Wartime gardens in RI: King Philip’s War

October 13, 2008 at 8:03 pm Leave a comment

Last week, I visited the Providence Public Library’s Special Collections Department. One of the first things librarian Rick Ring showed me was an original WWII-era Victory Garden poster–which was a thrill after looking at countless tiny digital images online. There’s a large collection of materials relating to the two World Wars.

But the best thing Rick found was a book on Gardens of Colony and State: Gardens and Gardeners of the American Republic Before 1840 (edited by Alice G.B. Lockwood, 1931). The Rhode Island chapters are outstanding, although unfootnoted. Aaarrrrgh!

During King Philip’s War (1675-76), some European colonists fled the mainland for Aquidneck (aka Rhode Island). Check out how on this part of John Seller’s “Mapp of New England” (ca. 1675), RI is labeled “PLYMOUTH COLONY,” and Aquidneck Island is labeled “Rode Island.” They found temporary asylum with relatives in Portsmouth.  According to the (five) authors of the RI chapters, the settlers farmed every square inch of the island during the war years, pushing aside ornamental or experimental gardens, planting crops, and allowing animals to graze the remainder. Borrowing a term from World War I, the authors concluded “’War gardens’ were imperative.”

To aid refugees and locals alike, the Town of Portsmouth voted to provide 100 acres of the Town Commons; “for those that want relief…and what shall be so lent to them, they shall improve by sowing and planting for the time of two years from the date of this meeting.” In short, the Town of Portsmouth responded to wartime crisis by providing public land for community gardening. When most of Rhode Island’s population were farm families, and all of Rhode Island depended on local food, it was absolutely critical to prioritize food production.

And it’s still a priority, if you ask Michael Pollan. Read his “Farmer In Chief” essay in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, and we’ll catch up soon.

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Entry filed under: community gardens, food, gardens, Portsmouth, research, vegetables, wartime gardens. Tags: , , , , , .

Seed you next year A good idea a century ago: school gardens in Providence

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