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A Heritage Discovered: Blacks in Rhode Island | State Archives Catalog

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A Heritage Discovered: Blacks in Rhode Island


The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society was organized in 1975 under the auspices of the Rhode Island Historical Society. Its primary goal is to research, document and preserve the history of Blacks in Rhode Island so that this generation and others to follow will realize that Blacks were among the contributors to the development of this state.

It is difficult to determine when the first slave came to Rhode Island. The legislation passed in May, 1652 indicates that perhaps Black slaves as well as Indians were already a part of this new colony. In the latter part of the 17th century, the slave trade had begun to flourish in the colonies and Rhode Island had become the only colony in New England to use slaves for both labor and trade.

The Society is committed to removing the myth that perhaps the only slave plantations that existed were in the South. Rhode Island had the best of two worlds during the era of the Slave Trade. Research into the state has led the Society to believe that Rhode Island was a mirror with reflections of the new nation with all of its hardships the great landed aristocracy in the form of the Narragansett Planter family, the indentured and slave craftsmen in Newport, the struggle for freedom in the participation of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, the forming of the African Union Society which changed names five times over a period of one hundred ninety six years each time meeting the needs of the African who would later be a part of the American mosaic. Because Rhode Island withdrew from the slave trade earlier than most of the colonies, she became a strong abolitionist force under the direction of Moses Brown . Blacks would escape, migrate, pass through or settle following the North star to Canada.

The uniqueness of Rhode Island, the blending together of two oppressed people, the native American - the Black and indentured servant - gave a richness to this state. Where else in America can you find a community where descendents of the master, Indian and slave are still carrying slave names and living in the same town.

In November 1975, the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities funded our first project "Blacks in Rhode Island - a Heritage Discovered." This booklet is a very brief representation of the discoveries and findings in libraries, historical societies, personal collections of both Black and White citizens throughout the state.

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