Each week, I take a look at the flag and associated symbols of a city and town in Rhode Island. This week it’s North Kingstown.
A quick note before I start. The seed for the project occurred six years ago when my then-girlfriend found the sheet of arms from the Tercentenary Commission in the Providence City Archives. The archivist, Paul Campbell, sent her a digital copy which she later turned got printed and framed and gifted to me. Paul Campbell passed last Saturday, and this project is in his debt. If not for that moment of serendipity and Paul’s helpfulness, I likely would’ve remained pretty ignorant of these arms, and this project wouldn’t have been started.
It’s funny how small moments in someone else’s life can have a big impact on you.
About North Kingstown
This won’t be as in-depth as some of the others, mainly due to time running short. North Kingstown was, of course, Narragansett territory by the time Europeans arrived in today’s Rhode Island. In 1637, after founding Providence, Roger Williams established a trading post intended to be close to the home of Narragansett sachem Canonicus. He built a house there, and farmed there for some time, but as I wrote about in the Newport entry, attempts by the Aquidneck Islanders to establish their own independence required Williams to sell his home to fund a trip to England to confirm the unity of Providence, Warwick, Portsmouth and Newport.
The purchaser of Williams’ land was Richard Smith, from Taunton, who expanded the trading post, and built a fortified post called “Smith’s Castle”. Claims to the area around Smith’s Castle were established in two purchases, the Pettaquamscott Purchase, established by four men from Portsmouth and one from Boston (which allow Massachusetts to raise claims on the area) and the Atherton Purchase. Rhode Island had made it illegal to purchase lands from Natives without the colony’s permission, so the Atherton men swore allegiance to Connecticut. It’s from this latter group that “Wickford” comes from; Wickford in the UK was the home of the Connecticut governor’s wife.
The three colonies disputed control of the area until 1728, but the current status arose in 1665, when a royal commission gave the land to Rhode Island to administer. Kings Towne was established in 1674.
In 1675, of course, King Philip’s War broke out. While the Narragansetts maintained neutrality, a United Colonies force attacked their settlement in the Great Swamp. An Englishman, Joshua Tefft, stood with the Narragansetts, killing five or six of the invaders. In the aftermath of the massacre, Tefft was brought to Smith’s Castle, where he was hanged, drawn and quartered: essentially, hanged from the neck nearly to death, mutilated and disemboweled while still alive, and then chopped to pieces. This was a punishment reserved for high treason, and is the only known time this happened on American soil (centuries later, a Tefft would design buildings for North Kingstown).
Kingstown grew so much in the aftermath that by 1722 it became necessary to split the town in two (North and South Kingstown); with the idea that North Kingstown would be the continuation of the old town, since it had the oldest English settlement. The growth of the town was facilitated by new roads, the most prominent of which is Ten Rod Road.
While North Kingstown didn’t totally develop the slave plantation economy seen in South Kingstown, it did have at least one centered at Smith’s Castle, Cocumsussoc. It also developed small mills and some ship construction. In the mid-19th Century, like many other western Rhode Island towns, North Kingstown did develop a mill economy, but the town’s population didn’t grow very much. Like other coastal mill communities, that transitioned to a summer resort economy in the later part of the 19th Century. Agriculture also remained an important part of the economy.
The big boom for North Kingstown was World War II, with the establishment of Navy installations. The town’s population exploded, moving from just over 4,000 residents in 1940 to more than 14,000 in 1950. It continued to grow, reaching a high point of just under 30,000 residents in 1970; today it has just over 26,000 residents.
The other impact was that to accommodate this influx of residents new housing had to be built. While the initial plan was to do a simple grid, maximizing the number of units that could be built, planners were prevailed upon to make more rounded subdivisions; introducing the planned suburb to Rhode Island. Quonset also introduced Quonset huts.
What has North Kingstown got now?
North Kingstown has a coat of arms.
The arms are emblazoned like so:
Argent a chevron between three leopards’ faces gules, on a chief of the last two Indian arrowheads of the first. On a silver field a red chevron between red leopard’s faces, with two silver arrowheads on a red stripe at the top. These are the arms of Richard Smith, the first permanent settler in the town, differenced by a chief charged with two arrowheads for the Indian natives.
So, these are Richard Smith’s arms, but with Native arrowheads. I talked about arrowheads in my Glocester post, but just as a refresher, I’m generally against them. I think they help place Natives as ancient history, and it becomes easier to ignore and overlook the actual, living Native people who surround us. If towns want to honor the Narragansetts or other nations whose land they now occupy, they should do it in close cooperation with those groups. Failing that, forgo the symbol.
Narragansett doesn’t really have a seal like you’d expect. There’s more the arms caught above a scroll (much like Glocester):
The transformation of the heraldic leopards into generic wildcats is fascinating; though perhaps not out of keeping with leopards in heraldry. As as I was doing some research, I found out ancient and medieval folks theorized that leopards were a cross between a lion and a “pard” – a mythical cat of some sort (hence the name: “leo” meaning lion, “pard” meaning pard). So, let’s just say these are pards on the official North Kingstown symbol.
This also basically the flag. Like Glocester! While I was unable to find a clear image, I’ve heard reports that the flag is basically the above image on white, and that seems mostly true from the photos of the Town Hall exterior I found.
Digitizing Existing Designs.
The arms are relatively easy to create. Those are my near-faithful reproductions of the Town’s pards on the left. On the right, WappenWiki assets; which don’t contain Native American arrowheads (frankly, fine with me).
I also did the lockup that the Town uses as its seal.
It looked to me like they used Arial or Helvetica for the font. My guess for why they’re grey is that somewhere along the way, someone interpreted “silver” in the arms’ description to mean “grey” which is the logical conclusion. However, in heraldry, silver just means white.
Finally, here’s my guess for what the flag looks like. I decided to make the field grey here, since I thought it looked better, but I strongly suspect that it’s actually white.
Redesigning North Kingstown’s Flag
Designs 1a, 1b, & 1c
These three designs refer to the arms. 1a swaps the arrowheads out for stars, in this case referencing the town’s division into North and South Kingstown. I’ve also swapped the pards out for bobcats, which actually reside in Rhode Island.
1b simply adapts Smith’s arms with the bobcats, removing the chief entirely. 1c ensconces the arms within a half-circle, representing the Quonset hut.
Design 2 quarters and countercharges the bobcatted Smith arms, creating this visually interesting flag. Quartering is done here to reference the execution of Joshua Tefft.
Carrying on with the quartering, this quartered flag also represents four aspects of North Kingstown: in the top hoist, Smith and the early settlers with the chevron; in the top fly, Quonset and Davisville; in the bottom fly, the Narragansett Bay; and in the bottom fly, the woods and agriculture of the eastern portion of the town.
Design 4a & 4b
These designs honor the SeaBees, the Naval Construction Battalions that resided at Davisville. The main symbol, the crossed wrench and hammer, are the two tools the SeaBee holds (he also holds a submachine gun, but that seemed a little more violent than I wanted to go). The diamond holding shape and the blue color are from the Naval Infantry Battalion Flag that the SeaBees use.
4a uses a layout not unlike that of the Revolutionary Era First Rhode Island Regiment, with a red anchor to symbolize North Kingstown and Rhode Island. 4c uses a layout that with three horizontal blue stripes on red running into a single vertical blue stripe; representing the three rivers that run into the Bay.
I don’t feel like I really struck upon anything great here. Smith’s arms are okay, but they aren’t a great jumping-off point, and the feline heads aren’t particularly great for flags (for arms, they’re quite good). As always, I can use your help when designing these things, and submitting an entry to the project survey is the best way to do that.
Please vote in the poll as well!