Regular readers of this column are most certainly aware that Rough Rider and United States President Theodore Roosevelt was a frequent visitor to our fair town back around the turn of the last century. He’d stop by often in Saunderstown each summer to visit with his good friends the Owen Wisters (author of the first true Western novel “The Virginians”) and the LaFarges – Oliver and Christopher – Oliver being America’s foremost expert on the American Indian. It’s also known to be true that Mr. And Mrs. Teddy Roosevelt accompanied by Mr. And Mrs. Owen Wister were occasional visitors to the Shermantown shop of the famed hand-weaver Billy Rose where they would purchase “Quaker Billy’s” bed coverlets; one of which eventually found its way to the Smithsonian after a long stay in the White House.
So, I expect, the arrival of that flamboyant figure at the dock at the end of Main Street in Wickford was not all that unusual one early spring day in 1897. Although the sight of the then undersecretary of the United States Navy may not have caused too much of a stir, I’m certain his mode of transportation most surely did. You see, Roosevelt was in nearby Bristol at Herreshoff Shipyard inspecting the Navy’s newest addition, the torpedo boat Porter. In typical Teddy fashion he most certainly required a spin out in the familiar Narragansett Bay of the boat’s young commander, Lt. John Charles Fremont. Perhaps he never even mentioned Wickford Harbor to Fremont until they were well under way. But heck what was a young lieutenant to do, this extraordinary chap was the undersecretary of the Navy, if he said let’s run over to Wickford, what could one do but pilot the 175-foot torpedo boat where you were requested to? You’ve got to wonder though, what Lt. Fremont thought as Teddy jumped off the Porter and climbed aboard the waiting carriage of his good friend Owen Wister. Obviously I wasn’t there, but I’m willing to bet you that Roosevelt looked over at Fremont, and with that million-dollar smile planted firmly on his face, pronounced the whole affair “Bully good fun!”