Each Friday, I explore the municipal flags (and associated symbols) of Rhode Island’s cities and towns, and then provide suggestions for improvements, or where potential redesigns could go. This week, we finish up the western border of Providence County with Glocester.
Glocester is one of three towns formed out of the Providence Plantations on February 20, 1731 (the other two being Scituate and Smithfield). In last week’s Foster write-up, I erroneously referred to this whole area as “the Outlands” but it seems only Scituate and Glocester were the Outlands, while Smithfield (along with Providence proper) were part of the Inlands. The dividing line was the Seven Mile Line, a line seven miles from Fox Point extending north from the Pawtuxet River to the Massachusetts border. This line still forms the eastern border of Scituate, Glocester and Burrillville. That line marks the initial purchase of the Providence Proprietors from the Narragansetts (though, it should be noted the area covers Nipmuc territory, who were politically subordinate to the Narragansetts).
Regardless, English settlement didn’t begin until around half a century after the purchases, beginning in 1706 (early families include names like Steere, Burlingame, Irons, Eddy, Waterman). Wikipedia claims the town was named after Henry Stuart, the Duke of Gloucester and youngest son of Charles I of England, but it seems more likely that it was named after Frederick, Prince of Wales (who was also styled the Duke of Gloucester). The former died in 1660, more than seventy years before Glocester, RI was incorporated, and the 1720s-1730s saw a number places named after Frederick in British America (although, more typically, they were named some variation on “Frederick”).
Like many western towns, development was centered around mill villages on rivers. Of these only Chepatchet and Harmony remain as distinct entities (though the town website mentions West Glocester as well). A lot of the mills burned down. Beyond the farming and mill work typical of western towns, Glocester also did charcoal-burning and woodcutting, and for a brief moment, had a gold mine.
In 1826, members of the local Masons shot Betty the Learned Elephant. Glocester also is home to RI’s other Fourth of July Parade, the Ancients and Horribles Parade.
Chepatchet is the site of maybe the final chapter of the rebellious phase of the Dorr Rebellion, the “Battle” of Acote’s Hill, where Rhode Island state militia seized a hill that Dorrites had rallied to. No casualties were recorded in the heroic assault. The Dorrites had departed twelve hours before.
Population-wise, Glocester has undergone some wild changes. It lost just over 40% of its population when Burrillville was incorporated from its northern half in 1806. It nearly reached 2,900 residents in 1850, but (like other western towns) suffered a 19th Century population decline until 1920, when it reached its nadir. But, from that point to the close of the 20th century, Glocester had just massive population growth. Today, the Census Bureau estimates that Glocester has the most people ever in its history.
What has Glocester got now?
Glocester received a coat of arms from the Tercentenary Commission in the 1930s:
These are emblazoned as follows:
Or three chevrons between three Indian arrowheads gules. On a golden shield thre red chevrons between three red arrowheads. This device is based on the arms of Gloucester, England which uses “or three chevrons, gules” the arms of the ancient family of Clare, who were Earls of Gloucester, differenced by the addition of ten torteaux. in the above arms, the torteaux have been changed for different to three Indian arrowheads, to signify that Glocester, R.I., is in America.
If you’re wondering what the arms of Gloucester look like, here they are:
Glocester’s arms are used today on the town website, which has switched from a pretty straightforward arms with name image to something with a helm and crest and mantling. They seem to have picked a fleur-de-lis for a crest, but I cannot determine why:
Glocester presents a chance to talk about Indian arrowheads (we’ll go over this again with the Kingstowns). There’s a good quick article from the Iowan Office of the State Archaeologist discussing a Tribe Historical Preservation Officer’s views on arrowhead collecting. Suffice it to say, it’s nuanced. However, I think looking at the context here, the use of the arrowheads to mean “American” is not a good decision. For one thing, “America” is a vastly different beast than the Nipmucs or the Narragansetts or those who predate them. The American Experience for the Indian nations in today’s Rhode Island is vastly more complicated than that of the descendants of European settlers; involving issues of sovereignty, alliance, slavery, and genocide.
There’s also the way that arrowheads are perceived, especially as “artifacts” which can position Indians firmly in the past. Searching for an Indian perspective on arrowheads, I came across a 2009 article referencing Indians as a “vanished and vanquished race of man”. The fact is that Indians aren’t vanished, nor vanquished. They’re still here. Genocidal policy continues today, with Rhode Islanders complicit in it!
I think Indian arrowheads aren’t as bad as Charlestown’s arms, but they’re not great. They’re a complicated symbol, something that really should have Native voices consulted before they’re use. Anyhow, we actually have a better way to represent American-ness, and that’s stars, which is also more aligned with traditional English heraldry as well. If Glocester really wants to keep arrowheads, they could always use English ones, too.
Anyhow, Glocester has a flag, but it’s hard to figure out exactly what the design is. It’s definitely that first town website arms image on a white field, but whether it has additional text is hard to figure out from available photos.
Digitizing Existing Designs
Despite everything I just said about arrowheads, I’ve digitized them anyway. However, I’ll be abandoning them on flag designs.
Here’s an update of the fancier arms with helm, crest, and mantling. I used the helm asset I made for Cranston, a created a fleur-de-lis, but the mantling is from r/heraldry on Reddit.
Finally, as best I could tell (I found at least three different flags of Glocester online), the flag flying in front of Town Hall looks close to this:
I chose Raleway Bold for the font, and did a fair bit of kerning and tracking adjustment to get it sit pleasantly on the path (although, the kerning between the O and C is now bothering me). Again, if you have to write your name on your flag, you flag is failing to do its job. But as RI town flags go,
So that’s Glocester as it stands. Let’s see if we can do a little better.
Redesigning Glocester’s Flag
Designs 1a & 1b
These flags keep the de Clare symbolism from the Glocester arms, but abandon the Indian arrowheads for American stars. Either layout, vertical or horizontal, works. Though on 1b, I think rather than have the chevrons pointing towards the hoist, having them point towards the fly looks a lot better.
Why should Coventry, which has no connections to elephants, get an elephant on its flag and arms when Glocester, the site of the murder one of the first elephants in North America, not have one? In commemoration of the late Betty the Learned Elephant, she flies on this flag that keeps the de Clare chevrons as well.
A modified tricolor. The green is for the woodlands, the gold for the mill towns and the actual gold mine, and the blue for the many reservoirs in the town.
Chains breaking over Acote’s Hill. Though the Battle of Acote’s Hill was, in reality, rather anti-climactic, and not really a moment of liberation, the result of the Dorr Rebellion was a more liberal constitution for the State, wider suffrage, and the banning of slavery in Rhode Island. To some extent, civic symbolism is all about the construction of myth, so it doesn’t really matter what really went down at Acote’s Hill.
The sources for Glocester were about as thin as Exeter, so I had far less to go on than other entries. Even the current flag is conjectural here. Again, any Glocesterians who have thoughts, criticisms, or ideas about what they’d like to see on their flag are welcome to reach out.
Again, these are purely to show where a town could go, and to give a general sense of what makes a strong flag.