the historical record

a seasonal newsletter providing important
news, announcement and other society notes

Summer 2020

The Historical Record

Summer 2020 Edition Newsletter for The Middletown Historical Society of Middletown Rhode Island

President's Message

A letter from Mary Dennis

Hello Everyone,

Welcome to Summer 2020!
This has been a trying time, difficult to organize events. The uncertainty of what will be down the road along with guidelines constantly changing has made it frustrating to plan our summer activities. As it stands presently, the windmill at Paradise Park will run those beautiful sails on August 22nd . Paradise School/Museum will also be open that day. At this time, sadly we have eliminated the music, food trucks and outside exhibits from the day. We will enjoy the mill and the park. Everyone is welcome to bring a picnic or a blanket/chairs to relax on. Come and read that book you always wanted to dive into. From August 22nd until Columbus Day the museum and windmill will be open on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Witherbee School will be open one Sunday a month. We will be following all State guidelines. When the schedule is complete it will be on our website. In addition to trying to set up a schedule to be open to the public, we have been busy with maintenance on Paradise and Witherbee. Rotten gutters have been replaced, painting has been done, stairs repaired, and even our computers have been updated. We are committed to scanning our archives into the cloud. We need to be proactive to protect our history. Storm damage could destroy the archives even in archival storage boxes. This way if anything should ever happen to the actual archives (documents, pictures, ledgers, etc.) they are not lost forever. A new exhibit of toys from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s is actively being developed. This exhibit shows what children had for their playtime, and will be a great addition to Witherbee. Thefourth grade program, Golden Rule Days at Witherbee, will have the enjoyment of adding this to their experience of life over 100 years ago. Once complete, the history of these different games will beposted on our website and in the next newsletter. We are concentrating on this exhibit and will workthis winter on the tool exhibit for a full season in 2021. Thank you for your patience through this challenging time. I hope you all have a wonderful summer.

Mary Dennis, President

Middletown Baseball League

The Historical Society received a donation of memorabilia from the family of Frank "Larry" Nunes that contained the records of the Middletown Baseball League. The donation was made by Theresa Nunes Kalil, daughter of Frank Nunes, who had grown up on Nunes Farm. Frank Nunes had been the record keeper for the League during the 1937-39 seasons. His meticulous scrapbooks include minutes of the League meetings, team rosters, the batting averages and pitching records of each team as well as the newspaper articles that followed the games. One of the League teams, Middletown Dairy, sponsored by the Antone Perry/Bryer farm, is remembered by a photo from 1939 with many of the team members identified. The donation also provided a look into the farm scene of the early twentieth century through photos from the Nunes, Cardosa and Medeiros families at work, a pamphlet on the conservation of Rhode Island soils and a stock certificate from the Aquidneck Dairymen's Association.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

In the 1940’s, members of the Latter Day Saints settled membership here in Middletown. They did not have a “ward” which is similar to a “parish”. In 1942 a small congregation met in homes on the island, over bar rooms, and anywhere anyone would have them. In 1962 a large farm on the corner of Miantonomi Avenue and Boulevard in Middletown was bought for $28,500 and that property is where the Church stands today. This branch of the Latter Day Saints Church is part of Boston’s “stake”or archdiocese. While the church was being built, Calvary Methodist Church on Turner Road in Middletown rented space to them through the generosity of Reverend Ivy. The farmhouse was used from 1966 until 1984 as their house of worship and an actual sanctuary was built attached to it. In 1984 the farmhouse was torn down and work started on the new building as the congregation waited and prayed patiently under the steeple of Methodism on Turner Road. In thanks for that kind gesture the Mormons paid for the new organ there.

- The above information was told to Nancy Damas by the former Mormon Bishop Robert Wood in his Middletown home on January 9, 2019.

Recommended reading - The Journey of an 1830 Book of Mormon by Gerald E. Jones

When the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830, there were 5,000 copies printed. It is unclear how many of those copies exist today, but each was worth approximately $5,000 in the 1980’s. One such copy, after being passed from one person to another for over a century, finally fell into the hands of Gerald E. Jones. Using a note left on the inside cover by a former owner, Jones was able to track the journey of the book and discover who many of its owners were.

The following is an excerpt from the book:

On 1 February 1832, one week after the Prophet Joseph Smith received the foregoing revelation at a conference in Amherst, Ohio, Elders Hyde and Smith left on their mission to the eastern states. In their first day’s journey they traveled from Kirtland to Painesville, Ohio, where they “visited some of the Brethren and tarried over night with them.” The mission of Hyde and Smith would last 11 months and take them from Maine to Rhode Island. After laboring more than 5 months, the missionaries baptized their first convert, Melvin Wilbur, on 18 July 1832 in Providence, Rhode Island.

Smallpox Epedemic That Rocked The Nation

All you hear today is “we have never experienced anything like this” but I beg to differ. The nation and world have dealt with epidemics throughout mankind. Smallpox has some interesting legislation, societal restrictions, and the elements of fear attached to it. Smallpox has raised its ugly head since 1700 BC, in China. Trade between the Roman Empire and China helped to spread this disease into Europe where 1/3 of the population died of the illness. Europe’s period of exploration was responsible for its spread throughout the world. This airborne transmitted disease is deadly. 3 out of every 10 people die. The Aztec nation was weakened, American Indian tribes were wiped out, all at the hand of smallpox. If there was ever a need of a vaccination, this disease cried out for one. Inoculations were discovered early on as seen in Medieval China, 6th century AD. Ottoman Turkey inoculation was effective at producing a milder case but individuals were still contagious. This inoculation was first published by an Italian physician, Dr. Emmanuel Timoni, in Constantinople around 1714. Used as a mainstream medical treatment in England, it helped to lower the death rate. Moving on to the New World, Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister prompted the used of this inoculation during Boston’s outbreak of 1721. It was strongly opposed. Reasons were largely religious.

The Puritans pointed out the following:

- inoculations were not mentioned in the Bible
- viewed the disease as God’s right to determine who lives and dies
- use of a by product of the disease, smallpox scabs made the serum, was an insult to logic

This resistance continued into the 1900’s when a vaccine was finally accepted. The Colonists almost lost the American Revolution due to smallpox. “Disease has destroyed ten men for us where the sword of the enemy has killed one”. John Adams, April 1777.

Smallpox In The State of Rhode Island

The outbreaks in Boston brought smallpox to Rhode Island. There was a lot of movement back and forth between the two regions. This prompted Rhode Island to take a stand. An Act to prevent the spread of smallpox from Boston was enacted in 1721. It included the following:

• goods from Massachusetts were to be exposed to the sun for 6 to 10 days “aired and cleaned”

• ships with smallpox were to remain 1 mile offshore, all passengers to remain on board or owners were fined

• all persons entering Rhode Island from Massachusetts had to remain at the border for 5 days or be fined. Tavern owners had to report cases or also were fined.

Town officials were notified by Governor Jencks that they were to uphold this quarantine. The islands of Narragansett Bay were used to quarantine the infected. In 1716, a hospital was built on Coasters Harbor Island to tend to the sick with smallpox. The dead were buried on Goat Island. By 1743, another Act was instituted mandating all smallpox victims to be sent to pest houses. Only one physician attended to help stop the spread. A large outbreak in the Newport area was brought by a sailing vessel during 1774. The Turkishin oculation was still being voted down by Town Councils. Middletown continued to vote down the inoculation until finally in 1787 they yielded. In 1798, the Town Council was given full power to remove any person infected by smallpox to a proper place to prevent spreading. In 1819 what is now Founders Hall, Naval War College, was built to house the ill and indigent. This type of control continued for decades until finally a vaccine was accepted by the masses. As early as 1796 there was a vaccine available. Edward Jenner, in England, noticed the milkmaids who had come down with cowpox never caught smallpox. Cowpox was a much milder disease and not as deadly. Thanks to him a vaccine from cowpox was made. A healthy individual injected with the cowpox serum built immunity to smallpox. Under President Jefferson the vaccine was introduced by Benjamin Waterhouse (born in Newport, Rhode Island). Waterhouse, who had studied medicine in Europe, inoculated his son in 1800. He kept records of a study he conducted at Harvard. This proved to be positive to induce immunity. The American public accused him of trying to profit from the procedure, therefore suspicion and fear prevailed. Outbreaks continued, making the vaccine desirable. In the mid to late 1800’s cases dropped dramatically, due to the vaccine’s acceptance, causing the public to become complacent. This caused another major outbreak 1897 to 1902.

Smallpox Keep Out of This House

Signs like the above were common place during smallpox outbreaks. The last major outbreak in Rhode Island was in 1902. The Providence Medical Journal expressed the urgency to vaccinate. The article outlined how Rhode Island is sandwiched between Boston and New York, two major metropolises, so containing the spread of the disease in the area was difficult. Theodore Roosevelt signed an Act for Regulating Biologics in 1902 to ensure a safe supply of the vaccine. There were bad vaccines made from other serums, not from the cowpox, causing another outbreak. Lockjaw killed many children in the early 1900’s from this undesirable serum. The old strategy was a herd immunity, vaccinate everyone possible. The new strategy is to isolate the infected and vaccinate those in the infected person’s circle of contacts. President Johnson had the U.S. Centers for Disease Control join the World Health Organization to eradicate this disease. Smallpox is the only disease to be eradicated. Refrigeration and new types of injection needles helped to enable the world to properly administer vaccines. Also, the myths, fears, and hysteria ofmedical procedures were disappearing. Very slowly, smallpox was eradicated by 1980.

The National Anthem "Oh Say Can You See..."

Summer brings many patriotic holidays, June - Flag Day, July - Independence Day, August -Victory Day. Our National Anthem is played time and time again to honor these events. The words to the “Star-Spangled Banner” are hummed, whistled by many Americans. Where did this song comefrom? What is a national anthem? An anthem is a song. It is used to show pride, a special song to have people feel good about their country. We have other patriotic songs for the United States - America, Battle Hymn of TheRepublic, Yankee Doodle, America the Beautiful just to name a few. The Star Spangle Banner has been a favorite for decades. The music addition to this poem matches the tune of an English song “To Anacreon in Heaven”. This very old song had been popular in America and England for quite a while. First as a poem by Francis Scott Key in 1814, it was set to music within a month and performed at the end of a play in Baltimore. It was ordered by President Wilson in 1916 to be played at all government gatherings. In 1931 President Hoover made the “Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem. The War of 1812 involved gaining control of the New World as it was an important source of raw materials. Great Britain did not want the Americans to sell to France and France wanted no trade going to Great Britain. Slowly, American ships were seized along with their cargo. The British put on a hard push, and on August 24th of 1814, set fire to the U.S. Capitol, the President’s Mansion and other landmarks, then turned their attention to Baltimore. France had been defeated in 1814. The Americans took a strong stand at Ft. McHenry to stop the British. Francis Scott Key watched this battle, September 13, 1814, from a ship in the outer harbor. This battle went on all night with massive amounts of bombs lighting up the night sky. Finally, at dawn, the Stars and Stripes were flying high above Ft. McHenry. Baltimore had been protected and the British turned back to the Atlantic Ocean. Key finished his poem of the battle in a hotel in Baltimore. He named it “The Defense of Ft. McHenry”. There are four verses to The Star-Spangled Banner. The first verse is about the bombardment, how the sky looked with the exploding rockets. The second verse describes the defeated British fleet watching the American flag waving proudly over Ft. McHenry. The third is about the way the British had bragged on how they would defeat the Americans. Finally, the fourth expresses hope and the power that helped the Americans stay together and fight for what they believed in. The Star Spangled Banner flag is very large, 30 feet by 42 feet. There are 15 stripes and 15 stars. The flag was made by Mary Young Pickersgill of Baltimore in 1813. This original flag is still housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Toy Exhibit at Witherbee School

In the last year the Society lost one of its most dedicated docents, Mary Clark. She took great pleasure in interacting with the fourth graders of Middletown through our Golden Rule Days program and with the visitors of all ages who toured Witherbee School. In her honor a new, permanent exhibit is being created at Witherbee School. It illustrates the toys and games enjoyed by the people of the nineteenth century. The exhibit contains many activities, like Dominos, pick-up-sticks, card games still enjoyed in some form today, along with marbles and jacks, Jacob’s ladder, tops and yo-yos, all things not often seen on the modern playground. There are several varieties of early dolls and different examples of handcrafts done by children. The Graces, a game for two players, was encouraged for girls to develop their posture and “gracefulness”. Different ball games and games of skill were pursued by the boys. There is an interesting and sometimes surprising history of each of the toys available within the exhibit and this should make it a real educational experience for the visitor. Ms. Clark, in herdocent’s role, always tried to make people aware of the daily lives of the people of the nineteenth century and we hope this exhibit will honor her philosophy. Look for this exhibit to be on our virtual page within the next couple of weeks.

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