Jamestown Historical Society News
Last week the JHS received a small grant from the Joseph O’Neill Ott Fund at the Rhode Island Foundation to help better preserve some of the 18th and early 19th century documents in our possession. Until 30 years ago, most of these documents had been stored – many still in their original envelopes or folded and tied in bundles – in the attic of the old Town Hall. When they were given to the society, volunteers sorted them and put them in acid-free boxes in a trunk in the museum. In 2006 they were transferred to the new JHS vault in Town Hall, taken out of the envelopes, and flattened for storage in acid-free folders.
(Using acid-free containers is essential to preserving old documents. Before about 1850, all paper was acid free and highly durable. Later paper made from wood pulp, which is not acid free and yellows quickly, became common. The acids in modern paper products can eat into the older paper.)
The 67 documents chosen for enhanced preservation are all quite readable. The main problems are the remaining creases from 200 years of being folded and small tears and folds at the edges of the paper.
Thirteen of the documents concern indentures and apprenticeships. They define the length of service – commonly between 10 and 18 years – and the skills to be learned, such as “the art and duties of housekeeping” or “the art, trade and mystery of farming.”
Twenty-eight documents record “removals” – the return of newcomers to a former place of residence because they might become “chargeable” to the town or because they would not take a required oath. Sometimes removals were from another town back to Jamestown, the last known legal residence.
Another 28 documents relate to Jamestown’s actions during the difficult times of the American Revolution. About 40 percent of the population left, many going to North Kingstown. These papers contain information about town meetings held in North Kingstown, raising a militia, and payment to townsmen who watched the shore for the enemy fleet.
Under this grant, the selected documents will be sent to a professional conservator for treatment that includes light surface cleaning, de-acidification, mending gross fractures in the paper, and encapsulation in archival polyester envelopes.
The first program in the society’s “All Things Jamestown” series was a great success with about 60 interested gardeners gathering in the library meeting room to hear Nick DiGiando discuss plants that are native to Jamestown.
The next program in the series will be in the library meeting room on Friday, May 18, at 7 p.m. Jeremy D’Entremont, author of “The Lighthouses of Rhode Island” and several other books and guides to lighthouses in the northeastern United States, will talk about lighthouses of lower Narragansett Bay.
D’Entremont, who lives in Portsmouth, N.H., has been writing about and photographing the lighthouses of New England since the mid-1980s. He’s the historian for the American Lighthouse Foundation and the webmaster of New England Lighthouses: A Virtual Guide. He actively supported the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association’s efforts to restore the lighthouse tower and buildings and was helpful to the writers of the JHS booklet, “Keepers of the Dutch Island Light.”
The event is co-sponsored by the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association, the Jamestown Philomenian Library and the Jamestown Historical Society.
When Manabu Takasawa, internationally known pianist and associate professor of music at the University of Rhode Island, learned that the Jamestown Historical Society was 100 years old this year, he wanted to celebrate the anniversary at his spring piano concert. He explored the repertoire of American music composed around the time that the society was founded and decided on two pieces by Amy Beach – “Fireflies” from Opus 15 and “Hermit Thrush at Eve” from Opus 92.
Beach, who lived much of her life in Boston, was an active composer from 1888 until shortly before her death in 1944. Her first major work, “Mass in E-flat major” (1890), moved her into the rank of America’s foremost composers. The two pieces Takasawa has chosen to play were composed in 1892 and 1921, respectively, thus bracketing the society’s anniversary year.
In addition to the two Beach pieces, Takasawa will play works by Debussy and Beethoven. The concert, sponsored by the Jamestown Community Piano Association, is Sunday, May 13, at 2 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
Students visit Windmill Hill
The fifth-grade teachers – Christine Bernardo, Jenn Clarke and Michelle Desrosiers – brought their students to the windmill and the Friends Meetinghouse on April 12. Their guides at the JHS sites enjoyed talking about how the buildings had been used in the past. They were startled and impressed to discover that, while most of the students had notebooks in hand, some were filming their adventure to be digested later.
Windmill Hill was only one of the places the students visited on their historical exploration. “What a wonderful two days we enjoyed touring the island as we experienced – in our imaginations – the fascinating history that transpired here, truly a microcosm of our American historical narrative!” posted Mrs. Bernardo.
July 14 is Windmill Day. Mark your calendar!