On the corner of...
Ed. note: The Block Island Historical Society was founded in 1942. To help celebrate its 75th year, the Society’s Diamond Anniversary, The Block Island Times will be publishing sketches and photographs of items in its collection. For those interested in joining or donating to The Block Island Historical Society, please visit blockislandhistorical.org.
Jeremiah Littlefield had eyes the color of a summer sky and tattoos running up and down his arms. A son of a fisherman and farmer, he had been a Coast Guardsman, following the tradition of cousins in the Lifesaving Service, the forerunner of the USCG. He was a rough hewn man of whom a contemporary disinclined to anything unkind, would offer only that in his younger days “Jerry raised a little Cain.”
He lived for a spell in a small outbuilding with a porthole window in the door, set on the edge of a hill running to the shore. The long stone wall beyond his shack was black from centuries of twine draped on it and treated with strengthening tar, the same tough fiber referenced in Whittier's poem:
It was not a flaming ghost ship which concerned Jeremiah, rather it was those spirits occupying a lot on Clay Head, where a couple from Connecticut was building a house decades ago. Nodding toward the new framing he expressed his disdain with one word: “Haunted.” Really, what more was to be said?
Gear taken from the barn he used at his sister's house on the Neck Road occupies a wall of a room at the Historical Society and tells the story of the toil-filled life of a fisherman. There is that knotted twine, and glass floats, the genuine article, encased in net, forerunners of the “modern” buoys, all painted in Jeremiah's signature colors red-orange, and white, that floated on the surface and marked the location of his heavy, wood-lathed lobster pots.
There are ropes, and hooks, and poles, and more hooks, a wire basket of twine, the ever-present coffee can of nails, knives, and even a vise, all the tools from the time when there was a sizable local fleet in the Old Harbor and fishermen created their own gear, from nets to pots. They repaired what they had until it could be repaired no more, then relegated to the salvage heap, a pile where every piece could tell its own story on the corner of the past and present.