Rhode Island African Heritage & History Timeline: 17th through 19th Centuries

sankofa1636 Providence settlement is established

1639 Newport settlement is established on southern end of Aquidneck Island.

1640 Dr. John Clarke grants land to the Town of Newport to establish a Common Burying Ground for all residents regardless of race, creed and class.

1652 Colony of Rhode Island adopts a law abolishing African slavery, where “black mankinde” cannot be indentured more than ten years. The law is largely unenforced.

1660 Charles II, King of England orders the Council of Foreign Plantations to devise strategies for converting slaves and servants to Christianity. Continue reading

A Woman of Valor

WWI_iconOne of the least researched and publicly presented subjects in the history of WWI has been the contributions of African American women both home and abroad. Throughout the war years, women of color contributed to the war effort in important ways individually and through services organizations including the YWCA and American Red Cross. One extraordinary contribution by an African American woman buried within the pages of WWI and American history, is the story of Dr. Harriet Alleyne Rice. Continue reading

Eager to Fight for Equality

WWI_iconThis news article of 1918 comes from our family collection that includes items from my great uncle, Charles Henry Barclay who during WWI served as a 1st Lieutenant with the 372nd regiment in France. The article describes the concerns that African American (Negro) soldiers were being given more dangerous combat duties as compared to white soldiers. The American Expeditionary Forces during the war were commanded by General John “Black Jack” Pershing who responds directly to the reports as false and that the “Negroes were in high spirits and that their only complaint was that they were not given more active service.” Those comments coming from General Pershing are historically relevant due to his own interaction with African American troops that dated back to 1892 when he took command of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed the “Buffalo Soldiers.” During the Spanish American War, Pershing would lead the 10th Cavalry on the famous charge at San Juan Hill joining the famous Rough Riders of future President Theodore Roosevelt. Pershing’s command of African American troops leading up to the First World War would enthuse his fellow officers to give him the nickname, “Black Jack” largely as a sardonic description of his command. Continue reading

The Fight For Equality At Home & Overseas

WWI_iconBy 1918, as America entered the First World War, the political and military consensus was that African American soldiers would not fight alongside white soldiers in combat. Although American soldiers of color were ready to fight and die for their country, many who would serve under an American flag would be relegated to supporting roles and labor regiments. The French however, had no misgivings about utilizing black troops. Allied American and French commanders agreed that segregated black regiments would fight with the French Army under the command of French commanding officers. Continue reading

Africans in Newport History Celebration

1696_logoOn Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 11am as part of the City of Newport’s 375th Anniversary Celebration, members of the African Alliance of Rhode Island will come together to oversee a ceremony to recognize and celebrate the thousands of persons of West African heritage that once lived, worked, worshiped and died in Colonial Newport that are represented by the several hundred burial markers that remain in God’s Little Acre.
aariThe African Alliance of Rhode Island (aari) is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Africans living in the State of Rhode Island. Dating back to 17th century, Rhode Island has been home to many from the continent of Africa. Today, there are over seventy-five thousand Africans from forty African countries living in Rhode Island. Continue reading

A Dialogue Between Two African Women

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negro’s, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
– P. Wheatley

Most people would recognize the name Phillis Wheatley as the first published African woman poet in America. Believed to have been born in Senegal, she was sold into slavery at the age of seven to the Wheatley family of Boston. Recognizing her potential, they taught her to read and write, and supported her later writings in poetry. Wheatley would convert to Christianity and become an active member of the Old South Meeting House in Boston. Constantly in ill health, she would die young at the age of thirty-one. Continue reading

An African Man’s Legacy of Faith & Freedom in Colonial America


quaminoNearly two hundred years before the 1963 March on Washington for Peace & Jobs and before Richard Allen, Fredrick Douglas, Harriett Tubman, WEB Dubois, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, there was an African man who brought vision, intelligence, and leadership to the cause of African liberation and equality in 18th century America. John Quamino was born in 1744, most likely in Anomabu, a small town on the Gold Coast of West Africa which is today Ghana. His Quamino name is the English phoneticized pronunciation of Kwame coming from the Akan people’s tradition of providing the day name for boys born on Saturday. Arriving in Newport, Rhode Island around 1754, his own account describes his father, a prominent member of his tribe entrusting his son to a white merchant to be brought to America for education and was promptly enslaved and sold to a Benjamin Church of Rhode Island. While a slave in Newport, Quamino had access to both education and religion and became an active member in the First Congregational Church. He married an African woman named Duchess who was enslaved in the William Channing household, and in 1773, Quamino would purchase his freedom from the proceeds of a town lottery winning.

With a strong belief and desire to bring the Christian faith to the Africans, Quamino’s pastor, Reverend Samuel Hopkins raised a considerable sum of money from various New England church groups with plans to educate and train as missionaries two Newport Africans for the purpose of sending them back to Africa. On November 22, 1774 John Quamino along with a Bristol Yamma of Newport were sent to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), possibly being the first Africans to enroll in an American college. Hopkins also reached out to a Reverend Phillip Qarque, an African missionary from the Society of London for the Prorogating in Foreign Parts, who was stationed at the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana. Amazingly, Qarque had also made contact with John Quamino’s uncle and mother who were from a prominent family in Anomabu and were excited to reunite with their long lost relative thought to have been lost to slavery. With the commencement of the American Revolution and the soon to be British occupation of Newport, the plans for an African led mission to West Africa ended. Quamino undeterred, redirected his efforts to end slavery in America and promote the social and religious well-being of his fellow Africans.

Quamino would send a June 6, 1776 letter to Quaker and Abolitionist Moses Brown of Providence thanking him for his courage to free his slaves and take on the abolition of slavery, where he stated:

“Having some late understanding of your noble and distinguished character and boundless benevolence—with regards to the unforfeited rights of the poor unhappy Africans of this province and of your sundry petitions to the General Assemblies in their favor, has excited one of that nation, though an utter stranger, to present—gratitude and thanks before you—for all your excellent endeavours for the speedy salvation of his poor enslaved countrymen, and for what you were kindly disposed to do already of this kind in freeing all your servants. Hoping that you will be highly rewarded hereafter by Him who has promised to remember the merciful at the great reckoning day.”

Soon after, Quamino, like many free Africans would enlist on an American Privateer to earn enough funds to purchase the freedom of his wife and children. Regrettably, he was killed in battle during the American Revolution. The legacy of John Quamino can be seen throughout American civil rights history through those that actively led the efforts for freedom, civil rights and equality, but few paid the ultimate price like John Quamino who gave his life to a fledging America in the name of freedom and equality for all.