Thursday, May 01, 2014

Lawton-Foster Cairns (by JimP)

by JimP

It's been a long time since my last blog post here and I want to thank Peter for keeping me on board. I might have been away, but I have always kept close watch.

Lately I have been very intrigued with the recent fight over cairns along a proposed subdivision at Lawton-Foster Rd. in Hopkinton, RI. I took photos of cairns along that road more than ten years ago and thought I would share them now since they are topical. The cairns in these photos are not on the parcel where the subdivision is proposed -- but are very close. As you drive down Lawton-Foster Rd. you can see rock piles on both sides of the road as far into the woods as the eyes can see. I didn't want to do any trespassing so I stuck to photographing only a few piles that I could see from the road. But there are hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- in that area.

These cairns are not isolated. They are a small part of a much larger and more expansive site that covers dozens of square miles, starting with a hill above Ashville Pond at its epicenter. Contiguous rock piles can be found in all directions surrounding the hill -- even crossing the border into nearby Connecticut. Rockville, Canonchet, Yawgoog, Lawton-Foster - all of these surrounding places are chock full of rock piles and other features. I am very happy to see some of these sites getting the recognition they deserve and sincerely hope the cairns in the proposed subdivision can be saved.


pwax said...

Nice photos.

Could the concentration of structures here be because the hill you mention is the most prominent hill near the Pauwtucket River?

JimP said...

You have stood on this hill with me Peter -- you have been there.

I would have to do the topo work to answer your question. I can say that it most certainly is the most prominent hill nearest the headwaters of the Pawcatuck and Shunock Rivers.

If I had to speculate, I'd be inclined to believe that an even bigger factor was that this hill remained remote well into the 20th century. There was a short-lived early 18th century settlement near its western base, with a remarkable collection of colonial stonework itself, called Rockville. But even today this area is in the middle of the largest forested system between Boston and Washington DC (according to the Nature Conservancy).

JimP said...

Another potentially interesting tidbit about this hill -- Ezra Stiles recorded the following story:

"Dr. Babcock tells me, at a Powaw at Cook's To., N.E. fr. Dr. Babcock's, the Ind. all assembled in a Drought to powaw for Rain. After several Days Capt. Jno. Babcock, Uncle to Dr., being then young came from home about 10 Mile, & called off his Father's Indians, upbraided them with folly, &c. Upon wc. one of the Powaws stept out & said, 'You are proud, young Man', &c., &c. 'If I was to beat you, would you cry to me or to your Father 10 Miles off.' (About 70 or 80 y. ago.) 'Before you get home it will rain'. Accordly Mr. Babcock went home wet with a heavy Rain." (Stiles [1762]1916:142-143)

STILES, Ezra. [1762] 1916. Extracts from the Itineraries and Other Miscellanies of Erza Stiles, D.D., LL.D., 1755-1794, ed. Franklin B. Dexter. New Haven: Yale University Press

Dr. Babcock refers to Joshua Babcock, a physician, American Revolutionary War general, Rhode Island Supreme Court justice, and postmaster from Westerly, Rhode Island. His uncle, Jonathan Babcock, also from Westerly, died in 1685.

The connection here is that 9.5 miles to the NNE of the Babcock-Smith Museum in Westerly is Ashville Pond and this hill that forms the epicenter of all those rock piles.

I have never been able to find "Cook's Town" in Rhode Island. But I always imagined this hill being the one referred to in the entry from Ezra Stiles.

Curt Hoffman said...

Jim -
Are these the same piles that I have recently been shown photos of by Steve DiMarzo? Those are on the southern slopes of Brightman Hill. Are yours further to the north, where the road takes a turn to the east?

JimP said...

Hi Curtiss,

I am sure you wouldn't remember me but we had a terrific chat one day about 12 years ago at the Robbins Museum concerning the woeful fate of the research papers of Lawrence K. Gahan. My visit to the museum and your hospitality were both very memorable -- getting a personal tour of the collections was highlight of my life and one I appreciate to this day.

These piles and features (a wonderful rainwater collection stone is in there) were definitely further to the north where the road turns east - closer to Canonchet Rd. They were in a low-lying area and all of these photos were taken from the road.

I have seen the photos of the site walk and I had never seen those features before, so I am sure these photos were not taken on the proposed subdivision.

It has been at least 10 years since I took these photos and I see that a few houses have been built since then. Since these piles were easily visible from the road, I tried using Google Maps Street View to see if I could locate them again, without success. I will try again however.

JimP said...

Also, Dr. Hoffman, I would love to share with you the short monograph that I wrote 11 years ago for which your input was invaluable. I donated this little piece to the Arlington Historical Society, libraries all over Massachusetts, as well as the Pequot Research Library - where it can still be found to this day. Your name appears on page 11, and the monograph also includes a timeline of the Pawtucket/Massachuset Indians led by Squaw Sachem.

Curt Hoffman said...

Jim -
Thanks for the information. I have told the story of the disappearance of Gahan's notes to so many people that I can't be sure if I remember you in particular! But you have written a very good article. It is, however, not entirely true that the Massachusett are all gone. There is still a band of them, without federal recognition but with Mass. state recognition, who refer to themselves as the Ponkapoags. You might be able to get some information from Gil Solomon, who is a member of that band and who has also often helped out at the Robbins Museum!

JimP said...

I am sure I didn't write it clearly enough but I was referring specifically to the Pawtucket band of Massachuset in the Arlington, MA area -- descendants of Squaw Sachem who ended up with the Natick Praying Indians. I have spoken with Gil Solomon many times who traces his lineage back to the Ponkapoag band of Praying Indians. I spent a couple of years speaking to both bands of Praying Indians, they hold a yearly Powwow together, and they were very open and sharing with me. But as I said in the article, the people are there -- but their language and customs are gone, which is something they freely admitted to me.

JimP said...

Years ago I created this video showing stone structures all over Southern New England. The soundtrack was provided by Generations Drum recorded by Ponkapoag and Natick bands.

I also created this website years ago with timelines, places, and more.

pwax said...

Went there in 2022 "A Visit to Canonchet"