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.]

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"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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An Arrant Entreaty   Leave a comment

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Posted October 22, 2013 by stuffiex in Administrative Hugglemuggle, Home

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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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at the point of a candlestick-01b

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



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.

Return to Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island index |

The Tale of the Clam   2 comments

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

Nineteenth Century Clamcake Humor   Leave a comment

Clamcakes from Iggy's Doughboys and Chowder House, Warwick.

Clamcakes from Iggy’s Doughboys and Chowder House, Warwick.

Frittering away.
by David Norton Stone

Clamcakes are delicious. There’s also something amusing about such a homely looking and improbable food, and people were laughing about clamcakes even in the 1800s.

In fact, the first reference I located to a clamcake (as opposed to a clam fritter) in print is in a book called My Diary in America in the Midst of War by George Augustus Sala, published in 1865 in London. The reference is a joke of sorts. Griping about the lack of mystery in American religion while attending a Fourth of July political celebration in New York City, Sala complains that “The ‘Episcopal Methodists’ have ‘hot turkey supper celebrations’ and the ‘Church of the Holy Trinity’ advertises a ‘clam-cake feast and strawberry ice cream festival.'” Nowadays, the funniest thing about this is the notion of clamcakes being served in New York.

Magazines are the most fertile source of clamcake humor. Here’s an example from Puck‘s “Puckerings,” with a vintage of August 8, 1883:

A man left the surf at Cape May not long ago, and rushed up to the cottage in which he boarded. They had fritters on the table. “Give me another clam-fritter,” he said, after he had finished the first. The plate was passed to him. He took one, ate it, and said: “Give me another clam-fritter.” He got another, and said, this time to the landlady: “Will you please pass the clam-fritters?” “Them ain’t clam-fritters,” replied the lady. “Ain’t clam-fritters?” gasped the boarder. “No.” “Then what are they?” “Corn-fritters.” “Well, I’m blowed!” said the guest: “I ate seven of them, and thought they were full of chopped clams.” After luncheon the landlady remarked to her sister that the surf was such an appetizing affair that corn could be palmed off on bathers for chopped clams, and that stewed tripe passed for chicken fricassee, and that she would make enough money this season to take her to Europe in the winter.

A seaside scene from the August 27, 1859 issue of Harper's Weekly.

A seaside scene from the August 27, 1859 issue of Harper’s Weekly.

Clamcakes (or at least a corn imitation) in Cape May, New Jersey! This story reminds me of jokes that you still hear today about the difficulty of finding an actual bit of clam in a clamcake. But there are some people who prefer their clamcakes relatively clam-free and who prefer the merest hint of seashore taste in their fritters. In fact, a friend of mine likes to say, “There’s no crying in baseball, and no clams in clamcakes.”

Nineteenth century humorists enjoyed making fun of the numerous ways clams were enjoyed in Rhode Island (and elsewhere). Take this “Out of Town” item from the August 1889 Judge’s Serial:

At a Stamford Hotel.
Guest: “Bill-of-fare, waiter.”
Waiter: “Bill-of what?”
Guest: “Bill-of-fare.”
Waiter: “Wait’ll yerget yerfare, an’yer’ll be blamed sure to git a bill of it. What yer want?”
Guest: “What have you?”
Waiter: “Boiled clams, clam fritters, stewed clams, fricasseed clams, roast clams, clam patties, chopped clams, clam hash, and clams.”
Guest: “Give me some plain clams.”
Waiter: “Now you’re talkin’. Peck’r nudes in a bucket, Jimmy.”

No one disputed that clams and fritters belonged together. The February 14, 1889 edition of The American Stationer told this Valentine of a story: “Miss Clam, of Bad Man’s Gulch, Ariz., recently married a Mr. Fritter, and now she has her cards printed ‘Mrs. Clam-Fritter.’ This marriage could not possibly turn out a failure. The lady was good enough and sweet eno’ to eat.”

The Shore Dinner Hall at Rocky Point, circa 1907. From the postcard collection of Louis McGowan.

The Shore Dinner Hall at Rocky Point, circa 1907. From the postcard collection of Louis McGowan.

A Rocky Point clambake, circa 1907. From the postcard collection of Louis McGowan.

A Rocky Point clambake, circa 1907. From the postcard collection of Louis McGowan.

The writer Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote about a Rhode Island clambake he experienced on August 15, 1871. Nine years earlier, Higginson had received a letter from a shy young woman named Emily Dickinson enclosing some poems. Tom told her they had promise, but warned her not to try to publish them because she used too many dashes and her poems were a little weird. So Tom continued his life as a celebrated author, while Emily Dickinson toiled in obscurity in Amherst. To this day, the name Thomas Wentworth Higginson is synonymous with bad career advice. Is it any wonder then that this same man dissed Rocky Point clamcakes?

Here we are soaking up a day at the Rhode Island shore with Thomas Higginson, while poor Emily Dickinson never even saw the sea. Higginson is in conversation with a shore dinner waiter from Rocky Point:

He had served tables, it appeared, at Rocky Point, the climax and glory of “shore” places; he knew what waiting should be; he knew what to exact from his humbler fellows, and by what taunts to rouse their flagging ambition. He pointed out and encouraged those who excelled, and gave me the names and genealogies of the more eminent waiters, and especially of the chief of staff at Rocky Point, who could carry on his arm no less than sixteen plates of clam-cakes “to wonst.”

“The baked clams,” he obligingly told me, “is the only clean things to these dinners. You won’t get a waiter to eat a shore dinner; they know too much. Have their separate meal. Pie and tea.” [What a picture!].

—”A Day of Scottish Games” by T.W. Higginson, Scribner’s Monthly, Vol. 3-22.

Telling Emily Dickinson not to publish was strike one against Higginson in my book. Strike two is that he sums up his clam bake experience by telling the world that he hopes he never has to attend another one. Even though he has eaten moose, bear and alligator with pleasure, he is just not into clams. By the way, the clamcakes at the meal Higginson wrote about were served for dessert! That’s pretty funny itself.

The favorite discovery I made in the course of my research into the annals of clamcake humor is an extremely rare (I know of only eight copies that exist) and entirely forgotten book called The Tale of the Clam, An Historical Reminiscence of Rhode Island, Explaining the True Origin of Clambakes. The authors are “Two Providence Boys.” This work was published in Providence by a company called Tibbits, Shaw & Co. in 1883.

The cover of this slender book (just a longish, illustrated poem really) shows a clam kneeling in front of an aproned chef, who threatens the clam with two long knives. A book called Cookery of Clams is in plain view next to the chef. With the type of swagger all of us Rhode Islanders adopt when writing about bivalves, the Two Providence Boys call it an “epic” and begin with the obligatory tribute to the muses. The story begins in the 1800s with a man on the beach digging for a clam. After a lot of effort, he pulls the clam from the muck. The man is flummoxed about what to do with his prey, but decides that the best course is to chop him up and fry him in a clamcake. But this is a talking clam. In pleading for a nobler death, he tells his tale. It’s a first person plea from the clam asking to be spared the fate of being chopped up and fried in a clamcake.

Could the talking clam be related to the magic clam that, according to legend, helped found Quahog on Family Guy?

Could the talking clam be related to the magic clam that, according to legend, helped found Quahog on Family Guy?

This long-lived clam narrates a bizarre story about King Phillip and Roger Williams, that purports to explain the historical accident that led to the first clambake. One day in the 1600s, the Wampanoag sachem Metacom, or King Philip as he was known to the colonists, went to visit his mother. She was hungry and asked Philip for a clam, so he dug up the unnamed clam who is the star of this epic, as well as his younger brother. Philip gives the clams to his mother and leaves to go hunting. In the meantime, some other Indians have played a trick on Roger Williams by trading him a skunk pelt. In retaliation, Williams steals the clams from Philip’s mother. The Wampanoags paint a stone green and heat it up, then throw it at Roger Williams hoping he will think it’s a watermelon, and pick it up, burning himself. Instead, Roger puts the little brother clam on the rock, and little brother then bakes to death. This, according to the Two Providence Boys is the historical origin of the clambake. But our history lesson is not over yet, because Roger Williams then proceeds to dice up the Indians. The illustration of the body parts rather disturbingly looks like clams diced for a fritter. The older brother clam, meanwhile, runs as fast as its little clam legs will take him, across Narragansett Bay, where he had evaded capture until his current calamity.

His tale over, the clam pleads for mercy. In particular, he begs that he and his liquor not become the clam and seashore flavoring in a clamcake. The man takes pity and swallows the raw quahog whole, like a cherrystone. “Our hero puckered up his lips,/ And whistled for his pup;/ our epic ends, the tale is done, the clam is gobbled up.”

It’s hard to say what’s more insensitive, the text or the illustration, to the native Wampanoag and Narragansett Indians they lampoon. Even Roger Williams has his halo tarnished. Some of the illustrations, however, are simply amazing, evoking the carefree spirit of a summer day, with the flair of French Impressionism. It is clear that this Providence Boy had talent, and it is not surprising that this book found favor with a publisher. But who was he and did he continue to work as an artist? I may be the only person alive to have figured that out (or who cares).

I had a couple of clues. The library’s catalogue actually identified the Providence lads as John Henshaw and Henry B. Dearth. I asked the librarian if there were any record of where they came up with those names. From their records, the attribution came from the National Union Catalog of Pre-1956 Imprints, a mammoth listing of books catalogued by the Library of Congress and other libraries. The cataloguer lifted the information from there, as the library doesn’t do its own cataloguing. The trail was cold.

I then tried to see if I could discover anything about John Henshaw or Henry B. Dearth. Perhaps I was right to spot promise in those drawings. There was a celebrated American painter named Henry Golden Dearth, who was born in Bristol in 1863. In his later years, he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and, after winning prizes for his landscapes of the Normandy Coast, spent winters in New York city and summers in Normandy. I wish my research budget allowed to travel to Normandy to find his house and studio in Montreuil-sur-Mer, along the English Channel. An appreciation of his work that appeared in Century Magazine in 1905 praised his painting “Sunset in Normandy for its “almost naive arrangement of trees, earth and sky, the cattle being the merest suggestions.” It would not be any surprise that this dignified painter put his boyish tale of the clam behind him.

But his middle initial was G and not B. What are the odds that there were two artistic boys named Henry Dearth running around Rhode Island in the 1800s? Well, it turns out there were. Unfortunately, the historical record on Henry B. Dearth is not as complete as for Henry G. However, I have located an advertisement for the firm of Ryder and Dearth, Designers, Engravers, Printers & Electrotypers, located at 91 Westminster Street in Providence. The advertisement is full of funny sketches of the Designers’ Room, the Photo Gallery, the Wood Engraving Department and other aspects of the enterprise. There is no question that the boy who made the pictures for The Tale of The Clam grew up to be the man who made the drawings for this advertisement. The sense of humor is as recognizable as the artistry.

Grave of John Henshaw at Swan Point Cemetery, Providence.

Grave of John Henshaw at Swan Point Cemetery, Providence.

John Henshaw, who wrote the poetry, graduated from Brown in 1887 (in the same class as Theodore Francis Greene) and, in a loss to light verse, later became a lawyer in Providence. It gives me pleasure to unmask the identity of these once anonymous, naughty Providence boys who, in my opinion, were the greatest Nineteenth Century clamcake humorists of all.

There is only one animal with a lifespan long enough to have been laughing at clamcake humor from the 1800s to today. That is the quahog itself, which has been found to live as long as 400 years.

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.

Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island: The Arcade   Leave a comment

Loved, boasted of and admired.
by John Williams Haley

This article comes from The Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island, Vol. I, pages 80-81, published by the Providence Institution for Savings, 1929. Transcribed by Christopher Martin.

The Arcade circa 1900. Postcard courtesy of Louis McGowan.

The Arcade circa 1900. Postcard courtesy of Louis McGowan.

THE city of Providence as we know it today, presents an interesting study in contrasts. In the very midst of historic sites that still seem to breathe the air of centuries gone by, rise towering structures of steel and stone that majestically dwarf their humble but honored companions. Everywhere about the city the rat-tat of riveting gun and the shrill whistle of a steam-shovel remind us that a continual transformation is taking place. A modern and magnificent Court House rises just south of College Hill, completely overshadowing that row of picturesque old buildings along South Main Street, places rich in the heritage of Rhode Island history, where some of the great industries of this community had their birth. There is one century-old building that seems to withstand the ruthless hand of time. Located in the very heart of the business district of the city, the Arcade seems to keep up with the times, and justify its existence almost at the very foot of giant sky-scrapers.

Years ago the Arcade was the show-place of Providence—loved by the children, boasted of by the citizens, and admired by strangers. At the time of its erection over one hundred years ago, there was scarcely a shop or business place of any kind in its vicinity on Westminster Street. The business section of the town was then on South Water Street and North and South Main Streets, and was known as Cheapside. The Arcade is said to have been inspired by the Madaleine of Napoleon in Paris, and at the time it was built several others were erected in this country. The Providence Arcade is said to be the only one remaining. It is built entirely of granite, and runs from Westminster to Weybosset Streets.

Each of the columns weighs thirteen tons, and, with the exception of those in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, they are the largest in America. It is still boasted that one of them was blasted out of the Bear Rock Ledge on the borders of the town of Johnston, and completed by the work-men in thirty days. James Olney agreed to haul the monoliths to Providence, and, after constructing a special low gear, and strengthening the bridge at Olneyville, he guided fifteen yoke of oxen, drawing their burden of twelve tons, through the woods. One column was broken in the moving, and after replacing it and getting the twelve others in place, the contractor announced that he was practically ruined. The broken column now stands on the Field lot in the old North Burying Ground.

When six of these pillars had been left near the Weybosset Street Bridge, the architects of the Arcade, Russell Warren and James Bucklin, assisted in placing them. Major Bucklin was in charge of the setting of each one. This task was completed in a single day. One man only was hurt when the building was constructed, and during the actual time the work was carried on, one man was killed. The Arcade cost $145,000. The east half was owned by Cyrus Butler, the west half, by the Arcade Corporation. Someone remarked at the time of its erection that “it was built on ground before then occupied by a nest of combustible sheds.” The news of the day referred to it as “a monument to the energy, good taste, skill and courage of its constructors, of which their descendants, and our city may well be proud.”

The Arcade interior, circa 1900. Postcard courtesy of Louis McGowan.

The Arcade interior, circa 1900. Postcard courtesy of Louis McGowan.

The fashionable folk of Providence were delighted with the fine things found in the Arcade displays—forerunners of the modern department stores—and a millinery shop most often visited was that of the “Three Sisters.” These sisters were devoted members of St. John’s Church, and greatly respected in Providence. The story is told of a member of that church who returned her bonnet to the milliners, asking that the bow on it be changed “to the congregation side,” as its beauty was wasted on a blank wall.

At the time of the September Gale the milliners were hastening with a brother, who was very ill, from their home on Mathewson and Weybosset Streets. The carriage in which they were taking him out of the reach of a rapidly rising tide was overturned, and it was with great difficulty that he was rescued from the water. A neighbor, on her return home after the flood had subsided, complained that her parlor rug was ruined with dead fish and slime, and that she found a “little dead swine” on the top of her piano.

The three sisters, as age was creeping on, sold their shop in the Arcade and moved to a rose-covered cottage in the country, where, familiarly called Aunt Ria and Aunt Patty, they were the fairy god-mothers of the community. Many a child climbed the haircloth sofa, examined the precious knick-knacks on the what-not, and sat in the comfortable living room, while marvellous [sic] doll’s clothes were designed from a never-failing supply of bright-colored silk scraps.

“Aunt Patty was very lame—a misstep on the stairs had caused this—so that she seldom went farther than her own garden. She was a dear, familiar figure to the villagers, seated on her little green wooden stool, weeding, or leaning on her cane to examine some new blossoms, while the winds played with her soft white curls, on either side of her sweet old face… Beneath the front steps dwelt a toad, which was very tame, and sat blinking in the sun while some child fed it with rosebugs… At last, growing too feeble to keep house longer, the beloved milliners moved again to town.”

So you see that when the historic landmarks of our city make way for modern progress and twentieth century ideas of beauty and efficiency, we gradually erase from our minds happy memories of some face, figure or event of the past. There is probably an interesting romance threaded in the true history of the old Arcade. Hundreds of business projects, thousands of clerks, and millions of eager shoppers have come and gone during the century of its existence.

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
More information on The Arcade can be found under Attractions.

An earlier, unattributed version of this article can be found in Old Providence: A Collection of Facts and Traditions relating to Various Buildings and Sites of Historic Interest in Providence, printed for The Merchants National Bank of Providence (1918). Portions of the second and third paragraphs also show up in The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Volume 3, by Thomas Williams Bicknell (1920).

Bear Rock Ledge quarry is located in the southeast quarter of the interchange of Route 295 and Putnam Pike (Route 44). It has been long abandoned and overgrown. According to Richard M. Bayles in his History of Providence County, Rhode Island, Volume 2 (1891), the site was later quarried by Emor J. Angell beginning in 1861, “and during the winter of 1867 and 1868 [he] quarried 6,000 feet of curbstone, from that locality alone.”

James Olney, described as both a farmer and a stone cutter, was born July 23, 1792, in Rhode Island, and died August 29, 1868, in Johnston. He is buried in Johnston cemetery #9.

The Fields Memorial, North Burial Ground, Providence. Photo by Quahog.org.

The Fields Memorial, North Burial Ground, Providence. Photo by Quahog.org.

The Field lot in the North Burial Ground is dominated by a monument made from the broken pillar. The monument consists of about a four- or five-foot section of the column, on its side, balanced atop a plinth. The monument is inscribed with the names of Field family members whose remains were moved to North Burial Ground from the family farm on Field’s Point in 1865.

James Champlin Bucklin was born July 26, 1801, died September 28, 1890. He is buried in Swan Point Cemetery, Providence. He was also the architect of Brown University’s Manning Hall (1833).

Cyrus Butler was born May 9, 1767, and died August 22, 1849. He is buried in North Burial Ground, Providence. He contributed much of the financing for Butler Hospital, which was named for him.

Return to Old Stone Bank History of Rhode Island index.

Big Coffee Mug   1 comment

The Big Coffee Mug in June 2013.

The Big Coffee Mug in June 2013.

King Kong-sized caffeine delivery system!
1065 Eddie Dowling Highway, (Route 146), North Smithfield
(401) 338-7100

Update, January 2014: The Ice Box announced it was closed, apparently for good, via Facebook message on the 15th. No reason was given.

Update, May 17, 2014: The Big Coffee Mug was either demolished or carted away around this date. Everything that once stood on the lot is gone, down to bare earth. We have no further information at this time.

This huge travel-style coffee mug, perhaps large enough for two to three people to enjoy a hot java bath at the same time, serves as the sign for a small drive-up establishment. The sign is also a fountain, spewing clear water from the spout on its lid (when it’s working). We think the water should be colored a rich, dark brown so that potential customers won’t be turned off by the thought of a weak brew. A bit of steam to add verisimilitude wouldn’t hurt either.

The cup currently promotes The Icebox, a summertime stand owned and operated by RISD student Brianna O’Keefe. She opened the place in August 2013, serving Richie’s Super Premium Italian Ice to help finance her college education. The Icebox re-opened for the summer in early May 2013 and Brianna added ice cream to the line-up soon after. Next up: milk shakes! Then, possibly, coffee, to capitalize on the Big Coffee Mug juju.

As we hinted above, the fountain is not working as of this writing (June 2013). Brianna would like to have it fixed, but that may prove to be difficult, as it seems the mug was built around the pump. Brianna has installed a fog machine on top of the mug, and she uses it occasionally to draw the interest of passing motorists (didn’t we just say that would be a good idea?). If anyone knows of a small, talented monkey-mechanic that can go down the spout and perform the necessary pump repairs, please contact Brianna at theiceboxslush@yahoo.com.

The Icebox's menu board.

The Icebox’s menu board.

Coffee and Cream in 2005, when the fountain was working.

Coffee and Cream in 2005, when the fountain was working.

Richie’s Italian Ice, by the way, in case you’ve not tried it, is very different from what you get at Rhode Island’s many frozen lemonade places. It’s much smoother, like a sorbet, or an icy sherbet (but with no dairy). And it comes in a wide variety of flavors, like Banana, Blue Raspberry, Bubble Gum, Coconut Cream, Cotton Candy, Mango, Orange Creamsicle, Pina Colada, and Watermelon. You can even mix and match flavors as you please for a small added cost.

The landmark mug hath been running over since at least 1991. Before The Icebox, it was the sign for Coffee and Cream, a stand serving donuts, muffins, sandwiches, and, go figure, coffee. Coffee and Cream closed in 2009, a victim, apparently, of competition from a new Dunkin Donuts location just down the road.

We’ve heard from a friend that long ago, back in the mists of time, the Big Coffee Mug was originally a Big Coffee Pot. The only physical difference, apparently, was that the pot had a pour spout on the front. Anyone who can corroborate this bit of information, or better yet, provide a photo, please contact us at stuffie@quahog.org.

Former site of the Big Coffee Mug, May 18, 2014.

Former site of the Big Coffee Mug, May 18, 2014.


Hours: The Icebox was open 11am-9pm daily during the summer. Now it’s CLOSED and erased from the face of the Earth.

Finding it: From Route 295 take exit 9 to Route 146 north (toward Woonsocket); Go 1.8 miles; You’ll pass the Big Coffee Mug on the left, on the other side of the divided highway; Get in the left lane and take a U-turn at Sayles Hill Road; Return south on Route 146 about 275 feet to the Big Coffee Mug on the right.

Other Big Things in Rhode Island

  • Big Blue Bug
  • Big Handtruck
  • Big Ice Cream Cone, Lakewood Ice Cream, 140-152 Chambly Avenue, Warwick
  • Big Milk Can
  • Big Paint Can, True Value Hardware, Route 44, Greenville, Smithfield
  • Big Roosters
  • Big Rosary Beads, Jesus Savior Church, 509 Broadway, Newport

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