New England Church Faces Huge Role in Slave Trade

Episcopalian diocese does some soul-searching
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 24, 2015 5:55 PM CDT
Church: Yes, We Played a Huge Role in Slavery
In this Nov. 19, 2014 photo, the sun illuminates an American flag at a grave marker in a graveyard next to the Cathedral of St. John of St. John Episcopal Church, in Providence, Rhode Island.   (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Rhode Island was so enmeshed in slavery that it's been dubbed "the Deep North." Now the state's Episcopal diocese is owning up to its involvement with public forums, repentant services, and a new museum—in an old Cathedral that was shuttered due to lack of funds, the New York Times reports. "We’re trying to move in concert with what’s happening around the country," says a reverend helping with the project. "Events like the massacre in Charleston have really focused us on the dire need to improve race relations in this country." Slated to open in two years, the Providence museum will show how Rhode Island's economy and wealthy families relied deeply on slavery. That story dates back to the 1600s, when early settlers captured Native Americans and traded them for slaves shipped in from Africa.

In later years, about 1,000 slaving voyages (nearly 60% of America's total) left from Bristol, Newport, and Providence, carrying more than 100,000 slaves back to the Americas in the so-called "triangle trade." This involved trading New England rum for slaves in West Africa, shipping the slaves to the Caribbean, picking up sugar there, and carrying it back to Rhode Island to make more rum. Episcopalians were so involved that when Baptists and Quakers condemned slavery, some slave holders joined the Episcopal Church for refuge. "We allowed ourselves to be convinced by the prejudice of the time and didn’t speak out," says Bishop W. Nicholas Knisely. His museum plan was partly inspired by the documentary Traces of the Trade, which chronicles a prominent Rhode Island family's involvement in "the original sin" of slavery, reports Rhode Island Public Radio. (More slavery stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.