Phoebe Bean, Associate Director of the Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center and Jerrad P. Pacatte, Director of Historical Research and Content Development (March 2024)

Earlier versions of this guide and introductions to the guide were authored by Jennifer Galpern (2018, 2023), Rick Stattler (2002, 2004), and Robin Flynn (1998).

This is a guide to references in the manuscripts collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society (RIHS) related to individuals identified as being of African, Indigenous, or Asian descent. It also includes broader topics and themes, including the enslavement of African and Indigenous persons, de jure (by law) and de facto (in fact or practice) racial discrimination, as well as other contemporary events and issues associated with these communities between the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries.  

While this guide strives to be as comprehensive as possible, it should be considered a working draft. It is in no way a complete listing of all of the possible resources and references in the holdings of the manuscript collections of the RIHS. It is instead intended as an entry point into our vast collections, and in particular, those that contain information about people or persons of color. Researchers are encouraged to share additional references found in other manuscript collections with library and collections staff, as this guide is a living document that will be updated regularly to reflect new research findings. 

It should also be noted that the documents referred to or transcribed below may contain language, words, phrases, or racial classifications that are harmful, problematic, and today would be considered outright racist. The decision to include some of these phrases or terms was not made lightly. We encourage researchers to read and interpret these terms and phrases as historical artifacts in of themselves–verbiage commonly used at the time that these documents were created or cataloged. Please be aware that these terms do not in any way reflect the views of the Rhode Island Historical Society or its staff.

A complete introduction to the guide, including a project history and additional resources, can be viewed here. Should you have any questions or suggestions, please contact us at

This guide should be considered a working draft