The Ground on Which We Stand

Built on the belly of an exit ramp, as West Main Rd. transitions into Rt. 24, in Portsmouth, its parking area looking like a racetrack pit stop for daily commuters, Patriots Park is likely most often treated with a high speed curiosity about its import and forgotten. Only those headed toward Bristol will find curiosity convenient to answer; those heading toward locations north must take the exit and then weave through the northwestern side of town to reclaim their path. Arguably, that’s a worthwhile coda to the visit.

The monument describes the Battle of Rhode Island, August 29, 1778, and the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, consisting mainly of blacks and American Indians, some literally fighting for their freedom. The front side of the wall, facing the road, addresses the collective identity of the Americans; the opposing side provides the historical lesson, and on a summer’s afternoon the sun beating on one’s back seems deliberately to recall the heat of battle.
Upon speeding back into the race of modern life, it’s natural to consider those who once trod the ground beneath the suburban homes along the way and to share the experience of looking across the bay as the soldiers must have done as they marched.
I’ve lamented, in the past, that Rt. 24 thrusts into view the coal plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, placing the factory and stacks into a vista in which one would prefer some ancient castle, as might be encountered in Europe. Such is modern life, though, that blend of contemporary functionality and history. In Rhode Island, at least, we’ve much of that history to encounter as we go about our days, if we care to look.

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David S
David S
13 years ago

I enjoyed the linked article. When I raised pigs back in the 80’s, I took them to slaughter in Matunuck to a family that were direct descendents of a Hessian soldier who had switched sides during the time of these battles. There were more than a few of the Hessians, Germans who had been loaned to the British, whom sought amnesty in US. The family’s ancestor fought with US armies and was given land in Matunuck.

13 years ago

Gerard Manly Hopkins might look at the monument, then see how “Rt. 24 thrusts into view the coal plant in Somerset, Massachusetts” and say:

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

I’d agree.

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