Your Town, Your Life: Bristol - ABC6 - Providence, RI and New Bedford, MA News, Weather

Your Town, Your Life: Bristol

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  By: Alexandra Cowley 

In this weeks Your Town, Your Life we take you to Bristol, Rhode Island. On the heels of their biggest celebration of the year, the 4th of July. But, there's a lot more to the community than its American pride. One of the largest minorities in the area are Portuguese-Americans, mostly from the Azores.
Some landed in the area while on whaling voyages, others fleeing the eruption of a destructive volcano.

Bristol is also the home to the prestigious Roger Williams University. The school got its start in a YMCA building in Providence in 1940. About 20 years later, the former Roger Williams College, moved to its current location on the waterfront in Bristol. With 400 faculty and more than 5,000 students, the University is the pride of Bristol.

The oldest Congregational church in the state is nestled in Bristol. Members of the First Congregational Church came together in the 1680's. Its current location on High Street is the congregation's third building. It was built in 1856. It still has a slave balcony inside. Where the town's slaves would sit for worship.

When you think of slavery, you usually point South. But there was a time when Rhode Island had one of the highest slave populations in the North. Bristol, took full advantage of this trade. It was how many of the wealthy Bristolians made their money back then.

Joan Roth is a third generation Bristolian. A former Chief Marshal from 1986. A former history teacher and even a music professor from Roger Williams University.

Her most recent title, "When people introduce me they'll say you need to meet the unofficial mayor of Bristol. First time I heard that I was like what." laughed Roth. 

Roth earned the title because of her love and dedication to the town of Bristol. At 87 years young, she still gives tours of The Linden Place Museum. The mansion was home to the Colt and DeWolf families. Two of the largest slave trading families in the United States.

"The town was in the slave trade that was our main industry," said Roth.

Roth taught the history of Bristol she says many don't know much about. The Triangle Trade which flourished in the late 1700's.

"We had 7 distilleries up an down Thames Street at one point in our history. Men taking molasses and distilling it into rum, which would then be taken to Africa and traded for slaves," explained Roth. 

Even after it was banned in the US in 1808, The DeWolf's didn't stop. Roth says it's how they paid to build the mansion.

"This family and others were in the slave trade for as long as they could get away with it," she said. 

Bristol is also known for its boat building and manufacturing. The town has seen many changes throughout its history, but one thing has remained the same. It's 4th of July celebration.

"It's gone on through slave trade, boat building, wars, no matter what Bristol has always observed the 4th of July," said Roth. 

Our journey so far has taken us to more than a dozen cities and towns throughout Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts. If you'd like us to feature your town, go to our website, look for the your town logo, and tell us what's unique about where you live.

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