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Sydney L. Wright Museum

Located at the Jamestown Philomenian Library

You can see this prehistoric pot, used here on Conanicut Island 3,400 years ago. Visit the Sydney L. Wright Museum, located in the Jamestown Philomenian Library.  The museum is home for archeological discoveries from the soil of Conanicut Island. Dr. Wright, to whose memory the museum is dedicated was long interested in the history of Conanicut Island. He and his wife, Catharine M. Wright, rescued the site where many objects were found from certain destruction and conceived the museum. They engaged an archeologist to excavate the Narragansett Indian burial ground and nearby area, now known as the West Ferry Site.
THE WEST FERRY SITE was discovered in 1936 by men removing loam from the area. The Town of Jamestown bought the land to prevent further desecration of the Narragansett Indian burying ground and to pre­serve the site until it could be properly excavated. Dr. William S. Simmons, then of Harvard University, excavated the site in 1966 and 1967. He discovered a number of early to middle seventeenth century Narragansett burials and an earlier cremation burial complex dated by the carbon 14 dating method as over three thousand years old. Read about these excavations, illustrated and described in the book entitled Cautantowwit's House: An lndian Burial Ground On the Island of Conanicut in Narragansett Bay by W. S. Simmons. Cautantowwit was the Narragansett god of creation and death, as described by Roger Williams. The souls of the dead went to his house in the southwest sky and remained there for eternity.
Thirty-four hundred years ago the coastal regions of the northeastern part of North America were inhabited by a people who cremated their dead. Six burial pits from this early time period were found at the West Ferry Site. The artifacts in this exhibit reveal that these ancient craftsmen were more skilled at working stone than were any of the inhabitants of this area since their time.

Indians living in Rhode Island in the mid-seventeenth century knew how to make their own pottery for more than fifteen hundred years before the arrival of the first European settlers. Before that they carved their pots and dishes from steatite (soapstone).  These three delicate pots were fired by Narragansett women from a mixture of native clay and crushed shell around the middle of the seventeenth century. The largest pot, with the Iroquois-like castellations and impressions on the rim, was found and restored by Walter L. Watson of Jamestown in 1936. The two smaller pots were restored by William Simmons in 1967. All three specimens reflect decorative styles that were wide­spread along the coastal areas of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Con­necticut and Long Island in the mid-1600's. The art of pottery making more or less died out among the Narragansetts in the decades fol­lowing their defeat in King Philip's War.
Based on the above mentioned information, officials of the Sydney L. Wright Museum have determined that, pursuant to 43 CFR 10.2 (d)(1), the human remains listed above represent the physical remains of 36 individuals of Native American ancestry. Officials of the Sydney L. Wright Museum have also determined that, pursuant to 43 CFR 10.2 (d)(2), the 173 objects listed above are reasonably believed to have been placed with or near individual human remains at the time of death or later as part of the death rite or ceremony. Lastly, officials of the Sydney L. Wright Museum have determined that, pursuant to 43 CFR 10.2 (e), there is a relationship of shared group identity which can be reasonably traced between these Native American human remains and associated funerary objects and the Narragansett Indian Tribe. This notice has been sent to officials of the Narragansett Indian Tribe.
Representatives of any other Indian tribe that believes itself to be culturally affiliated with these human remains and associated funerary objects should contact Stephen C. Baker, Sydney L. Wright Museum, Jamestown Philomerian Library, 26 North Road, Jamestown, RI 02835-1438; telephone: (401) 423-7281, before October 29, 1999. Repatriation of the human remains and associated funerary objects to the Narragansett Indian Tribe may begin after that date if no additional claimants come forward. Dated: September 24, 1999. Francis P. McManamon, Departmental Consulting Archeologist, Manager, Archeology and Ethnography Program.

While the items remain in the museum as of this date, they are the property of the Narragansett Tribe.