Introducing the Weeden family
There have been Weedens on Conanicut Island since the middle of the 17th century, and in 2014 the family’s history will be celebrated through a series of events at the library, including an appearance by Curt Weeden, author of the locally themed thriller, “Dutch Island.”
Weeden was born and raised in Barrington. From an early age, he was aware of his family history in Jamestown, including the homestead on Weeden Lane. However, he never made much of it. Weeden left the area to attend Northeastern University in Boston before enrolling in graduate school at New York University.
After earning his MBA, Weeden entered the nonprofit world, working for American Field Services in New York and the Asia Foundation in San Francisco. He then started his own business, a consulting firm for large corporations that focused on social responsibility. Johnson & Johnson was one of Weeden’s biggest clients. He became so busy with his New Jersey-based customer that he eventually moved back East to be closer to the client.
Johnson & Johnson purchased Weeden’s company in 1990. The deal included a buyout that meant Weeden had to stay with the business for five years. He ended up staying with Johnson & Johnson for 10 years.
In 2000, he decided to give something back: he started a professional association for corporate contribution managers.
“There are about 500 companies in the United States that have paid staff who are employed to give away company money,” Weeden said. “They are very untrained when it comes to business practices.”
Weeden’s new company was based in Florida, and he lived there for two years before moving to Charleston, S.C. The training institute was growing quickly. Eventually Weeden handed leadership over to a team of executives and launched his current initiative, New Strategies. The new company offers a program for corporations to handpick staff from large nonprofits – like the Salvation Army, for example – and send them to Charleston for a five-day training program. The course focuses on how nonprofits can increase their revenue streams by coming up with new funding concepts.
When Weeden left the area to go to college, his interest in his family history waned further. But just before his father died, Weeden’s dad asked him to maintain the story of the family and pass it on to future generations. To help him, Weeden was left with a handwritten log that was kept by an unnamed great-aunt. The log traced the family genealogy back to the 1600s.
“I had this obligation,” Weeden said, “and I thought I owed it to my parents.”
Weeden’s book, “Dutch Island,” is an attempt to meld fiction, which he hoped would attract reader interest, with an abbreviated epilogue that traced the history of his family. It is Weeden’s second novel. His first, “Book of Nathan,” was set in New Jersey and features many of the same characters who appear in “Dutch Island.”
“Dutch Island” tells the story of Rick Bullock, the director of a homeless shelter in Jersey, who comes to Jamestown to housesit for a well-to-do entrepreneur. While in town, Bullock becomes enmeshed in a murder investigation. He discovers a plot to develop Dutch Island, including plans to place a replica of the world’s largest mosque on the island.
“Obviously, it gets very controversial,” Weeden said. “This poor guy from New Jersey gets caught in the middle of it.”
Two new characters emerge toward the end of the book. One is Weeden’s actual brother, Richard, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease for almost 30 years and died earlier this year. The other is Richard’s wife, Betty, who took care of her husband during his bout with Parkinson’s. The two real-life characters in a fictional setting become catalysts for the story’s resolution. Introducing a family member allowed Weeden to present the family genealogy in the epilogue.
“It gave me a pathway to talk about how Rick captured the spirit of the generations that preceded us,” Weeden said.
One fascinating historical fact is that it was Benedict Arnold’s grandfather, also named Benedict Arnold, who put together a group of local investors, including the Weedens, to purchase a part of Dutch Island from the Indians in 1741. The original deed for the transaction is in the holdings of the Jamestown Historical Society.
“Dutch Island” begins with a foreword by Dr. Bernard J. Fogel of the National Parkinson’s Foundation. All the proceeds from the book will go to the foundation as a tribute to his brother.
“The book tries to do three things at once,” Weeden said. “One is to honor my father’s request to keep the family lineage alive. The second is to bring more attention to the rich history of southern New England. The third to let people know that Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions are pretty devastating.”
Beginning in January and continuing for about six weeks, the historical society will present an exhibit at the library of documents and artifacts related to the history of the Weeden family in Jamestown, including the Dutch Island deed.
Also at the library, on Monday, Jan. 6, there will be a discussion on “Dutch Island.” The book can be borrowed from the library, and anyone who has read it is welcome to participate in the discussion. The meeting takes place at 7 p.m.
Finally, on Thursday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 p.m., Weeden will appear at the library. He will use a Power- Point presentation to focus on the history of the area – Dutch Island in particular – from the time the Weedens first arrived on Conanicut Island.