Friday Flagging: East Providence

Every week, I develop sample redesigns of Rhode Island’s municipal flags. The goal of the project is to demonstrate the possibilities when local flag design breaks free of its conventions.

This week, we’re about a quarter of the way through the whole project, with the 10th municipality: East Providence.

About East Providence

East Providence is kind of Rhode Island’s alpha and omega. Its first English settlement (Wampanoag villages had been in the area well before the English arrived) was in 1636, when Roger Williams and his party founded “Seacunke” (rendered today as “Seekonk” and apparently Algonquin for “black goose”) on the shores of Omega Bay after being expelled from Massachusetts Bay Colony. In short order, they were told by Plymouth Colony “hey, get out of there, that’s ours,” and so they went across the river and our state was born. Just under 230 years later, that same area would be annexed by Rhode Island.

Much of East Providence’s history is as the population and administrative center of the Town of Rehoboth. After Williams and Co. cleared out, settlers from Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth purchased a frankly massive area from the Wampanoag in 1641. The area appears to initially have been “Seekonk Plantations” but in 1645, it was rechristened with the Biblical name “Rehoboth” from Genesis 26:22:

And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the Lord hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.

Rehoboth apparently means “broad/open spaces” in Hebrew, and Rehoboth in America grew big enough to encompass at least parts of 13 different cities and towns in the area, stretching from Woonsocket to Somerset. Then it was slowly split apart. For Rhode Island purposes, the big dates are 1746, when areas that would become Barrington, Cumberland, and Woonsocket were separated from it; 1812, when Seekonk was formed with modern East Providence as its main center; and 1862, when the final Supreme Court settlement of the two century old Massachusetts-Rhode Island border dispute shifted the area of East Providence to Rhode Island.

Thus East Providence in some ways represents the first of the polity that was to become Rhode Island, and its last piece of land to be added.

Early in its history, East Providence’s big claim to fame was its very large town common, called “the Ring of Green” or “the Ring of the Green” or “the Ring of the Town”. This area featured the town meeting house at its center. Today, much of this area is housing, though two cemeteries dominate it.

East Providence is essentially the combination of five neighborhoods: Philipsdale, Rumford, Watchemoket, Kent Heights, and Riverside. Each has a distinct history, but in large part, they began to be developed in the 1840s as suburbs of Providence. Rumford is named for a company, Riverside is named after the Illinois planned community that inspired a section of it, Philipsdale and Kent Heights are named after prominent individuals, and I am uncertain of the exact origin of Watchemoket.

Sources for this: Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission’s report on East Providence, City of East Providence’s “History” section, East Providence Historical Society’s entry for “Ring of the Green”.

What has East Providence got now?

If you’re a regular reader of this series, you know what comes next. A Tercentenary Commission coat of arms:

Coat of Arms of East Providence

Illustration by Harold Bowditch, printed by Roger Williams Press, colored by Marlowe de Christoper, obtained from the Providence Archives.

The emblazonment:

Argent three geese volant sable. Three black geese flying on a silver shield. The black goose is derived from the former name of the district Seekonk, which in the Indian tongue means black goose.

These arms, in modified form, have worked their way into the town seal:

East Providence Seal

From the City of East Providence – Mayor’s Office Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CityofEastProvidenceMayorsOffice/

I’m not a person who’s wild about seals, and this definitely doesn’t change my opinion of them. I thought there would be a stripped-down version for printing, but I found it on a press release as well. The beveling, the embossing, the gradients, they all give it a very dated look. The 1862 incorporation date appears to a bridge too far, squeezing the geese into the top half of the seal.

The city also has a flag.

Flag of East Providence

Image by Eugene Ipavec, from CRW Flags of the World: https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/us-riepr.html

This is basically a seal on a bedsheet, but it’s not the seal on a bedsheet, which is an interesting decision for a flag. This is actually a better seal in a lot of ways, and just generally a better flag than most SOBs. Visually, it recalls the state flag. I’m uncertain what the three stars are for, other than for visual interest. The artist of this flag appears to have gotten the incorporation date wrong.

Before I get started on developing new symbols, let me work my way through their current symbols.

Digitizing Existing Designs

First, let’s bring those arms into the new century.

Okay, so “goose volant” is not a popular heraldic charge. Technically, the WappenWiki geese (on right) I cobbled together are “rising” and not “volant” (in flight with feet tucked). The geese on the left are pretty much a straight copy of the arms from the Bowditch drawing.

I also did two versions of the seal.

These are more modern versions of the existing seal. As best as I could tell, the original uses Times New Roman. This version also uses Mohave for the interior words, which is a decision I made to closely imitate a version of the seal seen in City Hall. I haven’t mentioned it very often, but black and white applications of things like seals are relatively important since a lot of printing is done in black and white. Plus, I think this is just easier to read, and also in keeping with the original arms done in black and white.

Current Flag of East Providence 300px

Similarly, the flag can be updated fairly easily. Again, this is not a knock-your-socks-off flag. My best guess is that it was an older seal, and the flag simply wasn’t updated when the new one was created. In this case, I’ve used fonts like Bebas Neue and Arial, and corrected the erroneous incorporation date from the CRW Flags of the World image.

We can do a little better than this flag.

Redesigning East Providence’s Flag

Design 1

Flag of East Providence Three Geese

If you have arms, it’s easy to just arrive at a flag that adapts them, and there’s nothing more East Providence needs to do than to adapt those a flag, and the job is done. This flag would stand out, be recognizable, is relatively easy to draw, and uses existing symbols. The current seal-on-a-bedsheet is fundamentally just dressing this up, in a classic case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

Design 2

Rivers and Villages

This highly geometric design roughly maps itself to the geography of town, with five black chevrons for the constituent neighborhoods positioned between two blue stripes representing the Seekonk and Runnins rivers. The chevrons point towards the fly of the flag, or “east” as it would be read on a typical map.

Design 3

Ring of Green and Geese

This design uses a few different types of symbolism. First, five stripes represent the five neighborhoods. The green circle symbolizes the lost Ring of the Green, while also representing the Crescent Park Carousel. And it carries over the three geese from the arms.

Design 4

Flying Vs

Keeping with the “five neighborhoods” theme, this flag uses similar symbolism to Design 2, but is a vertical triband instead of a horizontal one. It uses five very stylized flying geese to symbolize the five neighborhoods, and is visually a stylized map of the city.

Design 5

Portuguese

East Providence has a large Lusitanic population (people from Portuguese-speaking countries), and this flag intentionally mimics the flag of Portugal, and uses both the arms and the three geese and the Ring of Green symbolism. The geese are breaking free of the ring in part to symbolize that East Providence looks towards the future while its presence represents its acknowledgement of its past. The circle placed across two different section of flag symbolizes a city astride two states.

Wrapping Up

East Providence is kind of fascinating in its history, which can make it a little difficult to design for. In large part, its name kind of shows how the city was oriented, towards Providence, but for much of its history it was part of Massachusetts, and even today, it’s easy to pop back into the Old Rehoboth area. Similarly, despite being East Providence, there isn’t really a “Providence” symbol, and it relies on the old Seekonk symbolism. It’s extremely weird to have this section of the state that was traded to us, especially in the middle of the Civil War.

It’d be really interesting to see what a flag change for East Providence would generate in ideas from residents. Maybe people would use the Crescent Park Carousel horses or camel. The great drawback of this project is that it’s so remote, so distant from these real places.

As always, if you’re an East Providence resident or someone concerned about these designs who wants to get in contact with me, it’s real easy: use the form.

And don’t forget to vote:

One comment

  1. jonhoward · · Reply

    No.4 with the abstract swash geese is modern, dynamic and just nice to look at. Picks up on the 5 neighborhoods and, perhaps unconsciously, on the ideas of immigration and international flight that have been key historical themes. Flag #2 looks good for stopping folks at the border.

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