Ignorance Is Antithetical to Freedom
Keith Stokes adds some welcome historical perspective to the manufactured controversy about the last word in the state’s official name — Rhode Island and Providence Plantations:
The historic use of the word plantation does not simply refer to early farms or settlements. It was specifically crafted and applied by our founding settlers as a means to express their newly achieved experience of religious liberty and expression.
The word as part of our official state name was also influenced by the sermons and writings of one of New England’s most prominent 17th Century clergyman: the Rev. John Cotton. Cotton was a Puritan and religious scholar who greatly influenced early Rhode Island Colony founders Roger Williams, John Clarke and Ann Hutchinson. His sermons included references to “A plantation of them into the promised land,” contemplating the search for religious freedom of the Puritans and the real possibility of finding it in the new world. …
This section of the charter refers to the Plantations name alongside the naming of our first settlement Providence, as the recognition that God (and through his divine providence) had guided these settlers in search of religious self-determination to form this new colony. It is imperative that all Rhode Islanders recognize that the name Plantations as part of Rhode Island’s founding history means much more than simply a farm or settlement. The name is at the very heart of the formation of a colony that established the belief and practice of liberty of conscience and separation of church and state.
That is a history worth knowing, highlighting the ideals of our founding but rooted in the contextual biases of the times. It’s a full picture, and none alive have any reason to be ashamed or unduly proud of it.
In seeking to reify the sins of the past in order to capitalize on them in the present, those wielding the eraser would spread smudges across our past, obscuring it. “Plantations” would signify only the objectionable connotation, implying inaccuracies about Rhode Island’s history. Replacing the full history with a sparse sketch makes individuals susceptible to the invidious superimpositions by which manipulators turn ignorance to their advantage.