Jamestown to make amends for past involvement in slave trade

JAMESTOWN, R.I. (WLNE) — With Juneteenth just days away, one of Rhode Island’s communities is making amends for the past.

Twenty years ago, Peter Fay, a public historian, was fascinated by Jamestown’s colonial history. In his research, he noticed that about 1/3 of the town’s population in the 18th century was African or Native American.

“What happened to all the people of color, where did they go?” asked Fay. “No one seemed to have an answer or any explanation as to why there was such a high proportion.”

Upon research of town archives, Fay discovered dozens of slave trade records.

One of the records described a wealthy, elderly woman who was indebted to the town. Unable to pay the debts, the town council began to liquidate her property.

“Of course, one of the ways you do that is to begin to sell property, and that included her six slaves. This is the only town I found that the government gets involved in buying or selling,” Fay explained.

The Martins, a family of seven, were separated and sold by the town in 1791. This makes Jamestown, according to Fay, the only town in Rhode Island’s history to have their local government involved in the slave trade.

Fay explained the current town council was stunned by the news, saying, “It was shock, disgust, and anger. There’s a lot to comprehend about the way we see ourselves. We often see ourselves with rose colored glasses.”

Fay said the slave population in Rhode Island peaked at 10% in the 18th century, but ultimately outlawed in 1842.

“This was an everyday occurrence. Every day, people were being bought and sold. It is despicable, it is sad it, is disgusting. But it’s part of the culture of America, that we have to look straight in the face and acknowledged,” he conlcuded.

This Monday, the Jamestown Town Council passed a resolution unanimously that includes raising the Juneteenth flag this Sunday.

They will also offer scholarships in the future to amend for the past.

Categories: News, Regional News, Rhode Island