As we celebrate the 1663 King Charles Charter and approaching Flag Day, we are reminded of an important symbolic element of government: The Great Seal of Rhode Island. This simple heraldic device of a shield with an anchor first appeared as a doodle in the records of the General Assembly. Penned in May 1647 by William Dyre, Secretary, it accompanied the resolution “The Seale of the Province shall be an Anchor.” After that time, all official Rhode Island documents included the seal as printed, embossed or stamped in wax. To celebrate the 250th anniversary of William Dyre’s record, the Rhode Island State Flag, as we know it today, was officially adopted in 1897.
Fiasco of 38 Studios risks eclipsing sunnier view of R.I.ELIZABETH FRANCIS
The April 20 New York Times story, “Thrown for a Curve in Rhode Island,” highlighted the state’s troubling investment in Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios gaming company. The resulting portrait of the state in The Times, not to mention The Journal’s nearly daily reports on 38 Studios’ demise, repeated a single story of Rhode Island’s economic woes and presented a picture of an unsophisticated state dragging the “heavy anchor” of past bad practices.
This narrative eclipses a much longer-term and more positive view of Rhode Island expressed in the state’s early tenets of freedom, tolerance and diversity. Local headlines from the last few days suggest our citizens and legislators together are open to new stories. Indeed, Rhode Island’s earliest history is one of forward-looking innovation. This year Rhode Island celebrates the 350th anniversary of its founding 1663 Colonial Charter, the only one of its time to establish religious freedom and separation of church and state as founding principles.
The Charter introduced a model that catalyzed many freedoms — to worship, innovate and build communities. These freedoms have not been fully realized, and disparities and inequities persist. Nevertheless, the early idea of Rhode Island as a place of “toleration” continues to be a locus for promoting human rights in a divided world that presidents from Washington to Obama have recognized.
To emphasize this point, one only needs to reflect on President Obama’s visit in March to Israel, where he presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a framed wooden artifact from the George Washington Room of Newport’s Touro Synagogue, the first synagogue established in the United States.
The frame included a plaque with a passage from George Washington’s “Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport” sent in response to Moses Seixas, then warden of the Touro congregation, on Aug. 17, 1790.
“Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree,” the plaque reads, “and there shall be none to make him afraid.” The values of openness and toleration enabled early Newport to challenge norms and become disrupters and ambassadors for new ideas and practices. Rhode Island prospered as a result, and was successful and influential through the 18th and 19th centuries.
To be sure, Rhode Island’s current economic troubles are dire, but the view from the past suggests that our outlook is not so dismal. Our history teaches us that we have found economic success through openness, creative thinking, and a global perspective. In addition, the historical data that reside in Rhode Island’s manuscripts, books, photos, paintings, buildings, furniture and more are an economic asset. Recognition of and support for the state’s rich historical assets will leverage growth across industries and translate Rhode Island’s history into action.
Accessing and interpreting these historical assets in meaningful ways not only engage visitors to our state but have the capacity to inspire entrepreneurs, challenge and inform policy, promote sound urban and economic development, protect human rights and foster innovation.
We are not certain why the negative aspects of the past have been allowed to dominate our current narrative. We are not Massachusetts’s rival. We are not the mafia. We are not 38 Studios. Atop Rhode Island’s State House in Providence stands the Independent Man — a symbol of the importance and continued relevance of our founding Charter.
Let’s dive deeper into this longer, more dynamic narrative to revitalize our identity, our perspective and our economy. Rhode Island has a compelling opportunity to collaborate across cultural, academic, industry and government institutions to empower our state. It is time to develop new, diverse and dynamic stories of a connected, collaborative and resilient state.
Perhaps the next New York Times headline will read, “Rhode Island’s Boom Fueled by Cultural Innovation.”
Elizabeth Francis, Ph.D., is executive director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.
During the Summer of 1926, America was celebrating its Sesquicentennial, with special events nationwide and a huge exposition at Philadelphia. Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden (1882-1973) was touring and made a stop at Newport between New York and Boston. He arrived at Newport Harbor aboard J.P. Morgan’s yacht Corsair, and was met by his host Arthur Curtiss James in his private launch. The prince visited the Navy Base with Admiral Sims, toured the Old Stone Mill, was entertained at the new Hotel Viking and was the guest of honor at a lavish dinner at James’s Beacon Hill House. The following day he left to visit Worcester’s large Swedish community and on to Boston. Prince Gustaf inherited the Swedish throne in 1950 and served until his death in 1973. He was the father of the present King Carl Gustaf XVI, who visited Newport for the Swedish Challenge of the 1977 America’s Cup Race.
The Jewish cemetery on the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Kay Street dates back to 1677, long before the construction of Touro Synagogue. Sephardic Jews have been present in Newport since 1658 and required their own segregated burial place. The cemetery contains 38 marked graves dating from 1761-1866, and is enclosed by gates donated by Judah Touro in 1842. Other Newport families are buried in lower Manhattan, Philadelphia, the Caribbean and New Orleans.
After a long dormancy in the 1800s, Touro Synagogue experienced a re-birth from a new generation of Ashkenazi worshippers. Under the leadership of Max Levy, Jewish burial lots were purchased in Newport’s Braman Cemetery on Farewell Street and fenced off from non-Jewish graves as required. A wrought iron fence with granite and limestone entrance gates graced Farewell Street and the site was formally dedicated on Memorial Day (Decoration Day) 1911.
Colony House, Washington Square
Free, donations welcome
1PM: Ministers of Apollo
The Ministers of Apollo will present a fife & drum performance featuring traditional military music from the American Revolution.
2PM: Mother Earth Singers
Traditional Native American drum and singing courtesy of the Dighton Intertribal Council.
3PM: Gerard Edery and Meg Okura
Gerard Edery, who has been hailed as “a master of Sephardic song.” by The New York Times, and violinist Meg Okura, will present “Treasures of Sephardic Song”. This concert traces the surprising and exotic musical synergies between Christians, Arabs and Jews from Medieval Spain to the present. Secular and liturgical songs from Ancient Persia, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, The Balkans and Syria will tell a rich musical story and promote the cause of cross-cultural appreciation and understanding.
4PM: Stuart Frank and Mary Malloy
Dr. Stuart Frank, Senior Curator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, joins his wife, Mary Malloy, to sing 18th and 19th century ballads and songs. This concert is based upon Rhode Island sources in whalemen’s shipboard journals from the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s collection.
June 3, 2013 at 1pm
Newport Historical Society Headquarters
82 Touro Street, Newport, RI
Reservations required, call 401-846-0813
$10 per person, free for NHS members
Whether you would like to know more about your house’s history or discover your family genealogy, the Newport Historical Society’s library is the place to start. Learn how to investigate the history of your house, family, neighborhood or any period from Newport’s history with the Historical Society’s expert staff. This workshop will acquaint you with the NHS collections and help you identify research strategies. Space is limited to eight attendees; reservations required.
In 1945 cities from around the world were invited to promote themselves as the ideal site for the new location of the United Nations Headquarters. Under the leadership of John Nicholas Brown and kinsman Hon. Major Sherman Stonor of Oxfordshire, Newport submitted a proposal with the support of Governor Pastore and Theodore Francis Green. Newport’s ideal climate, sophisticated culture and legacy of democracy would make a perfect location, with the new headquarters building erected at Fort Adams. Ochre Court, Seaview Terrace and The Breakers would serve as offices and embassies, and a plethora of underutilized and abandoned mansions throughout Newport would be available for purchase. The international search committee rejected all proposals and chose free Rockefeller land in New York City for the headquarters, started in 1948.
1756 Cost of mahogany boards: £ 12.
1756 Cost of mahogany table and bed: £ 32.
2013 Cost of Job Townsend Newport table and bed, market value, adjusted for inflation and consumer price index with currency conversion: Priceless.
As part of the New Deal, the United States government established the WPA (Works Progress/ Projects Administration) to address unemployment during the Great Depression. From 1935-1943, approximately 8 million jobs were created, mostly local civic improvement construction projects such as road and sidewalk paving, wall building and shoreline erosion control. Locally the WPA built sidewalks and most of the stone walls, grandstands, concession buildings and other facilities in Newport’s public parks. Vernon Park, Freebody Park and Cardines Field are the most visible examples.
April is here and the Tax Man is lurking around every corner. In earlier times, taxes were ordered by the town and colony for the annual budget and specific projects such as building construction, military support and aid to the poor. In 1662 the General Assembly ordered a tax to help pay for John Clarke’s living expenses and passage from London to Newport. He arrived safely the following year with his luggage, carry-on bag and a box of parchment affectionately known as the King Charles Charter.