Each week, I look at a city or town in Rhode Island, examining the town’s flag, its associated symbols, and also going over the town’s history. This week, we close out the towns in Newport County by looking at Tiverton
Prior to English conquest and colonization, Tiverton was the domain of the Pocassets, who were part of the Wampanoag federation, which was dominated by the Pokanoket (based out of what is now Warren) The Pocasset leader Corbitant was resistant to the alliance sought with the English by the Wampanoag Massasoit Ousameequan. Ousameequan saw the alliance as a way to defend against the ever more powerful Narragansett, who defeated the Wampanoag for control of the Narragansett Bay Islands around the time the Wampanoags allied with the English. Corbitant appears to have correctly deduced that the English were not a positive development, and did a lot to sabotage that alliance including kidnapping Tsquantum (aka “Squanto”) to cut off communication between the two groups (he released Tsquantum, but it’s possible Corbitant meant to kill the translator), and possibly conspired with the Narragansett and other anti-English elements within the Wampanoag to overthrow Ousameequan. Ultimately though, he followed Pokanoket leadership and signed a peace treaty with the English (although, in English eyes, this would shift the relation between the Wampanoag feudatories and the English colonies from one of near-parity to one of vassalage).
Corbitant’s daughter, Weetamoo, married Ousameequan’s son Wamsutta (following the death of her first husband). I’m not quite sure she was the principal leader of the Pocasset following her father’s death, but she apparently was a leader. The year after his father died, the now-Massasoit Wamsutta was imprisoned by Plymouth Colony and died shortly after release, and it was his brother Metacom who then became Massasoit of the Wampanoags. Understandably, Metacom was more of Corbitant’s disposition when it came to the English, and would eventually form an alliance of Native nations to resist the United Colonies of the English. Weetamoo attempted neutrality, but she ultimately assisted Metacom in the war, and drowned attempting to the flee the English in the Taunton River in 1676.
The English, under Plymouth colony, had raised claims to the area that was to become Tiverton in 1606, about 14 years before their actual arrival in what they called New England. In 1638, across the Sakonnet River, a group of English dissidents setup a town they initially called “Pocasset” (today it’s Portsmouth) – but it’s notable that they sought permission from the Narragansetts to settle and not from the Wampanoag. However, Wamsutta and some other Wampanoag sachems did sell Nannaquaket Neck in Tiverton to a Portsmouth settler, Richard Morris, in 1651, and that’s the first time English came to actually own land in Tiverton.
Plymouth was, of course, unhappy about this (since they had that 1606 claim), and they eventually got Morris to agree to swear allegiance to them, but before that, they sold Punkatest Neck to 75 of their own settlers in 1663. Possibly none of them actually ever made it out there before King Philip’s War.
In June 1675, the war ignited, and Tiverton was, of course, part of the conflict area. Following the destruction of Swansea, and the retaliatory destruction of Montaup (today Anglicized to “Mount Hope”), forces under the command of Metacom met forces under the command of Capt. Benjamin Church at Fogland Point in Tiverton on July 8. Church appears to have been saved by the arrival of an English sloop, which allowed him to evacuate to battlefield. On July 18, Metacom, having joined with Weetamoo, ambushed pursuing English troops at the Pocasset Cedar Swamp, the area which today is bounded by Fish Road, Eagleville Road, and the Fall River Expressway. While 16 English soldiers were killed, Metacom and Weetamoo were forced to abandon a large part of their force, about 100 soldiers, who fell into English captivity (where the most likely fate was either execution or enslavement). Metacom moved north to connect up with the Nipmuc, pursued by Church, resulting in the First Battle of Nipsachuck in Smithfield.
In March of 1676, a Quaker was ambushed on his way to the meeting in Newport by some Natives in the area, and his body was thrown into a nearby brook, which became known as “Sinning Flesh River” and is today Sin and Flesh Brook.
With Metacom’s defeat and the alliance he had forged destroyed, the English no longer had to bother much with Native claims to the land, and were free to dispose of it as they wished, and so Plymouth Colony did. First it granted land to those who had served in the war (most notably the captain of the sloop who saved Church at Fogland Point), but the majority of the land that became Tiverton was purchased in 1679 by eight men known as the Pocasset Purchasers. The northern boundary of this area is today’s Bedford Street in Fall River, its southern boundary was down to Puncatest. As it was settled, it formed a sort of proto-government, but was not yet a real town.
Tiverton was placed in Bristol County, Plymouth in 1685, when the colony was subdivided. In 1686, Plymouth was absorbed into the Dominion of New England, but when that government was overthrown in 1689, Plymouth sought to reestablish itself. Unfortunately for Plymouth, the new King and Queen of England decided that Plymouth should unite with Massachusetts, and thus in 1692, Tiverton fell under Massachusetts’ jurisdiction. It’s under that colony that the town was first incorporated, in 1694, with only 27 recorded residents. I’m unable to find out why the town is called “Tiverton” though I suspect it is named for Tiverton in Devon, England.
Tiverton’s early history is primarily associated with the establishment of churches, taverns and agriculture (not atypical for Rhode Island towns), but a shipbuilding trade was established in Tiverton by the Wantons, who would be prominent in Newport and produce four colonial governors (the last of which holds the distinction of being the only Rhode Island governor to be removed from office – mainly because he attempted to avoid getting Rhode Island into the Revolutionary War). Indeed, Tiverton’s early activity was oriented around the Sakonnet River, which is where most of its population still is today. A ferry between Fogland Point and Newport ran until the Revolutionary War, which led to a village being established at what is today Four Corners. Tiverton agriculture did use slave labor, and the 1757 town census shows that there were 99 Black and 99 Native residents in the town, with possibly all in bondage.
Of course, by 1757, Tiverton was now part of Rhode Island, and this was a result of an issue raised by settlers in what’s now Cumberland, RI but was then “Attleborough”, Massachusetts in 1729 who believed they were in Rhode Island as part of Rhode Island’s charter. Rhode Island sued Massachusetts in 1733. In 1746, the British crown determined that yes, they were indeed in Rhode Island, and, in fact, Rhode Island also had land extending three miles inland from the Bay, which put Tiverton, Little Compton, Barrington, Bristol, and Warren all within Rhode Island’s boundaries. This happened in 1747, and so Tiverton, Massachusetts, became Tiverton, RI.
During the Revolutionary War, Tiverton didn’t see much action. It constructed two forts, took in refugees, confiscated Loyalist land, and provided hospital care to the wounded from the Battle of Rhode Island. One of the forts was where the raid that captured a British general was launched from.
After the war, in 1791 Massachusetts appointed some surveyors who took issue with how Rhode Island had drawn the line between them, and sought to have it altered. Rhode Island couldn’t agree, and the running dispute over the border would continue with forays in 1832, 1838, 1844, 1852, and finally decided by engineers dispatched by the US Supreme Court, who established the boundary in 1862. Rhode Island got East Providence and the east half of Pawtucket out of the deal, but lost its claims to its north, and had to give much much of northern Tiverton to Fall River (although, there’s some assertion that in 1856, part of Northern Tiverton had briefly become Fall River, Rhode Island). The division meant that Tiverton lost more than half of its population.
Post-Revolution Tiverton didn’t change much. In 1806, “undoubtedly the best bridge in the United States” was built in Tiverton, but it was destroyed by the Great Gale of 1816. Though not affected much by the Industrial Revolution that reshaped most of Rhode Island, Tiverton did have a few cotton factories and mills (though its streams could not power mills like those in Rhode Island across the bay). Tivertonites (Tivertonians?) also got into whaling, though they were mostly captains out of Westport or New Bedford (the world whaling capital). Tiverton started to establish villages, the two largest being Stone Bridge and Tiverton Four Corners, but also smaller communities like Eagleville, Crandalville, Bridgeport, and Bliss’ Four Corners. A lot of trade happened on the Sakonnet River, and small vessels called “coasters” were used to transport a lot of goods.
In 1864, Tiverton got a railroad, which connected Newport with Fall River. The 1860s also saw the rise of the menhaden industry in Tiverton. The menhaden is an oily fish, which most readers might be familiar with as the fish Tisquantum advised the Pilgrims to use as a fertilizer for their corn. And indeed, Tiverton soon became the center of Rhode Island’s menhaden industry. Demand for the oil from the fish outstripped demand for whale, seal, or cod oil and the fish scraps were used for fertilizer. You could also eat the fish, if you cared to. A number of Churches (as in, Benjamin Church’s descendants) got rich selling menhaden and menhaden oil.
The late 1870s saw the development of two mills in North Tiverton, funded by mill concerns in Fall River. That area basically became a continuation of Fall River, largely as it is today. The primary way most people reached Tiverton was over the Bay on steamers, and there was a small industry devoted to servicing those steamers.
However, those would all close down, and be replaced by a new wonder method of transportation: the automobile. Indeed, the construction of highways and paved roads allowed Tiverton to thrive. The town transitioned to summer resort, and also to a more residential community. But, of course, it was really post-World War 2 suburbanization that made Tiverton. In 1940, Tiverton stood at about 5,000 residents. By 1980, it had 13,500. In 1966 Tiverton got a high school, and in 1976 it got a middle school as well. Its last population is estimate placed it at 15,662 residents, down slightly from the 2010 Census’ 15,781 residents (its population zenith). The next Census may show that for the first time in 100 years, Tiverton has lost residents.
What has Tiverton got now?
Tiverton has a very nice coat of arms.
These are simply emblazoned by the Tercentenary Commission:
Azure, a fret or. A gold net on blue.
I have no idea why the colorist decided to make the field green. The blazon could not be simpler here. This is literally the shortest one out of all 39 cities and towns. But anyway, the coat of arms is a nice representation of a town that has really been defined by its relation to the ocean.
Tiverton also has a seal:
This is the best image I could find of the seal online. I’m not sure what the seal creators were thinking, but for some reason, they decided to do it this way, and what can you do? So the Tiverton seal features the coats of arms of both Rhode Island and Tiverton, along with a cannon under the slogan “Fort Barton” (where the raid that captured a British general was launched from) and Columbia, the name of Robert Gray’s ship. Gray was a Tiverton-born sea captain, who led the first American circumnavigation of the globe. The ship he commanded, the Columbia Rediviva, was the first American vessel to enter the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest; Gray named it after his ship (this is where you get the name “British Columbia” from). So, those are fine accomplishments to include on your seal, even though, if I can point this out, technically both of those accomplishments happened outside of the town’s boundaries. The seal also includes the slogan “Founded in Massachusetts in 1694, Founded in Rhode Island in 1747” – which may be technically incorrect. It seems like it was founded in Plymouth in 1679, and incorporated in 1694 and 1747.
Tiverton also has a flag, which I was able to find many images of thanks to the Tiverton Council being the news a lot recently when two town councilors were recalled. Unfortunately, I don’t have the rights to any of the images, and can’t really claim fair use. As best I can tell from images online, it’s just the seal on a white flag.
Digitizing Existing Designs
Getting the coat of arms cleaned up and vectorized is pretty simple, though it took me a little longer than I like to figure out just how to create the effect of a net on my version.
The emblazon doesn’t give any exact number of lines, so I tried to keep my version (at left) as close to what Tiverton actually uses as possible. The WappenWiki version obviously uses far fewer lines. Frets are really common in heraldry, and so while I don’t think this makes Tiverton’s arms bad, I should point out that it doesn’t make them very distinguishable.
I pulled a lot of Wikimedia assets for my seal, so consider it a Creative Commons License.
The Tiverton seal uses a kind of funny font, so I’ve used the free font Puritan for the text, which is somewhat odd, but a little more modern, and is a kind of a reference to the town’s past. I have not faithfull recreated the ship or cannon.
The flag is just this seal, but with a black stroke around the seal to boot:
So, if you’ve read any of my posts so far, you’ve already heard this lecture, but the seal-on-a-bedsheet design is just a total failure of flag design, especially when it comes to representing polities like towns or states. This one has some extra failing in that it has a lot of unnecessary writing. Like, no one can read “Columbia” or “Fort Barton” in part because at distance they’re too small, and in part because they’re yellow on white. While I already think incorporation dates are totally meaningless to include on a flag, it’s especially meaningless to do here. It’s not like there’s another Tiverton that was founded in Massachusetts in 1694 and founded in Rhode island in 1748. This is not something someone looking at a flag needs to take the time to read. Flags should be relatively quick to look at, easy to identify, and have way less lettering on them than this. Also, three out of the four symbols on the arms have labels! You shouldn’t have to label symbols!
Tiverton can do better, is what I’m saying.
Redesigning Tiverton’s Flag
Designs 1a & 1b
I always start these redesigns using the arms, and I was really excited to do Tiverton’s arms as a flag. While I said frets weren’t particularly unique in heraldry, you don’t see them in vexillology very often, so it’s really cool that Tiverton has this design. This would stand out in a crowd of flags, and because it has a classic heraldic design, it also has a timeless feel. The golden net on blue is this great recognition of the town’s history. So Design 1a is just a straight adaptation of those arms, and I frankly don’t think there’s more than needs to be done.
However, that miscoloring of green kind of intrigued me. So 1b adds back in the green, but it splits the flag’s field for three reasons. First, it incorporates the agricultural history of Tiverton; second, it represents this town that is of both Massachusetts and Rhode Island; and third, it represents the partition of the town which resulted in half the town become part of Fall River.
Also, for what it’s worth, the net pattern reminds me of a waffle cone from Gray’s Ice Cream.
Design 2a & 2b
These aren’t necessarily the most unique or inspired flags, but these cannon represent the two Revolutionary Era forts in the town, as well as the colonies it was a part of, the town’s partition. 2a is in the shape of a “T” for Tiverton, whereas 2b is in a cross, which is more traditional, but also represents the multiple Corners of the town.
This design incorporated the quartering from the seal, but adds in the Rhode Island anchor, and also uses two gold crosses to represent the two Corners in the town.
This final design is supposed to correspond to the roughly nine villages or named areas of settlement in the town. It also represents the sails of the ship Columbia Rediviva.
Tiverton has a really unique history in Rhode Island, distinct in many ways from that of its immediate neighbors, Little Compton or Portsmouth. I think of the designs I came up with, the straight adaptation of the arms is best, as I think it’s a simple, unique and timeless design. I don’t think I did the town justice with any of the others.
The poll is below: