Slate Rock, The Landing Place of Roger Williams

Slate Rock on the Seekonk River (1915.6.1); James Sullivan Lincoln, 1847

 

Although it is now largely forgotten, Rhode Islanders of the nineteenth century considered Slate Rock to be one of Providence’s most historically significant landmarks. The boulder was a prominent vantage over the Seekonk River from which, in the spring or early summer of 1636, a group of Narragansetts gave welcome to Roger Williams. Having been exiled from the Massachusetts and Plymouth Colonies, he was paddling southwest from Rumford. Those on Slate Rock generously directed Williams to a suitable settlement site at the fork of the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck. Subsequently, the Narragansett sachems Canonicus and Miantonomi granted him this area for the founding of Providence.

 

Piece of “What Cheer Rock” in RIHS Collections storage room, photograph by J.D. Kay, 2020

 

Slate Rock was accidentally demolished in 1877, when city employees used an excess of dynamite to expose a buried portion of the stone. A monument in Slate Rock Park on Gano Street indicates its former location. Since Roger Williams’ time, land reclamation has separated the spot from the river. Slate Rock represents a moment of fellowship between a English colonist and indigenous peoples, and is a cornerstone of Providence’s persona. The scene is even illustrated on the seal of the city.

 

Seal of the City of Providence

 

The Colony of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations was the making of a calamity for Rhode Island’s original inhabitants. Despite some resistance, generations of Europeans relocated, enslaved, and occasionally massacred indigenous peoples. According to the census of 1730, less than a century after Williams’ arrival, indigenous peoples constituted only ~5% of the colony’s population. That number was down to 1.1% in the 2019 census. Presently, indigenous peoples are still marginalized and face a disparate level of poverty. This, rather than fellowship, is the truer legacy of Slate Rock.

 

Posted by John Shamgochian, an Arts Intern from the Studio Institute (https://studioinstitute.org/)
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the RIHS or its members.

 

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