2009-04-02 / Letters to the Editor

Slavery big issue in Rhode Islsnd

I read with great interest the March 19 Press article about the exhibit at the Jamestown Philomenian Library and comments by Ray Rickman, project director of the traveling exhibit titled, "Hidden from History: Slavery in Rhode Island from its Inception to Its End."

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, but indeed it is remarkable how much Jamestown was involved in slavery. Paul Davis's series "Unrighteous Traffik," published in the Providence Journal in 2006, exposed in detail this hidden slave traffi c, its high profitability and the unscrupulous Rhode Island ship owners who profited.

My research, tied to one of the reasons why Beavertail Lighthouse was built in 1749, also revealed much about Jamestown's prominence in slavery.

Slaving was big business and only South Carolina surpassed Rhode Island in the practice of buying and selling slaves. Not only was Rhode Island in the forefront of the slave trade, Jamestown had its share of slaves as well. They worked in both households and in the fields. The 1730 census records of Jamestown show 80 "Negro" slaves living on Conanicut Island plus 19 Indians.

The Negro's represented 36 percent of the island population. The highest concentration per capita of any municipal county in the New World. Only South Carolina and later Mississippi exceeded this ratio. By 1747, the number on Conanicut Island had increased to 110. Across the bay in Newport one family alone, Abraham Red, father of the founder of 'Redwood Library' owned 238 slaves in 1766.

Varoujan Karentz


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