Archive for the ‘Facts & Folklore’ Category

From the Morning Courier and General Advertiser, (Providence, R.I.), January 17, 1840   Leave a comment

18400117 morning courier, ladiesTO BE READ BY THE LADIES.

We invite the attention of our fair readers to the following explanation of the principal causes of the decrease of marriages. We regret that candor requires us to bear testimony to the fidelity of the picture sketched. It however only exhibits another evidence of the oft repeated fact that the present generation, by pride, luxuries, and false delicacy, have heedlessly trampled under foot the excellent precepts and example of that Spartan band of mothers that flourished in the ‘days of auld lang syne.’ An inordinate thirst for wealth, show and distinction, has perhaps entailed more misery upon the human family than all the vices which flesh is heir too [sic]. The softer sex, whose peculiar province is to amend the manners and improve the heart, should be the pioneers in reforming the follies of the day. They should constantly bear in mind, under every temptation, ‘that worth makes the man, the want of it, the fellow.’

Principal causes of the decrease of marriages. I’ll tell you why young ladies do not go off so frequently as formerly — They are nice and too proud, &c.

I know a young lady — not very young now indeed, who, to my certain knowledge, has refused 15 offers.

One, because the gentleman could not keep a carriage.
Another because he could not speak the French language.
A third, because he knew nothing of the Italian operas.
A fourth, because he stooped in his shoulders.
A fifth, because he had not fortune enough.
A sixth, because he was a tradesman.
A seventh, because he was a tobacco chewer.
The eighth, was too bashful in company.
The ninth, because he wore spectacles.
The tenth was a politician, and did not bestow on her sufficient attention.
The eleventh could not dance, and consequently was a fool in our lady’s opinion, &c. &.

The lady’s own fortune is as follows:

In bank stock
In permanent bridges
Turnpike roads
Insurance company
Money at interest
Lottery Tickets
Houses

$00,000
00,000
00,000
00,000
00,000
20
00,000

To which, in cash, diamonds, &c. may be added, 00,000

With a fortune like this, you may judge with what propriety a lady rejects a tradesman, or insists on keeping a carriage. — [New York Star.

Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island: Auton House   Leave a comment

Auton House, from Recollections of Auton House (1881).

Auton House, from Recollections of Auton House (1881).

Alias Hoppin.
by John Williams Haley

This article comes from an Old Stone Bank educational pamphlet published by the Providence Institution for Savings on March 2, 1931. Transcribed by Christopher Martin.

* * * * *

AUTON HOUSE… who would recognize it now? In fact, how many have ever even heard the name? It is not in the property files of Providence. Officially it does not exist. But the initiated, familiar with its origin, revel in their intimate knowledge of its full significance. For them the name “Auton” conveys up the picture of a charming mid-nineteenth century Providence family, one which was in some respects similar to the Alcott family of Concord, Massachusetts.

Auton House stands on Westminster Street at the corner of Walnut Street, nearly opposite the Modern Theatre. At this writing it serves as the home of several business concerns, its first floor given over to stores, its second and third floors to offices and workshops. Someday it will probably be torn down, destroyed to make room for a modern office building; but now, in spite of its constant usage for more than 120 years, its brick walls seem as sturdy as the day they were raised.

And this was the house in which twelve little Autons were born, in which eleven grew up, and of which one paused, in his later years, to reminisce. He called his reminiscences Recollections of Auton House, issuing them in the form of a small book and illustrating it himself. In it he tells of countless little details in the child life of the Auton family, describing many a piece of mischief—the romps and games in the nursery, the thoughtless persecution of poor Deborah, the tyranny of T. Auton in the matter of jonnycake—and portraying character after character, from Rosannah to Mother Auton, with tender humor and intimate understanding.

But so far we have been talking ambiguously; so far you know nothing about Auton house except its location. Let us then unfold the rest of the mystery without more ado.

The Auton family was none other than the Hoppin family of Rhode Island. And the author of the reminiscences was Augustus Hoppin, the ninth in line of the twelve children. Perhaps desiring the opportunity to expand more liberally upon the theme that engrossed him in his writing, he hid his family behind the pseudonym “Auton.” “Auton”, it seems, is a Greek word meaning “self” and therefore was a very apt choice. For distinction among the eleven living children, Augustus Hoppin then prefixed the correct first initial of each individual before his fictitious surname. Thus, in order of arrival in the world, they were

J. Auton………. William Jones Hoppin
A. Auton (girl)…… Anna Jones Hoppin
T. Auton……. Thomas Frederick Hoppin
S. Auton (girl)…….. Sarah D. Hoppin
F. Auton………. Francis Edwin Hoppin
H. Auton…………… Hamilton Hoppin
E. Auton (girl)….. Eliza Jones Hoppin
W. Auton……… Dr. Washington Hoppin
A. Auton…………… Augustus Hoppin
H. Auton (girl)… Harriet Jones Hoppin
C. Auton………. Dr. Courtland Hoppin

The family moved into Auton House in 1815, although it had been built some eight years earlier, and continued to occupy it until 1874, the year of Mother Auton’s death. The father of the family was Thomas Coles Hoppin who, with his brother Benjamin, engaged in business as a merchant, dealing in such commodities as dye-stuffs, drugs, and Chinaware and importing many goods from the West Indies and China. Both men became influential and highly respected citizens of the community. From the various bits of description Augustus Hoppin gives us, we can picture his father as an individual of unusual charm. The former writes that if ever a father was loved by his children Father Auton was, their greatest delight arising in being compared with him whether in matter of virtue, feature, or eccentricity. He would often thrill them when they were quite small by swinging them in a circle until they were literally flying through the air, like the partner of a spinning, dance performer. Every morning, early, it was he who would take a basket on his arm and set out for the heart of the town to do the daily marketing. On each trip one of the elder boys would be taken along to help in bringing home the purchases, and it was not unusual for Father Anton, after buying a live gobbler in the stalls, to give it to his son to carry. This the young man would have to do, regardless of his attire and of the affront to his vanity if he chanced to meet any friends (particularly those of the opposite sex) on the way. Nevertheless, despite the possibility of being ordered to carry an obstreperous turkey home, the chance to accompany Father Auton on his morning expeditions was considered a privileged one and was valued accordingly.

Not all of Father Auton’s shopping was done in the market-place, however, for many farmers would come into the town and cry their products through the streets from house to house. When a huckster with a wagon load of berries came up Westminster Street, Father Auton would stop him, sample his goods, and then, if they proved satisfactory, buy five or six quarts.

Mother Auton was the daughter of Governor William Jones of Rhode Island, and one of the best mothers imaginable, catering to her large brood with wisdom and love. Her ministrations extended outside of her family as well, for her sympathy and intelligent advice was sought by many a distressed female, whether black or white. She survived Father Auton by about twenty-four years, and it is of her in this latter period of her life that Augustus Hoppin gives us an especially fine picture.

“Mother Auton never would sit at a desk,” he writes. “Neither ‘secretary’ nor ‘davenport’ suited her purpose. The little gifts presented to her from time to time, and admirably adapted to write at were always gratefully accepted, but never used. She took her writing materials on her broad motherly lap, pushed her cap-strings from her face, adjusted her gold spectacles over her ample nose, dipped her pen daintily in the ink (just enough to fill it without blotting), and away it ran so merrily and easily over the paper that she would be on her fourth page before we children, who were seated around her, had half gotten through sucking our oranges…

“There she sat in her chair every Sunday morning for over forty years, writing the weekly epistle, with bended head and benign expression, while the wood fire hissed and sputtered, and the old canary sang in the sunlight.”

We have already mentioned Deborah, the long-suffering maid. She was the break-water against which the tireless waves of the young Autons’ energy buffeted endlessly. She slept in the nursery with the children, being allotted a thin strip along the edge of the larger bed, but she was only allowed to sleep after she had brushed the bed clean of the crumbs which fell from the children’s final rations of jonnycake and had supplied all round with a last drink of water. Even then, with the first light of day, she was unmercifully pushed out of bed by several pairs of small feet braced against her back. Yet, though slowly worn to a shadow, she never complained of her lot, and faithfully ministered to all the childish wants, from the youngest to the oldest, doctoring colds, combing hair, answering questions, drying tears, and adjusting sashes and ties.

Far different was she from Rosannah, the colored mistress of the kitchen. The latter was almost regal in her bearing, seldom smiling yet warm-hearted for all of that. She would dole out slices of bread to the small army of young ones that daily invaded her sanctuary, and she alone knew just what pinch of salt or dash of pepper was needed to make each dish exactly suited to the fastidious taste of Father Auton. But like many of the old-time cooks she could not endure the modern types of cooking equipment, and when coal stoves and ovens came into vogue, she resigned her culinary throne.

What became of the many young Autons who filled the old house with so much noise and merriment? What of those urchins who deliberately caught colds in order to stay home from school, who climbed all over poor Deborah, who played house in the nursery, who set out their shoes (instead of stockings) to be filled with candy and trinkets on Christmas Eve?

Well, the eldest, William Hoppin Jones [sic], turned to law and established a considerable practice in New York, later entering the diplomatic service and going to London. The next among the boys, Thomas Frederick, became a distinguished artist, his notable works being the chancel windows depicting the evangelists in Trinity Church, New York, and his bronze statue of a dog, now in Roger Williams Park. Others, among the boys, became well-known physicians and architects, while the girls attained social prominence, one marrying Elisha Dyer, Governor of Rhode Island in 1857.

But last, and especially, we must speak of Augustus Hoppin, the author of the “re-collections.” He, too, was a noted artist, famous as an illustrator. It was he who did the illustrations for the original edition of Holmes’ Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. He wrote a good many books, but of them all none is more delightful, more thoroughly charming than Recollections of Auton House, a pen portrait of a 19th century Rhode Island family.

Return to Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island index.

* * * * *

John Williams Haley (1897-1963), former vice president of the Narragansett Brewing Company, was best known for his weekly radio program, “The Rhode Island Historian,” which ran from 1927 to about 1953 on WJAR. Several hundred of his radio scripts were published in pamphlet form by the Providence Institute for Savings (“The Old Stone Bank”), and many were later reprinted in the four-volume Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island.

* * * * *

Editor’s Notes

Most of the major players in this story are buried in Swan Point Cemetery.

Left, Augustus Hoppin, from a 1925 Rhode Island Independence Day program. Right, his grave at Swan Point Cemetery.

Left, Augustus Hoppin, from a 1925 Rhode Island Independence Day program. Right, his grave at Swan Point Cemetery.

Hamilton Hoppin, (1821-1885), left Rhode Island to pursue business interests in New York. There, he married Louisa Howland, daughter of Samuel Shaw Howland, a prosperous merchant. In the 1850s, portions of the extended Howland family began summering in Newport, and in 1855 Hamilton Hoppin purchased property in Middletown. By summer 1857 a house was ready for occupancy. The house was featured, under the name Inn at Shadow Lawn, in the 2002 PBS documentary Ghosts and Vampire Legends of Rhode Island. Today it’s known as the Inn at Villalon.

Auton House as it appeared circa 1918, quarters of the Providence Wall Paper House. From Old Providence, printed for The Merchants National Bank of Providence in 1918.

Auton House as it appeared circa 1918, quarters of the Providence Wall Paper House. From Old Providence, printed for The Merchants National Bank of Providence in 1918.

An earlier account of Auton House, from Old Providence, printed for The Merchants National Bank of Providence in 1918, offered these details:

It requires a considerable stretch of the imagination, when the stranger to-day views the Auton House at the upper corner of Westminster and Walnut Streets, to place it in the midst of spacious grounds. It is now in the heart of the commercial district, and is the home of the Providence Wall Paper Company. “It was built,” according to information given by Mr. William W. Chapin, “in 1807 by Isaac Greenwood, who removed to Boston in 1810, first advertising his house for sale, and saying in the advertisement that it had been built three years before. The house was bought by Benjamin Hoppin, brother of Thomas C.; and in 1815 Benjamin conveyed it to Thomas C. The family occupied it until the death of Mrs. Hoppin in 1874. The interior of the house has been changed beyond recognition, except that in the shop of the Providence Wall Paper Company there remains the original fan-light over what were old-fashioned folding doors—not sliding doors—separating the two parlors when desired.”

The dog statue by Thomas F. Hoppin is known as “The Sentinel.” He designed it and had it cast by Gorham Manufacturing in 1851. It is variously credited with being either “the first bronze statue cast in America,” “the first bronze statue cast in Rhode Island,” or “the first bronze dog statue cast in America.” It was exhibited at the Crystal Palace in London during the Great Exhibition of 1851, and won a gold medal from the New York Academy of Design.

"The Sentinel" in 1958, with a young rider astride.

“The Sentinel” in 1958, with a young rider astride.

“The Sentinel” depicts Black Prince, a mastiff owned by the Jenkins family who lived in the 1798 John Innis Clark House at 383 Benefit Street. On November 20, 1849, a fire broke out in the house and Black Prince barked frantically to alert the family. Some accounts say he broke his chain, and that is why a short length of chain dangles from the statue’s studded collar. Despite his efforts only two family members survived—Moses, 15, and Anna, 17. Anna later married Thomas Hoppin, and he built an Italianate villa (which still stands) on the ruins of the Clark mansion. “The Sentinel” stood watch over their front lawn for several decades.

In 1896 the Hoppin family gave “The Sentinel” to the City of Providence. It was installed in the Japanese garden at Roger Williams Park, and later moved to the zoo grounds. Generations of children have climbed on his back to pose for a photograph.

Westminster and Walnut, the former site of Auton House, as seen in January 2014.

Westminster and Walnut, the former site of Auton House, as seen in January 2014.

Auton House was replaced, as Haley predicted, by a multi-story office building—the non-descript 1971 addition to the 1917 New England Telephone and Telegraph Building. As of 2014 it’s occupied by Verizon.

* * * * *

Return to Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island index.

Map of Camp Yawgoog, 1967   Leave a comment

Map of Camp Yawgoog from 1967.

Map of Camp Yawgoog from 1967.

Portions of the movie Moonrise Kingdom, the events of which took place in September 1965, were filmed here. The style of this map is very similar to the style of the map used in the movie.

* * * * *

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Posted December 23, 2013 by stuffiex in Facts & Folklore, History

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Pep Song for Rhode Island   Leave a comment

Ra!
by Mildred Harris

[With an obvious debt to Flanders and Swann, “Song of Patriotic Prejudice,” from At The Drop of Another Hat.]

Rhode Island? Rhode Island? Rhode Island is where?
Look in New England; it should be right there.
It’s neighbors are huge and prosperous as well.
But Rhode Island has chickens and it’s easier to spell.

Rhode Island is tiny; Rhode Island is small.
Rhode Island’s the littlest State of them all!

It’s proud to be known as State Number Thirteen
From 1790 and all in between.
It flies a State Flag of blue, gold and white.
With “Hope” as its motto, it’s future looks bright.

Rhode Island is tiny; Rhode Island is small.
Rhode Island’s the littlest State of them all!

You can pedal across from the East to the West.
Or walk North to South, whichever is best.
The Ocean State’s beaches draw tourists in droves,
Water sports, sunning and fishing in coves.

Rhode Island is tiny, Rhode Island is small.
Rhode Island’s the littlest State of them all!

Rhode Island is pretty; it’s summers are nice.
Sometimes in winter it’s covered in ice.
The chickens are red and delicious to eat.
And if you like quahogs, you’re in for a treat.

Rhode Island is tiny, Rhode Island is small.
Rhode Island’s the littlest State of them all!

You’ve heard about Newport and nothing much more?
There’s Providence—thrice!—and a whole lot of shore.
Central Falls, Cranston, Woonsocket are three,
Warwick, Pawtucket—and a red maple tree.

Rhode Island is tiny, Rhode Island is small.
Rhode Island’s the State that I like best of all!

Mildred Harris describes herself as a “foreign* admirer of The Littlest State of Them All,” (*as in ‘from one of the other (larger) States’).”

* * * * *

Return to Quahog.org |

Posted December 16, 2013 by stuffiex in Cultural Brouhaha, Facts & Folklore

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Pictuesque America: Newport   Leave a comment

An agreeable vintage tour of the “Isle of Peace.”

[This article comes from Picturesque America, volume I (1872), pages 358-376, edited by William Cullen Bryant. Transcribed, and links added, by Christopher Martin. Click on images for a larger view.]

* * * * *

"The Walk on the Cliff," otherwise known as Cliff Walk.

“The Walk on the Cliff,” otherwise known as Cliff Walk.

THE original name of the island on which Newport stands was Aquidneck, or the “Isle of Peace,” and the present title was given to it because of its natural resemblance to the Isle of Rhodes, in the Mediterranean. It is hard to believe that, more than a hundred years ago, this was, with one exception, the most important port of entry in the American colonies, with two hundred vessels engaged in foreign trade, three or four hundred more employed in distributing the products landed here along the shores of our own land, from Massachusetts to Virginia, supplying the wholesale merchants of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, with their various stores, and with a regular line of packets running between Newport and London—not less than twenty-two hundred seamen at one time sailing from this harbor. As long ago as 1728, Bishop Berkeley writes that “Newport is the most thriving place in all America for bigness. I was never more agreeably surprised than at the sight of the town and harbor.” In those days New-Yorkers were sometimes admonished that, if they only had the enterprise of the Newporters, with their natural facilities, they might, in process of time, become a formidable rival in trade and commerce!

"Newport from the Bay." Note Limerock Lighthouse on the rock outcropping at right.

“Newport from the Bay.” Note Limerock Lighthouse on the rock outcropping at right.

Merchants built stately mansions by the waterside, some of which may still be seen, with their wainscoted walls, mahogany stairways, marble mantels, and tiled fireplaces, indicative of a period when the warehouses were not sufficient to contain the wealth of products that was discharged at these wharves, and the streets and sidewalks were—a sore temptation this must have been to the boys of the period—often lined for days with the tropical fruits of the Indies. Gentlemen of wealth and culture had their country-seats in the vicinity of the town, surrounded by flower-gardens, and orchards, and fish-ponds, and winding walks, and other features of luxurious rural elegance, where the rich and fashionable gathered and kept high revel.

"View from Fort Adams."

“View from Fort Adams.”

People were attracted to the town, not only because of the salubrity of the climate and the beauty of the scenery, but also by the fact that liberty of conscience ruled supreme in Newport. Quakers lived unmolested there; Baptists built their first meeting-house there; Calvinists preached their sternest doctrines without offence; Hebrews crowded their commodious synagogue; Moravians opened their love-feasts to all who would pay their fourpence-ha’penny, distributing to each his sweet buns and cup of chocolate; and Churchmen prayed fervently for the king and all the royal family. The synagogue, built in 1762, stands today in as good repair as it ever was, although its doors are rarely if ever opened for public worship; and old Trinity Church, erected nearly a century and a half ago, with its crown-surmounted spire, and huge, square pews, with the wardens’ poles indicating where the dignitaries sit, and lofty pulpit, with its hexagonal sounding-board, and reading-pew and clerk’s seat planted far down the aisle, and ancient organ, presented by Bishop Berkeley, adorned with crown and mitre, and the little chancel, denuded of nothing but the lion and unicorn, which were taken from the wall after the Revolution and burnt by patriotic hands—every thing looking just as it did when ancient gentlemen in scarlet coats, and laced ruffles, and silver buckles, and curled wigs, and ladies in their rich brocades, crowded the edifice, and reverently knelt while the priest prayed, and the sonorous clerk acted as their proxy in the response. One portion of the structure, we are glad to say, was long ago removed—the two pens in the organ-loft, pierced with little funnel-holes, through which the poor negroes deposited there might see, without being seen.

"The Drive."

“The Drive.”

Fifty years ago Newport was a torpid, quiet place, its trade extinct, the streets deserted; wharves that were once vocal with busy traffic mouldered away and sunk out of sight under the waters; land of no value; population reduced; strangers rarely finding their way to this old, forgotten town by the sea; the houses weather-worn, unpainted, and falling to pieces—who would then have thought of investing his money in the desolate acres that fringed the borders of this forlorn, dilapidated little village?

The Revolution seemed to have ruined Newport beyond redemption; when the British troops evacuated the place, and the French fleet under D’Estaing entered the harbor in 1780, it was a desolation. In the course of a few years the business of the town had somewhat revived, and, at the beginning of the present century, we find the names of several eminent merchants engaged in commerce there, the house of Gibbs & Channing wielding what in those days was regarded as an immense capital; but the second blow which Newport received by the embargo and the War of 1812 proved fatal, and from that period her commercial doom was sealed.

What Newport is today all the world knows. One or two of these desolate, rocky acres is now a fortune to their possessor. A combination of attractions exceeded by no other watering-place on the continent has once more drawn the inhabitants of our towns and cities to this spot, not for purposes of traffic, but for health and recreation; men of culture and of wealth, foreign ministers and noblemen, authors and politicians, clergymen and actors, high-bred women of the old school and fashionable women of all schools, gather here every season; some to lead a quiet, rational, domestic life, and some to display their finery; spacious hotels are crowded with visitors, cottages—every thing here is called a cottage—of every variety of architecture, Swiss, Gothic, French, Elizabethan, and American, and of every degree of cost, from the humbler structure that is rented for a thousand a year up to the stately mansions in which hundreds of thousands are invested, line the spacious avenues, or nestle among the foliage in the more retired and quiet streets; the grandest steamers in the world land their passengers here every morning, and smaller craft ply all the day up and down the Narragansett shores; every afternoon Bellevue is a whirl of splendid equipages night and morning, bands of music fill the air with melody, and “all goes merry as a marriage-bell.” When the chill winds of autumn drive these summer residents bock to their city homes, the old town relapses into its winter sleep—not as profound a slumber as it slept for some two or three generations, for there is always work to be done in preparation for the next campaign—still it is very quiet; windows are boarded up, gates locked, some of the more fashionable shops closed, and horses and carriages are seen no more on the broad avenues.

This is, in brief, the threefold aspect which Newport has presented during the last hundred and fifty years. We now turn to the special points of attraction, as indicated by our artist.

"On the Beach." This scene is of First, or Easton's, Beach, Newport.

“On the Beach.” This scene is of First, or Easton’s, Beach, Newport.

In entering Newport Harbor, Fort Adams, forming an angle on the right-hand corner, presents to the eye a singularly beautiful and picturesque appearance. Fortress Monroe is the only structure of the kind in the United States that exceeds it in size and cost, and a few years ago it would have seemed as if its massive walls must be strong enough to resist any assault that could be made upon them, and its multitude of ponderous cannon have been too formidable to allow the passage of any ship that floated into the waters of the Narragansett Bay. But guns have recently been constructed that would send this granite pile, with its bastions and battlements, flying into the air like broken crockery; so that its use, as a citadel of defence, is at an end. At the same time the necessity of such a protection against the attacks of a hostile fleet has ceased; just under the guns of the fort lies what is known as Torpedo Island, where scientific men are now making and testing a new submarine projectile, which no precaution can hinder from finding its way to the keel of any ship that ventures near the shore, and blowing it to fragments. The morning and evening gun may continue to salute the break and the close of the day for many years to come, the Stars and Stripes to float over the fortress, the soldiers to keep watch and ward upon the walls, but it will no more be regarded as a stronghold of defence—only as an interesting relic of the past.

Fort Adams is a favorite place of resort with the summer residents of Newport, especially on the afternoons when the regimental band plays, and the dashing down of carriages and the clatter of hoofs over the steep, stone declivity under the frowning archway which opens into the spacious parade-ground, covering a space of eleven acres, and the roll of vehicles around the broad, circular drive that surrounds the enclosure, make a pleasing change from the somewhat dull and monotonous military routine to which the officers and soldiers are subjected. The amount of money that has been expended here by the government—more than a million and a half of dollars—makes it a very costly place of amusement, and might have been spent more profitably; but amusement is better than carnage, and, if these modern improvements in the science of war should put an end to all strife, none will mourn.

"Old Fort Dumpling." The fort was destroyed when Fort Wetherill was constructed around 1800.

“Old Fort Dumpling.” The fort was destroyed when Fort Wetherill was constructed around 1800.

Entering the harbor, on the left your eye rests upon a small, oval fort, gray, time-worn, and dilapidated, standing on the island of Conanicut, and known by the somewhat inexpressive name of “Dumpling.” A controversy is now pending in regard to the date of its erection, some persons contending that it was built long before the Revolution, while others believe that it was thrown up by the British at the period when their troops occupied Rhode Island. The first historical notice of its existence is found in a letter addressed by General Pigot, commander of the English forces, to Sir Henry Clinton, in which he says that “the guns of Beaver Tail and Dumpling are unserviceable, as the French fleet entering the harbor would cut off communication with Conanicut.” The date of this letter is 1778. The fort has been left for many years to the corroding wear and tear of the elements, but, while the interior works have been gradually destroyed, the outer walls remain as complete and firm as they ever were. As a means of defence it would be of little service in these days, however thoroughly it might be manned, for one of our modern shells dropped into the centre would blow the whole affair to fragments. Compared with Fort Adams, one of the largest and most completely equipped defences on our shores, which, with its massive walls and long rows of guns, frowns upon Dumpling from the opposite side of the bay, this little tower looks somewhat insignificant; but, as a picturesque ruin, it has its charms, and has become a favorite place of resort for pleasure-parties, who cook their fish and bake their clams on the spot that once resounded to the thunder of artillery. For a century the winds have beat upon the old fort; the Cross of St. George has waved over it; the French fleet swept round it as the vessels moved up to their winter-anchorage in the harbor; the Stripes and the Stars long ago supplanted the British ensign; it is more venerable than the Republic; and we trust that it will be left undisturbed for ages, as it is one of the few memorials in existence of our early history, and may do something to take away the reproach brought against us by our brethren over the sea that we have no ruins in the United States.

"Brenton's Cove."

“Brenton’s Cove.”

Brenton’s Cove is approached by a causeway leading to Fort Adams, and affords one of the finest views that can be obtained of Newport: “The tall and delicate spires of the churches cut sharp against the blue sky; the public buildings stand out in noble relief; and the line of houses, as they rise one above another on the hill-side, is broken by open grounds and clusters of shade-trees. Each spot on which the eye may chance to rest recalls some event that happened there in earlier times.” Looking out from this cove, you might once have seen poor Burgoyne sailing for England after his sad defeat; Cook‘s famous ship Endeavor was condemned, dismantled, and left to decay upon these shores; the Macedonian, prize of the frigate United States, was brought to anchor here; the British fleet, under Lord Howe, and the French fleet, under D’Estaing, both sailed by this rocky cove, one bringing misery and the other joy to the hearts of the old inhabitants of Rhode Island.

Taking the road leading west, we pass what remains of the house built by Governor William Brenton, through grounds that were in his day “adorned with rare and costly plants, gravel-walks, groves and bowers, and all that wealth and a refined taste could furnish,” until we come upon the southern shore, where Brenton’s Reef stretches for a mile or more into the sea.

In the picture all is placid and serene; but, when the breakers dash upon that fatal reef, and the strong waves whiten its jagged ridge, it is a place of terror. Many a vessel has been wrecked there; and the mouldering gravestones along the edge of the ocean show where the bodies of the drowned sailors were once buried. Why they should have been deposited there, where the winds and the waves sound a perpetual dirge, and the spray of the ocean always dampens the sods which cover them, instead of being taken to some rural ground, where the birds sing and flowers bloom, we do not know. No doubt they were buried by the hands of strangers, and perhaps, after all, this was the most fitting place for their bodies to rest; and many a solemn thought has been suggested by these humble memorial-stones to the gay crowds who drive by, as the summer sun is sinking in the horizon.

"The Spouting Cave." This video by a group of brave (or foolhardy) young men shows that Spouting Cave still exists.

“The Spouting Cave.” This video by a group of brave (or foolhardy) young men shows that Spouting Cave still exists.

Following the southern shore, we next come to what is known as the Spouting-Rock. After a southeasterly storm, the apparatus is in working-order; and, during the “season,” multitudes assemble there to see the intermittent fountain play. The construction of the opening beneath is such that, when it is nearly filled and a heavy wave comes rolling in, the pent-up waters can find relief only by discharging themselves through a sort of funnel into the air. It is, however, a somewhat treacherous operator: for a long time there may be no spouting done; and, even when the waves roll in from the right quarter, it is not easy to tell just when the horn intends to blow. If the interesting couple depicted in our sketch remain standing much longer where they are, before they know it the fountain may spout up some forty or fifty feet, and they will go home with drenched clothes and a wet skin. But the ocean-view is, at this spot, so indescribably grand after a storm, that the temptation to linger as near the edge of the rocks as possible is almost irresistible, and we have seen many a gay company pay the watery penalty.

"Purgatory." The proportions in this engraving are very much exaggerated.

“Purgatory.” The proportions in this engraving are very much exaggerated.

Beyond the bathing-beach, where hundreds of fashionable people may be seen dashing about in the waves on every pleasant day, rise the precipitous rocks, with the deep and sharp-lined fissure, known as “The Purgatory.” How it ever came to be called by this singular name, tradition does not inform us. A little beyond this chasm, there is a pleasant spot, shaded by trees, and commanding a beautiful view, which is known as “Paradise“—so that, when a stranger in that region asks the way, he is likely to be told that he must pass by Purgatory to Paradise.

The opening in the cliff extends one hundred and sixty feet, and is fifty feet deep at the outer edge. It is from eight to fourteen feet wide at the top, and from two to twenty at the bottom. It was once supposed that the water at the base was unfathomable; but at low tide it is actually not more than ten feet in depth.

It was formerly the prevailing theory that this fissure was occasioned by it sudden upheaving of the rock; but, after careful examination, Professor Silliman came to the opinion that it was probably formed by the gradual eating away of the softer portions of the stone at a very early period.

Like most places of the kind, Purgatory has its legends.

Some little time after the settlement of the country by the whites, an Indian woman murdered one of the colonists, in revenge for certain wrongs inflicted upon her people. Walking, one day, near Purgatory, she was accosted by a person, appearing to be a well-dressed Englishman, who proposed to fight with her. The stout squaw was not unwilling to accept the challenge, and in the struggle she was gradually dragged toward the edge of the chasm, when her opponent seized her in his arms, and leaped into the abyss. At this moment the cloven foot appeared, his goodly garments fell off, and he was revealed in his true Satanic personality. Why the devil should have felt himself called upon to interfere in this way to punish the woman for the wrong that she had done to the English settlers, does not appear; but, as the print of his feet and marks of blood are still visible on the stones, it is not for us to gainsay the story. At any rate, it is easy to see that such a belief on the part of the Indians might have tended to promote general security.

"Distant View of Purgatory."

“Distant View of Purgatory.”

Another legend pertaining to this spot is not quite so tragical, and perhaps can be better authenticated. A beautiful but giddy girl, heiress to a large estate, had for some time received special attentions from a young man, in all respects her equal, and whose affection, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, she warmly reciprocated in her heart. But the passion for coquetry was so strong with her, that she could never resist the temptation to torment her admirer; and, one day, as they stood together on the brink of Purgatory, and he was pleading, with impassioned eloquence, for some pledge or token of love from her, she said, “I will be your wife if you will show the earnestness of your devotion to me, and your readiness to obey all my wishes, by leaping across this abyss.” Without a moment’s hesitation, the young man sprang to the other side of the rock, and then, politely lifting his hat, he complimented the beautiful girl upon her charms, told her candidly what he thought of her character, bade her final adieu, and she saw his face no more. After this, as the tale runs, she went mourning all her days.

It is not to be presumed that this is the scene which our artist intended to portray in his sketch; for, although the young damsel seen there is coquettish enough in her appearance for almost any thing unreasonable, the aspect of her companion is certainly not very suggestive of foolhardy courage—to say nothing of the absolute impossibility of his being able to leap the opening at the point which this interesting couple occupy.

"Berkeley's Seat," also known as Paradise Rocks or Hanging Rock.

“Berkeley’s Seat,” also known as Paradise Rocks or Hanging Rock.

“Berkeley’s Seat” is in Paradise, within easy walking-distance of the house which he built and occupied nearly a century and a half ago. Out of regard to the memory of Charles I., to whom he was indebted for certain favors, he called his place Whitehall, one of the palaces occupied by the king. It is still standing, and in good repair. There is the room which he occupied as a study, with its tiled fire-jambs, and low ceiling, and undulating floor, and the little chamber where he slept; and it is pleasant to think that, in the sunny court-yard adjoining, he once walked—perhaps discussing with his friends the state policy of Walpole, or the probable future of the new Western land, “whither the course of empire” had already begun “to take its way,” or the medical virtues of tar-water, or it may be some of the profounder problems of the soul which occupied his thoughts. When the weather was favorable, he betook himself to the sheltered opening in Paradise Rocks, which is now consecrated by his name. This he is said to have fitted up with chairs and a table; and tradition says that it was in this rocky cave he wrote his “Minute Philosopher.” With the broad expanse of ocean before him, and its monotonous roll sounding in his ear, it may be that he was able to give his thoughts a wider range, and fix them more intently upon the subtile questions which he was so fond of contemplating, than was possible in the pent-up little room where he kept his books; and it may have been easier for him to bring his mind to the conclusion that there is nothing in the universe but soul and force—no organic substance, no gross matter, nothing but phenomena and relations and impressions—than it would be if he were shut in by doors and walls, and nearer to his kitchen.

This portion of the island does not lie within the boundaries of the city of Newport, having been set off, many years ago, in order to avoid the taxes, and is now known as Middletown. It was, however, the Newport of Berkeley, chosen by him as a residence because of its superior fertility as well as natural beauty, for the good dean was something of a farmer as well as metaphysician. This southeastern shore has heretofore been little resorted to by strangers, and few persons have as yet made it their summer residence; but the recent opening of new roads leading directly to the town, and the construction of broad avenues which intersect the whole region, and which will soon be lined with shade-trees, must, before long, transform the scene, and make this a favorite resort for visitors. Here are three miles of drive over a rich and luxuriant sward, that does not require an inch of grading, bending down toward a shore diversified by picturesque rocks and groves and sandy beaches, where you look out toward the southeast on the broad ocean, and northward upon the interior country—a combination of attractions found perhaps nowhere else upon our coast, and which, in process of time, will lead multitudes, who desire retirement and quiet, with all the pure delights that come of a salubrious atmosphere and beautiful scenery, to build their houses and plant their gardens here.

In the following strains Mr. Longfellow tells how “the Viking old” found his way from “the wild Baltic’s strand” to our strange shores, and built here “the lofty tower” by the sea, commonly known as “the old stone-mill:”

“Three weeks we westward bore,
And, when the storm was o’er,
Cloud-like we saw the shore
Stretching to leeward;
There for my lady’s bower
Built I the lofty tower,
Which, to this very hour,
Stands looking seaward.”

"Commodore Perry's Statue and the 'Old Mill'."

“Commodore Perry’s Statue and the ‘Old Mill’.”

We wish that we could believe in our having so respectable a piece of antiquity in Rhode Island. Inasmuch as this interesting and unique structure dates back to the prehistoric times of the colony, no record of its construction being in existence, and, still further, as it has a close resemblance to certain edifices still existing in Northern Europe, many have been willing to accept the tradition that it must be of Danish origin. One theory is, that this old ruin was originally an appendage to a temple, and used for religious offices, as a baptistery. Others suppose that it was erected as a tower of defence, and that, after the walls had crumbled until they were reduced to their present height, a wooden mill was erected on the summit.

The first authentic notice of the edifice is found in the will of a Mr. Benedict Arnold, dated 1677, in which he bequeaths his “stone-built windmill” to his heirs. About the middle of the last century it was surmounted by a circular roof; and one of the old inhabitants, in a deposition signed in 1734, says, “It is even remembered that, when the change of wind required that the wings, with the top, should be turned round, it took a yoke of oxen to do it.” There is abundant tradition to show that it has been used for various purposes; and a hundred and fifty years ago it was known as the Powder-Mill—the boys, as late as 1764, sometimes finding powder in the crevices; and, at a later period, it was used as a hay-mow. It is somewhat singular that such a substantial and peculiar structure should have been erected simply as a windmill, but this may be explained by the facts that the first wooden mill was blown down in a great storm that occurred in 1675; that Governor Arnold was unpopular with the Indians, and would be likely to build a mill that would withstand both storm and fire, and look like a fort at least; and, still further, he may have seen old mills in England of the same style—there being an engraving in the Penny Magazine, of 1836, of one near Leamington, which is the very counterpart of the Newport mill. The various traditions connected with this old relic impart to it a special interest; and, unless it is upheaved by the earthquake or demolished by lightning, it is likely to stand for many generations.

At a little distance from the old Stone Mill, on the easterly side of the public square, stands the statue of Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, erected by his son-in-law, Mr. Belmont. The material is bronze; and the accurate proportions, the graceful attitude, the well-disposed drapery, and the speaking likeness, combine to give this statue a high place among our works of art. It would be well if Mr. Belmont’s example should be followed by other wealthy citizens of our republic.

We have now glanced at Newport as it was a hundred years ago, as it was fifty years ago, and as it is to-day. What will be its appearance fifty years hence? The streets of the older part of the town may continue to be as narrow as ever; and, unless a wide-spread conflagration should sweep them away, the ancient wooden houses may crowd upon the gutters, as they have always done; the venerable stone-mill will stand in its place, a monument of the prehistoric ages of Newport; Trinity Church, we trust, will be undisturbed, whether the congregation abide by its courts or not; the Jewish Synagogue is secured from ruin by a perpetual endowment; the port-holes of Fort Adams may still show their iron teeth, unless, indeed, the advance of military science should have made all such stone fortresses unserviceable, or the universal dominion of the doctrines of peace—which God, in his mercy, grant!—have swept them all away.

The natural features of the region will remain unchanged; the same rocks will frown upon the sea; the same purple haze rest at eventide upon the land-locked harbor; the same veil of ocean-mist temper the brightness of the noontide sun, and tide rise and fall on the sandy beach with the same rhythmical flare; the storm thunder with the same loud turbulence; but, meanwhile, what changes will the hand of man have wrought? Within the last twenty years miles upon miles of barren pasture have been converted into lawns and gardens and verdant groves; millions have been expended in the erection of beautiful villas and stately palaces; the tide of population has set in like a flood; and such are the peculiar advantages which Nature has bestowed upon this lovely spot, that no caprice of fashion can ever turn back or arrest the flow of its prosperity. Regions now unoccupied will soon be covered with habitations; the summer population will spread itself all over the southern portion of the island, from east to west, and then crowd back into the interior, until the whole area from south to north is made a garden of beauty. Newport will never again become a busy mart of traffic; its ancient commerce will never return there; the manufactures which have made “the Providence Plantations” so rich will never flourish in “the Isle of Peace,” for the soft and somewhat enervating climate is not conducive to enterprise and activity; but those who need relief from the high-strung excitement of American life, the merchant who wants rest from his cares, statesmen and writers who would give their brains repose, will find it here. The men of our land, above all others, require some such place of resort, to allay the feverish activity of their lives—a place where they may come together periodically, not for debate, and controversy, and labor, and traffic, but for pleasant talk, and rational recreation, and chastened conviviality. They need to dwell where, for a part of the year, they can see the sun rise and set, and scent the flowers, and look out upon the waters. This green island seems to have been made by a kind Providence for such uses as these, where men may forget their cares and cease from their toils, and behold the wondrous works of God, and give him thanks.

* * * * *

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Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island: At the Point of the Candlestick   Leave a comment

Small victory.
by John Williams Haley

[This article comes from The Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island, Vol. II, pages 99-100, published by the Providence Institution for Savings, 1931. It was also included in an undated pamphlet titled “King Philip and Other Stories,” published by the same institution. Transcribed by Christopher Martin.]

* * * * *

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It was May [1778] in Rhode Island, the first spring after the dreadful winter of ice and snow and suffering at Valley Forge.

Three long years had the men of Warren, Rhode Island, watched and planned against and fought the foe, and three long years had the Warren women knitted and sewed and deprived themselves that the hardships of the Continental soldiers might be lessened.

A month before, the French alliance had been signed, and many believed that, because of this, the war would be over, but the wiser ones knew that the end was still far off.

In 1776, there were only 1,005 inhabitants, including slaves, in the town of Warren, and with the departure of volunteers to join Washington’s army, but a very small fighting force remained. However, the few men that were still available planned an expedition against the British forces in Rhode Island. They had built seventy whale-boats, and these, together with the reconditioned row-galley Washington, lay in the Kickemuit River in readiness for the attack upon the British stronghold. In addition to the boats, a great supply of tar, pitch and powder was available for use in the bold exploit.

They believed that the expedition would succeed, for the utmost secrecy had been preserved. True, everyone in Warren knew of the idea—even Mr. Holland, the Englishman. But everyone in town was known to be loyal. And Mr. Holland was loyal—he was the schoolmaster and a trusted personage.

But someone transmitted the secret to General Pigot, the commander of the British forces in Rhode Island. There was a “Watch House” on a high bank of the Kickemuit River, yet for once it must have lacked a watchman, for on the 25th of May a body of troops which Pigot had despatched from Newport to Bristol marched on to Warren and took the town completely by surprise.

There were British soldiers and their cohorts, the Hessian mercenaries, five hundred strong in all. Under Lieutenant-Colonel [James] Campbell they at once began a systematic tour of destruction and pillage. The majority hurried to the Kickemuit River, where the patriots’ boats lay in readiness for the planned attack upon the British. These they burned, together with the Washington. Continuing their riotous invasion, they also burned the Baptist Church, the Baptist parsonage, and other buildings. And to make a good job of it, they blew up the powder house and burned all the stores of pitch and tar. Who could have betrayed the plans of the patriots? No one knows.

While the soldiers were preparing to burn the grist-mill, the miller cried, “Spare the mill, brothers!”

“Brothers?” repeated one of the soldiers. “Do you call us that? If we are your brothers, we shall do you a favor and take you out of this nest of rebels.” Accordingly he signaled to his comrades and the miller was taken away as a prisoner. Perhaps the miller was the traitor.

However, it is more than likely that Mr. Holland was not as loyal as his fellow townsmen had believed. When the British soldiers were leaving the town, they stopped and cheered loudly when they reached his house. He immediately came out and joined them, and with them disappeared from Warren forever.

The British retreat was a brilliant one. Colonel Campbell feared that other counties might come to Warren’s aid, yet he wanted to leave a last touch of British pomp with the despoiled patriots. Heading the line were the prisoners with their guards. Behind them marched the Hessians, wearing great boots and huge fur caps, the boots filled with plunder of every description. Following were the British in their scarlet coats, their gold lace, their three-cornered hats, and their small-clothes and buckled shoes. Last of all marched Colonel Campbell. Drums were beating, flags were flying, and it was a very gay affair.

But the Colonel was not last, for far behind straggled a diminutive drummer. His drum was very large, he was very tired, and he was very full, not of the clear water from the spring of Massasoit, but of good West India rum. As he passed in front of the hotel with faltering steps, a group of women, among them a young girl named Nellie Easterbrooks, noticed him. These women were excited and worked up to the last pitch of anger because of the brutal treatment they had been forced to undergo from the insolent invaders. All sorts of outrages had been committed by the Hessians and British while they were accumulating plunder, including one instance where a group of bullies forced a woman to hand over all her best china while they deliberately broke it piece by piece. Nellie Easterbrooks had been listening to the stories told by these women. She was a small girl, but she had a fierce impetuosity backed up by daring.

The drummer might have gotten by safely had Nellie not seen him. She sprang up, stirring the group of women to action. “Let’s take that man!” she cried. Running inside the hotel, she seized a tall brass candlestick and rushed with it into the street. In a wild burst of anger, the other women followed her.

She pointed the candlestick, glistening in the sun, full at the drummer and commanded him to halt. White with fear, the man threw up his hands, crying, “Don’t fire, ladies, I surrender!”

Women wore aprons in those days, and everyone of those present tore hers to strips and bound him with them. Then they dragged their bewildered captive into the hotel and locked him into a closet there.

It is said that he was very glad to be captured, for his drum was getting extremely heavy and he was having great difficulty in maintaining a soldierly bearing. One story has it that he was later exchanged for an American prisoner, while another has it that he remained in Warren and married one of the women there. If he did marry a Warren girl, it was surely not Nellie Easterbrooks. She married one Nathaniel Hicks West of Bristol, who was a true patriot and not a subject of King George.

Return to Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island index.

* * * * *

John Williams Haley (1897-1963), former vice president of the Narragansett Brewing Company, was best known for his weekly radio program, “The Rhode Island Historian,” which ran from 1927 to about 1953 on WJAR. Several hundred of his radio scripts were published in pamphlet form by the Providence Institute for Savings (“The Old Stone Bank”), and many were later reprinted in the four-volume Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island.

* * * * *

Editor’s Notes

THIS TABLET PLACED BESIDE THE GUSHING WATERS KNOWN FOR MANY GENERATIONS AS MASSASOIT'S SPRING COMMEMORATES THE GREAT INDIAN SACHEM MASSASOIT "FRIEND OF THE WHITE MAN" RULER OF THIS REGION WHEN THE PILGRIMS OF THE MAYFLOWER LANDED AT PLYMOUTH IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1620

THIS TABLET
PLACED BESIDE THE GUSHING WATERS
KNOWN FOR MANY GENERATIONS AS
MASSASOIT’S SPRING
COMMEMORATES THE GREAT
INDIAN SACHEM MASSASOIT
“FRIEND OF THE WHITE MAN”
RULER OF THIS REGION WHEN THE
PILGRIMS OF THE MAYFLOWER
LANDED AT PLYMOUTH
IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1620

Small-clothes: A euphemism for knee breeches, or pants.

The “spring of Massasoit” was located at what is now the end of Baker Street in Warren. The spring has been dry since 1900 or so, but a stone with a plaque still marks the spot around which the Wampanoag village of Sowams once stood.

Nellie Easterbrooks West’s patriotism was commemorated when a Warren chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was organized in her name in 1920.

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The Tale of the Clam   2 comments

Comoedia mollusca.
by Two Providence Boys
annotated by David Norton Stone

Ye Tale of Ye Clam001b

To rescue from obscurity a one hundred and thirty year old illustrated poem about a talking clam by two anonymous juvenile authors is not without its perils and difficulties. Today’s reader probably knows, but it bears repeating, that attitudes about Native Americans were not what they should have been in the 1880s. Yes, the authors of the The Tale of the Clam were, by their own account, just boys (respectively seventeen and nineteen or twenty when the book was published), but that is not much of a mitigating factor to today’s reader. So hold your nose when you get to some of the more disturbing stereotypes in this story and enjoy the rest. There are only about a dozen known copies of this book still in existence, all in libraries, but the esprit de clam that animates this book merits its reintroduction to the reading public in 2013.

There are a few curious things about the cover of The Tale of the Clam. For one thing, the story is called Ye Tale of Ye Clam here, but not on the title page following, where it is indentified as The Tale of the Clam. Perhaps the publisher was trying to lend more of an old-timey charm to the book. Additionally, The Tale of the Clam appears to have been a Christmas release for its Providence publisher Tibbitts, Shaw and Company. The Christmas couplet on the cover (“E’en Christmas joys are not complete, Devoid of bivalve’s tender meat”), which is not drawn from the poem itself, suggests that the publisher was hinting the book would make a good Christmas present. There is also something suggestive of the December holiday about the use of the color red on the cover, even if the image of a clam on bended knee pleading for its life to a knife-wielding chef does not scream “peace on earth, good will to men.” The Tale of the Clam is listed in the weekly record of new publications in the January 13, 1883, issue of The Publisher’s Weekly, which described the book as “[a] comic history of clambakes, humorously illustrated.” The price was listed as “25 c.”

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The young authors of The Tale of the Clam were John Henshaw (November 4, 1865 to June 26, 1938), who perpetrated the verse, and Henry B. Dearth (1863 to February 3, 1922), who committed the illustrations. We can only speculate why they published their work anonymously as “Two Providence Boys.” Henshaw was seventeen when The Tale of the Clam was published in 1883, and his obituary in the Brown Alumni Monthly (he was a graduate of the class of 1887) offers this clue: “His grandfather, the late Rt. Rev. John P.K. Henshaw, D.D., was the first Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island.” John’s father Daniel was also a clergyman. Perhaps this dignified clerical family did not want its name associated with an irreverent (c)lampoon of Rhode Island history. His obituary does not list The Tale of the Clam as one of Henshaw’s accomplishments, instead focusing on his accomplishments as a lawyer, businessman and “clubman.” However, the obituary states that Henshaw was a “familiar and friendly personality” in Providence. John Henshaw is buried in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence.

Ye Tale of Ye Clam006c

Who was Henry B. Dearth and how did he know John Henshaw? Henshaw’s obituary tantalizingly quotes Henshaw as saying that he prepared for college “at a great many different places”. Maybe the boys met at one of these schools. Dearth, in any case, was less reticent about his authorship. He added his initials “HBD” to many of the drawings in The Tale of the Clam.

A sub-par scan of the Ryder and Dearth advertisement in Industries of Providence (1889), captured from the Google Books version of the text.

A sub-par scan of the Ryder and Dearth advertisement in The Industrial Advantages of Providence, R.I. (1889), captured from the Google Books version of the text.

While Henshaw remained in Rhode Island and developed into a man of substance in the local community, Henry Bradford Dearth’s life (at least as much of it as can be discovered in the historical record) had a much more dramatic and peripatetic arc, like something out of a Jack London tale. He was the son of William G. Dearth, an officer of the Rhode Island Institution for Savings, and is listed in both the 1870 and 1880 federal census as living in the home of his father in Providence. He followed up his success as an author with a roaring entry into the Providence business community as a partner in his own engraving firm, Ryder and Dearth. A description of the firm in a book called The Industrial Advantages of Providence, R.I., published in 1889, paints a glowing portrait of Dearth and his partner Ryder: “They are both young men, thoroughly masters of their business, courteous and capable, eager to satisfy, progressive, enterprising, yet wisely conservative, with whom it is a pleasure to do business.” The article further boasts that Ryder and Dearth’s photo gallery “is the only and the first one in the State that uses the electric light in the business.” All that conservative progressiveness and electric lights too! A magnificent sample of the firm’s work, an engraving of Ryder and Dearth’s various departments (Designers Room, Wood Engraving Department, the state of the art Photo Gallery), shows an enterprise teeming with activity. This advertisement may also be the only surviving example of Dearth’s artwork other than The Tale of the Clam.

Continued and well-merited success was predicted for the firm, but that does not seem to be how things turned out. Ryder and Dearth appears in Providence business directories up to 1891 (eventually expanding to two locations: 91 Westminster Street and 31 Exchange Place), but then disappears, as does Henry Dearth. From information I have located in genealogical websites, Dearth, who called himself “Harry,” became a world traveler, accumulating many books and souvenirs. He eventually settled in Havana, Cuba, where he worked as an engraver for the Bank of Havana. He married around 1907 and had four children, but appears to have often been in financial distress. He and his family eventually returned to Florida around 1920, with the help of the Red Cross, and Dearth died on February 3, 1922, of apoplexy. His death certificate incorrectly lists his birth year as 1874. His occupation was listed as “painter.” According to the records of the Woodlawn Cemetery in Tampa, Florida, Henry B. Dearth was buried in an unmarked grave in the Potter’s Field there. This is a far cry from the fine gravestone for his co-author Henshaw in Swan Point Cemetery.

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This invocation is rather grand considering what follows. The illustrations on this page do not bear Dearth’s distinctive style and may not be his.

Ye Tale of Ye Clam004b

By this Greeting, The Two Providence Boys were clearly positioning their book to the widest possible audience and were eerily prescient in their confidence that the word “quahog” would become known worldwide. I wonder if the “rocky shoals” referred to here is a veiled reference to Rocky Point.

Ye Tale of Ye Clam005b

Clambakes certainly were Rhode Island’s pride in the nineteenth century. At a clambake, clams are placed on hot rocks and covered with seaweed and then cotton bags to keep the steam in. Dragons were not traditionally used to cook the clams, but I’m still happy Dearth included an illustration of clams battling a dragon.

Ye Tale of Ye Clam006b

This is my favorite page in the book, thanks to Dearth’s cartoons illustrating the “Digging of the Clam” and Henshaw’s comical exposition of the difficulty of digging up the clam. I love the timeless portrait of the Rhode Island shore, sailboats, gulls, a little piping plover, as well as the glimpse of beach fashions of 120 years ago, which were somewhat more formal than today.

Ye Tale of Ye Clam007b

Dearth’s engraving of the scholar surrounded by clam books, including “Plato on the Clam” is good, silly fun.

Ye Tale of Ye Clam008b

And here lies the crux of the tale. The clam learns he is about to be fried in a clamcake, and decides to “speaketh” to avoid such a fate.

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It must be pointed out that the Two Providence Boys were not stellar students of history. The historical personages mentioned in The Tale of the Clam do not align with the date 1684, which seems to have been randomly chosen. King Philip died in 1676 and peacefully “snoozled” in 1684 only in the sense that he was dead. It is best to read the poem as amusing nonsense rather than as the true story of anything, including the origin of clambakes.

Ye Tale of Ye Clam010b

Canonicus was the peaceable sachem or chief of the Narragansett tribe, who welcomed Roger Williams to Rhode Island.

Ye Tale of Ye Clam011b

The only thing I like about Dearth’s illustration here are the clams. I do, however, approve of Henshaw’s rhyming “sedate” with “masticate.”

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The portrait of the little clam in school here is precious.

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Dearth outdid himself with a drawing here of Canonicus being spanked by his mother, surrounded by the implements she used in doling out punishment: her hand, a shoe, a paddle, a cat o’ nine tails, a whip, and a branch! Ouch.

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The comedy on this page is the contrast between text and image. Roger Williams is described as “pious,” but he’s sitting in a tavern door smoking and drinking impiously. Even his cat is drinking.

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Accusing the Indians of swindling Roger Williams is so over the top wrong, given their generosity to him and the many general bad deals Native Americans received to induce them to sell their land.

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“Clammy handed” is an adjective that could be applied to many Rhode Islanders.

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The game of painting stones green to look like watermelons is not one to which I can find any other reference. Henshaw’s text says it was quite old, though it never had a name. We’ll have to take his word for it.

Note that Dearth’s illustration here references the Kickapoo Medicine Agency. The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company, which marketed its patent medicines by claiming they were composed of roots and herbs from tribal recipes, opened a storeroom in a Providence hotel in the early 1880s, featuring actual Indians and a simmering pot in a teepee. It is tempting to think that John and Harry visited The Kickapoo Medicine Agency, providing a spark to their imaginations and, perhaps, Native American models for Dearth’s engravings.

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This far-fetched talk of heating the painted stones is needed to explain the origin of baking clams over hot rocks in a clambake. Roger Williams has exchanged his pilgrim hat for a soldier’s cap in Dearth’s illustration.

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This for me is the toughest page to tolerate in the book. The violence done to the Narragansetts here cannot help but summon thoughts of the Great Swamp Massacre in Rhode Island. Roger Williams is done a disservice here as well. He had great respect for the Narragansetts and his first published book was a guide to their language.

Ye Tale of Ye Clam020b

I can’t help it. The baked clam in this illustration makes me hungry. My conscience is assuaged by the image of the sacrificed clam flying away on angel’s wings.

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Run, little clam, run.

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The clam narrating this tale thinks having his body fried in a clamcake is an ignoble way to die. I say that depends on the clamcake. Like a lyric poet of old, the clam holds a lyre in Dearth’s illustration.

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Our hero who discovered the talking clam looks much thinner and younger here at the end of the book than he did at the beginning digging the clam. He’s even a little dashing. I wonder if this is a self-portrait of Harry Dearth. Notice that the talking clam is reunited in death with his brother who was eaten by Roger Williams. Henshaw’s bishop grandfather would likely have been pleased with this ending.

“Our epic ends, the tale is done, /The clam is gobbled up.” My hope with this republication of The Tale of the Clam is that the story of The Tale of the Clam is not done and that it will find a new audience.

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Scans of an original (rebound) copy of Ye Tale of Ye Clam by Two Providence Boys are courtesy of the Rhode Island Collection of the Providence Public Library, Providence, R.I.


coversDavid Norton Stone is the author of Clamcake Summer (2012), Stuffie Summer (2013), and the forthcoming Chowder Summer. A graduate of Bishop Hendricken High School, Yale and the University of Connecticut School of Law, Stone lives in New York City and Warwick, Rhode Island, and once worked at the former Rocky Point amusement park, which made some world famous, and sorely missed, clamcakes.