Each week, I take a look at the flags of the cities and towns of Rhode Island, their associated symbols, and offer up sample redesigns. This week, we go to RI’s smallest town by population, New Shoreham.
About New Shoreham
Often referred to as “Block Island”, New Shoreham is the polity that governs the area of Block Island. The town is named for Shoreham-by-Sea in the UK. Geographically, the island is part of the “Outer Lands” – the series of land masses stretching from Long Island to Cape Cod formed by the growth and recession of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Geologically, this makes Block Island a different beast entirely than metropolitan Rhode Island.
Its oldest recorded inhabitants were the Niantics, who according to settler sources, dubbed the island “Manisses” (again, according to settler sources, meaning “Manitou’s Little Island” – referencing the Algonquin fundamental life force – apologies if I’ve horribly butchered that concept). Europeans first sighted the island on Giovanni da Verrazzano’s expedition, who dubbed it “Claudia” in honor of the queen consort of France (although, some maps named it “Luisa” in honor of the queen mother of France).
The name that stuck, though, was that of Dutch trader, Adriaen Block, who charted the island 100 years after Verrazzano’s expedition spotted it.
By the 1630s though, it was neither the Dutch nor the Spanish that the Maniseean Niantics worried about, it was the English. The Niantics had split between a Western and Eastern group; the former of whom allied with the Pequots and the latter who allied with the rising Narragansetts. When an exile from Plymouth named John Oldham (now in the employ of Massachusetts Bay) was discovered murdered on the island, that was enough justification for Massachusetts Bay to launch a campaign of intended genocide. While they did not manage to fulfill the stated goal of murdering every single Native man on the island (they killed 14 people in total), they did burn houses and destroy fields and shot every dog. They moved on to Connecticut, where they then took action against the Pequot, leading to the Pequot War.
Massachusetts claimed Block Island as a result of this expedition, beginning European settlement in 1661. The Royal Charter granted to Rhode Island placed the island under the control of that colony. New Shoreham was incorporated in 1672.
Much of the island’s history has been taken up by the quest for a decent harbor. Initial attempts in the 1700s to use the Great Salt Pond in the middle of the island failed due to the difficulty of keeping the breachway clear. In the 1870s, the Old Harbor was built. A couple of decades later, the New Harbor was built in the Great Salt Pond.
The island was raided by the British in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. There are more than a few maritime events that are notable in the island’s history. First, the Princess Augusta sank near Mohegan Bluffs in 1738. The ship was carrying German Palatines (the Palatinate is a region in Germany) bound for Philadelphia. About twenty people died, and folktales have sprung up, most notably the sighting of a ghost ship. Second, in 1925, the submarine USS S-51 was sunk in a collision with a steamer, with only three sailors out of 36 managing to escape. Finally, in 1945, the Nazi German submarine U-853 destroyed a collier ship, before being sunk by US naval forces, the day before Nazi Germany surrendered.
Like other island communities, New Shoreham’s economy shifted during the 19th Century from a primarily agricultural community to largely to a service one, built around being a summer resort. It followed the usual pattern, transitioning from hotels to summer cottages.
In my favorite RI episode, in the 1980’s, New Shoreham threatened to secede from the state if it wasn’t given authority to regulate mopeds on the island. The town’s treasurer told the New York Times “I think everybody’s behind the revolution.” Essentially, the introduction of mopeds to the island caused a problem where drunk tourists would crash them, overwhelming the island’s scant emergency services. While unilateral secession was laughably unconstitutional (no state can be split against its will), Connecticut and Massachusetts made noises they’d be happy to take in the wayward town. Rhode Island eventually defused the situation by allowing New Shoreham special powers to regulate mopeds.
Much of Block Island is protected land for wildlife. Its lighthouses are a major attraction. It also has a zedonk, a donkey-zebra hybrid. Often it’s left off silhouettes of Rhode Island, because it’s an awkward distance from the rest of the state in a manner that bedevils many graphic designers.
What has New Shoreham got now?
New Shoreham has some sweet arms.
The Tercentenary Commission has this emblazon for them:
Per pale, dexter argent crusily sable a lion rampant contorune azure; sinister, per fess in chief azure a native boat (i.e. Block Island double-ender) argent, in base glues fish or. Shield divided vertically. Right side a blue rampant lion facing towards the center of the shield and surrounded by black crosses on a silver filed. Left side divided horizontally, on the upper half a silver boat on blue, and on the lower half a golden fish on red. These are the arms of Shoreham in England, differenced by having on the sinister half of the shield, devices of local significance instead of the arms of England.
New Shoreham was named for Shoreham in England.
Shoreham-by-Sea did indeed have similar arms, with the three gold lions on red of England on the right hand side. Shoreham-by-Sea was incorporated into Adur in 1974, about forty years after the Tercentenary Commission was making arms.
The town also has a seal, but I had to pull it from the Block Island Times, since on the town website, it’s split into at least three parts.
It’s not a great seal, as seals go. I mean, it’s plenty complex, but isn’t particularly interesting, and it looks like it was constructed with clipart. I do like scale pattern for the sea though.
Finally, New Shoreham does have a flag, which I was able to find from a seller, and also from images taken by the Block Island Times from outside the Town Hall. However, I lack licenses to those images.
Digitizing Existing Designs
The arms are relatively easy to create. I’m using my own fish asset, the Block Island double-ender created from the Bowditch illustration, and my own crosslets. The lion I essentially traced from a WappenWiki asset. The WappenWiki asset obviously looks a lot better, but I’ve never loved that angry fish, and the ship is obviously not a double-ender.
I’m not digitizing the seal or creating a digital alternative today. Time ran short during production of this post.
This is about as close to the flag of the Town of New Shoreham as I felt like attempting (I skipped drawing the curling ends of the scrolling). The fonts used are Merriweather and Merriweather Sans. In terms of town flags, this is the “almost good” category we’ve seen with Burrillville, Glocester, Exeter, and possibly Hopkinton. These are arms placed on the flag, with some level of written word that really does nothing to improve the design.
We can do something a little more original.
Redesigning New Shoreham’s Flag
Designs 1a & 1b
These are adaptations of the arms. Design 1a keeps the layout, but swaps the lion so it faces the hoist of the flag. In flag design, animals and other figures are generally positioned so that they face towards the hoist. The reason is that if carried forward, the figure will look like it’s moving forward, as opposed to backing away. Design 2a reverses the armorial layout and gives preference to the lion with crosslets, as I felt that was the most unique and visually interesting element of the arms.
Designs 2a, 2b, 2c
Each of these designs uses the scales from the town seal as its foundation. In heraldry, these are called “papellony” after the French word for butterfly, since it’s intended to represent the scales on the wing of a butterfly. However, here, they represent sea waves.
Design 2a just uses the blue and white papellony, as sometimes it’s fine to go with a relatively simple but very unique design. Design 2b introduces a central emblem based off the Shoreham arms by placing the blue lion in, surrounded by 16 crosslets for the 16 points on the shore of Block Island. Finally, 2c uses a stylized version of the island in the shape of a crescent. The two stars represent the two lighthouses, while the crescent shape is a representation of a sail filled with wind. It’s colored green to represent the conserved land on the island, and the blue circle is for the Great Salt Pond.
In honor of the Block Island Wind Farm, this design uses a stylized version of the blades from the wind turbines, while using three colors from the arms. The blue representing the sea, red representing the sunrise and sunset, and grey representing winds and storms.
As always, I am not from New Shoreham, I’m not an authority on it. If there’s something I missed, or a design element I should’ve considered, please let me know. Responding to the flag survey is also a great way to help out on this project, by lending your specific knowledge of a Rhode Island town to me. See you next week as we go to North Kingstown, and remember to vote in the poll!