The true story of the Statue of Liberty.

We all learned that the Statue of Liberty was given to us by France to stand in the harbor of New York City as a beacon of hope to immigrants coming to Ellis Island, right?  Well, the words we all can quote by heart, Emma Lazarus’s poem which ends:  Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/  The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! was not placed at the base of the Statue until 1903, nearly 20 years after the statue’s dedication in 1886.

The Statue’s shackles and feet. The Statue of Liberty was the idea of Eduardo de Laboulaye, a French political thinker and staunch abolitionist.  And it was meant to celebrate the end of slavery and the victory of the North in the Civil War.  Broken shackles at her foot symbolize that fact.

You can find more on the subject at the National Park Service site you can reach here.

Warren Historic Marker for the Middle Passage


Thursday, June 20th, we dedicated a marker that tells the history of Warren’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and the people who were enslaved in Warren.  I will be posting about those people throughout the month, but wanted to begin with the marker.  It has been placed in a prominent location on Water Street facing the sidewalk at the entrance to the Town Wharf.  History tells us the wharf that was here in the 18th century, Collins Wharf, was the launching point for Warren’s first transatlantic slave voyage to Africa on September 24, 1789, two years after such voyages were declared illegal by the Rhode Island General Assembly.  No photo description available.

“History tells us who matters, who’s worthy, who’s contributing.” 

dark work coverIn February of 2016, Christy Clark-Pujara — author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island — gave a talk at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University.  It can be seen in full on Youtube here.  Dr. Clark-Pujara is a great speaker and she gives us insights into what it must have been like to be enslaved that we incorporate in our own presentations. I encourage everyone to take the time to watch this lecture when you can sit back and take it in.

But since I know most folks will not be able to watch and listen to 72 minutes, let me suggest that you go to the last ten, a Q & A session where Christy talks about the importance of plaques, memorials and markers in public places.  Her discussion on that issue is worth at least ten minutes of your time.

Finding the names of Warren’s enslaved people.

The work of the Warren Middle Passage Project, to date, has been focused on providing all the information we can on the involvement of the Town and its residents in the slave trade as well as identifying those African Americans who lived in Warren in the 18th and early 19th century.  (Our future efforts will take us forward from that period to identify people of color who are their descendants.)

Finding people who have been forgotten or erased is crucial to our mission.  Here are names of those men, women and children we have identified so far.  Those with [brackets] arround their last name show the name of their owner, which they may or may not have taken.Those in bold served in the Revolutionary War.  Those in italics were owned by visitors to Warren who moved on after a few years.






























For some of these people, we know they retained the name they were given during enslavement because we follow their later history.  For others, who appear to us in Warren Town Council records only on the day of their emancipation, we do not know what name they chose to use once free.  With women, we also must face the fact that their last names often disappear once married.  But we have to work with what we have while remembering these men and women might well have wanted to choose their names for themselves.


“Phebe” will be at Roger Williams University this Thursday

Sorry for the last minute announcement, but we were not certain how much space was available at this presentation of “Finding Phebe: Uncovering the History of Enslavement in Warren, RI”.  We can tell you it is worth coming just for the view, because we are presenting at the gorgeous Sailing and Education Center at Roger Williams. Here is a link to an older map of the RWU campus; the Center is #29.  The presentation begins at six and it is free to all.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois

duboisW. E. B. Du Bois, while at Harvard University, wrote his doctoral dissertation: The Suppression of the African Slave-trade to the United States of America  1638-1870.  I had not known about this monograph until I picked up a compendium of his work at the George Hail Library here in Warren.  I also discovered the website site that gives links to the various editions of the work online as well as much of what has been written about it since its publication in 1896.  It is a masterful work, using facts to show how that “suppression” was, until the end, nonexistent.  In the final chapter, he observes the catastrophic result of the failure of the men at the Constitutional Convention to address slavery at the end of the Revolutionary War:  …there was never a time in the history of America when the system [of slavery] had a slighter economic, political, and moral justification than in 1787; and yet with this real, existent, growing evil before their eyes, a bargain largely of dollars and cents was allowed to open the highway that led straight to the Civil War.

Along with the nearly 200-page text of this piece, Dr. Du Bois also offers an impressive  appendices

list of appendices.  Appendix C includes a list of American vessels carrying Africans into slavery after the trade was “outlawed” in 1808; it goes on for many pages.

You can also see much more of Du Bois’ writings and correspondence via Credo at UMass Amherst.  Born in Massachusetts in 1868 (just 3 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment), he moved to Ghana late in life and died there at the age of 95, on the eve of the historic March on Washington in 1963.


New address, same blog.

WordPress does a great job with free blogs but there is one catch — ads sometimes show up that are put there by WordPress.  The blog has no control of those ads — and does not receive money for them — and we just felt that wasn’t appropriate for Warren MIddle Passage Project.  And so we are now though our old address will still get you here.  We are a non-profit organization so I would have like to have gotten a .org address but that didn’t seem to be available.

I have seen an uptick in visitors lately, so let me say HI to all of you. I have recently begun a LINKS page and encourage you to take a look at the sites listed.  If you have one you think would be a good fit, please send it along.

Finding Primus.

Last night Sarah and I presented “Finding Phebe” to an audience of about sixty people at East Providence Library.  They were a great group who expressed their emotions loud enough for us to hear them and that always encourages us.

When we go outside of Warren, we try and find some information on enslavement in the town where we are presenting since there is no place in Rhode Island where people weren’t enslaved.  East Providence was founded after the end of slavery, so we went to the East Providence Historical Society site and found that the group’s headquarters were in the John Hunt House circa 1750 — East Providence was a part of Rehoboth MA at the time — so we started there; we didn’t need to go any further.  When I put that name and date into, it presented the Will and Inventory for Mr. Hunt dated 1751.  After reading the first two pages of his will, I found an all too common bequest — a human being.primus will huntPrimus could well have been an adult, the use of the derogatory term “boy” tells us nothing about his age. Did John Hunt own any other people?  None were mentioned in the will so we looked at the inventory of property taken after his death, and we found the answer.

negro woman hunt

Listed among the livestock were “a Negro woman and her child.”  Although it may be shocking to think about, it was not unusual for people to own slaves but not mention them in their wills at all, only to find them turning up in lists similar to Hunt’s inventory.

And so with the information from those probate records, coupled with the information available on the house owned by John Hunt, we can say that three enslaved people lived in John Hunt’s house in what was then Rehoboth, now East Providence.  For more house details, click here.hunt_restored

The next step toward finding Primus and the woman and child enslaved in the Hunt house would be to look at more wills, go through Rehoboth town council records for possible emancipations or other actions involving the enslaved, and look at any family papers from that period as well as the earliest census for Massachusetts, 1790.  This work can be tedious and frustrating but it is truly rewarding to find those who have been forgotten.  There are folks thoughout the state happy to guide such searches.  Let us know if you would like to look for those within your home town.


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