Friday Flagging: Smithfield

Each week (hopefully) I look at the flag and civic symbols as well as the histories of cities and towns in Rhode Island, and then offer up sample flag redesigns. This week, we return to northern Rhode Island for Smithfield.

About Smithfield

At the time of English colonization, what was to become Smithfield lay at the frontier of Nipmuc, Narragansett, and Wampanoag territories. English colonists initially purchased the area (or maybe just its use) from the Narragansetts, but they later also purchased rights from the Wampanoag for the same land. Its position east of the Seven Mile Line made it part of the “Inlands” as opposed to the land west of that line, which were part of the “Outlands” or “Providence Woods”. Its eastern boundary was the Blackstone River, as Cumberland was yet to be ceded to Rhode Island. The first English settler in present-day Smithfield arrived in 1663, and built and house and lived there for three years; as required in the terms of his land purchase.

Native claims to the area became unenforceable in English eyes in the aftermath of King Philip’s War (1675). Two engagements between English and Native forces occurred during the war. The first occurred in the opening period during the summer of 1675; Wampanoag sachem Metacom and his allies had destroyed Swansea, and in turn, the Wampanoag town at Mount Hope in Bristol had been destroyed by the English. Metacom appears to have been moving his forces into Nipmuc territory, and camped at Nipsachuck. Little Compton’s Captain Benjamin Church pursued and caught up on the morning of August 1st. The skirmish resulted in the Wampanoags retreating into the nearby swamp, and were able to escape to join with Nipmuc forces in Connecticut.

11 months later, a Major Talcott was given instructions to patrol the swamp, where he surrounded a Native settlement and killed or captured 171 people, a great number of which were women and children (who were likely sold into slavery, with men likely also enslaved or subject to bloodthirsty methods of execution). Metacom was killed by Christian Indian and his former advisor Antoquan (now under Church’s command) a month and a half later, bringing the war to a close.

With the war over and the land’s inhabitants dead, fled, or in servitude, English settlement could begin in earnest. Which they sort of did, primarily engaging in farming. By 1731, enough settlers had come to Smithfield and the Outlands that it was no longer practical for Providence to act as the administrative center. On February 20, 1731, three towns were broken off of Providence: Scituate in the west, Glocester in the northwest, and Smithfield in the northeast. This would be Smithfield’s greatest extent (by land area). Smithfield was likely named for Smithfield in London.

Early town institutions were a couple of taverns, the establishment of the Great Country Road (modern Putnam Pike) and the classic saw mill, gristmill, and forge typical of colonial farming communities in Rhode Island.

With the Industrial Revolution, Smithfield was heavily transformed, but I should note that much of that transformation and population increase occurred in present-day Lincoln, Central Falls (which was part of Lincoln), and North Smithfield (which included the parts of Woonsocket west of the Blackstone). Within modern Smithfield, the Industrial Revolution did result in the establishment of about seven villages (Fountain Spring, Esmond, Georgiaville, Stillwater, Spragueville, Mountaindale, and Greenville), though the town website only lists five (Fountain Spring and Mountaindale are not recognized).

Interestingly, the town has one “ghost” village: Hanton City, which appears to have been a quarrying community initially granted to soldiers in the aforementioned King Philip’s War, that died out following the closing of the quarry.

The mills were primarily textile mills, and their establishment also physically altered the town, as the mill owners formed a corporation devoted to establishing reservoirs to supply the mills with the necessary water power. Like many other towns, much of these villages were accompanied by company-owned housing for their workers. Along with the mills, the Turnpike Boom arrived, connecting distant farming communities to the market in Providence.

In the middle part of the 19th Century, Smithfield had a proliferation of apple orchards, resulting in the nickname “Apple Valley”. The first was Windsor farms. Half of the apples went to the production of cider (and likely hard cider at that). Few of the orchards remain, but a notable one is Jaswell Orchard, started in 1899 by Italian immigrant Nicola Gesualdi, who intentionally Anglicized his name to Nicholas Jaswell (this was fairly typical, the story of immigration officials Anglicizing names upon arrival is apocryphal, most Anglicizations occurred as immigrants reinvented themselves in their new country).

In 1871, Smithfield was partitioned when North Smithfield and Lincoln were separated from it, losing about 80% of its population. The town went from over 13,000 residents to just 2,605. It would lose more population to the end of the century, coming down to 2,100 residents.

That was its nadir though. Industrial development coupled with the arrival of the automobile boosted the population significantly. New roads significantly transformed the old turnpikes (in one interesting touch, the front of the town’s first tavern, constructed in 1733, was torn down for a new highway). The town got a proper civic center as well, using an old church in Georgiaville as the town hall (according to my source, the town clerk had been using an office in his Greenville store for the prior 40 years). In 1939, they built a proper town hall.

However, even as Smithfield experienced growth, its industry was failing. While World War 1 did keep the New England textile mills on life-support, the end of the war hastened their decline, especially as the mills were sold off to out-of-state owners. Spragueville and Mountaindale lost their mill buildings and much of their mill-based residents.

Following World War 2, Smithfield, like many of the more rural towns, became a beneficiary of suburbanization, as single-family homes were built in former farmlands. In many cases, this led to the previously separate villages being knit together by continuous settlement; Greenville with Spragueville and Mountaindale, and Georgiaville with Esmond.

Two big changes happened in the 1970s. In 1971, Bryant University relocated to Smithfield after an alumnus, Earl Tupper, (the inventor of Tupperware) donated his estate. I-295 was added a few years later.

Smithfield also hosts a number of Laotian-American institutions, such as the main office of the Laotian Community Center and Watlao Boddhovath. Interestingly from a vexillological view is that Watlao Boddhovath flies the old Kingdom of Laos flag, instead of the flag of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic; though this is readily explained by the fact the vast majority of Rhode Island’s Laotian community is made up of anti-communist soldiers, refugees, and their descendants. The temple hosts Pi Mai (Lao New Year) celebrations each year.

The town has at least five hills, and officially counts seven ponds (though the reservoirs built by the 19th century mill owners are included in this).

What has Smithfield got now?

Smithfield has arms:

The emblazonment from the Tercentenary Commission report:

Vert a chevron between three smith’s hammers argent. (See North Smithfield.) The hammers are for smith and the vert (green) for field.

What this makes clear is that Smithfield’s arms are canting arms, arms that are sort of a visual pun on the name (the funniest is the Dutch municipality of Hensbroek). It’s Smith-field, so there are some smith’s hammers in a field (I have no idea why they added a white chevron).

Smithfield uses these arms somewhat, such as on the town website or in front of town hall (although the file I found labelled them as “old logo”).

Smithfield has a seal as well.

I suspect, based on how this seal looks pretty hand-drawn, it was created as part of a competition of some sort for a new town seal. I don’t love it so much, but Smithfield uses it, and seals are fairly hard to criticize. It does bother me that the arms shown here are in yellow, though.

Finally, Smithfield has a flag, as shown in this 2012 photo of the town council:

A small but unencumbered version is shown at the CRW Flags of the World website entry for Smithfield. There is also some discussion questioning whether there was a previous flag which was the current seal on a white field. It’s plausible at some point the flag was updated, likely without much fanfare.

Digitizing Existing Designs

Since I’ve largely already done this work, Smithfield’s arms are relatively easy to make. Mine (at left) is a more faithful replication of the hammers that Smithfield uses, and at right is one using WappenWiki assets.

The seal is alright, but I don’t see how digitizing will improve it, and I don’t think it particularly messes up its deployment of the arms, so I’ll skip it.

Let’s talk about this flag. If you’ve followed the series, you’ve seen this layout quite a number of times already (we just saw it last week on Scituate). But this is quite an uninspiring version of it. There’s too much text here, that doesn’t really matter. If we’re looking at a flag, we shouldn’t need to read the town name, we certainly don’t need to know that it’s a town, we don’t need the state, and if incorporation dates are useless information, then a lowercase “i” in “incorporation” is just bewildering (presumably it was done to avoid an awkward height difference, but that decision is undercut by the d’s ascender and the numbers at the end of the line).

But I think what sets this apart from other such RI municipal flags in the genre of “escutcheon plus text on a bedsheet” is the plain-ness of the arms. Combined with a relatively plain text, and the flag looks plain. Looking through official ceremonies, I never saw the flag used even in those contexts.

We can do better, I think.

Redesigning Smithfield’s flag

Designs 1a & 1b

As always, if we can come up with nothing better, we can at least adapt the arms directly to a flag. I think the more vertically-oriented version works a lot better than the horizontal one, but your mileage may vary. These have a great advantage over the current flag of taking use of the whole space of the flag, while retaining the primary symbol of Smithfield.

Designs 2a & 2b

Since Smithfield was once Rhode Island’s “Apple Valley” and contained more orchards per square mile than any other town, I wanted to represent that on a flag. This flag layout inverts the chevron to represent “valley”, and replaces the hammers with apples in honor of the orchards; thus keeping the canting from the arms. 2a maintains the white on green coloring of the arms, but if you prefer your apples with a more natural color, 2b has that.

If the Town were to adopt Design 1, it might be nice for the orchards to fly one of these designs.

Design 3

A more simplistic way to go with this would be to use the hammers to represent the number of villages recognized on the Town website, and impale them as green ones on a white stripe. The stripe could alternatively represents the advent of the turnpikes or 295, or even the partitions of Smithfield.

Design 4

This design is a bicolor, using Smithfield’s red and white colors, but it uses a variation of the line that I created to look like hammers. I’m not sure if there’s a heraldic name for this, but I’ve named it “martely” since the word “marteau” means “hammer” in French.

This design is to represent the partitioning of Smithfield, both its initial birth as a separation from Providence, and the splits that created North Smithfield and Lincoln.

Wrapping Up

As always, I’m a distant observer of most of the towns in Rhode Island, so I can only offer my outside samples (I do my best to discover what I can about the town). If you have better ideas, please reach out.

As always, please vote in the poll.

2 comments

  1. Design four makes the hammers look like apple trees, turning the symbol on the arms into an orchard. It doesn’t sound like you meant it, but it’s a great idea.

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