Each week in 2020, I’m taking a look at the flags of the various cities and towns in the state. This week, we go to the southeastern corner of the state, and take a look at Little Compton.
About Little Compton
Little Compton’s indigenous inhabitants at the time of English colonization were the Sakonnets, described in my source as a “subtribe” of the Wampanoag, but as events will show, Sakonnet leadership had different political goals than Wampanoag leadership. Proprietors from Plymouth, primarily looking to gain new lands, offered to purchase the land from the Sakonnets in 1661, but their sachem, Awashonks, refused. At some point over the next decade, Awashonks changed her mind, first allowing Plymouth Colony to disarm the Sakonnets and then sought the protection of the Plymouth General Court.
In 1673, Awashonks, her son, and a number of other Sakonnets sold the land that became Little Compton to the future proprietors of the town. The total price came to £110, using the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, and currency conversion, I figured this would work out to somewhere around $30,000 today. In 1675, King Philip’s War broke out, leading to the genocide of most of the native peoples in Southern New England. Awashonks signed a treaty with Benjamin Church (the first English resident of Little Compton) that kept the Sakonnets out of the war. Church is known as the father of the American ranging; he presided over the mutilation and desecration of the body Metacom (King Philip). The actual man who killed Metacom, a Wampanoag called John Alderman in English, was later granted land in Little Compton by Awashonk’s successor (her son Mamanuah, whom she once ordered beat up for attempting to sell land to the English and who took his mother to court in Plymouth over the matter). Alderman never took up residency, instead selling it to an English colonist from Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
King Philip’s War disrupted the initial settlement of the town (Church was the only person to get established, and he abandoned his property there during the war and moved to Bristol). The town later was settled according to the designs of Plymouth Colony, with a town common (which is a rare feature in Rhode Island towns). It was incorporated in 1682, as Little Compton, but the name’s origin is unclear (maybe after Little Compton, maybe after Cullompton). Plymouth Colony was supplanted by the Dominion of New England, and after the Glorious Revolution overthrew the King of England and the Dominion, it was then administered by Massachusetts. For most of its history, it was remained pretty aloof to world events. Massachusetts levied a tax on towns to pay for King William’s War (the North American theatre of the Nine Years War). Little Compton refused to pay, only being compelled to when Massachusetts sent in armed militia.
In 1747, the town was transferred by the Crown from Massachusetts to Rhode Island (along with Tiverton and Bristol). That didn’t really matter to the town. In 1776, the American Revolution broke out, and hardly effected the town, though they did take in refugees from Aquidneck while the island was under British occupation. The sole incident of violence in Little Compton during the Revolution was that a Patriot captain’s son was murdered by Loyalists. But otherwise, they suffered no raids from either side. The major event in Little Compton that impacted the town appears to have been an epidemic that spread among the Sakonnets. At the beginning of the century they had been about 400 strong; but at the start of the 19th Century, there were only a dozen Sakonnets recognized.
After the Revolution, Little Compton was unique among the farming towns of Rhode Island for urging adoption of the United State Constitution. The adoption of the Constitution was heavily contentious in Rhode Island, involving the threat of embargo the state from the federal government, and only narrowly passed (the political fallout ousted the pro-Constitution faction from government).
And then, Little Compton just didn’t really grow. In 1950, it had almost the same population as it did in 1790. Events still occurred, but the town didn’t really change. Its major development before the 1850s was the arrival of Adamsville in the northeast corner of the town. Adamsville started as a mill village, but all the mills were across the border in Massachusetts. The town’s other major village was centered around the town common, and is known as The Commons.
In the middle part of the 19th Century, Little Compton had two groups of immigrants arrive: the Irish and the Portuguese. But of these two, only the Portuguese ended up putting down lasting roots in great numbers. They were primarily agricultural workers, which remained the primary work of the town. Few of the Irish remained in the town.
Like many bay communities, Little Compton became a summertime community for people from more populous areas of the state in the back half of the 19th Century, leading to development of the town’s third village at Sakonnet Point. Unfortunately, this village was destroyed by the Hurricane of 1938, and not reestablished. During WW2, the US military established fortifications in three places along Little Compton’s coast.
Little Compton today has more than doubled its population from the 1790s (its sits around 3,500 people today). In a response to the RI Flag survey (you can take it too), a Little Compton respondent noted that the town “[has] three sides to the sea. We are deeply connected to the ocean.” They also report that the town has no traffic lights. Little Compton is also the home and burial place of the inventor of the three-ring binder, and was where the Rhode Island Red breed of chicken was developed.
What has Little Compton Got Now
Little Compton has a coat of arms.
The description from the 1937 Tercentenary Commission Report:
Argent on a bend azure between two geese volant sable, an Indian arrow of the first. A silver arrow on a diagonal blue stripe, on a silver shield, with a flying black goose on either side of the stripe.
The Indian name of the district was Sakonet, signifying the land of the black goose. The Indian Squaw Sachem Awashonks lived within the confines of the town.
The Town of Little Compton uses these arms (though in the file, they’re referred to as the Town Seal:
Furthemore, they have a flag, which is probably the best municipal flag in Rhode Island.
Don’t get me wrong, at its heart, it’s a seal-on-a-bedsheet. But because the seal is just the coat of arms, with no further anything, it does its job better than any other municipal flag. It does not say “Little Compton” on it, it doesn’t list its incorporation date, it just displays the arms.
Digitizing Existing Designs
There’s not too much to be done in adapting the arms.
At left is my adaptation from the town’s image, and at right is a version using assets from WappenWiki. As I said on East Providence design, there’s not really a “goose volant” asset for WappenWiki, so this is the alternative.
We can also construct a town seal for Little Compton. The Town uses Raleway on its website, so that’s what I’ve used here.
And finally, we can recreate the flag.
So let’s talk about the way these arms combine symbols derived from Indians (the “Indian arrow” standing for Awashonks, the black geese derived from the name “Sakonnet”). The history of Awashonks and the Sakonnets represent the complexity of Indian-American relations. Awashonks decided to forgo resistance (even turning over those among her people who would’ve resisted the English), and instead adopted a strategy of allegiance. I can’t say if this was the right strategy, but in the very short-term, it ensured the survival of the Sakonnets, even if it didn’t secure their sovereignty.
Little Compton itself doesn’t have the bloody history much of Rhode Island has with its indigenous peoples, but it’s not like the Sakonnets greatly influenced the town’s development and cultural institutions. Plymouth almost immediately undermined the authority of the Sakonnet sachems, Awashonks included, and today, beyond the arms, the most notable commemoration of this part of the town’s history is the rock where the treaty between Awashonks and Church was signed. It’s now part of someone’s private property.
To that end we must ask ourselves: how much do these symbols, those of the black geese and the arrow for Awashonks, truly represent Little Compton? Do they create an imagined past
Redesigning Little Compton’s Flag
Anyhow, fundamentally, the simplest way to improve Little Compton’s flag is to remove the shield holding element and take advantage of the whole space of the flag.
This design takes the “land of the black geese” and incorporates it with Church’s reputation as a “father of American ranging” by using the diamond shape of the WW2-era US Ranger patch, the colors of Little Compton’s arms, and then the two black geese for the two villages of Little Compton.
Design 3 uses the a rooster for the Rhode Island Red (this is actually the rooster of the Walloon Movement, research ran long for this post, and in the interest of time I borrowed it – I would suggest designing a new rooster if the town went this route). The triangle represents land surrounding on three sides by water, and the two black lines represent the two villages and make reference to the black geese.
This design represents the town’s place as the most eastern portion of the state, with a sunburst over the sky and land. And the two black geese return.
Finally, this is intended to represent the ocean with the waves, the two villages (using Quaker stars, as Quakers were a major part of the early settlement of Little Compton), the land surrounded on three sides by water, and and even the spire of the Congregational Church on the town common.
As always, I am not from Little Compton. You could’ve gone more ocean/beach oriented than I did. I’m always open to hearing new design ideas, and feel free to leave them in the comments or email me using the contact form on this page.
You can help me by filling out the Flag Survey, and telling me about your city or town.
And, as always, please vote in the poll: