The Block Island Times

On This Day in Block Island's history, March 20, 1877 — "A life of piety and usefulness"

By Robert M. Downie | Mar 21, 2012
The famous double-ender Island Belle, that went to the mainland in 1877 in search of a dying woman's relatives.

On this day in history 135 years ago, islanders learned of the death of Mrs. Enoch Steadman. Her home was off High Street, down a lane just north of the present-day school, in the house owned in recent decades by the Forbes family.

Although the era was still one of primitive medicine, quite remarkably the fairly young, 42-year-old woman realized the closeness of her death, as did her Block Island relatives and friends.

So those who loved her made a grand effort to notify relatives on the mainland, as the Providence newspaper reported eloquently:

"Mrs. Enoch Steadman has been very sick for several days of typhoid fever, growing rapidly worse as last week drew to a close. On Sunday she revived sufficiently to bid farewell to all near and dear. On Sunday evening, five men left in the Island Belle to bring the relatives of the dying woman from their house in North Kingstown.

"The night was very cold, the trip uncomfortable; but the voyage must be made; and once without the Basin, the little boat bent gracefully to the crowding northwest breeze and was soon out of sight."

The double ender Island Belle returned to Block Island the next day, Monday, with Mrs. Steadman's father, Ebenezer S. Tourjee. Her own two sisters were too sick on the mainland to make the journey to the island, and, in a cruel choice that had to be made by the Block Island boatmen, her brother in Boston was too far away to risk the time to fetch him.

The decision was the right one. Early the next morning, before daylight, Annie Tourjee Steadman died:

“Mrs. Steadman closed her eyes forever, ending a life of piety and usefulness.”

Two years later, in 1879, Enoch Steadman (1836-1910) began constructing a fishing boat on the West Side. A good half-dozen years had passed since the breakwater was built at Old Harbor, providing islanders with their first successful harbor and dock. Several fishermen had stopped using their famous and unique double-ended fishing boats, in favor of larger more traditional schooners.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the wide-beamed two-masted, double-enders would become obsolete, as everyone abandoned them for typical schooners, or single-mast catboats.

But that time had not yet come for Enoch.

Perhaps remembering their many virtues and the emotions attached to so many sea voyages, Enoch's boat was "about twenty-four feet keel, by eleven feet beam, to draw about five feet of water."

His new vessel was — as the Providence Evening Bulletin noted on July 11, 1879 — a tried-and-true, old-fashioned double-ender. Her name was Lena M. She became the last double-ender that could sail, and in 1910 a naval architect from Massachusetts bought her, sailed her home, measured her hull shape, and made a full-size replica: the Roaring Bessie. Wherever the Bessie sailed on the mainland during the next few decades, people marveled at her simplicity and beauty.

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