Friday Flagging: Charlestown

I’ll start off by admitting I knew very little about Charlestown (like a lot of South County communities) before this week.

Charlestown is one of four communities that was formed from the initial English settlement of Westerly; though the lands belonged to the Eastern Niantic and Narragansett nations prior to English purchase/settlement/conquest (today, the Narragansett Indian Reservation is within the town’s borders). Large sections of the town are named after Niantic sachem Ninigret (or possibly his descendants). In 1738, Charlestown was divided from Westerly (ostensibly because the of difficult of travel to town meetings) and named after King Charles II, who granted Rhode Island its charter. Less than a decade later, the part north of the Pawcatuck River was broken off to become Richmond. Geographically, Charlestown has three large freshwater ponds and two large saltwater ponds, and is largely woodland and farmland.

Like a lot of Rhode Island towns, Charlestown is largely a set of villages, in this case, four mill villages (Kenyon, Shannock, Carolina, and Cross’ Mills) and a shore village (Quonochontaug or “Quonnie” – possibly meaning “black fish”). The three northern villages are divided by the Pawcatuck River, and actually large portions of them are in Richmond. Like a fair amount of South County, Charlestown contained slave plantations.

The shore area, especially Quonochontaug, was devastated in the Hurricane of 1938. During World War II, there was Auxillary Naval Air Station that trained pilots, and today is a National Wildlife Refuge and a park.

More than a few places are connected to the Stanton family, of which the most prominent member was Joseph Stanton, Jr., a commander in the Revolutionary War and one the first United States Senators from RI, serving alongside Theodore Foster for whom the town of Foster is named after.

The Census Bureau estimates Charlestown to have a population of 7,820, a handful of people less than it had in the 2010 Census.

What has Charlestown Got Now?

Charlestown has both arms and a flag. They are… not great.

Coat of Arms of Charlestown

Illustration by Harold Bowditch, printed by Roger Williams Press, colored by Marlowe de Christoper, obtained from the Providence Archives, and from Sam Howard’s collection.

From the Tercentenary Commission description:

Argent an Indian gules. A red Indian on a silver shield. The Royal Indian Burial Ground is located in Charlestown.

This is essentially a Native American mascot, but for heraldry. While Charlestown does have a connection to the nations whose land it sits on, it’s not clear to me that that connection is one of reciprocity and mutual support.

Unfortunately, Charlestown fully embraced this symbol, and it’s their de facto seal and on their flag… except with “Charlestown” on a scroll.

Current Flag of Charlestown

This is not a great flag. Again, if you need to put your name on your flag, you’re doing it wrong. It’s not even executed well. The text shifts off in weird angles, and the path it’s on isn’t parallel to the path of the scroll. It looks like the drawing of a small child (I suspect, based on the similarities, it’s actually fairly close to the original Bowditch drawing of the Tercentenary Commission). It’s possible no one has updated this since whenever they digitized it.

So, our existing civic symbols are pretty much unusable.

Digitizing Existing Designs

As I said in the Bristol redesign, unless you are a Indian nation, or have spent a lot of time reflecting on your polity’s history with Indians and gotten the approval of the relevant nations, there’s no good reason to have Indian-related symbolism. It’s not like Narragansett institutions influence the the town’s civic institutions; prior to the federal recognition of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, the last sachem of the Narragansetts to be recognized by white settlers died in the 1770s (the Narragansetts were later “detribalized” in 1880).

So, I’m not going update any of the existing designs.

Creating New Civic Symbols

Okay, so we need a new coat of arms. Where could we look? Well, how about Westerly, which Charlestown was part of until the mid-1700s?

Westerly (which will be the penultimate municipality in this series) uses three red fish on white as its coat of arms, according to the Tercentenary Commission (on Westerly’s seal, the fish are in front of a net). So, we can take those arms, and difference them a bit. One thing I learned is that village of Quonochontaug means “black fish”, though it’s unclear what language that’s in (I’m guessing Narragansett or another Algonquian language). So, we can use that to create the difference. So, if Westerly is (supposed to be) red on white, then Charlestown can be black on white. The first example is just a black version of the Westerly arms, and the second uses five fish to represent the five villages.

Alternatively, we could lean more heavily into the “Charles” part of Charlestown. Charles II was King of England and Scotland, so why not use a crown as a symbol?

The first escutcheon uses a “C” for “Charlestown” while using two crowns to represent “Charles II” – while the second uses St. Edward’s Crown as a representation of the king. The red color would be for the English royal red.

Alternatively, we could combine the previous symbols symbols.

So, on the left, I’ve just done a fish wearing St. Edward’s Crown. The right I’ve used a red chief with the St. Edward’s Crown in white with the difference Westerly arms, to add a bit of color.

Finally, we could reach for a couple other symbols.

The symbol on the left is based on the naval aviator insignia for the Naval Auxiliary Air Station, and also Charlestown’s protected areas for nesting birds. Instead of a plain white field I’ve used five stripes to represent the villages, and also the beaches and bodies of water in the town. To the right, given the Stanton’s family’s place in establishing the town, I’ve pulled the Stanton family arms (or, at least, the arms of the English Stanton/Staunton family from the same area that the progenitor of the American Stantons is from).

Redesigning Charlestown’s Flag

Design 1

Charleston Tricolor

The first design is intended to be very simple, and large departure from the arms and current flag. This is a horizontal tricolor, and it’s the most common layout for flags in the world. This tricolor represents the water, beaches, and woodlands/farmlands of the town. Theoretically, on the right day, if you were standing in the water of East Beach looking inland to the Ninigret Conservation Area, you’d be able to get all three of these colors in order.

Designs 2a & 2b

Stanton Obelisk Flag

Cross Mills Flag

Designs 2a and 2b use the same sort of color meanings as Design 1, but are divided into a bicolor, while using the yellow to represent parts of the town. 2a uses it to represent the Stanton obelisk, while 2b uses the saltire for Cross’ Mills.

Design 3a & 3b

Charlescrown flag

Charlescrown flag red

This flag, shown twice in inverted colors, takes the crowned “C” emblem used in one of the versions of the arms I created, and adapts it to a regular flag. It’s very similar to the layout of Japanese prefectural flags, which often use a letter stylized in a manner that relates to the prefecture (administrative division somewhat equivalent to states).

Design 4

Winged Anchor

Again, the winged anchor represents the Naval Auxiliary Air Station/Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge. The blue stripes at the top and bottom of this horizontal triband represent the Pawcatuck River and the Atlantic Ocean, respectively.

Design 5

Crown and Fish

This is an adaptation of the differenced arms of Westerly with the St. Edward’s Crown chief. This is the kind of flag you’d use if you really want a serious flag that draws heavily on history (i.e., the origins of the town and its name).

Design 6a & 6b

Crowned Fish

Crowned Fish Black

This has been a long week of social distancing. So when you get to a thing like a fish wearing the iconic British royal crown in brainstorming process, you go with it. I’ll leave you with two different variations of the Fishcrown Flag.

Wrapping Up

To this point, I think I’ve been fairly conservative in my designs for town and city flags, attempting to just adapt the existing arms in various ways. But I think this was a good demonstration that flag designs can go in a lot of different directions when starting from scratch. And that’s good! If you were going to do a flag change for real, you’d really look for the submitted proposals to be pretty varied like the above flags.

As usual, I am not from Charlestown, I don’t know much about the town, and a lot of what I’ve written above may be totally off-base or unrepresentative of the town. Feel free to let me know through the Contact page. And as always… vote!

6 comments

  1. I voted but I’m not happy as a resident of Charlestown, lol. Seriously? Enough with the royal crap, no crowns! I get the heraldry and all, but this is the United States in the 21st Century. Can we forget the fact we came from slave owners and royals, and concentrate on the fact we revolted from those systems? I’d much prefer your five fishes flag, maybe even in an “Olympic,” type model, with different color fish. Just a thought. Hope you don’t mind the constructive criticism, I do like the whole concept, and I do think you’re right, it is a bad flag, and we do need to stop using native American symbolism, especially when there is a noticeable divide between the populations, and there is in Charlestown.

    1. No, it’s fair criticism. That’s a good point. I was thinking about doing a phrygian cap one in honor of Joseph Stanton being one of the first two Senators, but phrygian caps are hard to do. They often look pretty silly.

  2. jonhoward · · Reply

    I voted for the fish with a crown because it’s funny. Of course it’s futile to ask a town to have a sense of humor, especially about itself. If I was being serious, I’d go for the Flag of the Five Fishes. Besides alliteration, it’s got high black and white contrast and fish, Charlestown’s most important town asset and distinguisher. And it would definitely one-up Westerly with only three fishes – and ugly pink fish at that!

  3. Satchell · · Reply

    I expect to be consulted when West Warwick’s time comes!

    1. I think that’ll be in late October or very early November. You may be a bit busy. But you can always send me your thoughts now!

    2. This is excellent. Only point of contention is letting LA paper be defining on Quonnie’s meaning. I’ve heard ‘long, long pond’, ‘home of the flatfish’ and ‘home of the blackfish’. It is long. Very long. I’ve caught flatfish and blackfish there too.

      I like the crowned fish but I see that it could be seen as goofier and too much of a not to our prior owners in the UK. I like the 5 fishes next. Cool stuff, ty.

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