Bet you didn't know this about Rhode Island

Rhode Island Weighs Using Shorter Official Name


It does not appear on the state flag or license plate. You won’t see it on road maps or welcome signs. But Rhode Island has a lightning rod of a formal name — Rhode Island and Providence Plantations — that harks back to its prominent role in the slave trade and makes some of its residents cringe.

Defenders of the name say that the word “plantation” did not have a negative connotation when Rhode Island was founded in 1636, and that it referred to the state’s farming settlements. But the state’s early economy did thrive on the slave trade, with Rhode Islanders distilling rum from molasses, trading it in Africa for slaves and then trading the slaves in the West Indies for more molasses.

“We have more and more people in the state saying, ‘Look, change the name,’ ” said Joseph S. Almeida, a Democratic state representative from Providence. “We don’t want to change history. We want to add to it.”

After years of defending the state’s name, the State Senate and House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last week to allow a referendum asking voters whether to shorten it by seven syllables, to Rhode Island. On Tuesday the Senate could adopt the House’s bill, paving the way for the referendum.


Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, opposes the change, said his spokeswoman, Amy Kempe. But the governor will not try to stop it, Ms. Kempe said in an e-mail message, because he lacks the authority to veto resolutions for constitutional amendments.

“The historical definition of the word ‘plantation’ is ‘settlement or colony,’ ” Ms. Kempe wrote, “and is no way in reference to the most modern definition associated with slavery.”

Comment: See state seal above.

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