This post was contributed by a community member. The views expressed here are the author's own. Long ago, when I was a college acting major, one of the lessons impressed on me was that although the profession for which I was training was currently regarded as glamorous at least if you got famous it was historically considered a very low vocation indeed.
Actors were at best like cobblers, practitioners of a skilled yet unappreciated trade, and at worst - i. In parts of Europe they were denied Christian burials.
I think our professors told us this in case of the unlikely event that one of us actually succeeded. I remembered this when reading about Waterford's old salt-works. Waterford has two salt-works in its past.
The first was located at the head of the Niantic River and built in The usual trade routes had been blockaded by the British, making imports like salt, a necessary preservative, hard to obtain. The second, the one I was researching when I recalled the cynicism of my education, was built in on land that is now part of Waterford Beach Park.
James Fennell bought four acres of land between the current Alewife Cove and the shoreline. He sold stock, promising six bushels of salt each year to every shareholder.
But making salt out of salt water was not as easy as it sounds. The works were beset by fire, storms, and plain bad luck. In the end the "evaporation lagoons" on the watery property were, well, not worth their salt.
It is unknown if the shareholders even earned that much. What makes this strange or strang er is that Fennell happened to be a British actor who had performed in Edinburgh and Covent Garden and had made a name for himself in theatres along the Eastern Seaboard of America. He was said to be "a remarkably handsome man," and was particularly known for his Othello.
I couldn't picture such a person engaged in manual labor on the shores of the Sound. But there he was.
My blood flowed freely; I was fatigued; I sate down and contemplated the drops as they fell to the ground on which I rested… However, I soon roused myself, took my spade, covered up the blood, and raised an altar of turf over it. I then summoned the assistance of my usual agents, Folly, Obstinacy, and Pride, and having obtained it, proceeded in laying out my plan. This done, and the storm having commenced, we set to and enjoyed the shelter…but the astonishment of my neighbour was extreme, when I told him that I had come there for the purpose of making salt without fuel.
Fennell's life differs depending on which of it you read. Others concentrate on the gambling and prison time. In his autobiography, "An Apology for the Life of James Fennell," published inhe paints a picture of a constant trans-Atlantic mad dash full of financial instability, theatrical mishaps, and moments of triumph and acclaim.
You could say he alternated acting jobs with money-making schemes, except that his acting was sort of a money-making scheme. The "New-London and Waterford Salt Works" were not his first; he'd had plans for similar ventures in Virginia and Maryland, had had another attempt destroyed in New York, and had made "basket-salt for my daily bread" in New Jersey.
The unprofitable Waterford salt-works survived for three years. Then Fennell was informed that "in the course of an hour and a half, the salt-works had been destroyed by a violent storm, which had broken over the peninsula on which they had been erected, and carried all before it. Fennell died in No one, at least so far as the official record is concerned, attempted to make salt on the shores of Waterford again.
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