The Most Interesting Race In The Election

Ken AshfordHistory, RaceLeave a Comment

… is in Rhode Island.  There's a proposition on the ballot this year to change the name of Rhode Island from "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" to simply "Rhode Island." The idea is that the appendage "Providence Plantations" is redolent of slavery and should go. 

That would be a shame of it did.  The first and probably the most important point is that the "plantations" in Providence Plantations has nothing to do with slavery. That's a meaning of the word that only became current maybe a century or more after Roger Williams named his little colony in the early-mid 17th century. In the 17th century a 'plantation' was what we'd now call a 'colony' or a 'settlement'. The 'plant' in plantation wasn't (or at least wasn't primarily) a cash crop you were growing but the people you were inserting onto the landscape.

Yet that isn't the end of the story. Rhode Island started as two colonies. One was Providence Plantations, the settlement Roger Williams established in modern Providence along with a couple other small towns in what is now Northern Rhode Island.  The other was Rhode Island, the folks living on Aquidneck Island, the main Island in Narragansett Bay.

The folks in 'Providence Plantations' were among the first principled opponents of slavery anywhere in the Americas, certainly in New England and by most measures everywhere in North America. The roots of slavery in Rhode Island, both as an internal institution and as a key force in the slave trade, came from the other original colony, Rhode Island and settlements in southern Rhode Island that were tied to it.

So if Rhode Islanders really wanted to wipe the taint of slavery from its name, they would keep the "Providence Plantations" part of their name, and get rid of the "Rhode Island" part.

Anyway, we'll see how that plays out tonight….