You probably didn't know that the nation's smallest state bears the unlikely official moniker of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, much less that that onerous title is causing a bit of hooplah. But while the word "plantation" stirs uneasy images of slavery, Rhode Island would be mistaken to drop "and Providence Plantations" from its name in a voter referendum next year, writes Sarah Vowell in the NY Times.
Roger Williams, a cranky religious zealot, settled Providence Plantations as a place dedicated to "soul liberty" after being kicked out of Boston by more liberal-minded Puritans. And though both Rhode Island and Providence Plantations later became hubs in the slave trade, "there was no slavery at Providence Plantations’ founding—just one weird white man with a dream," Vowell argues. "Silent, bureaucratic antiquities have their charms."