Friday Flagging: North Smithfield

Each week I look at the flags of the cities and towns in Rhode Island, examining the existing flag (and associated civic symbols), review the town history, and then suggest new sample designs for updating the flag. This week, we go North Smithfield.

About North Smithfield

Prior to the arrival of English settlers, North Smithfield was part of a frontier between the Narragansett, Nipmuck, and Wampanoag nations. Sources seem to suggest the area as mostly settled by Nipmuck, who are usually placed under the suzerainity of either the Narragansett or the Wampanoag (depending on the source). My understanding is that by the time of the English arrival, the Narragansett were the hegemonic power in the region, and that seems to be borne out, as Rhode Island’s leadership largely dealt with Narragansett agents in purchasing (or leasing usage of) land in the area. Regardless, though part of frontier zone, Natives from present-day Douglas and Uxbridge, MA were using the area, even if they had not established permanent settlements.

Providence made a purchase in 1661 from the Narragansetts, which seemed to establish their claims to the area. However, in 1666, a “Praying Indian” named Quashaamit (or “William Minnian” on paperwork) from a Praying town in Massachusetts’ Blue Hills sold land to two English settlers. Just to clarify, “Praying Indians” were residents of Praying towns: proto-reservations administered by Christianized Natives in Native languages, but operating under English law and settled according to English customs. Praying towns were a cause of King Philip’s War. Quashaamit deeded more land in the area to the same settlers a few years later.

Regardless of who initiated purchase, by 1700 the area was within the Inlands of Providence, with its western border defined as the Seven Mile Line, a line seven miles west of Fox Point extending northwards through the state. The lands beyond were called the Outlands, which extended to the Twenty Mile Line (RI’s western border). The part of the Inlands that North Smithfield (and Smithfield and Lincoln) sat in was known as the North Woods. I write this all to say that, if nothing else, early Rhode Islanders were not particularly creative in their names.

In 1731, Providence was partitioned, forming three new towns. The Outlands became Glocester and Scituate, while the North Woods became Smithfield. In part, the reason for the partition was that these communities were agricultural in nature, whereas Providence was oriented around mercantile interests. Also, it was a pain for rural residents to schlep out to Providence to do paperwork. North Smithfield had a few grist and sawmills along the Branch and Blackstone rivers as well.

By the end of the 1700s, villages had started to form in what was to become North Smithfield. The first of these is Union Village, which prior to the turn of the century had primarily been built around the Peleg Arnold Tavern, the eponymous proprietor of which was post-war delegate to the Continental Congress and later Chief Justice of the RI Supreme Court. Arnold formed the Smithfield Union Bank, which gave the village its name: Bank Village (later, it became Union Village). With the establishment of a tavern and then later the Smithfield Academy, Union Village became unique among villages by being built around banking, drinking, and education.

But most emblematic of development during this period was the establishment of Slatersville, a company town built by Almy, Brown & Slater after the success of Slater’s Mill in Pawtucket (then North Providence) and named for Samuel Slater. Based around a cotton mill (the fifteenth established in the nation at that point), the village would be company-owned for nearly 150 years. North Smithfield’s town office is located in Slatersville.

Similar, though smaller operations, were established at Forestdale and and Branch Village. Waterford, was also based around a mill, but had a slightly different history, since it had the Blackstone Canal, and later the Providence and Worcester Railroad, running through it. The Providence and Springfield Railroad ran across the southwestern corner of North Smithfield, and its Primrose Station is the reason the surrounding village is known as Primrose.

The Douglas Pike (Rt. 7), a turnpike built during the turnpike boom, connected the town of Douglas in Massachusetts to Providence. Slatersville prospered by building a spur to it, Slater’s Pike (modern Providence Pike or Rt. 5).

In 1871, much like Providence had been 140 years before, Smithfield was partitioned. Three villages on the west bank of the Blackstone were transferred to Woonsocket, the area east of Crookfall Brook became Lincoln, and the area north of Crookfall (to some extent) became North Smithfield.

North Smithfield’s development really occurred in the 20th Century. While the beginning of the century wasn’t promising (the textile collapse led to some loss of population). While it experienced some shift in industry (changing from textiles to plastics with the arrival of Tupperware), like many surrounding communities, it was primarily surburbanization after WW2 that created a small boom in North Providence. Today, the town is still growing, current Census Bureau estimates place it at 12,582 residents, the most ever.

Settlement is primarily along the Branch River in the north of the town, with much of the south of town being forested areas.

What has North Smithfield got now?

North Smithfield has a coat of arms:

Via the Tercentenary Commission Report, retrieved from the Providence Archives

The Tercentenary Commission has this emblazon:

Vert a chevron between three smith’s hammers argent, on a chief azure an etoile of the second. A silver chevron between three silver hammers on a green field, with a silver star with wavy rays on a blue stripe at the top. These are the arms of Smithfield differenced by a chief charged with a north star, similar to the one on the arms of Sir Francis Drake.

Like Smithfield’s arms that they’re based on, these are essentially canting arms. Canting arms are ones that are a visual play on the name of the place or family they represent. In this case, it’s North Smithfield, so you have Polaris for “north”, hammers for “smith” and a green field for “field”.

If you’re looking at the image above, you’ll notice the star is gold, and not white. Now, these arms were drawn by Harold Bowditch in the 1930s, but they were colored by someone who wrote their name (in pencil) as Marlowe de Christopher. I managed to find an illustrator by the name of Marlowe deChristopher who graduated from RISD, and was active in 1997.

I suspect deChristopher came along much later, and while mostly faithful to the emblazons, on a few arms, he made his own decision. Burrillville was improperly colored. Perhaps he was looking at usage when he decided to color these in.

Regardless of how it happened, I found a similar coloring on the Rhode Island Permitting Portal, which uses seals from the various towns and cities. This is what appears there for North Smithfield:

So North Smithfield’s arms have morphed, a gold estoile has become more standard.

Indeed, a version of the above appears on official town documents (often with a blue chevron, but that’s possibly due to printer issues), but the seal-like image below appears on the town website.

So, not a wildly amazing seal, not terrible either. It looks like the estoile has been transformed into a regular five-pointed star, but the resolution is a little poor.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get a good flag image. I suspect it’s similar to some other Northern RI towns, with the arms on a white field. That seems to be borne out by the photo in this Valley Breeze article covering the 2014 town inauguration. URI also uses the municipal flags during commencement, but this image was the closest I could come to something that looked vaguely like the North Smithfield arms, and I’m not really sure it’s even correct.

So the flag I’ll develop will be purely notional.

Digitizing Existing Designs

The arms are fairly simple. The difficult part is really creating the estoile (or etoile in Modern French).

At left is my version of the arms, at right is one using WappenWiki assets. There’s not much difference, my estoile is thicker and my hammers are more generic mallets.

I’m generally inclined not to do seals, but as Smithfield seems to use an erroneous version of its arms as a seal while also having another seal used in a logo lockup, I decided to make a standalone seal for use.

In terms of the flag, this is purely notional based on what I could see. I would be pleasantly surprised to learn that the North Smithfield flag lacks text, but based on most other towns’ flags, it seems like a bad idea to assume that it doesn’t. I did notice from the Valley Breeze photo that it used a double outline on the arms; an inner white outline, and an exterior black outline. This sort of gives it a look like that would make it appropriate for use by a sports team (more specifically, a Major League Soccer team).

Anyhow, I hope the real North Smithfield flag is much better than this. But I think we can design something even better.

Redesigning North Smithfield’s Flag

Design 1

Look, fundamentally, there’s not much more that needs to be done here. Move the chief to the hoist, keep the field vertical in orientation, and you’ve got a flag that works great. It looks like something that should’ve existed for three hundred years. I’m going to try and find some other options, but I’ll be very surprised if I can surpass this.

Design 2

This triband design represents the woods and fields of North Smithfield with its green field. The blue band across the center represents the Branch River, with the white surrounding it representing the two turnpikes that run through the town. The circle holding shape in the center represents a mill wheel, while the estoile (now with seven points) stands for the town and its seven villages.

Design 3

This tricolor strips away a lot of the symbolism while keep much of the essence of the arms: the three colors remain, the chevron stays, and the estoile (seven armed for the villages) remains. But the hammers are jettisoned, as is the chief. The decision to swap the blue and green around is to roughly represent the geography of the town, with the Crookfall and Blackstone vaguely representing corners of the town, with the green areas more in the west.

Wrapping Up

North Smithfield didn’t have great sources, and I don’t have much personal experience in the town. No one from North Smithfield filled out the flag project survey. This is the drawback of this project; I don’t really have a chance to explore these towns, talk with people, and really develop strong designs.

North Smithfield also has a pretty solid coat of arms, that would really works well as a flag; in part because it is both unique and still draws historical connection to its past (arguably, North Smithfield’s arms can be adapted into a flag even better than Smithfield’s will). Sometimes, the solution to a problem is the first solution you come up with.

Anyhow, we’re out of the North towns, and next week I start on to the P’s.

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