Friday Flagging: Lincoln

At the end of each week, I assess the flag and accompanying civic symbols of a city or town in Rhode Island and offer sample redesigns. This week, I look at Lincoln.

About Lincoln

Lincoln has the strongest evidence for “earliest place in Rhode Island inhabited by humans” as it contains the Twin Rivers Lithic stage archaeological site (by the by, it seems pretty awful that after the state rejected the Narragansett casino, Lincoln Park rebranded to a name derived from an Indian site). Evidence of continued Native American settlement exists, and indeed, when English settlers finally seized the land, they found that the best parts had already been cleared for planting by the Indians of the area.

What is now Lincoln (like neighboring Cumberland) was a bit of a frontier between the Narragansett and the Wampanoag nations. When I say “frontier” I’m trying to use the historical sense, meaning an often complex set of relations and overlapping claims that often characterize disputed areas between polities. In practical terms, what this means is that when Roger Williams formally purchased the deed for the use of the present area of Lincoln from the Narragansett sachems Canonicus and Miantonomi, a decade later the Providence proprietors also purchased a deed for the use of the same land from Wampanoag sachem Massassoit.

Regardless, in 1675, the New England colonies (primarily led by Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Connecticut) conducted a campaign of genocide against both Indian nations, which ended with many of the women and child sold into slavery and many of the men executed in utterly horrific ways.

This cleared the way for English settlement, which moved into now Lincoln (the area was known to the English as “the North Woods”). Foremost among these settlers were the Arnold clan (specifically Eleazer Arnold), who so thoroughly dominated the area that it was informally known as “Arnoldia”. Eleazer Arnold. Early colonial Lincoln history is built around agriculture, road-building, and quarrying Lime at Lime Rock. In 1730, the Lincoln area was split from Providence to become part of Smithfield (which occupied the northeastern quarter of Providence County west of the Blackstone River)

Following American Independence and over the course of the 1800s, Lincoln underwent further changes. The Blackstone Canal came in to connect Worcester County to the Providence port. Farming communities gave way to mill villages (in fact, the 1982 document from the RI Preservation Commission that forms the basis of this sketch actually describes as a “federation” of these villages). These villages; Quinnville, Manville (named after the Mann family), Albion, Lonsdale, and Saylesville (named after the Sayles) varied in density and size, but Manville and Albion especially were notable for attracting families of French-Canadians to the area. They also manufactured textiles, primarily cotton and wool, meaning that even though removed from the slave trading and slave trade-supporting industry of the ports, inland Rhode Island was economically dependent on it.

Chief among Lincoln’s mill villages was Central Falls, which absolutely dominated Lincoln. When Lincoln was incorporated from Smithfield in 1871 (and named after martyred President Abraham Lincoln), Central Falls was where the town hall was built. By 1890, it also contained half of Lincoln’s schools, including the high school, and had a lot of municipal spending requirements necessary for a functioning urban area.

In 1895, a referendum was held to have Central Falls incorporate as its own city, and though Central Falls itself was divided on the idea, it overwhelmingly passed in the rest of the town, and the two municipalities went their separate ways by act of the General Assembly (later incorporation efforts to split Manville and Albion never bore fruit). The split resulted in a 56% population loss in Lincoln (it would take 110 years to recover the population), and a church was purchased to act as the new town hall.

In the twentieth century, three major events occurred to Lincoln. First, the Public Park Association convinced the General Assembly to establish a Metropolitan Park Commission to build parks and boulevards, and Lincoln Woods was the first (and most prominent) of these – it was accessible to Providence by streetcar. Second, the textile industry collapsed as textile manufacturers moved production south primarily to exploit non-unionized labor. This led to a series of labor disputes in Lincoln. In 1920 mill bosses slashed wages 22%, and then two years slashed wages by another 20% – precipitating a regional strike that ended when wages were restored. In 1926, a second strike broke out in Manville when hours went up from forty-eight to fifty-four hours. State police clashed with strikers, but the governor managed to intervene to resolve the strike. And finally, Saylesville gave rise to the most infamous of Rhode Island’s labor battles, when 4000 strikers fought state police and National Guardsmen called in by Governor T. F. Green. Met with tear gas and bullets, four strikers were killed and 132 people were injured as they were pushed into Central Falls. You can watch a British Pathé newsreel (entitled “Civil War at Saylesville”) to get a sense of the scale of the action.

By mid-century, most of the mills had closed, and in their place came suburbanization, which has dominated the town since, leading to the construction of highways like Route 146 (in part, replacing the Great Road that Eleazer Arnold had a tavern on in the 1600s). Another notable development is the procession of the gambling venue in Lincoln; starting as Lincoln Downs racetrack, it became Lincoln Greyhound Park (later shortened to Lincoln Park) and then finally Twin River.

What Has Lincoln Got Now?

Lincoln has a very nice coat of arms.

Illustration by Harold Bowditch for the Rhode Island Tercentenary Commission, retrieved from the Providence Archives

Its Tercentenary Commission description:

Argent, on a cross gules a fleur-de-lis or on a chief of the second an axe of the third. A golden fleur-de-lis on a red cross on a silver shield, with a golden axe on a red stripe at the top. These are the arms of Lincoln, England, differenced by the addition of a chief with an axe, emblematic of Abraham Lincoln, for whom the town was named.

Design-wise, I think these are cool arms, and I’ve been in Lincoln enough times to know you can spot them on street signs and elsewhere around town. So they already pass my key test of good civic design, which is “are they being used?”

My major critique of this is that Lincoln, England has next to nothing to do with Lincoln, Rhode Island, so it doesn’t really make much sense to use the Lincoln arms here. But, at this point, it’s probably a bit late to change it.

It would be nice if Lincoln was one of the presidents that had personal arms, because then we could do what Washington, D.C. did, and just adopt those.

Anyways, Lincoln, UK uses these arms and also as a flag. Its design even influences the flag of Lincolnshire, the county Lincoln is part of.

So, clockwise from left, the arms of Lincoln, the flag of Lincoln, and the flag of Lincolnshire in the UK.

Lincoln, Rhode Island has a seal as well.

This is, frankly, as good as a seal gets, in my opinion. It’s got strong “Seal of the State of Washington” vibes, but that kind of makes sense. It looks like a seal, and probably acts like one. The one thing I’d jettison is the scroll bearing the incorporation year, just because I think it probably makes it a little unwieldy when used in print, but it’s not a big deal. I might also close Lincoln’s nose all the way.

Lincoln also has a flag. You can see it in this photo of town administrator T. Joseph Almond from the town website.

As flags go, not terrible, but that’s mainly because the arms are so good. There’s the unnecessary use of the date of incorporation, and the placement of the town name in the arms. I’m hoping there’s no scrolling below, I was unable to get any images from the town clerks, so I’ll have to vectorize this partly based on my assumptions.

Digitizing Existing Designs

Lincoln’s arms arms can be digitized fairly easily. The artist gets to decide how to interpret the charges of an axe and the fleur-de-lis.

At left you have my version, based off the Bowditch drawing, and at right, you have one using WappenWiki assets.

I won’t digitize the seal, because it’d mostly be a straight trace of the existing version.

As far as the flag goes, based on what I can see from that image, I’d hazard that it looks something like this:

So, this is akin to Burrillville’s current flag or Glocester’s current flag; a good rendition of the arms on a white field with the town name slapped across the flag. One thing I think is interesting here is that Lincoln appears to use a grey shield for “silver” – but in heraldry, “silver” is usually represented by white. The benefit of Lincoln’s choice is that it makes the arms stand out better from the white background.

Still, I believe this is an unnecessarily busy design, and removing things like the unnecessary lettering and taking more advantage of the whole width of the flag would create a better flag.

Redesigning Lincoln’s Flag

Designs 1a & 1b

When it comes to adapting the Lincoln arms, there’s actually a decision which is unexpectedly difficult to make: which way do you make the ax face if you move the chief to the hoist? In this case (Design 1a), I went facing in, as I felt that seemed more cohesive.

Design 1b decides not to move the chief, but to keep it at the top of the flag, which makes the ax look fine, but has the downside of squashing the St. George’s cross.

Design 2

Design 2 melds the Lincoln arms with the flag of Canada, on behalf of the Canadian immigrants who moved to the town in the late 19th Century. The axes on either end symbolize both Abraham Lincoln, and the town splits: the hoist side representing the split in 1871 from Smithfield and the fly side representing the split from Central Falls in 1895.

Designs 3a and 3b

These two variants incorporate the bones of the Lincoln arms, but use the five fleur-de-lis to represent the villages of Lincoln, while also roughly mirroring the Fleurdelisé, the flag of Quebec in its layout. 3a just uses two colors, while 3b uses four; the advantage of 3a is that it’s probably cheaper to print and easier to render, whereas 3b unifies the villages by keeping the fleur-de-lis all the same color. The blue on 3b stands for the Blackstone River.

Design 4

This flag recognizes the early 20th Century labor unrest with the red rose, combined with the ax for Abraham Lincoln. The five stripes represent the villages, with the three blue ones also representing the rivers in the town.

In part, this design was helped by a respondent to my flag survey (you can take it too) who said important things about Lincoln included its “abundant flora” and “rivers you can kayak on”.

Design 5

This design returns the five fleur-de-lis, but arranges them into a flower shape in recognition of the town’s labor history. The Lincoln axe returns to remember the town namesake.

Wrapping Up

Lincoln might just have my favorite arms of any town, in part because the ax in the chief is just a good strong symbol. These are just a few options that the town could use, and as always I value feedback. If you’re interested in helping shape these designs, I encourage you to take the survey. The more detailed you are in your descriptions, the better!

As always, please vote in the poll!

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