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The word “sharecropping” likely brings to most folks’ minds images of the antebellum deep South, poor black men, and merciless southern landowners. But we northerners in general — and Rhode Islanders in particular — are just fooling ourselves regarding our ultimate responsibilities. We were a part of all this too; indeed, in some cases, we were the driving wheel behind the evil engine that was slavery. Sharecropping is a case in point.

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To initiate this year’s celebration of February as Black History Month, I thought we might take a look at an aspect of local Black history that most folks just don’t think about: the story of the numerous Black mariners – I have identified 24 so far – that sailed out of Wickford Harbor. This home on Fowler Street stands as a solid reminder of those men and the life they led.

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If you have a child or other family member who has special needs due to physical or mental conditions, you face a variety of challenges – including financial ones – while planning for their care. You may also have some well-meaning relatives who want to help but may not realize that their moves could actually result in some serious lifestyle and monetary problems for your loved one.

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Last week we left off in August 1894 with the Cullen family purchasing the Gardiner Boarding House and settling into their piece of the American dream. Along the way Edmund Cullen had returned a favor to the Morris Ryan family of Greenville, Rhode Island, and had assisted their young son Michael Ryan as he started out here in Our Fair Town, working at the same Belleville Woolen Mill that he did.

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Last week we began a journey through the tale told to us by Mount Maple, the big old boarding house at the western end of Annaquatucket Road. We pick up this week on the other side of the Atlantic, for to understand the rest of the story, one must begin to comprehend the catastrophe that was occurring in Ireland around the same time that “Our Fair Town’s” Gardiner clan was wrestling with the changes that were going on around them.

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The home located at 60 Elam St. in Wickford was constructed in 1806 for successful Boston Post Road farmer Westgate Watson and his wife Dorcas on land he purchased in 1805 from John and Hannah (Boone) Franklin. Watson left his farm to his son Benjamin to run, and moved to Wickford to tend to numerous investments he had here in the village including an ownership share in the ship building and wharfing operation at the Point Wharf at the end of what is now Pleasant Street.

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Many of us probably felt that 2020 lasted a very long time. But now that 2021 is upon us, we can make a fresh start – and one way to do that is to make some New Year’s resolutions. Of course, you can make these resolutions for all parts of your life – physical, emotional, intellectual –  but have you ever considered some financial resolutions?

Here are a few such resolutions to consider.

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Christmas 2020: The culmination of a year like no other. For some reason, this year has gotten me to reminiscing even more than normal, and normal for a guy whose nonprofit’s motto is “Living in the Past” is some pretty serious reminiscing. So anyway, I have thought about Christmases for awhile, and I settled comfortably upon Christmas 1964, back when we still lived in the funeral home before my dad died. That is when we really lived in Wickford, and besides, that was the best Christmas we ever had. So in the vernacular of the boy I once was, here’s a South County Christmas to remember.

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The Reverend William P. Chipman, by all accounts, was eager to begin his service as pastor at the Quidnessett Baptist Church here in our fair town.  So eager, indeed, that on that very snowy night of New Year’s Eve 1876, after he was told that the train from New London, Connecticut to Boston would not be stopping at the Davisville Station where he was to get off, for fear that it might get permanently stalled in the heavy snow that was falling, he convinced the conductor to slow the train down a bit as it rolled through the station and then jumped from the moving train into an appropriately-placed snow drift.

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If Swamptown were to have a twin sister, it would have to be Scrabbletown: another almost forgotten village located through the tangled swamps and forests, just three miles or so as the crow flies to the north-northwest. The residents of both hamlets were truly kindred spirits who struggled to scratch a living out of the hard-rocky soil of the area.

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