Narragansett Bay: A Friend's Perspective

The Bay in History


Man's most flourishing settlements have developed on bays, along navigable rivers, And the shores of large lakes. Boats and ships were the primary tools of colonization, communication, and trade.

Today man-made highways, railroads, and airports reduce the need for a new town oddity to rely on a waterway, but this is a development of the twentieth century. If one were to make a list of the ways a river, lake, or tidal water body has been used and attempt some chronological order, something like the following would result:

Fishing and Hunting. To primitive people, a water body supplied food and, if free from ocean salts, drink.

Seal of the City of Providence

Seal of the City of Providence, portraying the landing of Roger Williams. According to tradition, the Indians greeted him with "What cheer, Netop?" ("Netop" is an Indian word for "friend").

A Local Communications Artery. If man could float upon it and paddle or sail, he could move with greater ease and carry more of his worldly goods with him over distances than by any other way.

A Pathway to the Sea for Commerce with Distant Ports. This was of little importance to primitive man but vital to the European settlers. They relied on long distance ocean transportation to build their society.

Manufacturing. Once commerce is established, goods are produced and become important items in trading.

Water Power. Water can be harnessed to provide power, especially in manufacturing.

Military. A pathway to the sea must be fortified.

A Convenient Sewer and Absorber of Wastes. All sorts of garbage and undesirable debris could be flushed out of sight and out of mind if dumped in a river or bay or if carried offshore and deposited in the open ocean. Man is having second thoughts about such practices today but still considers this a most important use.

A Recreation Resource. Of minor importance in times when the struggle for survival divas a full-time occupation, water recreation today competes for dominance with other, older uses.

Narragansett Bay and its tributaries, some 13 rivers and streams, have been used in almost all of these ways. The Bay itself has never been used to produce water power, although it is conceivable that its tides and waves could do this if necessary, but almost every tributary of the Bay has a history of full utilization in this regard. There are still on official lists the location of 1,100 dams on the Bay's tributaries which supplied power or process water for a host of mills, large and small.

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