On Thursday, July 23rd, Rhode Island Slave History Medallions (RISHM) will be installing a medallion on Bowen’s Wharf, in partnership with Bowen’s Wharf Company. A small installation ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. near one of the wharf’s original historic buildings, formerly known as the Stevens Ship Chandlery (now Sail Loft), which is registered with the Library of Congress’s Historic American Buildings Survey.
This will be the first medallion installed in Newport, and the second on Aquidneck Island. In November 2019, one was placed at Patriots Park in Portsmouth, near the location where the First Rhode Island Regiment, commonly known as the Black Regiment, fought the British and Hessians on August 29, 1778.
According to a press release from Bowen’s Wharf, Bart Dunbar, President of Bowen’s Wharf Company, is “thrilled that we were approached by Charles Roberts of the Medallion Project to help illuminate this shameful, though major, part of Rhode Island’s past and identify the wharf as an integral part of the economy both then and now.”
In the 18th century, the city of Newport was a major hub of the North American slave trade, and in the area now known as Bowen’s Wharf, the enslaved labored in the maritime trades and were transported in sailing ships as the basis for importing rum from the West Indies. Newport played an integral part of this “triangle trade”, where Rhode Island-made rum was exchanged for slaves in Africa, who were then sold in the south to work on plantations. The medallion placed on the Chandlery building (which dates back to 1783), near the waterfront and next to the iconic Bowen’s Wharf anchor, will educate visitors on the role that the location played in this important era of American history.
The Board of RISHM have found that without a foundation in history, it is difficult, if not impossible, to grasp the impact the institution of slavery has on our society today. The medallion plaque is an artistic representation of the ‘Soul Effigy’ angel image produced by the enslaved stone carver Pompe Stevens who, in 1768, carved and signed one of the first pieces of African American artwork still existing in North America.
For educational purposes, medallions are equipped with QR Code technology linked to a dedicated website with historically accurate content provided to the public to promote a broader understanding of Rhode Island’s role in the business of slavery. Through the use of the organization’s website (RISHM.org), this information is accessible to students, residents and visitors by placing the medallions at or near sites that are connected to slave-related history.
All invited guests are asked to please wear a mask to the ceremony and to comply with social distancing regulations. RISHM will provide masks if needed.
Rhode Island Slave History Medallions is a 501(c) 3 non- profit Rhode Island organization dedicated to marking and honoring historic sites connected to the history of slavery in Rhode Island. They aim to provide historical information and tell stories about the economic development of the State of Rhode Island during the colonial period from 1638 to 1843 through the use of free labor provided by enslaved African and Native American people.
For more info, visit https://rishm.org/newport-county/newport/bowens-wharf-newport/