Over the years, the Jamestown Historical Society has collected stories, artifacts, and photos that highlight the role of African Americans in settling and contributing to the growth and prosperity of Jamestown. For 350 years the African American community has varied from a small community to over one-third of the population. Below are some of the highlights of that history.
The Free Remington Family of Jamestown
Orman Remington was enslaved at Gershom Remington’s farm, which is now Watson Farm, on North Road.
He was the only known slave in Jamestown’s history to purchase his own freedom, an exceptionally rare event that often was enabled by other people assisting with payment.
His owner, Gershom Remington, received “100 Spanish silver milled dollars … hereof well & truly paid by my Negro man slave named Ormond (sic) … I do grant, bargain and sell unto the said Ormond his freedom” in 1781.. … Remington-Buys Freedom
Stories in Stone
A Cedar Cemetery tour was offered by the Jamestown Historical Society on Saturday, October 2, 2021 and introduced some of the men and women buried there. Olivia Johns Rice (1880-1973) was born in Cleveland, OH into a prominent Black family. In her 20s, college-educated Olivia taught grade school and in 1910 she married Frank Rice who was descended from an eminent Black family in Newport. Frank’s grandfather was a caterer and founding member of the Newport Anti-Slavery Society. For 44 years Frank served as caretaker of the Hazard summer house on Walcott Ave. After Frank died in 1937, Olivia continued living on and caring for the Hazard property until Hazard died in 1961, leaving Olivia $100 a month for life… Stories-in-stone-cedar-cemetery-tour
Black Inventor Stakes Claim with Toy Bird, Blinds
Jamestown’s Gilded Age, like Newport’s, reached its pinnacle with the hotel boom, and a vast workforce of manual laborers propelled the growing town into the 20th century.
Hundreds of them were African Americans: butlers, cooks, washerwomen, coachmen and expressmen. Their untold stories often reveal resourcefulness amidst adversity, none more so than coachman Abraham Pugsley.
In August 1890, the magazine Scientific American announced a new “device for operating and fastening blind slats which is the invention of Mr. Abraham Pugsley of Jamestown, Rhode Island.” … Black Inventor
Jamestown resident exploring Town Hall records finds proof the Town Council sold slaves in 1790s.
Antonia Noori Farzan Providence Journal | USA TODAY NETWORK
When Peter Fay moved to Jamestown 20 years ago, he set out to learn whatever he could about the town’s history. One fact stood out: In the middle of the 18th century, Black and indigenous people made up 32% of the town’s population. That was a higher percentage than any other town in Rhode Island — or anywhere else in New England.
How had that come to pass?
“I asked around,” Fay recalled in a recent interview, “and no one seemed to know.”
So, he said, “I decided to go to Town Hall and open up the books. And there it was, staring me in the face.” Records from more than 200 years ago made clear that “slavery was a huge factor in the establishment and growth of this town,” Fay said. And they revealed that the Jamestown Town Council itself had been selling slaves. On Monday, council members voted to “acknowledge a wrong” and take steps to honor Betty Martin and her family, whom their predecessors sold or “bound out” into indentured service in
the 1790s…. In-Black-and-White-Prov-Journal-2022.pdf
Town’s black population has ebbed, flowed
Colonial Jamestown had the largest black population, by percentage, of any community in the state. According to a 1706 census, 15 percent of townspeople were black, although none were land owners.
By 1756, that figure had risen to 36 percent. When the importation of slaves into Rhode Island was formally prohibited in 1774, 20 percent of the 563 residents in town were Africans or descendants.
The censuses do not distinguish between free and enslaved servants, but wills and estate inventories of the era make it clear most were slaves… Black Population
Jamestown Inherited Two Thanksgiving Traditions
Thanksgiving is a time to gather and feast with family and friends while pondering past blessings, and archives of the Jamestown Historical Society reveal many of these such good fortunes.
On Conanicut Island, harvest feasts predate European settlement. Before the 1658 purchase, a large Narragansett community including “700 bowmen,” or warriors, occupied the island according to Reverend Ezra Stiles of Newport. The size and permanence of this agrarian community was revealed by archaeological digs at West Ferry: 195 burials, mostly from the early 1600s, included funerary offerings of brass kettles, spoons, vessels, and clay pots commonly used in feasts… Two Thanksgiving Traditions