In the northeast corner of Rhode Island sits Cumberland (population estimated at 34,977). Sort of the frontier between the Narragansett, Nipmuc, and Wampanoag lands, the first English settlement in Cumberland was in 1635, when William Blackstone (whom the Blackstone River is named after) moved there. This possibly makes Cumberland the site of the oldest English settlement in what is today Rhode Island. However, it wasn’t Rhode Island yet, English settlers claimed the area as part of Plymouth Colony. It wasn’t until 1747 when a royal settlement established the eastern boundaries of RI with Mass (Plymouth having been eliminated in the 1690s) that today’s Cumberland was given to Rhode Island. Until then, it was called the “Attleborough Gore” but in 1747 it was set aside as a new town, called “Cumberland” after the Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George III who defeated the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746.
Like many Rhode Island towns, Cumberland’s development centered along a number of mill villages. In 1867, three northern villages that had grown significantly were set aside to form Woonsocket. The southern village, Valley Falls industrialized at the same time, though to a lesser extent than the Woonsocket ones, and at the same time Woonsocket was split, Valley Falls became the administrative center of the town of Cumberland (Cumberland Town Hall is less than a block away from the Blackstone River). The town is divided into six villages: Cumberland Hill, Valley Falls, Ashton, Arnold Mills, Diamond Hill, and Berkeley.
The town is bordered to its north and east by Massachusetts, and its south and west by Woonsocket and the Blackstone River (across which sit Lincoln and Central Falls). Interstate 295 runs across the center of town, and most settlement in the town runs along Routes 122 and 114 (or, perhaps vice-versa). It also the site of the world’s only known deposit of cumberlandite, which is also the state rock of Rhode Island.
What has Cumberland got now?
Along with every other town in the 1930s, Cumberland adopted a coat of arms. I’m not going to say Cumberland has the most exciting coat of arms, but I do think it’s perhaps the most symbolically resonant.
From the Tercentenary Commission description:
Argent on a pile gules on a lozenge of the first. Silver shield with a red triangle with point downward, on which is a silver diamond.
Cumberland was formerly called the Attleboro Gore, which is symbolized by the heraldic pile. The lozenge or diamond on the pile refers to Diamond hill and its quartz, one of the well-known features of Cumberland.
A lot of towns chose (or were given) arms that were based off an English town or the family arms of the town’s namesake. Cumberland’s don’t do that (possibly because the arms of the Duke of Cumberland are basically the arms of the UK), instead opting for something that references history, geography, and geology.
Cumberland uses the diamond symbolism in its town seal.
I’m not an expert on town seals (if such a thing exists), but I feel like this strikes a balance between some of the fussier, harder to adapt seals and something a little more logo-like. There are too many elements here to make a good logo, but as a seal it’s okay. I can understand the rationale of place “1747” between “Rhode” and “Island” but I don’t think it works at all.
And it follows through on that with its flag, which use the arms (and some text on scrolls).
I have seen this flag suggested as the worst town flag in RI, but I think that’s an exaggeration. That designation probably should go to any of the many SOBs that are virtually indistinguishable from one another. This isn’t a great flag, but there isn’t much that makes it different from, say, Little Compton, which also slaps its arms on the flag.
Digitizing Existing Designs
First, the arms are relatively simple to do.
On the left, you have my design, on the right, using WappenWiki assets. Different executions of the same concept (my design was attempting to mimic the diamond from the flag).
The town seal probably already exists as a vector, and I didn’t have the right font for the town name and incorporation date, but I felt it was good practice and worth attempting.
The flag is kind of a weird beast, but ultimately, fairly simple to recreate (compared to Cranston with its helmet and mantling). In this case, I changed the font to Cabin because I felt it looked friendlier and less stuffy.
Just like Barrington, I don’t recommend placing full words like this on your flag unless it’s either absolutely vital to the flag’s message (e.g., taunting your opponent in a civil war) or can be incorporated into the design of the flag (e.g., the repeated takbir on Iran’s flag). And like a lot of flags that use shield featuring arms in the design, it doesn’t make any sense to make them a bit fancier to just simply place them on a plain field.
So let’s see if we can’t do Cumberland a bit better.
Redesigning Cumberland’s Flag
Designs 1a & 1b
There are two ways to do a heraldic pile (a triangle) when adapting them to a flag, and I wanted to show both here. Either is fine, though I think 1b is the stronger of the two, as it makes use of the length of the flag, and the diamond emblem should have better visibility when the flag is at rest.
Designs 2a & 2b
These designs take the gem design from the town seal, and removes the Cumberland shape to use a six-diamond star to represent the villages (again, mirroring the design choice on the seal. The first (2a) is a simple two color flag in blue and white, while the other (2b) is teal (a half-way point representing both the Blackstone River and the green of Cumberland’s woodland) and rusty red (representing cumberlandite).
Using the flag of the county of Cumberland, England as its starting point, this uses the diamonds representing the towns and then the water represents the Blackstone River. I like this one less, because there isn’t a real connection between the Cumberlands, and it’s really just dragooning the English Cumberland’s symbolism for the purposes of Rhode Island, but it seemed like a route that needed to be explored, especially since so many RI arms are just based on an English area’s.
This simple heraldic design is in blue (for the river) and white (for the quartz, as on the arms) with six diamonds representing the six villages. The goal here was to be simple, memorable, and timeless. You can imagine this flag on an oil painting from the 1700s as well as being waved at games played by Cumberland High School teams.
Designs 5a & 5b
The goal of 5a here was to replicate the designs you see on Japanese prefectural flags, using a stylized “CMD” for “Cumberland”, though with the “C” representing a mill wheel for industry, the “M” representing the hills of Cumberland for the town’s woodland and natural resources, and the “D” representing the sun for prosperity and joy.
5b does a similar thing, but using the six diamonds for six villages meaning, and with one extra letter (“CMBD” instead of “CMD” with the “B” composed of two diamonds).
These designs are little more out there, and I’d expect some serious pushback if a town was to adopt them, but I do feel they’re a good way to reroute that instinct to put the full name of the town towards a design that nods in that direction while using a symbol that works separate of the words.
Cumberland was surprisingly easier to generate ideas for than Cranston and even Coventry were, and I think it was because of the symbolic richness of the arms. The thing about taking another place’s or a family’s arms is that those are filled with meaning that are really specific to that place or that family. What are three cranes to Cranston or an elephant and castle to Coventry?
Cumberland really has something unique and specific to them here, something fairly rare among RI municipalities’ arms. It’s just a shame they have such an undistinguished flag to pair them with.
Anyhow, I’m not from Cumberland, feel free to leave your thoughts and views in the comments, or tweet at me. If you want something more substantial, or feel like I missed something, the Contact Us page is also good.
Use the poll to vote for your favorite, and I’ll see you next week as we look at East Greenwich.