Newport representatives Lauren Carson, second from right, and Marvin L. Abney, second from left, welcome Charles Roberts of the Rhode Island Slave History Medallion project, and his wife and Margaret Baker, to the State House.

Rhode Island General Assembly’s Legislative Press & Public Information Bureau announced today that Representative Lauren H. Carson recently honored the Newport man behind a statewide project to identify and educate the public about sites that were significant in Rhode Island’s participation and promotion of the slave trade.

Newporter Charles Roberts is leading the Rhode Island Slave History Medallion project, an effort to raise awareness about Rhode Island’s considerable role in the trans-Atlantic slavery trade. 

The project plans to install medallions all over Rhode Island marking significant sites. Each medallion would be affixed with a QR code that visitors could scan with a smartphone to access information about the events that occurred there. The first medallion has been installed at Patriots Park in Portsmouth, with two more coming soon at Smith Castle in North Kingstown and Bowen’s Wharf in Newport.

From colonial times to the 1800s, Rhode Island’s economy was closely tied to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Between 1644 and 1807, about 2,000 ships sailed from Rhode Island to bring back slaves from Africa, to be sold in the Caribbean Islands, to southern plantation owners or back in Rhode Island. Many of Rhode Island’s earliest banks were capitalized with the profits of the slave trade.

Representative Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) invited Roberts to the House of Representatives Feb. 25 to announce the project and presented him with a House resolution (2020-H 7643), cosponsored by fellow Newporter Rep. Marvin L. Abney (D-Dist. 73, Newport, Middletown), honoring his work.

“Rhode Island’s complicated history on slavery and race can serve to inform conversations about race and economics today. I commend Mr. Roberts for the vital work he’s been doing to bring about the Rhode Island Slave History Medallion project and shed light on a very dark element of our state’s past. I very much look forward to its completion, and urge Rhode Islanders to use it to learn more about our past and the brutality that lay behind much of the economic prosperity that Rhode Island was known for in its early days,” said Representative Carson in a statement.

For more information about the Rhode Island Slave History Medallion project, visit