RI Should Honor Its 'Plantations'

By Mat Probasco,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2009 2:13 PM CDT
The seal of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations as seen on the floor of the Statehouse rotunda. The State is considering dropping "Providence Plantations" from the name.    (AP Photo/Susan E. Bouchard, File)

(Newser) – 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."