Each week in 2020, I take a look at the flags of the various cities and towns in Rhode Island and the associated civic symbols. This week, we return to the Narragansett bay with the first Aquidneck Island community: Middletown.
Middletown is the third town to be incorporated on Aquidneck or the actual Rhode Island. The islands were won by the Narragansett in a battle with the Wampanoag before the arrival of English settlers. Thus, in 1638, it was to the Narragansett sachems Canonicus and Miantonomi that Roger Williams went to ask for permission for a group of settlers to take use of the island (or take permanent possession, according the English). The ever-fractious Rhode Islanders who established that first settlement at Portsmouth soon split, with a group heading south to form Newport. Thus, the area that was to become Middletown passed into the possession Newport.
In the middle of the island, between Newport and Portsmouth, was a wooded area, which, as populations grew, soon became more and more settled. Eventually, in about 1743, “the Inhabitants of the Woods” requested incorporation as their own town, and thus, the imaginatively-named “Middletown” was born.
Middletown’s first big event was being occupied by British troops during the Revolutionary War, and being part of the Battle of Rhode Island. About a dozen British fortifications were established in Middletown, a quarter of its population fled, and many of its trees were cut down. Afterwards, it was occupied by the French.
Like other island communities in RI, Middletown lacks the streams and rivers necessary for powering the mills of the 18th and 19th Centuries, and as a result, for much of its early history, it was a primarily an agricultural community. By the 1850s, summertime tourism was beginning to play a role in its fortunes, but it was still a very small town, with just 1,154 residents in the 1910 Census.
Two things contributed to Middletown’s growth: first the car meant that travel on the island and to the mainland was no longer prohibitively time-consuming. Second, with World War 2, the United States Navy came to town.
The arrival of Naval Station Newport caused a massive boom for Newport. Between 1940 and 1950, the town more than doubled in size; growing from 3,379 to 7,382 residents. It then topped this feat a decade later, growing from 12,675 residents in 1960 to 29,290 residents in 1970. Middletown’s Coddington Cove hosted the destroyers of the Navy’s Atlantic Cruiser-Destroyer Force.
But then the Pentagon closed the bases, and Middletown has lost population. Today it only has 15,888 residents, a relatively slow decline, but a decline nonetheless.
Middletown is bordered by Portsmouth to the north, and Newport to the south. Narragansett Bay lies on its western shore and the Sakonnet River is on its eastern shore. On its southern side, it features Easton Point, Second Beach, and Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. North of Sachuest is the Norman Bird Sanctuary. Most of Middletown’s development is centered in Newport East, which includes the Boyd’s Mill eight-vane windmill, which is the primary symbol of the town. Middletown is also the source of the Rhode Island Greening apple, which is the official fruit of the state.
What Has Middletown Got Now?
Middletown has a coat of arms:
The Tercentenary Report emblazons it as so:
Vert a Dutch windmill argent. A silver windmill on a green shield. The device of a Dutch windmill appears on the town’s seal.
This is indeed the symbol that appears on the town seal:
The seal, in white, also appears on the town’s flag, which is a seal-on-a-bedsheet:
So, repeatedly, we know the town uses the eight-vaned windmill of Boyd’s Mill as its primary symbol.
Digitizing Existing Designs
There was no easily-findable WappenWiki asset for Middletown’s windmill, so I borrowed one from the former County of Sønderborg in Denmark. I also decided to create a mill based on the Middletown seal, rather than use the Bowditch illustration.
The seal of Middletown is fine to me, it does everything a seal should, and I don’t particularly see any reason it needs further digitization.
I did however, use a trace of the image for this digitization of the town flag, which is part of the reason it looks a little off..
So that’s what Middeltown has now. But I know we can do better.
Redesigning Middletown’s Flag
Designs 1a & 1b
These are straightforward adaptations of the town arms. The tricky part is that on their flag and seal, Middletown uses a navy blue color, and not the green on their arms. Both green and blue work for the town; green for the woods and agricultural history of the town, blue for the ocean (and possibly the US Navy).
Designs 2a & 2b
If we want something a little more heraldic, and far more abstract, gyronny presents a unique flag while still representing the eight vanes of Boyd’s Mill. Again, this can be done in blue and white, or it can be done in blue white and green.
Design 3 intentionally mimics the regimental colors of the 1st Rhode Island, which saw action during the Revolutionary War Battle of Rhode Island on West Main Road. Here, however, the colors have been inverted, and the Middletown mill is placed where the regiment’s name would’ve gone.
This flag uses at its primary symbol, a gull soaring above waves. And important thing to know about gulls is that despite their association with the ocean, they are shore birds, and the three gulls depicted here represent the three towns of Aquidneck, the central gull representing Middletown itself. The gull also represents the bird sanctuary.
Wrapping Up & Housekeeping
I didn’t have Middletown input this time, and next week we go to Narragansett, which has a relatively recent flag history. If you’re from Narragansett (or any town, though Newport is the week after) please fill out the Flag Project survey, and tell me about your town! The more descriptive and detailed you are, the better!
As always, I love to hear feedback on designs. Some of the better designs I do come after a post has been published and I get critical feedback. For example, a couple of weeks ago I did Lincoln, and focused heavily on the cross and fleur-de-lis from the Lincoln arms. But my wife pointed out I neglected the ax for Abraham Lincoln, so here’s one for Lincoln where the ax is the central emblem of the flag.
If you’ve got thoughts about the flags here, let me know!
As always, please vote in the poll!