In a little while I'll be walking along the shore with Mr. Wilson, and not fifty feet from where my feet touch the sand that has come and gone with thousands of tides will be the site where the first blow for freedom from British rule was struck, way back in 1772.
Below is an excerpt from the book, Mr. Wilson Makes it Home
In the opposite direction from the gym is a pretty little beach, and when the idea of lifting not so heavy things over and over doesn’t thrill me I find my path leading in the direction of the sea. It is a much more pleasant walk, and the destination far more appealing. Nicely kept homes line the streets that lead to the beach; the yards get smaller as the water draws closer. Most places you will find the yards and homes increase in size the closer to the shore you get, as the affluent fill the pricy waterfront properties, but not on the land that leads to Gaspee Point. A wealthy family owns the acreage and leases lots to people who build homes on the land. It is one of the few places in New England where a person of modest means can live on the water, or near enough to walk to it.
Everybody in Rhode Island knows that the American Revolution began at Gaspee Point on June 9th, 1772. A British tax collecting schooner ran aground during low tide while chasing a smaller ship, The Hannah; the Captain was apparently not aware that a sandbar from the point extended well into Narragansett Bay, and while stuck in the sand some Revolutionary War era merchants boarded longboats and paddled up the bay from Providence to Warwick, captured the crew and set the schooner on fire. Mind you, Revolutionary War era merchants were not at all like the merchants of today. Back then, the merchants were often rabble rousers, and tended to be wealthy businessmen and who had the most to lose by engaging in illegal acts against the crown. Things like their lives, livelihood and sacred honor were at stake. The men who burned the Gaspee were led by The Sons of Liberty, and a man named John Brown was one of the leaders of the expedition. The owners of the land that I walk when I visit the beach are descendents of the very same man.
I love living in a place with constant reminders of years and events long past. The past fascinates me, and I truly believe that he that does not learn from it is condemned to repeat it. Knowing that a place so rich with historical significance is within walking distance from my home gives me a great excuse to avoid the gym, and stay off of the treadmill and distractions from the cable TV that goes with it.
The neighborhood streets lead to a partially hidden gate in a four foot high chain link fence. A path behind the gate straddles two properties. In Rhode Island laws exist near the waterfront ensuring the public’s right to access the shore, so there are no worries of trespassing. Somebody used railroad ties and a lot of hard work to make a stairway from the street to the beach, and the thirty foot descent and concentration and energy needed to safely navigate the steps provides a moment of clear thought and on simple movement, and empties the mind of its incessant chatter, erasing the needs and wants of life in civilization and preparing it for the serenity of the beach.
It was a great place to begin a revolution, and it is just as great place to bring a dog. Very seldom is the beach occupied, and when it is the half-mile expanse offers plenty of room to roam for the few people who dot the shoreline, most of whom are people walking their dogs.
It is one of the few remaining places in my town where a person can let their dogs run free, and when off the leash Zimba and Lakota would do just that, straddling the water line and running away at breakneck speed, then turning around and running back to me. Of course, there would often be a foray into the tic infested tall grass as well, but little in life comes without a price, even when you are a dog, and pulling the occasional tic from their dense fur a small price to pay for the joy I felt watching them run unfettered by me.
One of my favorite things to do while at the beach with the dogs was to envision the Schooner Gaspee stuck some fifty yards off shore, close enough for me to hit with a rock, if it were still there, and picture the men from 1772 rowing toward it with an American Revolution ahead of them. They had no idea what the future would bring, or if their names and acts that night would be forever entwined in the history books, integral parts of a decade that set the course of history toward freedom prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness, or if they would even survive the night.
I normally don’t believe in spooks, but with so much history on the horizon, and the tides coming and going the same as they did in 1772 it’s hard to not believe. There is something haunting about a lonely beach, and after we had to put Zimba and Lakota down, and I would walk alone through the quiet neighborhood, and take the steps from civilization down to the shore, and be left alone with my thoughts sometimes even the brightest day could grow dark.
This is Mr. Wilson standing about 100 yards from where the Gaspee was burned. The ship behind him is a cargo ship heading toward the Port of Providence.