They’re Everywhere: We interviewed prominent Rhode Islanders who now slumber beneath our soil

As the veil between the worlds thins this Halloween night, this time-travelling Irishman stepped into the land beyond the horizon to learn more about Rhode Island’s illustrious departed.

Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist, suffragist and poet; May 27, 1819 – October 17, 1910

Julia Ward Howe was an early and commanding voice of the suffrage movement. Her mother was a skilled wordsmith, a powerful skill for any young woman in the early 19th century, and inspired Howe to pick up the pen and eventually write the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” After the Civil War and the success of the abolitionist movement, Howe focused her passions on pacifism and women’s suffrage. She helped to establish the New England Women’s Club and the New England Woman Suffrage Association, later becoming president of the New England Women’s Club. She also went on to found the Association of American Women, as well as an extensive slew of foundations advocating for women’s education. In 1908, Howe was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She died at her home, Oak Glen, in Portsmouth in 1910.

Vahram Papazyan, Armenian athlete; September 2, 1892 – March 6, 1986

In the summer of 1912, Vahram Papazyan was one of two Armenian athletes to represent the Ottoman Empire in the domain’s first appearance at the Olympic Games. A reputedly fine athlete, Papazyan participated in the men’s 800 meters and 1500 meters, and although he did not win any medals, became a cultural hero. After escaping the Armenian genocide of 1914 – 1923, Papazyan moved to Providence where he became an electric engineer at Eddy & Co. He is buried at Swan Point Cemetery.

Benedict Arnold, governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; December 21, 1615 – June 19, 1678

No, not THAT Benedict Arnold, but the original president and later governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (although he was an antecedent of the famous Revolutionary War traitor). Born in Somerset, England, Arnold relocated to the New World with his parents and siblings in 1635. After a brief stint in Hingham, Massachusetts Bay Colony, the family moved to the Providence Plantation on Narragansett Bay at the request of Roger Williams, eventually settling for good in Pawtuxet. In 1651, Benedict and his own brood set out for Newport, quickly becoming a freeman, then Commissioner and ultimately, the successor to Williams as president of the colony. It is also highly likely that Arnold built Newport Tower, and he’s buried in its shadow in the Arnold Burying Ground on Pelham Street, Newport.

Princess Red Wing, Narragansett and Wampanoag elder, historian, anthropologist, and curator; March 21 , 1896 – December 2, 1987

Born Mary E. Glasko, Princess Red Wing earned the name that she carried through life after her mother identified the red-winged blackbird as being able “to fling her mission far with grace.” Raised by a Wampanoag mother and a Narragansett father, Red Wing was descended from a number of prominent Native figures, none more notable than Metacomet, more widely known (if incorrectly) as King Philip. Taking this powerful heritage to heart, Red Wing co-founded The Narragansett Dawn tribal newspaper in 1935, and was later appointed Squaw Sachem of the New England Council of Chiefs in 1945. In a life filled with accomplishments for the benefit of her culture, Red Wing also was a prominent storyteller in the Narragansett community, and used this as her basis to found the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter. From 1947 to 1970, Red Wing served on the Speaker’s Research Committee of the under secretariat of the United Nations, and in 1975 was awarded an honorary doctorate in human affairs by the University of Rhode Island. Three years later, she was welcomed into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. Red Wing is buried in Pascoag.

 Gouverneur K. Warren, major general, US Infantry; January 8, 1830 – August 8, 1882

Known as the Hero of Little Round Top for his defensive leadership actions at the Battle of Gettysburg, Warren was a civil engineer and commissioned officer in the US Infantry. He began his career in the Corps of Topographical Engineers, mapping the trans-Mississippi watershed in the process. Warren’s first combat experience was at the Harney Massacre, a widely condemned action that saw Brigadier General William S. Harney attack and obliterate a village of Lakota camped along the Platte River in Nebraska Territory. During the Civil War, Warren commanded a regiment at The Siege of Yorktown, was commended for his actions at the Battle of Chancellorsville and became a national hero at the Battle of Gettysburg. However, personal differences with General Phil Sheridan proved fatal to his sparkling military career, and in 1865 was (unfairly) relieved of his command. Warren spent the rest of his life engaged in topographical work west of the Mississippi. He died in Newport in 1882, and is buried in the Island Cemetery. His last words were, “The flag! The flag!”

Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, soprano; January 5, 1868/1869 – June 24, 1933

Born in Virginia to formerly enslaved parents, Jones trained to become a classical soprano at the Providence Academy of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. Skilled in grand opera, light opera and popular music, Jones made her big break debut at Steinway Hall in New York in 1888. Four years later she performed at the White House for President Benjamin Harrison, eventually singing for four consecutive sitting presidents, as well the British royal family. But her international escapades didn’t stop there, with her illustrious career taking Jones to Australia and India, as well as all over South America, southern Africa and Europe. However, fame did not lead to fortune and Jones died in poverty in June 1933 at the Rhode Island Hospital. Buried at her hometown cemetery in Virginia, Jones was unable to afford a headstone upon her death, and it was not until June of this year that sufficient funds were raised to erect a gravestone on the site.

Ida Lewis, lighthouse keeper and sea rescuer; February 25, 1842 – October 24, 1911

The second oldest child of Captain Hosea Lewis of the Revenue-Marine, Ida and her family moved to Lime Rock on Narragansett Bay in 1857 so Captain Lewis could oversee the operation of the island’s lighthouse. Tragically, Hosea suffered a stroke less than four months after the relocation and became permanently incapacitated, leaving Ida and her mother to assume responsibilities. When Ida’s mother died in 1879, Ida took sole control of the operation. However, Ida is best remembered for her actions as a lifesaver, with her first such mission occurring in 1854 at the tender age of 12. On March 29, 1869, a snowstorm overturned a boat in Newport Harbor carrying two soldiers and a young boy. While the child perished in the icy murk, Ida (without a coat or shoes) rushed across the bay in a rowing boat and hauled the soldiers to safety. In recognition of her heroism, she became the first woman to receive a gold Congressional medal for lifesaving. It seems to have made an impact, and over her 54 years on Lime Rock, Ida is credited with saving 18 lives, with the last occurring when she was 63. Ida died in 1911 and is buried at the Common Burying Ground, Newport.

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