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Portsmouth Women: Sarah Eddy, Loyal Backer of the Portsmouth Free Public Library

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This year the Portsmouth Free Public Library is celebrating one hundred and twenty-five years of service to the Portsmouth community. Portsmouth women have been vital to the success of the library. In a history of the library, Ernest Denomme remarks that Sarah Eddy of Bristol Ferry Road was “one of the best educated and well traveled women in Portsmouth….she made her presence felt throughout the community.” She contributed to the success of the Portsmouth Free Public library from the beginning of the organization, but you won’t find her name among the board of directors. She was a private person who worked effectively behind the scenes. Many of the original library organizers were in her circle of friends. One of her best friends, Emeline Eldrege, served on the library board for years.

Sarah was a world class artist, writer, and sculptor. The Bristol Ferry area where she lived became a center for artists such as Oscar Miller. She is famous for her portrait of Frederick Douglass and she brought Susan B. Anthony to Portsmouth to sit for her portrait. That portrait is in the Smithsonian in Washington today. She made a number of donations of artwork to the library, some of which are on view now. Sarah never sold her work, she always gave it away.

By the 1920s the original library needed to be expanded. The West Wing was constructed chiefly through Sarah’s funding to be used as an Art Room. It was common for libraries in that period to also serve as places to display art and bring culture to the community. In 1921 a Newport Mercury article shows Sarah as part of the Art Committee of the library. As she grew older her interest in the library waned, but the traces of her influence remain. In the 1950s the Art Room was re-purposed into a Children’s Room. It serves as the book shop today.

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

Light Keeper’s Quarters

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Plans in the PHS collections.

The plans of the Musselbed Shoal Light show the quarters for the lighthouse keeper.  The keeper led an isolated life.  Most keepers held the post for only a short time.  A few of them lasted as long as ten years.

Plans for Musslebed Shoal Light

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The plans for the later Musselbed Shoal Lighthouse are part of the collection of the Portsmouth Historical Society. These are plans for the 1877 lighthouse. Ice floes moved the entire structure of the original lighthouse.    The stone pier was enlarged to protect the structure, but this house was also damaged by ice and hurricanes.  The fog bell was mounted on the roof.

Plans for the Musselbed Shoal Light in PHS collection