Rhode Island

Ferryboat webinar is Wednesday – Jamestown Press

A painting of the Jamestown-Wickford Ferry circa 1840.

A painting of the Jamestown-Wickford Ferry circa 1840.

A local historian will discuss the nerve-racking labor of the ferrymen tasked with ferrying passengers across Narragansett Bay before the bridges to Jamestown were built.

Peter Fay Presents A Perilous Passage: The Ferrymen of Narragansett Bay on February 8th at 7pm via Zoom. The free event is the second in a series of webinars sponsored by the Jamestown Historical Society following John Henry’s January 25 presentation, “Night Boats to Newport: Remembering the ‘Floating Palaces’ of the Illustrious Fall River Line.” Registration is required on the Company’s website and participants will receive a confirmation email with information on how to attend the webinar after registration.

For 200 years, ferrymen and their passengers risked their lives by crossing Narragansett Bay in small sailing ferries on their voyages through southern Rhode Island. A ferry, for example, washed up on the beach at Goat Island in Newport in 1748, entangling a black man who was a passenger on the Jamestown to Newport ferry. The ferryman and three others also drowned, and the sole survivor of the disaster was a horse that ran out of the sea.

Ferrymen faced sudden squalls, high seas, leaking hulls and unpredictable revenues. Drowning was almost a certainty for submerged sailors, as many of them could swim. They stuffed their passengers among cattle, hogs, rum casks, and farm produce, and yet without these indispensable boatmen, all commerce and normal life in Rhode Island would have come to a standstill. Ferries were an unavoidable hazard in a dangerous world, and the intrepid ferrymen were the lifeblood of early Rhode Island.

For 20 years, Fay has researched Rhode Island history in dozens of archives and participates in public art and history projects as a public historian and graphic artist at universities, libraries, and public forums throughout New England.

He publishes original research in The Jamestown Press and The Providence Journal. He lectures on colonial history, slavery, race and social class from a Marxist perspective. He uncovered never-before-seen stories of African American Revolutionary War veterans from Jamestown.

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