Plantations in Rhode Island?

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Map of Rhode IslandCurious about the official name of the 13th state, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, I stop by the Kingston Hill Store in Kingston on the way out of Newport and quickly discover a local history section so fantastic I hardly have time to browse through the old postcards, another whimsical hobby of mine (such good handwriting! Stamps were so cheap!). I am ever curious about Rhode Island, which seems to be not much bigger than Westchester County, N.Y., where I live. Just 48 miles from North to South and a mere 37 miles wide, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the union.

Photo credit: L. Tripoli

Photo credit: L. Tripoli

How was such a small amount of acreage deemed worthy of statehood? What’s with this whole plantation thing? That sets off a riff on the distinction between plantations and farms, along with a whole lot of wondering about slavery in New England. Clearly, I need a good education on Rhode Island and vicinity, and I am fortunate to find so many resources in a physical bookstore.

I pick up a copy of Plantation in Yankeeland by University of Rhode Island President Emeritus Carl R. Woodward (Pequot Press, 1972), which promises information about Indian Wars and slaveholding in the vicinity of Smith’s Castle, also known as Cocumscussoc. Correct pronunciation of the latter still eludes me.

USA - CIRCA 1936 Roger WilliamsNext, I am fortunate to find a signed edition of Bertram Lippincott’s Indians, Privateers, and High Society (J. B. Lippincott Co., 1961), the back cover of which teases me by mentioning riots at the Newport Jazz Festival. Riots at the Newport Jazz Festival? Rhode Island clearly carries more mystery than I initially thought.

I’ll begin my exploration of Rhode Island’s past with a quicker and easier read, Newport: A Short History by C. P. B. Jefferys (Newport Historical Society, 1992), although I suspect that this account might be a bit sanitized.

Check out the local history section at the Kingston Hill Store on Kingstown Road (Route 138) in Kingston, R.I. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Check out the local history section at the Kingston Hill Store on Kingstown Road (Route 138) in Kingston, R.I.
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

It’s clear there’s much to learn about the Ocean State. While I love my visit to the Kingston Hill Store, I am sort of relieved I don’t have much time to linger. I suspect its history section would be much depleted were I to stay.

—Lori Tripoli

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