The Town of East Greenwich is the county seat of the vestigial Kent County in Rhode Island, and thus, a former capital of the state. Possibly the first known settlement was by the Cowesett band(?) of the Narragansetts. English settlers purchased, or perhaps secured a cession from the Narragansetts in the 1640s, but the first permanent English settlement didn’t happen until the 1660s, and even then, it took until 1677 at the end of King Philip’s War for the town to be created.
Due to the power vacuum caused by the war and the defeat and genocide of the Narragansetts, Connecticut claimed the Narragansetts’ land (though, RI had been allowed to administer the area since 1665). So, in true Rhode Island fashion, the General Assembly hastily settled a bunch of people there first to stake claim to the area. The initial English inhabitants of the new town were veterans from Aquidneck, Conanicut, and Prudence islands. Connecticut eventually abandoned their claims to the area in 1703.
Late in the 17th Century, Huguenot refugees from France, fleeing religious persecution, settled in East Greenwich. However, since they’d been duped by land speculators, and there was a war on with France, they faced harassment from the locals, and eventually almost all departed for friendlier New York. Ever since, the area they settled in East Greenwich has been called Frenchtown.
In 1741, the town was divided, and the western portion became West Greenwich (I’m unclear from the sources I found whether to this point, the whole area was known as “Greenwich”). During the Revolutionary War era, the area was notable for delivering two major mainstays in Rhode Island military history: the Kentish Guards, one of Rhode Island’s chartered militia companies; and the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, a unit that included black and Narragansett slaves, freedmen, and those who had never been enslaved. The Kentish Guards exist today (they would go on to participate in the suppression of the Dorr Rebellion), while the 1st Rhode Island (and the state’s legacy with slavery) has largely been ignored by white Rhode Islanders.
After independence, the harbor and county courthouse (today’s Town Hall) were built. In 1842, one source claims that the Charterite Convention during the Dorr War era was held at East Greenwich’s United Methodist Church, though other sources claim it was held in Newport. Industrial growth in East Greenwich was mainly around textiles. In the late 19th Century, East Greenwich had a Swedish community, an African-American community, and an Italian community.
The town itself has a small strip of coast along the western shore of Greenwich Cove, with Post Road (Route 1) and the Hunt River making up much of its eastern border. Otherwise it is a square slice, with few real geographical features acting as borders (with the exception of Division Road along its northern border with Warwick). Both Routes 2 and 4 run through the town, with Interstate 95 clipping it slightly in the northwestern corner.
What has East Greenwich got now?
East Greenwich got a coat of arms from the Tercentenary Commission in the 1930s.
If you’re wondering what that design means:
Or on a pale azure an hour glass argent on achief of the second two anchors of the first. Gold shield, with a silver hour glass on a vertical blue stripe, and at the top of the shield two gold anchors on a horizontal blue stripe.
East Greenwich was named for East Greenwich, England. The significant feature in the arms of Greeniwch, England, is azure an hour glass argent, in recognition of the fact that time and longitude are based on the Greenwich observatory. This salient feature is significantly combined with two gold anchors, one to show that East Greenwich is in Rhode Island, and the other to show it has a harbor.
East Greenwich uses these arms. Here’s the arms on their town hall sign:
They also have a one-color version for use on paper in a sort of de facto town seal:
This is a town that uses its arms. That’s great. They didn’t dress them up too much for a town seal. That’s also great.
East Greenwich also has a town flag:
That’s from the Flags of the World website, but if you go online, you can find an image of pretty much the same flag, but in yellow and blue instead of white and blue:
Look, color aside, I don’t love this flag. But I do respect it. We’ve seen quite a few examples already where the municipality just didn’t care about their flag and slapped a seal on a plain white sheet. Someone designed this flag. Someone actually put some effort into it. Did they do the best job? No. But they did something, and sometimes that’s all we can ask.
There is something I find oddly pirate-like to it though, though I should hasten to point out that most of the Golden Age pirate flags you might be familiar with are basically apocryphal or just completely made up.
Digitizing Existing Designs
Since the arms mostly exist in bitmap, it’s good to create a nice vector version. Once again, mine is on the left, the WappenWiki asset version is on the right (though I had to cobble together the hourglass, which is a rarity in heraldry).
I’ve tried, in my version, to get as close to the sources as possible. One of the interesting features for depictions of East Greenwich’s arms are the slanted stocks, that point up and in.
The flag is relatively simple. I went with the yellow version from the town website. As is typical, I don’t have the correct fonts, I so went with Volkhov Bold for the scroll text and Domine Bold for the numerals. One of the odd things about the scrolling on this flag is that the designer used those additional holders for the text, typically, the scrolling itself acts as the holder for the text.
So, where does that leave us? We have a town that uses its arms. We have a town that apparently flies its flag (one designed with thought) outside of town hall (from the website photo).
Let’s see if we can at least build upon East Greenwich’s flag using its existing symbolism.
Redesigning East Greenwich’s flag
Something that occasionally happens when adapting arms into flags is that you run into a problem where flipping the design horizontally renders an element unreadable or ridiculous. In this case, the hourglass down the center stripe would be horizontal, which would look extremely weird. So, instead, using using a square holder works better (in this case, a close approximation of the town shape). All the elements from the arm remain, though the slanted-stock anchors have been swapped out for my own anchor asset based on a plaque issued by the State.
Another solution is to simply ditch the chief, and use a horizontal triband as a holder for both the anchors and the hourglass. I’ve brought back the slanted stock anchors for this one to give some life to the flag.
Sometimes, I think a tricolor is just worth trying. Using the three colors from the arms, and the heraldic rule of tincture, you can get this nice horizontal tricolor that looks like it’s been around forever. It also has some nice color connections with the flag of Rhode Island.
Keeping much of the symbolism intact from the flag, this flag uses an unconventional layout, with a relatively square design featuring a trailing streamer. The goal is to approximate the shape of East Greenwich, while using only the symbolic elements of the existing flag. The single star represents East Greenwich’s status as a former capital of Rhode Island.
Finally, this design uses the hourglass shape as a central design element, slightly shifted towards the hoist, to form a sort of tricolor. The star represents the former capital.
East Greenwich is an interesting case. I really don’t know too much about the town, except for its recently contentious politics. It’s a town that uses its arms, and has a designed flag, but has the drawback that its arms aren’t particularly specific to it. The hourglass represents Greenwich, England. The anchor represents Rhode Island. There isn’t a town-specific symbol there.
Unfortunately, I was late getting to this this week, so I wasn’t able to do as much research as I might’ve liked to find local symbols. If you have thoughts about things about East Greenwich that should be represented on a flag, please get in touch or leave a comment below.
As always, vote in the poll, and I’ll see you next week.