November 1, 2010

Change the Name of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations?




     On November 2, 2010, Rhode Island voters will decide whether to change their state’s name. Election results at the end of this post.

     Apparently not many Rhode Islanders realize their state’s official name is lengthier than its small size deserves: The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Although it isn’t listed this way on modern-day maps, it is on the state seal, and it is in many official state documents. It is also heard in the courtroom when the judge is announced.

     If asked, many Rhode Islanders don’t know what the term plantations means.

     State voters must decide whether or not to drop the phrase and Providence Plantations from the state’s name, leaving it at just State of Rhode Island, an issue that has been debated for years. Only last year did lawmakers authorize a ballot question.  A group of primarily African-American lawmakers made a strong push, speaking about racial divisions and the lingering negative connotations of the word plantations.

     The issue has spawned an impassioned debate over race relations, ancestry and history.

     In 1663, when King Charles II granted a royal charter to the colony of Rhode Island, plantations was a general term for a settlement or colony. Rhode Island was formed by merging the Providence settlement, founded by minister Roger Williams, with nearby towns.

(Picture: This wharf, on the former Rebecca and Thomas Cornell property—1600s—points across Naragansett Bay towards Providence, Rhode Island. To read about the Cornells click on KILLED STRANGELY: A NEW ENGLAND MURDER STORY.) 

     The sting: although the word plantations originally wasn’t associated with slavery, that fact can be considered irrelevant. Rhode Island merchants became rich when the state had a prime role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade (along with trading rum, sugar and molasses). The trade was among New England, the Caribbean and West Africa.

     Persons promoting the name change state that the word plantations is as inextricably linked to slavery as is the swastika is linked to (more…)

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