t use.”

The first questions raised on this project concerned the very nature of historical writing.

Enright summarized the issue: “Would this be anecdotal, a full history or a pictorial history?”

Enright said she felt strongly that this book needed to be “less about summer visitors – an approach often taken in the past – and more from the view of fulltime residents.”

Maden concurred, and the re- sult was the first full history of Jamestown since the 1949 publication of “History of Jamestown on Conanicut Island in the State of Rhode Island” by Walter Leon Watson.

The authors declare their choices in the preface: “Every tale told – and history is a tale – involves a series of choices, a road taken and a road not taken.”

They chose, they said, to “emphasize eras and influences not thoroughly covered somewhere else, concentrate on the dynamic flow through key periods of change and try to see our history through the eyes of people for whom the island was home.”

Working together is nothing new for Enright and Maden. The pair recently completed a series on the Dutch Island Lighthouse, “Keepers of the Dutch Island Light,” and previously, they have shared credit on other projects, including a Newport Historical Society Bulletin titled, “The Dr. Bates Sanitarium in Jamestown.”

The families of both Enright and Maden have “summer histories” dating back generations – Enright’s family on the east side of the island and Maden’s on the west side. Enright has been a permanent full-time resident of Jamestown since 1974 and Maden, since 1982.

Other commonalities include their shared experience with the Jamestown Historical Society. Both have served multiple terms on the Jamestown Historical Society Board of Directors.

Maden served most recently as the chair of the collections committee and Enright is currently president of the board.

The duo admits to being “sort of driven.”

Enright is drawn to writing about history because “it’s a good story…continuously unfolding in a particular and changing direction and you are a part of it.”

Formerly a “requirements analyst” for Northup Grumman, Enright provided a common language through which people with dissimilar training and roles could understand each other.

She credits Maden with being “a great collector of information and things.”

Maden connects this proclivity to being “a middle child – I’ve always been a collector.”

She found her favorite profession in her second career as a librarian – in collections, no doubt.

While Enright and Maden are the primary authors of the book, they are quick to credit the underlying work of the Jamestown Historical Society and the many authors who were de facto contributors through their own works, as listed in the extensive bibliography.

The pair also made substantial use of the tremendous number of records available to them through the offices and archives of Jamestown Town Hall.

With the help of Town Planner Lisa Bryer, land records were accessed going back more than 300 years.

The original Conanicut Island pre-purchase land agreement of 1657, which was recently purchased by the Jamestown Historical Society at auction, is currently on display at the Jamestown Town Hall.

The pre-purchase agreement document added essential information to the substantial stores of information already available in Town Hall, at the Jamestown Philomenian Library and in the Jamestown Historical Society vault.

In keeping with Enright’s commitment to a focus on farmers and farming, census records – including those for census years 1880, 1900 and 1930 – were also used as primary source documents. Primary source documents enabled the authors to specifically track the changing demographics of Jamestown since its inception. A full display of the history of farms and farming in Jamestown is currently on display at the Jamestown Museum.

Additionally, according to Maden, “There now exists a huge and searchable file; a compilation of every “Year in Review, from 1949 forward in the Standard Times of North Kingstown or the Newport Daily News until 1989, when the Jamestown Press began publishing.”

Both authors agree that there is tremendous long-term value in what they were able to collect and organize.

The book arrived from the publisher on July 19, and that evening, a gathering of friends helped the authors celebrate its arrival. The authors maintain distribution rights in Jamestown and copies are available for sale at the Jamestown Museum, which is operated by the Jamestown Historical society.

What’s next?

“It has already begun,” Enright said. What started as an idea for a walking tour of Narragansett Avenue has evolved into a history of buildings and houses on Narragansett Avenue.

Both authors say they enjoy their partnership. Working together complements their particular strengths and interests, and – as Maden puts it – they still “talk to each other at the end.”

The book is also being sold at Baker’s Pharmacy, Conanicut Marine, Jamestown Designs and Jamestown Hardware.

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