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Portsmouth During Revolutionary Times: What the Blaskowitz Map tells us about Northern Portsmouth

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In reading a map for information, it helps to view the map in smaller sections to pull out the information. I am focusing on the Northern portion of the town – basically Sprague Street and north. As I view the map I try to put elements into categories. I encourage my readers to view the map and let me know what they see that I have missed.

Transportation -Roads

Looking at today’s map as well as the Blaskowitz Map, these are the roads I see. Blaskowitz does not label the roads, so I will use today’s labels

Park Avenue which would head toward the Howland Ferry

Bristol Ferry Road which would head toward the Bristol Ferry

Part of Boyd’s Lane

Sprague Street

Child Street

Anthony Road

East Main Road

West Main Road

Water Street

Transportation: Ferries

Bristol Ferry which was the main route to Bristol and the North

Howland Ferry which was the main route to Tiverton and Massachusetts to the East

Military Sites: Batteries

Blaskowitz noted where Americans had placed defenses before the Occupation, but he also includes British battery along East Main Road to the north of Sprague Street.

Howland Ferry Battery: This is an important place for the Americans who used this narrow area as a point to move their troops onto the island and when the battle was done to escape off the Island to Tiverton and the safety of Fort Barton.

Bristol Ferry Battery: Edward Field’s paper on Revolutionary Defenses a diagram of the Fort at Bristol Ferry. See Reference below.

Farmers and Farms

Mr. Scott’s farm was located between Child Street and Park Avenue. I could not find information on Mr. Scott, but he may have been a Newport merchant and or Captain who had a country farm in Portsmouth. He was not included in the 1778 tax roll.

Isaac Lawton’s farm was located around East Main Road heading toward Boyd’s Lane. Isaac is active in the Quaker church. After the War for Independence many Quakers began to give up their slaves and Isaac’s widow, Mary Fish Lawton, was among those who freed her slave.

Geographic Features

To the East: Common Fence Point, Spectacle Island, Sherman’s Point, Hen Island, Town Pond, Pocasset River

To the West: Arnold’s Point, Shoal by Bristol Ferry that is part dry at Spring Tides

Man-Made Features

To the East: Bridge by Park Avenue, Wharf by Howland Ferry

To the West: Windmill by Bristol Ferry Road

Distribution of Homes

Where did Portsmouth residents live? In this section of the map there are two basic communities. The largest collection of homes was in the Bristol Ferry Road neighborhood. This was one of the earliest areas established when the original land grants were given out. This would have been a high volume transportation route, so there were accommodations for travelers, taverns and other commercial properties here. The second community seems to be in what is called the Newtown area around Child Street and between East Main Road and Water Street. This was an area established when the Town Pond became silted up in 1728 and the original settlement around Anthony Road were abandoned.

Resources Used:

REVOLUTIONARY DEFENCES
IN
RHODE ISLAND
AN HISTORICAL ACCOUNT OF THE FORTIFICATIONS AND BEACONS ERECTED DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, WITH MUSTER ROLLS OF THE COMPANIES STATIONED ALONG THE
SHORES OF NARRAGANSETT BAY
BY
EDWARD FIELD
PAST PRESIDENT OF THE RHODE ISLAND SOCIETY OF THE SONS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
WITH MAPS, PLANS, AND ILLUSTRATIONS
PROVIDENCE, R.I. PRESTON AND ROUNDS 1896

Life in Portsmouth Prior to the War for Independence: Clues from the Blaskowitz Map

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Vintage maps hold a special store of information for the local historian. I am exploring the question of what Portsmouth was like during Occupation by British forces, so I turn to one of the best resources, the Blaskowitz Map. The map is available online at the Library of Congress website. https://www.loc.gov/item/74692135/. You can download the map and zoom in to explore it in detail. Historians learn to “read” a map to extract information and I will be doing this a section at a time. In this first blog I will be taking the first step – viewing the map as a whole. I welcome my readers to view the map as well and add to what I find. I will be focused on Portsmouth, but Blaskowitz also mapped out the streets and features of Newport as well.

One of the initial questions a historian asks about a map is who created it and why. Who was Charles Blaskowitz and why did he create this particular map? He was a skillful British military surveyor. Charles was assigned by Samuel Holland in 1764 to create a chart of the coast of Rhode Island to determine if Newport would be a good harbor for a naval base. This map may have been redrawn a number of times and used for different purposes. Some suspect local farmers paid Blaskowitz to add their farms in 1771. There is a key with the names of the major farmers and their farms are plotted out on the map. Once the British occupied Aquidneck Island in 1775, some think he redrew the map in 1777 to add the British defenses for the positioning of British ships in Narragansett Bay. Batteries (groups of cannons) are included on the map and although there is no key for them, troop locations seem to be included on the island.

Portsmouth batteries are listed for Bristol Ferry with 3 18 pound guns and Howland’s Ferry with 7 guns 18 and 24 pounders. “Brittish” Batteries are also labeled on the map.

Map text reads as follows:

A Topographical CHART of the
BAY of NARRAGANSET in the Province of NEW ENGLAND.
with the ISLES contained therein, among which
RHODE ISLAND and CONNONICUT
have been particularly SURVEYED.
Shewing the true position & bearings of the Banks, Shoals, Rocks &c, as likewise the Soundings:
To which have been added the several Works & Batteries raised by the Americans.
Taken by Order of the PRINCIPAL FARMERS on Rhode Island.
By CHARLES BLASKOWITZ.
Engraved & Printed for WM. FADEN, Charing Cross, as the Act directs, July 22d. 1777.

This is a “Topographical” map. It tries to be a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional earth. It shows man-made and natural features such as hills, valleys, rivers, forests, roads, bridges and other things. Blaskowitz states that he has particularly surveyed Rhode Island (Aquidneck) and Conanicut Island (Jamestown). Added to the map were the batteries which may have been a cluster of cannons. These artillery posts were “raised by the Americans.” The map includes the lands of the principal farmers of the island and there seems to be outlines of some of their farms. One thing we will do later is to find the farmers listed for Portsmouth. Often Newport merchants had their country homes and farms out in Portsmouth.

Blaskowitz goes on to describe Aquidneck Island. We get a sense of the life before the Occupation.

“The COLONY of RHODE ISLAND is situated between the 41st. and 42d. Degrees of N.Latitude, and between the 71st. and 72d. Degrees of W.Longitude, in the most healthy Climate in North America, to which many Inhabitabants of the Southern Colonies and West India Islands resort in Summer as a place of health. The Winters are severe, though not equally so with that of the other Provinces, but the Summers are delightful, the violent and excessive heats to which America in general is subject, being allayed by the cool and temperate breezes that come from the sea. It enjoys many advantages. Has several large Rivers, and one of the finest Harbours in the World. Fish of all kinds are in the greatest plenty and perfection. The horses are boney and strong, the Meat Cattle and Sheep are much the largest in America, the Butter and Cheese excellent, and every necessary of Life in Attendance. They have no established form of Religion. Episcopalians, Independents, Quakers, Annabaptists, Saba-tarians, Jews, Moravians, and all other Sects whatever, have liberty to excercise their several professions. Newport, the chief town is situated upon an Island, of about 16 miles in length, and 4 or 5 in breadth, called Rhode Island, whence the Province takes its name. It is the Capital City, and contains nearly 10,000 Inha-bitants. It has a Town House, Market House, Library and a spacious Parade, but there is few private Buildings in it worth notice.”

What does he tell us about life before the War for Independence?

  1. Aquidneck Island had a temperate, healthy climate that attracted Southern people as a summer resort.
  2. The island had large rivers and one of the finest harbors in the world. That would be in Newport, not Portsmouth.
  3. Fishing was plentiful.
  4. Farmers were raising horses, cattle and sheep. The livestock was among the best in America.
  5. Farmers produced excellent butter and cheese.
  6. There is no established religion, so people “have liberty to exercise” their faith.

In trying to understand what happened to Portsmouth during the British Occupation it is important to have an idea of the town before the War. The Blaskowitz Map details life on Aquidneck Island before the Occupation. Even though the date of engraving was 1777, the surveying was done much before that. Exploring this map provides the clues to understanding all that Portsmouth had to lose once it was occupied.


The KKK in Portsmouth

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We don’t usually picture Portsmouth as a town that would host a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. As I research Portsmouth history I can take pride in the examples of integration in Portsmouth schools, churches and in the community in general. But Portsmouth is a town like any other town, and bigotry did exists, especially in the 1920s. Accounts in the Newport Mercury in May of 1924 record a “Fiery Cross” being burnt in a field near the Newport County Fair Grounds. Abby Sherman’s Diary on May 26, 1924 reads: “Last Night the Fiery Cross was burned on the hill on the Cory land by the Klan. There were about 200 at the meeting.” * I believe the Cory Farm was where St. Barnabas Church is today.

Fiery Cross Burns in Portsmouth

Abby’s son, Arthur Sherman, was among those listed as members of the Klan. Arthur was a prominent local politician and served as a state senator. An official state hearing on Klan Activities before the Rhode Island House Militia Committee listed Sherman among other state officers (senators, Adjutant General) as sympathetic to the Klan.

Arthur A. Sherman – sympathetic to the KKK

Klan activities centered around typical social activities: tent meetings, all day outdoor rallies, oyster suppers, and clambakes. One newspaper account lists 2500 persons present at a Klan Field Day in Portsmouth in 1924.

During that era the Klan’s targets were Catholics, African Americans, Jews and immigrants. Anti-Catholicism was most prevalent around the Narragansett Bay Area. Only native born white Protestants could join the Klan. They were outwardly patriotic, Anti-Communist and proclaimed they were upholding traditional values. Klan activities did not take hold in Rhode Island’s cities, but were centered around rural and Republican areas. In many ways the fear of losing power led otherwise decent white, native born and Protestant people to flirt with a radical organization.

Resources:

Rhode Island History Magazine. KKK in Rhode Island by Norman Smith http://www.rihs.org/assetts/files/publications/1978_May.pdf

Abby’s diary was transcribed by Jim Garman

Celebrating Black History in Portsmouth: “The Black Regiment”

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On February 14, 1778, the Rhode Island Assembly voted to allow “every able-bodied Negro, mulatto, or Indian slave in this state to enlist into either of the Continental Battalions being raised.”  The Assembly specified that:  “every slave so enlightening shall, upon the passing muster before Colonel Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress and be absolutely free.”  Owners of the slaves enlisted were to be compensated by the Assembly for the market value of the slave.

Before 1778 Blacks had not been allowed to serve in the Continental Army. Rhode Island had trouble meeting its recruitment quotas with just white men, so General Varnum wrote to George Washington with the idea of allowing the ranks to be filled with Black and Native Americans. He asked Washington to send soldiers from Valley Forge to recruit these men.

Camp [Valley Forge] Janry 2d 177[8]1 Sir—The two Battalions from the State of Rhode Island being small, & there being a Necessity of the State’s furnishing an additional Number to make up their Proportion in the continental Army; The Field Officers have represented to me the Propriety of making one temporary Battalion from the two, so that one intire Core of Officers may repair to Rhode Island, in order to receive & prepare the Recruits for the Field. It is imagined that a Battalion of Negroes can be easily raised there. Should that Measure be adopted, or recruits obtained upon any other Principle, the Service will be advanced. The Field Officers who go upon this Command are Colo. Greene, Lt Colo. Olney and Major Ward: Seven Captains, Twelve Lieuts., six Ensigns, one Pay Master, one Surgeon & Mate, One Adjutant & one Chaplin. I am your Excellency’s most obdt Servt J. M. Varnum. (see citation below)*

In the Pre-amble to the letter, Varnum wrote that “History affords us frequent precedents of the wisest, freest, and bravest nations having liberated their slaves and enlisted them as soldiers to fight in defense of their country.” ( RI Colonial Records VII, 640, 641.) Washington did not comment on the letter, but he sent it on to the Governor of Rhode Island, Nicholas Cooke.

Rhode Island slave owners opposed the idea of the new regiment. In June of 1778 the Rhode Island Assembly repealed the decree, but those four months that it was in effect, 100 free and formerly enslaved African Americans enlisted. Forty-four slaves enlisted even after this repeal. The First Rhode Island Regiment had 225 men, 140 of them were African Americans. This was the largest percentage of blacks in an integrated military unit during the American Revolution. At first the African Americans comprised a separate company, but slowly the regiment was integrated.

At the Battle of Rhode Island in August 1778 the regiment fought under the command of Major Samuel Ward, Jr. It defended a redoubt on West Main Road and repelled three charges by the Hessians. The American line was not broken and General Sullivan was able to get American troops off of Aquidneck Island.

The August 30, 1778 diary entry of Samuel Ward provides an eyewitness account:
“The army retreated the evening of the 28th. Early yesterday morning, the enemy moved out after us, expecting that we were leaving the island, and took possession of the Heights in our front. They sent out parties in their front, and we made detachments to drive them back again. After a skirmish of three or four hours, with various success, in which each party gave way three or four times, and were reinforced, we drove them quite back to the ground they first took in the morning, and have continued there ever since. Two ships and a couple of small vessels beat up opposite our lines, and fired several shots, but being pretty briskly fired upon from our heavy pieces, they fell down, and now lay opposite the enemy’s lines. Our loss was not very great, it has not been ascertained yet; and I can hardly make a tolerable conjecture. Several officers fell, and several are badly wounded. I am so happy to have only one captain slightly wounded in the hand. I believe that a couple of the blacks were killed and four or five wounded, but none badly. Previous to this, I should have told you our picquets and light corps engaged their advance , and found them with bravery.”

Through the years of war the First Rhode Island Regiment and the Second Regiment were united into the unit called the Rhode Island Regiment. They ended their battles at Yorktown in the battle that led to the British surrender. After Yorktown they were quartered at Saratoga, New York and discharged from service there. While the white soldiers were given pensions and land, the Black and Native American soldiers were dumped back into civilian life. In 1874 13 of the veterans of the Black Regiment hired a lawyer to get the wages or pensions they deserved. The Rhode Island Assembly passed an act for these soldiers on February 28, 1785. It called for the “support of paupers, who heretofore were slaves, and enlisted into the Continental battalions”. **. The act called on the town councils where they lived to take care of them.

As far as we know there were no members of the Black Regiment from Portsmouth, but our town is the site of a special memorial to the soldiers. It is located at the intersection of West Main Road (Rhode Island Route 114) and Rhode Island Route 24 on West Main Road

One of the plaques reads: “Site of the Battle of Rhode Island has been designated a National Historic Landmark. This site possesses National significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America. 1975. National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior”

Another of the monuments reads: Patriots Park, A Memorial To The 1st Rhode Island Regiment, and The Battle of Rhode Island, August 29, 1778. Dedicated August 2005

Another monument reads: Bloody Run Brook, First Black Militia, R. Island Regt., August 29, 1778 [In a circular design with a coiled rattle Snake and 13 Stars]. In honor of the first Black slaves and freemen who fought in the Battle of Rhode Island as members of the First Rhode Island Regiment The Black Regiment. Erected 1976 by Newport, Rhode Island Branch, NAACP, Bicentennial Commission.

There is also a large monument with the battle map. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment of the Continental Line 1775-1783

Timeline:

  1. Late 1776 British Army occupies Newport
  2. August 8, 1778 – French fleet forces past Newport harbor
  3. August 9, 1778 – American Army moves onto Aquidneck Island
  4. August 10, 1778 – British fleet lures French fleet and troops away from Newport
  5. August 28, 1778 – American army begins retreat north
  6. August 29, 1778 – British troops pursue retreating American army northward
  7. August 29, 1778 – Hessian troops march north on west road in pursuit of American army
  8. August 29, 1778 – British regulars advance to Quaker Hill
  9. August 29, 1778 – Hessian mercenaries attack, but are repulsed by the 1st Rhode Island Regiment
  10. August 30, American army withdraws onto mainland
  • “To George Washington from Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum, 2 January 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-13-02-0104. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 13, 26 December 1777 – 28 February 1778, ed. Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003, p. 125.]

**Fought Bravely, but Were Unfortunate:”: The True Story of Rhode Island’s “Black Regiment” and the Failure of Segregation in Rhode Island’s Continental Line, by Daniel Popek.

Celebrating Black History in Portsmouth: Fannie Scott, Sarah Eddy and the Home for Aged Colored People

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A few years ago the Portsmouth Historical Society received the generous gift of a portrait painted by one of Portsmouth’s artists, Sarah Eddy. That portrait led us to the story of Fannie Scott, one of the former slaves that Joseph Macomber brought to Portsmouth in 1870.

Who was Fannie Scott and what was her connection to Sarah Eddy? As we researched Fannie we found her obituary in 1928. Fannie came to Portsmouth as a ten year old and lived with her sister, Matilda Ayler (the wife of Morgan Ayler) and her family. At the time she was Fannie Edna Brent. Later she would marry another one of Macomber’s group of former slaves, Robert Scott. Fannie was an active member of the Friends Church and she served on committees for the foreign missions and helped organize social gatherings for the church.. After her husband died she returned to the Ayler household.

From the markings on the portrait frame and canvas, we know that the painting was done in Portsmouth in 1920. Fannie would have been about seventy at the time. She went on to live eight more years and those last years were spent in the Home for Aged Colored People in Providence. Sarah Eddy had a long tradition of inviting the residents of that home to come to her home in Portsmouth for a summer outing. Newspaper clippings from 1913 through 1942 record the yearly visits of a group from the Aged Colored People’s Home. As an example, I will share information from a 1928 outing. Sarah Eddy was a vegetarian, so the typical refreshments were quahaug chowder, rolls, cakes and ice cream. After lunch there was a social with speakers, music (spirituals and old time songs of the south), and a bible reading (read by someone dressed in a “Mammy” costume). Fannie’s niece, Alice Morris, was one of those who assisted with the singing, so it is not unlikely that in her younger days Fannie might have helped at the outings.

Sarah Eddy’s Bristol Ferry neighbors helped with the events and her next door neighbors, the Ballous, were active in supporting the home.

In 1890 Christina Bannister (artist Edward Bannister’s wife) helped establish the Home for Aged Colored People as a nursing home for African American women – especially those who had been servants and had no family to care for them. She raised funds for the home and was a member of the staff. Near the end of her life, Mrs. Bannister was poor and she actually became a resident of the home after her husband died in 1901. Sarah Eddy was part of the artistic community in Providence and must have known the Bannisters. Today “Bannister House’ in Providence traces its roots to the Home for Aged Colored People.

Celebrating Black History in Portsmouth: Morgan Ayler

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Portsmouth’s story is intertwined with the story of African Americans in our community. This is a good time to highlight some of the stories of members of Portsmouth’s black citizens. Everyone loves stories about how individuals have worked their way from humble circumstances to prominence. Morgan Ayler’s story is a good example. He started life as a Virginia slave, but he had the opportunity to become a successful farmer here in Portsmouth.

Morgan Robert Ayler was born in Virginia in 1825. Records show he traveled through many states but the  records of the U.S. Freedman’s Bank show his residence as Washington, D.C. in 1870.   That is the year Morgan, his wife Matilda and three of his children are listed as residing on the farm of Joseph Macomber off East Main Road in Portsmouth.  Morgan is listed by his middle name of “Robert” and son Edward is listed as “Edmund,” but their ages correspond to the birth dates of Morgan and Edward.  The men are listed as being farm laborers. We will continue to research just how Joseph Macomber brought sixteen former slaves to Portsmouth, but that may be because of his Quaker Faith. Members of the Society of Friends were noted for reaching out to help former slaves after the Civil War.

Joseph Macomber gave Morgan Ayler and others a chance for a good farming in Portsmouth. Morgan moved from being a laborer, to leasing land, to owning his own farm. He won awards for his produce at the Newport County Fair. His family prospered here. You will hear more stories of the family members in future blogs.

More information on the Ayler’s appears in an earlier blog. https://portsmouthhistorynotes.com/2019/02/09/from-slaves-to-portsmouth-farmers-the-aylers/

The Poor and Needy in Early Portsmouth: “Parish Children” and Indenture

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The residents of colonial Portsmouth were well aware of scriptures that asked them to take care of the poor among them. Deuteronomy 15:11 is a good example: “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” How did the townspeople of Portsmouth provide for their neediest residents? The Portsmouth Historical Society has documents that shed light on how the town cared for the poor and needy.

This blog will focus on the lot of “parish children” or pauper children. They were children who were either orphans or their families had no means of caring for them. Their care was given over to the Town Council. One way provision was made was to make them indentured servants. Their servitude would end – usually when they were twenty-four years old, but they were servants none the less. The Portsmouth town fathers modeled their practices on the laws of Great Britain. The Poor Law Act of 1601 provided that the overseers of the poor and the churchwardens, with the approval of two Justices of the Peace, could apprentice any children under 14 whose parents could not take care of them. In the case of Portsmouth, Rhode Island it was the Town Council that held the responsibility for these poor boys and girls. Signing them into indenture was thought of as a way to keep the children fed, clothed and housed.

From the documents in the archives of the Portsmouth Historical Society we have three cases of “parish child” indenture to explore.

1750 – Philip Gusteen to John Cory to North Kingston for fifteen years.

1753 – Aaron who was indentured to Captain John Lawton for seventeen years. Aaron was under seven years old.

1763 – Joseph Pelig (alias Anthony) who was indentured to David and Abigail Anthony for thirteen years.

The indenture documents for these three children are very similar. Some indentures were even printed with blanks to fill in the names and dates.

  1. The children were bound to their masters and their heirs. If the master died, they would continue on with whomever inherited the master’s property.
  2. The child pledges to keep the master’s secrets, obey lawful commands, not to damage the master or his property or the property of others and not to run away or leave without permission
  3. The servants are to stay chaste and not to marry without permission.
  4. The servants are to stay away from Ale-Houses, Taverns, playhouses and unlawful games.

In return the children receive:

  1. Good and sufficient meat, drink, apparel, washing and lodging.
  2. Care in sickness and in health.
  3. Some are promised to be taught to read. Others are to learn a trade like farming.

In the end they will receive a new suit of apparel and their wearing clothes.

I have only been able to trace what might have happened to one of the children. Philip Gusteen is a name found in the Providence census after 1800 as a freeman with a household of his own. What became of Aaron or Joseph is a mystery.

The Town Council was taking care of these children in a customary way. Later laws in England would curb the practice by setting the minimum age to 14 and requiring the children to agree to the indenture. Poor Aaron was not even seven years old when his indenture was signed. We may be horrified at such arrangements, but there were no institutions like orphanages or state churches to care for these children. They were wards of the town and the town at least provided a way for them to be fed, clothed and housed.

In the archives of the Portsmouth Historical Society there are other indenture arrangements for children, but these are situations where a parent agrees to indenture their child. This was a legal process and there are even records of disputes being handled by the town. A third party would consider the situation and the master and parent would have to agree to go by the decision made.

Servitude for children who are wards of the town seems like a harsh fate. It is difficult for us to judge because even our modern methods of foster homes and state run facilities can be sad situations as well.

Documents:

Philip Gusteen pdf of transcription

Joseph Peleg – image of document

Indenture of Aaron to Captain LawtonI

Wampanoag Thanksgivings

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As I approach Thanksgiving I am thinking about the Wampanoag heritage of Aquidneck Island. I have just finished reading Mayflower by Philbrick for a Portsmouth Historical Society book club, so I guess that has me thinking about the roots of our Thanksgiving feast. Often our focus is on the Pilgrims, but maybe we forget about the Native American traditions of thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims did not introduce the concept of a harvest celebration. Wampanoag culture celebrated at least five thanksgivings – some believe there was one for each full moon. I came across the celebrations when I was a librarian at Elmhurst School. There were beautiful picture books about “Strawberry Thanksgiving” and the origins of the Cranberry Thanksgiving. Strawberry Thanksgiving is a summer celebration when the first berry ripens. Green Bean and Green Corn Harvest come in mid summer. Cranberry Thanksgiving celebrates the ripening of the last wild berry. Some Wampanoag traditions list a maple syrup harvest celebration in the late winter/early spring. There was definitely a Thanksgiving celebration when the last crops were harvested and that would include singing, dancing and sharing food.

Giving thanks daily was part of Wampanoag culture and it should be part of our life, too. Giving thanks helps us to concentrate on our blessings even in days of struggle.

Remembering Our Veterans: Major General James Parker – Awarded Congressional Medal of Honor

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Major General James Parker retired to Greenvale Farm in Portsmouth after a forty-two year career in the military. His service record is extraordinary.

West Point Graduate 1876

Indian Territory campaigns 1876-7

Mexican Border disturbances in Texas 1878-79

Campaign in Colorado 1879-80

Geronimo Apache campaign in Arizona 1885-6

Spanish American War and Philippines Insurrection 1898-1901 – He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry in the Philippines.

Cuban Army of Pacification 1906-9

Command of troops in Brownsville Texas 1916

World War I active duty in France 1917 – Armentieres and St. Quentin and Chemen des Dames.

General Parker retired in February 1918 and he and his wife Charlotte took a real interest in Greenvale Farm off of Wapping Road. The farm had been in Mrs. Parker’s family and had been neglected. The Parkers resolved to make Greenvale their home and restore the property as a working farm. They began to work on the stick style Barstow house to make it livable and bright for the family. They hired a farmer and re-established a working farm with fields, chickens, pigs, geese, turkeys and a dairy herd.

James Parker’s two sons were also military men – James and Cortlandt Parker. Cortlandt also retired to Greenvale Farm. Greenvale is still in the hands of his family. The land is being preserved as a successful vineyard today under the guidance of Nancy Parker Wilson.

In 1934 when Major General James Parker died, he was buried with full military honors at St. Mary’s Churchyard.

Remembering our Veterans: Lt. Raymond Ayler Serves in a Black Unit during WWI

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“Negroes Selected for Service Entertained by Club” read a Newport Mercury headline on November 2, 1917. The article calls them “selected for service” but we might use the term “drafted.” As the United States entered World War I, the standing army didn’t have enough soldiers to mount the effort. The Selective Service Act was passed by Congress in May of 1917 to supply the necessary troops. While some Southern politicians were opposed to drafting African Americans, the War Department decided to draft them anyway into segregated units. Among those “selected for service” was Raymond Hazard Ayler of Portsmouth. He was one of the eighteen men celebrated by the Aquidneck Island black community. The men were told that the community would support them by taking care of those they would be leaving at home. According to the Newport Mercury article – “The purpose of the banquet was to show the esteem which the colored men of this city have for their boys, to encourage them and wish them godspeed and assure them that the entire city was behind them.”

Aquidneck Black Men Honored as They Prepared to Serve

Raymond Ayler’s draft registration card gives us some background on the soldier. He is listed as 24 years old, single and a farmer at Freeborn Street in Portsmouth. Raymond grew up on the farm of his father, Edward Ayler. His father and grandfather came to Portsmouth after the Civil War. Before 1870 Quaker Joseph Macomber brought 16 former slaves to Aquidneck Island. The 1870 census shows the Ayler family living on Macomber’s farm at the bottom of Quaker Hill. Gradually the Ayler family was able to purchase their own farmland and became prominent farmers winning awards for their produce.

Raymond’s Draft Card

The Ayler family was very active in the Friends Meeting House community, so Raymond’s military service was surprising. Raymond’s older brother Osceola was granted an exemption as a conscientious objector because of his Quaker faith. The draft registration cards of both Raymond and his brother have the corner’s cut. This was a way to quickly signify black registrants and make sure they were assigned to segregated units. In August of 1917 armed black soldiers fired on Houston police and civilians ( the Houston Riot) and the War Department assigned most black soldiers to labor jobs such as road building or freight handling. Only two black combat units were established – the 92nd Artillery Division and the 93rd Infantry Division.

Raymond Ayler was assigned to the 92nd division of the National Army. He went to Fort Dix in New Jersey for boot camp and then to Fort Upton in Long Island for further training. He became part of the 349th Field Artillery Regiment. The regiment was trained on 75 mm guns and it had a machine gun battalion. The division was transported to Brest, France in July of 1918 to be part of the American Expeditionary Force. Raymond and his unit were moved to St. Nazaire for further training and were affiliated with a French division. They worked with British and French armies in the Meuse Argonne offensive of the American First Army and the allies were able to stop a German offensive. By May of 1919 Lt. Raymond Ayler was discharged and returned home to his father’s farm in Portsmouth.

Lt. Raymond Ayler

As late as 1927 he was active in the Portsmouth Post of the American Legion and he served on the executive committee alongside William H. Vanderbilt. By 1930 Raymond is listed as living in Westchester County, New York. Both Raymond and his brother Osceola lived out their lives as self-employed carpenters in New York State.

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