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.