Like the preceding essay, this January, 2018 Providence Journal commentary has a similar theme. It is a lament for the loss of the Sloop Providence–not to a storm or a shipwreck but to shortsightedness and stupidity and the failure of the state to intervene to save its designated state flagship—a vessel that graces the dust jacket of this book.
The Journal editorial of January 18th concerning the Sloop Providence, Rhode Island’s official flagship and a replica of the first ship of the U.S. Navy, reveals yet another example of the so-called Ocean State’s indifference to its maritime heritage.
The Providence has been purchased by Virginia businessmen, and will move to
Alexandria as an exhibit on its Old Town waterfront. Its departure is only the most recent in a flotilla of lost ships. The U.S.S. Constitution “Old Ironsides” went from the Newport Naval Base to Boston harbor; the U.S.S. Constellation, after fifty years at our Naval War College, is now a major exhibit in Baltimore’s revitalized waterfront; the Ernestina, a famed packet that carried immigrants to Providence from the Cape Verde Islands went from its Fox Point berth to New Bedford; the Newport-Jamestown Ferry is now a popular floating restaurant in Portland Maine; and the H.M.S. Rose, a replica of the British warship that patrolled Narragansett Bay during the Revolutionary Era, has gone from Newport to San Diego after a stint in the Hollywood movie Master and Commander.
The Sloop Providence also made its movie appearance when it was under the command of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. It had been built for our bicentennial observance with an initial grant from the Rhode Island Bicentennial Commission (ri76) which I chaired as a volunteer
The original sloop was commissioned in 1775 when Esek Hopkins of Providence served as the first commander-in-chief of the American Navy. Among its captains were Abraham Whipple of Gaspee fame and the legendary John Paul Jones.
This selective listing includes only surviving lost ships. Even more tragic has been the scrapping of the magnificent coastal steamers of the Fall River and Colonial Lines and that of the vessels of the transatlantic Fabre Line, which brought thousands of southern European immigrants to our state. The legendary racing yachts of the Herreshoffs of Bristol and the innovative boats of the Saunders family of North Kingstown have shared a similar fate. More recently a foundation created to preserve the U.S.S. Saratoga, a huge aircraft carrier representative of those (like the Hornet and the Wasp) that once called Quonset home, failed to save that ship as a Bay museum and educational facility. Blame Rhode Island’s inflexible and ubiquitous regulatory agencies for scuttling that project.
Those lost ships are not only important to nerdy historians and preservationists like me. They are attractions that generate tourist dollars and allow Rhode Island to live up to its name as the Ocean State.
Now that our historical marine artifacts and symbols have been relinquished, the next to go might be our land-based icons.
I suspect that someday an imaginative Iowa entrepreneur will purchase the Independent Man, remove him from the State House dome, and relocate him to Iowa’s “field of dreams.” There his loincloth can be covered by a baseball uniform, his spear replaced by a bat, and his name changed to “Shoeless Joe.” Say it won’t be so!
-Dr. Patrick T. Conley