2013-12-05 / News

Jamestown Historical Society News

By Rosema ry Enright

William Weeden was one of the men who purchased Conanicut Island from the Narragansett in 1657, and members of the family lived on the home farm on Weeden Lane – now Windmist Farm – well into the 20th century.

For several months now, Holly Collins and Arlene Petit have been collecting information for an exhibit that tells the story of the Weeden family. The exhibit in the Jamestown Philomenian Library will open in January and will feature archives and objects from the Jamestown Historical Society collection, supplemented by archival information from the Newport Historical Society and other Rhode Island repositories.

Many of the JHS archives have been conserved with grants from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and the Rhode Island Foundation.

Also on display will be a 1741 deed transferring the Weeden holdings on Dutch Island between two Weeden brothers. The deed has been loaned to the society by Curt Weeden, a direct descendant of William Weeden.

Curt Weeden is a writer who, in 2013, published a mystery set on Dutch Island. The plot revolves around decapitation of a land developer, the Dutch Island deed that will be displayed, and a man suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The royalties from the sale of print copies go to the National Parkinson Foundation. The book is the library reading group’s January selection and will be discussed at its meeting on Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. Everyone who has read the book, which is available through the library, is invited to come and to participate in the discussion.

On Jan. 9, Curt Weeden will be in Jamestown. The Jamestown Historical Society and the Jamestown Philomenian Library will cosponsor a talk beginning at 7:30 p.m., “Dutch Island Saga: How a Tiny Dot of Land Mirrors Rhode Island’s Extraordinary History.” To Weeden, Dutch Island is reflective of the character of many Rhode Islanders. The island may be small (like Rhode Island), but it has been in the eye of history for centuries. He will talk about his book, the Weeden family, and his brother, a native Rhode Islander who suffered from Parkinson’s disease.

Pearl Harbor

On Dec. 7, the American Legion and VFW will fly the flags at East Ferry in remembrance of those lost in the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the event that brought a reluctant United States into World War II.

Dec. 7 is also the date of another naval attack, 165 years earlier – this one much closer to home.

On Dec. 7, 1776, a British fleet of 11 warships and 70 troop transports sailed up the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, around the north end of Conanicut Island, and anchored off Aquidneck Island. The next day 6,500 British and Hessian soldiers landed in Newport, and four days later occupied Jamestown. They remained, except for a brief time during the Battle of Rhode Island, for almost three years, until the British withdrew from Rhode Island in 1779.

The Pearl Harbor Day flags at East Ferry also mark the site of yet another surprise attack by sea, this one 238 years ago, on Dec. 10, 1775. At 1 o’clock that morning, four or five British ships landed upward of 200 men at East Ferry. They marched in three divisions across the island to West Ferry. They set several houses on fire there, then retreated back to East Ferry setting fire to almost every house on each side of Narragansett Avenue (then called Ferry Road), and to several houses and barns some distance on the north and south. A total of 16 houses, one store, and a number of outbuildings were lost.

The resistance, as well as the destruction, was recorded in the diary of the Rev. Ezra Stiles of Newport: “A company of Minute Men had left Conanicut the aft[ernoon] before so that there were but 40 or 50 soldiers on the Island, of which 22 were well equipped. At the Cross Rodes there was a skirmish our pple killed one officer of Marines and wounded 7 or 8. Not one Colonist was killed or hurt in the skirmish. The Kings forces fired on Mr. Jno. Martin, [age] 80, standing at his door and wounded him badly.”

Holiday fair

Don’t forget to visit the Jamestown Historical Society booth at the CIAA holiday fair on Saturday, Dec. 7, at Melrose School. A membership in the historical society makes a nice gift.

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