Kenneth Roberts in the News: Northwest Passage and Historical Town Markers

I believe that I can safely assert that Kenneth Roberts is no longer nationally known like he was just 50 years ago. I know that I had not heard of him growing up; it wasn’t until 1992 or so – as a junior in high school – that I picked up Rabble in Arms on a whim for a book report. Despite his lack of national recognition today, however, he is still known around his old stomping grounds of New England, particularly Maine and New Hampshire (at least Portsmouth, NH). Bookstores in the area carry rare copies of his books, news sites and libraries occasionally will write up a nostalgia piece on Roberts or his work. There was even an interior decorator event that took place at Roberts’ estate, Rocky Pastures back in 2012. In short, the memory of Roberts is alive and well in New England.

Portsmouth, NH; By http://maps.bpl.org – Bird’s eye view of Portsmouth, Rockingham Co., New Hampshire

What I find interesting when it comes to New England’s memory of Roberts is not so much of what they remember of the man; rather, it is in how they use their memories of him. For instance, J. Dennis Robinson at Seacoastonline.com recently penned a piece on an historical area in Portsmouth, NH. As is the case with many cities and towns in America, developers are wanting to transform a historical section of Portsmouth – the McIntyre block – with modern condos and posh hotels. In doing so, the developers will seek to “honor” the history of the McIntyre block (I place honor in quotes because – let’s face it – most developers care less about history and more about the almighty dollar).

In his piece, Robinson recounts the various buildings that stood in the McIntyre block, the people who bequeathed the land to Portsmouth, and other important historical notes of the area. In doing so, Robinson seeks to remind the citizens of Portsmouth that the building there are more than just buildings – they are physical reminders of where the town has been and of who they are (in light of their past).

Stoodley’s Tavern, courtesy WalkPortsmouth.blogspot.com

I found Robinson’s piece interesting (as one who is unfamiliar with Portsmouth history) in various ways, but particularly in his conjuring up of Kenneth Roberts. Earlier, I noted that it is interesting how New Englanders remember Roberts; Robinson serves as an excellent illustration. One building that was a part of the McIntyre block was an old tavern called Stoodley’s Tavern, which was once owned by a ranger with Roger’s Rangers. To help his readers “remember” this tavern, Robinson points to the tavern’s key role in Roberts’ Northwest Passage:

Stoodley’s Tavern is a key setting in the novel “Northwest Passage” by Kenneth Roberts, and in a 1940 Hollywood film of the same name. Technically, the historic visit by Robert Rogers depicted in the book and film took place at Stoodley’s first tavern on State Street. But his Daniel Street establishment was visited by Paul Revere as Portsmouth citizens planned their raid on Fort William and Mary at New Castle in 1774.

It’s one thing for a fan of Roberts to point out this connection; it’s quite another to use the reference of Northwest Passage as a memory marker in a publicized article. It goes to show that there are still readers out there who are well-versed enough to catch Robinson’s reference.

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