JIm Garman

Town Historian Jim Garman

One of the Portsmouth Historical Society docents asked me how I go about researching Portsmouth history.  I’m a retired librarian who has come to love researching local history.  It is in my nature to share my sources. This series of blog posts will be a reflection of my journey in becoming a Portsmouth history detective.  Portsmouth has a fascinating history and our community (especially through the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society) is blessed with a wealth of resources that need to be studied to give us all a fuller understanding of how our town has evolved.

I think of Portsmouth history as a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.  In framing the picture we have benefitted from the works of historians past and present. Edward H. West gave us a general book, History of Portsmouth 1638 to 1936, but he also gave us the West Land Grant Maps and numerous articles that were published in the journal of the Rhode Island Historical Society.  John T. Pierce’s book  Historical Tracts of the Town of Portsmouth Rhode Island provides interesting photos and articles on topics ranging from the Cornell murders to hurricanes.  Where Pierce covers a great many topic briefly, Jim Garman provides us with in-depth information. Some of his books, such as A History of Portsmouth, Rhode Island 1638-1978, are out of print.  Two of his more recent books, A History of the Gentlemen’s Farms of Portsmouth, RI, and Looking Back:  Historic Tales of Newport County  may still be available for sale.  All these works would be available at the Portsmouth Free Public Library.

There are many other books on topics in Portsmouth history and I will mention them later.  I suggest starting with West, Pierce and Garman because they have tackled a variety of events and people in our history.  If you want to learn about Portsmouth history as a general topic, start with the research these men have shared with us.  They give us a frame to the puzzle so that we can place our own puzzle pieces of information into the broader picture of the history of Portsmouth.