The East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society has removed the reproduction carved figures of the black and white shackled prisoners on the front of the “Old Jail” building in East Greenwich, our headquarters, as they could be viewed as insensitive or offensive. We took prompt action after receiving a request to remove the statues on Sunday, 6/14. We met in a board session on Monday, 6/15 and, in consultation with Charles Roberts of the Rhode Island Slave History Medallion project, determined to remove the statues. As we were made aware of a EG Racial Justice rally that was set to meet on our doorstep on Saturday, the 20th, we arranged to have the statues removed on the 17th. The reproduction statues are currently safe and we will soon open discussions with members as to where they will, with appropriate signage, be displayed (or hung) next. Stay tuned to the members section on the website.
We stand for inclusivity and respect in carrying out our mission of connecting our shared history to our lives today. The board having been made aware that the figures, presented without context or signage, were viewed as offensive and unwelcoming to some viewers, we did not find a compelling reason maintain their position.
As was publicized at the time, these figures were reproduced to be replicas of figures that were known to have been placed on the front of the circa 1790s Second Kent County Jail during the 18th and 19th centuries. These figures were meant to visually signal that the building was a jail at a time when literacy was not high in the United States. Further, we understand that having a figure of a white man and a black man, each shackled, was intended to be an aspirational visual signal that punishment was expected to be administered to all prisoners, regardless of race. While the Rhode Island Historical Society has had the original figure of the white prisoner in its collection since 1859, the figure of the black prisoner had been lost. When the EGHPS commissioned reproduction figures from a local artist in 2016, its intentions were to bring the building’s facade more closely to its original appearance.
Our past work highlighting Winsor Fry, a formerly enslaved man that fought in nine Revolutionary War battles and who was an East Greenwich resident, and other projects, are just some of the ways in which we provide opportunities to connect our shared history to our lives today. We hope to continue this good work and welcome everyone to continue on our collective journey to make sense of, and reckon with, our shared history.
We appreciate this opportunity to reiterate our message of welcome, respect and inclusivity.
NOTICE: All EGHPS Meetings Cancelled!
Due to the coronavirus all EGHPS upcoming events and meetings are cancelled until further notice.
East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society
Our headquarters: the Old Kent County Jail, 110 King St., East Greenwich
When the Colonel Micah Whitmarsh House, the Brick House, at 294 Main Street, East Greenwich, was to be razed to make way for a parking lot, a number of the townsfolk foresaw what the future could hold. Already the Old Town Hall had disappeared and a number of lovely old houses had been demolished to make way for nondescript purposes. The whole character of the town was going to change if this were allowed to continue.
In 1967 the East Greenwich Preservation Society was formed, primarily to acquire and save the Brick House. The building was refurbished, financed with money obtained from dues, donations, grants and bank loans, and became a working asset of the town.
In 1969 the “Old Kent County Jail” at 110 King Street was scheduled to be torn down or moved to change the traffic pattern on Water Street. The Society rallied in support of the Jail, purchased the structure and it remains on its original site as the headquarters of the East Greenwich Historic Preservation Society.
Your membership and participation are the most
important parts of our organization! Join Today!
- Encouraging the protection and preservation of buildings, neighborhoods, documents, photographs and items of historic significance.
- Monthly programs which are open and free to the public.
- Continued restoration of the Old Jail.
- Sponsoring programs that foster community growth.
- Publishing The Packet, a newsletter with in-depth history of the Town.
- Participating in educational and civic events.
Help Protect and Preserve the History of
East Greenwich, Rhode Island!
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Until 1854, East Greenwich was one of the five state capitals in Rhode Island. The others were Providence, Newport, South Kingstown and Bristol.
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Major William Gibbs McNeill, Chief Engineer of the Railroad and uncle of James McNeill Whistler, the famous American painter, designed the handsome double-arch, granite bridge (1837) on King Street, with George Washington Whistler, the father of James.
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