Letter: The reality of slavery in Barrington

Posted 7/2/20

To the editor:

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is considering dropping the “and Providence Plantations” part of its name. I grew up in Barrington, an almost …

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Letter: The reality of slavery in Barrington


To the editor:

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is considering dropping the “and Providence Plantations” part of its name. I grew up in Barrington, an almost entirely white community, and recently moved to Seattle for college where intense protesting has enlightened me to the true depth of racial inequity in the US. With this new knowledge, I am proud of my home state for enacting compassionate change. The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations wasn't founded solely to allow slavery to continue - unlike some US states - but the name itself perpetuates a history of racism - and for that I fully support the shortening.

However, it is important to note that Rhode Island is not at all innocent of slavery. Especially after Nicholas Mattiello’s (RI speaker of the house) recent ignorant comment where he implied that slavery did not happen here, I think this is something that should be addressed. Several RI families built their wealth from the slave trade, including the Brown family of Brown University. Many farmers and merchants owned slaves, though in fewer numbers than in southern estates (and no Rhode Island farms had as many slaves as the biggest southern plantations). The house I was raised in, at 20 Lincoln Avenue, listed 5 slaves in the 1774 census.

Barrington was part of the town of Swansea in Plymouth Colony, founded in 1667. It was where King Philip's War began in 1675, a violent dispute that resulted in c. 4,000 deaths (this number includes Native Americans and white settlers) across all of New England. Barrington became part of Rhode Island in 1747. The RI census of 1774 lists the population of Barrington as 601 people - including 18 Native Americans and 41 African Americans. RI began the gradual emancipation of slaves in the 1780s. All of this information is public record but generally not public knowledge.

The gravestone of one black man lies in the Allin Burying Ground (the same Allins who built the house I grew up in, and who fought in the Revolutionary War) on Bay Spring Avenue. His name is Scipio Freeman. Scipio was a common slave name, but the surname Freeman indicates that he was granted his legal freedom before he died. However, he likely does not lie alone. It is very likely that next to the gravestones for white settlers lies unmarked graves of slaves and Native Americans - unmarked because no one would be bothered spending money on a gravestone for people that were once viewed as less than human.

Barrington (and the entire Union) is absolutely complicit and guilty of historic and modern oppression of black people. We fought on the moral side of the civil war - but we are not untainted by the scars of American history. I encourage everyone reading to consider the suffering that our luxury was born from. Consider the past and rectify the future: understand your privilege, support black owned businesses, and most importantly, vote.

Cassie Taylor


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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.