Notes on collections at the RIHS
On Wednesday, October 26, we were fortunate enough to have Colin Porter, Ph.D. candidate at Brown, speak about the archaeology of the Jireh Bull House at Pettaquamscutt, a site he is studying as part of his research into the history of inter-cultural engagements in the Narragansett Indian homeland.
The Jireh Bull site is in the Tower Hill area south of Wickford, Rhode Island, about seven miles east of the Narragansett’s fort in the Great Swamp. It was burned by the a party of Native Americans on December 15, 1675, after word spread that the Jireh Bull house was to be a gathering site for Connecticut, Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay Colony soldiers. Before Plymouth and Massachusetts troops could reach the site, the house was attacked and burned to the ground.
In 1917, Norman Isham, an authority on early Colonial architecture, excavated several mounds on the site near the Pettaquamscutt River; these mounds covered the ruins of the Jireh Bull House. The excavated artifacts were donated to the Rhode Island Historical Society by John Hutchins Cady in 1967. Unfortunately, Isham was not able to supervise the final collection of artifacts, and now the exact find locations are lost. We don’t know if some came from the earliest house, the house destroyed in 1675, or the house built after King Philip’s War.
Seen together, the artifacts make an impressive display and bear silent witness to the quotidian of early Colonial life. Mr. Porter’s work will illuminate and expand our understanding of that time and of the role of fortified houses and landscape in the relationships between Native Americans and Colonists. For now, a selection of the artifacts are displayed in the Library’s lobby case, where they will remain through November 23 (the library will be closed November 24 and 25 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday).
For more information about the dig and the Jireh Bull site, please see”A new Look at the Jireh Bull Excavation,” by Eleanor Monahon, Rhode Island History, Volume 20, January 1961, pp. 13-24, and Nina Zannieri’s Jireh Bull Site, published by the RIHS in 1982. Both are available in the RIHS Library. –KNH