Sunday, March 19, 2017

The History of Little Compton (Volume II)

Some of my readers will recall that back in July, 2016 I wrote about a wonderful little book that I read by Janet Lisle entitled, The History of Little Compton: First Light Sakonnet 1660-1820, published by the Little Compton Historical Society. Little Compton, Rhode Island is one of the earliest places of settlements of my Grinnell ancestors in North America and I have been fascinated by this rural New England village since my high school days.  Fortunately, the Grinnell Family Association of America through the years hosted reunions in the vicinity of Little Compton and I have been able to visit the town on three separate occasions.  With each visit, I feel myself become more connected and pulled into this place, which is located on the Atlantic shore and situated on a peninsula just east of the Sakonnet River.  Riding down the RI Route 77 from Fall River (MA) through Tiverton (RI) and into Little Compton you see small fences made of fieldstones, large sweeping fields extending to the river, and a host of 17th & 18th century homes and barns-- all setting the stage for the feeling that you are stepping back in time.

Janet Lisle authored a second volume entitled, The History of Little Compton: A Home by the Sea 1820-1950, (2012—375 pages) also published by the historical society.  To be honest, I wasn’t going to purchase this book because my direct line of Grinnell’s had left Little Compton and Tiverton by 1796, so I told myself that I didn’t need to read this one.  Well I changed my mind and order a copy after I read Lisle first book and I’m glad that I did.

In Lisle second volume, she weaves together such vivid stories of the lives of the people in this community through the years.  You really feel like you get to know them.  The names of the families of the town are so consistent through the centuries.   Surnames like Wilbour, Manchester, Simmons, Almy and Church are always present.  While there are several times that Grinnell’s are mentioned up through the 1940’s, they are rarely main characters presented, but it drives home the point of how many generations these families have remained part of this town.  Another contributing factor to the stability of the stories Lisle presents and also reflects the stability of the community is also the size of the population:  1820—1,580 and 1950—1,556.
In the book, Lisle takes us through each decade and connects the activity in Little Compton to those of the growing country.  Specific events that take place in town are placed well into their historical context of our national narrative.  She presents how the community grows up following the maturing of the new Republic and brings to life the struggles that a small town has with law, order, taxation, care for the needy and the struggle between the role of the church and government.  Later she deals with issues about how the community dealt with the mentally ill, slavery and the abolitionist movement, the women’s movement, the Civil War, the exodus of young people, industrialization and the effect on the farming community, and the rebirth of farming in new forms.  With the industrial age, and the growth of a middle class and wealthy class in urban centers, Little Compton finds itself as a place for vacationing outsiders and some of its own returning home, juxtaposed against the growing fishing industry.  Coming into the 20th century she presents issues confronting the town too become a modern community with electricity, paved road, new school structures, fire and police service, and the mobilization for war.  Natural disasters and recovery efforts are part of the story, as well.

While this book deals with weighty issues, it is highly readable.  Lisle is an experienced writer and uses her abilities to create a publication that tells stories and instructs without being bogged down in dense language or details.  That is not to say that it should be viewed as light-weight history.  She has an extensive bibliography and has utilized primary sources and newspaper accounts as source material throughout the book.  In particular, she used oral histories collected by the Little Compton Historical Society in a very rich manner to help tell 20th century history.

Another very appealing feature of the book is the colorful illustrations used throughout.  Not only does she use photographs and images of documents, but also artwork that depicts this picturesque town in vivid colors.  Thus, she brings the 19th and early 20th century into real color and not a sepia toned dreamy state.

For all my Grinnell family genealogy and history enthusiasts, the book is well worth your time to read.  As I stated before, members of the Grinnell family are included throughout the text.  From Angelina Palmer Grinnell at her home at Warren’s Point, or her husband Thomas Bailey Grinnell’s name on a list, they are present.  Then there is Gideon Henry Grinnell’s trial for illegally fishing, and Thomas and Hannah Grinnell employ of some of the first Portuguese immigrants to the town, and finally Frank Grinnell and his large building that housed both his fishing business and its upper level that was a domicile for his fishing crew.  The building was swept off the map at Sakonnet Point by the massive hurricane in 1938….the Grinnell’s are present throughout this gem of a community history of Little Compton.

This book has continued to feed my longing to experience Little Compton in a more personal way.  Floating in my head are plans to make it the location of a future vacation, where I can breathe in the area and explore that land where my ancestors walked and worked.  Visit the Town Clerk’s office and do some research to establish the location of their land, worship in the beautiful Little Compton United Congregational Church on the Common, experience the beauty that Janet Lisle has so richly described in her volumes….It will be an excellent vacation for sure!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Day to Remember

No one today can recall the special occasion that  happened in our family on Wednesday, January 10th 1906 because it was more than one hundred and ten years ago and none of us were alive to witness the joyous event.  On that day, Florence Mabel Reams and Amos Randall Grinnell were married in a ceremony at the residence of the bride's brother and sister-in-law, Martin and Lola Reams at 175 West Street in Battle Creek, Michigan.  I have assumed for years that this was probably a simple affair with a few family members gathered to join in on the event, but I might have been wrong with new evidence shedding some light on the events of the evening.  Both the Battle Creek Daily Journal and The Morning Inquirer carried detailed accounts of this solemn event on the following day.
Mabel Reams and Amos Grinnell, 

The ceremony started at 8 pm, so it must have been dark and there was probably snow on the ground which would have been typical of a Michigan January.  Rev. William S. Potter, the popular preacher from the First Presbyterian Church of Battle Creek officiated at the wedding with 40 friends and relatives in attendance. Miss Reams is described as wearing

"a very becoming white gown, with lace trimmings, and carried pink carnations." 

While this description is confirmed by the photographs that have been passed down in the family, the actual color was not known due to the sepia tone images captured by J. Howard Baker, a well-known portrait photographer of Battle Creek.

Lottie Grinnell the sister of the groom was the maid of honor and Earl Reams, the nephew of the bride was the grooms attendant.  Earl was the oldest son of Martin and Lola Reams, who were the hosts for the ceremony.  Although Earl was Mabel's nephew, they were only a year apart in age.

Wedding Invitation
We learn from the newspaper accounts that there was indeed music at the festivities.  Pearl Reams, the daughter of Martin and Lola, played the piano for the guests and ushered the bride and groom in with the sounds of the wedding march.  Ms. Fern Rogers (later Mrs. Jeffs) sang the popular song "Oh Promise Me," which must have been a special treat for those gathered.

This song was written in 1887, music by Reginald De Koven and lyrics by Clement Scott, and was a popular performance at wedding ceremonies for decades.  Its lyrics are:

Oh, promise me that someday you and I
Will take our love together to some sky
Where we can be alone and faith renew,
And find the hollows where those flowers grew,
Those first sweet violets of early spring,
Which come in whispers, thrill us both, and sing
Of love unspeakable that is to be;
Oh, promise me! Oh, promise me!

Oh, promise me that you will take my hand,
The most unworthy in this lonely land,
And let me sit beside you in your eyes,
Seeing the vision of our paradise,
Hearing God's message while the organ rolls
Its mighty music to our very souls,
No love less perfect than a life with thee;
Oh, promise me! Oh, promise me!

(Click here to listen to Jan Peerce perform the song in 1947 on YouTube. A more modern version was made popular in the 1950s by the Platters.)
Marriage Certificate

Today, our impressions are often colored by the fact that we have only black and white or sepia toned images to help us look into the past.  Therefore, it was delightful to read in the articles that the house was decorated with greenery and the dining room was deck-out in white and pink.  Not surprising when you think about today's weddings with all the trappings and themes, but perhaps to us knowing that their surroundings were filled with such happy hues of color places helps confirm that this was a very joyous occasion.

Although I have many treasured documents related to my grandparents wedding, the discovery of the newspaper articles breaths some reality into these pages of family history.  Amos and Mabel had seven children, twenty-one grandchildren, and at least forty great-grandchildren who celebrate their memory.

Martin Reams Residence, 174 West St. Battle Creek (c1940),
now demolished (pic from Willard Library of Battle Creek.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Don Grinnell in France 1918

 Donald Ivan Grinnell served in the United States Army in France during the First World War.  He spent Christmas overseas, but returned to his home in Bellevue, Michigan the following January.  Don was assigned to the 56th Engineers of the American Expeditionary Forces, he was 23 years old and had rarely been away from the comfort of his parents home, just south of Bellevue.  His older brother Harry was also stationed in France, serving in a hospital facility caring for the wounded.

This letter is especially revealing.  In it he tells of the close calls and details of his deployment  that a son would only share with his father or a brother.  I doubt very much that he would have wanted his mother to know such details.

Almost 100 years ago this season, Don was spending his holiday's away from his family surrounded by perhaps a strange and unfamiliar landscape.  So, with the coming of Christmas Day, I hope we remember all those who, past and present, sacrifice so much for us all.

Envelope states: Dad's X-Mas Letter

To Mr. James T. Grinnell
++++ Text of Letter ++++

   Langres, France

Nov[ember] 24, 1918

Dear Father,

           Well as this is Fathers day I will write you a letter and as the sensorship is raised maby [maybe] I can say a little more than usual.  I am well as usual and hope this finds you folks better than the last I heard from you.  I was very sorry to hear of the sickness in Amos's family and have worried about them and mother ever since and am anxiously waiting for a letter to arrive.  Well I will try and tell you some of my experiences.  I left Washington  July 8 for New York.  There were three companies of us each 250 men.  We arrived at New York Wednesday morning the ninth and imediatly went aboard but the boat did not leave the docks until noon Thursday then we sailed out past the statue of Liberty and anchored in the harbor until just before dark when we pulled anchor and put to sea and by dark, land was out of sight.  After we were at sea a day or two we begin  to pick up other transpoorts and finaly a battleship and one destroyer joined us making in all fourteen boats in the convoy.  Ours was about the smallest boat and had only about 11 or 12 hundred men aboard.  On the eighteenth there were about ten submarine chasers joined us and escorted us to the port.  In all we were eleven days on the way, we had a level sea all the way but some of us were sick and dident care what happened although we did not sight a sub, we kept a watch all the way and had boat drill every day.  On Sunday  July 21 we anchored in the harbor at Brest France and were ferried ashore.  We marched through Brest and about three miles into the country where we pitched our little tents in the mud and stayed for three days, then one morning at two oclock we marched back to Brest got on a train of little French horsecars and after a three day and three nights ride we landed at eleven oclock at night in Langres where we were hauled in trucks to a little town of Longeau.  We stayed at this place about a week then marched back through  Langres about seven miles to my present camp at Champigny about a mile from Langres.  After nearly a week here we marched to the train at 5 o'clock one morning and left for the British Front, we had a ride of about three days and passed through Troys, Parris, Raven, and landed at Amien in the Northern part of France on August 10th.  At that time the front lines were just outside of Amiens which was then under shell fire.  The night we passed through Paris there was an air raid and we could hear the allarms and see the city as it was put in darkness.  When we arrived at the front our company was divided up among the five British Armies our platoon was divided among the 4th Army and sent out about five men to a search light section and that was our first experience of the war.  The section which I was with had about fiften men one searchlight and two motor trucks.  The big advance began on August 8 and we followed it until October 22.  We would have to move nearly every day.  When we moved we would pack our light and all equipment on the trucks and move about three miles or sometimes as far as ten miles, pick out or location, dig an implacement for our light, set up our tents and be ready for action by dark.  We stood guard all night long, each man doing about two hours and when the guard heard an plain [airplane] aproaching, which he could distinguish by the sound of its motor, he would call out the other men and when the plain was near enough which is anywhere up to five or six miles we would turn the light on and search the heavens for him.  It is very hard to find a plane with a search light as one has nothing but the sound to direct the light, but when a hostile plane appears on the seen the whole heavens seem to be split by searchlight beams because there are so many lights looking for him.  When once found all the lights within range are turned upon him and he can be seen very planely.  Then the antiaircraft guns begin to fire and the air is full of shell bursts.  Usually the enemy is so stunned or scared that he drops all of his bombs and imeadiatly begins to retreat unless he has an extra strong nerve or is hit by the shell fire.  Sometimes an enemy intent upon gaining his object or at least doing some damage will continue on after being spoted by a light and will drop his bombs at a searchlight and machine gun them but he usualy does little damage to them for they are safely dug in the ground again sometimes he will drop his bombs among some troops, hhorses, on an amunition dump or an air droom in that case great damage is done.  I have had them drop bombs all around our light but never hurt any of us also I have had them fire on us with their machine guns and if he was within range we did the same thing but usualy they fly too high for a machine gun.  The best method of bringing them down seems for one of our scout planes to attack them when the light shows them up.  Nearly  always the enemy is set a fire and falls in flames when this method is used.  I have seen as many as four planes brought down in one evening like this.  Our lights were nearly always under shell fire from the enemys heavy guns and sometimes we had pretty warm times when one hears one of these heavy shells come screaming towards him it dosent take him long to git [get] close to the ground.  About the closest I ever came to being hit  by one of these was when I was sitting by the campfire after dinner one day.  A big shell struck about one hundred yards from me and a piece of shrapnel about the size of an hens egg went into the dirt bank so close to me that I could have caught it in my hands and another which was much larger passed so close over head that I could see it.  Some of the bombs used held a ton of explosive and I have seen them blow holes six feet deep and thirty feet in diamiter so you can imagine what damage one would do when it hit its target.
              One morning just at dawn we had eight enemy come over at one time and were also being shelled by the heavy artilery but there were no antiaircraft guns close by so they all got away safely.  Were all taken off the English lights on October 21 and bidding our tommy friends good by boarded a train at Perone which was then some thirty miles behind the lines, and left for Langres.  Some of the most hardly contested towns have hardley a brick left standing and some of the battlefields are just one continual shell hole after another.  I passed through the famous Von Hindenburg line which is a master piece of machinery with miles and miles of barbed wire entanglements and concrete dug outs which go to eighty or ninty feet deep.  Also I passed over the famous DeNord Canal.  When the Germans asked one of our boys how they got the tanks across it he told him we had tanks that walked on water now.  Sometimes we were so close to the lines that we could see the infantry when they went over the top.  Well we arrived here on Oct[ober] 25 and expected to get our own lights and be sent up to the American sector but before they arrived the Armistice was signed so we did not go and now we will have to pack our outfits and ship them home again.  We are all prepared to leave now just waiting the orders to go which wont be many days.  Some think we will be in the states in 15 days but I think new year or Christmas is nearer to the day we will probably leave from either Brest or Le Harve.  Well I expect this letter wont reach you much before your birthday so will wish you many happy returns of the day although I hope to be with you on that day.  Good By.

Your Loving Son.

Donald I. Grinnell
Co F 23 Platoon 56 Engrs.
Amer. Ex. F.  A. P. O. 731A

           P.S.  Have mother write the Quarter Master General at Washington D. C.  And tell him about my allotment and all of the sircomstances [circumstance].  The Lieutenaut said to have you do this.  He has already writ[t]en him.