Providence church eyed as site for slavery museum

cathedral of st. john

Providence’s Cathedral of St. John may be shuttered, but out front of the 200-year-old structure is a church billboard with block letters that read, “GOD IS NOT DONE WITH US YET.”

Indeed, it appears the church may take on a second life as means to shed light on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the role that all early US states – North and South – played in perpetuating slavery.

The Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island wants to use part of the Cathedral of St. John for a museum that would examine the state’s role in the slave trade, both those who profited from it and those who opposed it. Churchgoers and clergymen were on both sides.

“In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Rhode Islanders backed 1,000 trips between Africa and the Americas,” according to the Providence Bulletin. “Newport, Bristol and Providence were among the busiest slave trade ports in North America.”

The museum would be the only one in the nation centered on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It would also focus on the Episcopal Church’s role in that trade’s history and the often-overlooked legacy of slavery in northern states.

Ironically, the Cathedral of St. John is just a few hundred feet from both the site identified as where Roger Williams founded Providence in 1636 and the location of Williams’ home. Williams, a proponent of religious freedom, has been called the New World’s first abolitionist.

Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, played a very large role in slavery.

A Brown University report issued in 2006 found that about 60 percent of all slave-trading voyages launched from North America came from the state, more than 1,000 in all. Some 80 of those came from a single family, the DeWolfs of Bristol, RI.

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California paper asks newsroom staff to help with delivery

Orange County Register

As a former journalist, I’ve had a hard time watching the newspaper industry’s continuing decline. Across the United States, papers are struggling to handle the significant drop in advertising revenue that’s taken place over the 12 years or so.

None of the four daily papers I toiled at during my career are doing particularly well at present. Nowhere is that more evident than at the last paper I worked for, in Columbia, SC.

When I joined the paper as a banking reporter in 1999, it had a business staff of seven, an assistant business editor and a business editor. Today, it has a business editor and approximately 1-1/2 business reporters.

I say “approximately” because the two individuals assigned to write business stories will often find themselves covering non-business subjects, as well.

But things could be worse.

Take the Orange County Register, which this week asked its employees, including its reporters and editors, to deliver the paper’s Sunday edition over the next few weeks.

The California newspaper, which has three Pulitzer Prizes to its credit and is one of California’s largest dailies, started the initiative after a switch in distributors wreaked havoc on home delivery, leaving some routes uncovered and thousands of papers undelivered, according to Slate.

The Register asked employees to help deliver the Sunday edition of the paper until its carrier woes are worked out.

As compensation for the task, which involves sorting and delivering 500-600 papers on a full route and can take as much as six hours to complete, employees can earn $150 in Visa gift cards. A smaller route will earn a $100 Visa gift card.

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Investigating the rich history of Lowcountry rice farming

rice barge

When one thinks of antebellum agriculture, one typically thinks of cotton. Indeed, by 1860 Southern farms and plantations supplied 75 percent of the world’s cotton, and Gossypium hirsutum was the dominant agricultural crop from the Carolinas to Texas.

Cotton was such an important part of the pre-war South that the Confederacy believed it would be the ultimate instrument of its independence.

Much less well known today is the princely standing held by another Deep South crop during the days before the War Between the States – that of rice.

Rice was introduced to the United States in the 17th century and is reported to have been cultivated in Virginia almost as soon as the first settlers landed at Jamestown, but it was in the marshy, humid regions of Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia that the crop flourished.

Rice planters couldn’t have succeeded without the forced labor of slaves, particularly those from the Senegambia area of West Africa and coastal Sierra Leone.

At the port of Charleston, slaves with knowledge of rice culture brought the highest price and were put to use on rice plantations around Charleston, Georgetown, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.

A new book by Richard Dwight Porcher Jr. and William Robert Judd detailing the once-great Lowcountry rice industry states that nowhere else was an agricultural crop so intimately tied to status and its associated wealth and influence as rice was to the Lowcountry.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice: An Illustrated History of Innovations in the Lowcountry Rice Kingdom is an extensive account of the rice industry in Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia.

market preparation“… the real strength of this book is the author’s documentation based on extensive field research of fifty rice plantations, mill sites, museum and archival collections and travels to investigate foreign connections to the Lowcountry rice industry,” according to a review by the Charleston Post and Courier.

The work, published by University of South Carolina Press, which contains “meticulously rendered line drawings depicting the mechanical devices of the rice industry, lend a startling clarity to the written explanations of how they actually functioned and what part each played in the crop’s journey from the field to the consumer,” the publication adds.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice identifies the inventiveness of Deep South planters, recognizing that the U.S. Patent Office granted substantial numbers of antebellum patents to South Carolinians for inventions or improvement for rice harvesting and milling equipment alone.

It also recognizes the contributions of slaves “whose blood and sweat transformed inland swamps and riverine marshes into the remarkably dynamic hydraulic systems that composed the sweeping rice fields of the Lowcountry,” according to the Post and Courier.

The book doesn’t gloss over the fact that slaves worked in brutal conditions, explaining “that tidal river marshes were an extremely harsh environment just to exist in, let alone to work in. As it proved, an enslaved work force was the essential element in the survival of the Rice Kingdom, for without them the days of glory were over.”

(Top: Image showing the unloading of rice barges on a 19th century South Carolina rice plantation.)

Woman passes counterfeit Confederate bill in Utah

fake confederate money

It’s one thing to be duped by someone passing counterfeit legal tender, but it’s hard to have much sympathy for someone who takes fake Confederate currency in exchange for goods or services.

That’s what happened recently in Salina, Utah, where a woman paid for fuel at a gas station with fake $50 Confederate bill in late June.

According to Salina Police, an unidentified female driving a gold ’90s model Ford F-150 with California license plates convinced the attendant at a Premium Oil station to allow her to use the bill to purchase approximately $45 worth of gas, according to the delightfully named Richfield Reaper newspaper.

“After the employee turned on the pump, he was suspicious, so he took the bill to a local bank,” said Police Chief Eric Pratt. “They verified it was not legitimate.”

When the attendant returned to the station, the woman, not surprisingly, had already high-tailed it out of the central Utah town.

And because the $50 bill wasn’t even a real Confederate note, it’s worthless.

“I can tell you it feels like coloring book paper,” Pratt said. “I don’t recommend anyone accepting nonstandard bills like this one as an acceptable form of payment.”

Of course, even if one was somehow taken in by the front of the bill, which has “The Confederate States of America” written in large letters, one might be tipped off that something was amiss by the reverse, which is more akin to monopoly money than legal tender.

Places in the US where fake Confederate currency is accepted.

Places in the US where fake Confederate currency is accepted.

It features the word “Fifty” written large once, smaller two more times, and in numerical form four times, but features no design other than a few geometric patterns.

Not that it’s dissimilar to money printed by the Confederacy 150 years ago, but one would imagine most anyone today would think twice before accepting it.

If the unnamed attendant still has a job, one can’t help but imagine that there are a passel of talented counterfeiters flocking to central Utah for easy pickings.

(Top: The fake $50 Confederate bill accepted by a gas station attendant in Salina, Utah, recently. Photo credit: The Richfield Reaper.)

Does plan to divide California have a chance?


California is no stranger to partition movements. The first plan to divide the state, the most populous in the US and No. 3 in overall size, was initiated in 1850, which, ironically, also happened to be the same year it joined the Union.

But today, with nearly 40 million residents spread over more than 163,000 square miles – you could fit nearly 135 states the size of Rhode Island inside California – the movement to divide the Golden State appears to gaining steam.

Among plans being put forward is one that would split it into six individual states, including one that would be called Silicon Valley and would encompass the high-tech region around the San Francisco Bay Area, and another that would be known as West California and include the Los Angeles area.

“No other state contains within it such contradictory interests, cultures, economic and political geography,” according to Keith Naughton at PublicCEO, a website that covers state and local California issues. “It has become impossible to even remotely reconcile the array of opposing forces. The only way to get anything done is to shove laws and regulations down a lot of unwilling throats.”

One of the drivers behind the six-state initiative is venture capitalist Tim Draper.

With tens of millions of people spread over an area 250 miles wide and 770 miles long, Draper believes that a single monolithic California has become ungovernable.

The state’s population is more than six times as large as the average of the other 49 states, and too many Californians feel estranged from a state government in Sacramento that doesn’t understand them or reflect their interests, according to Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe.

“The citizens of the whole state would be better served by six smaller states governments while preserving the historical boundaries of the various counties, cities and towns,” according to the Six Californias Proposal.

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Lobbyist will sell mother’s soul for fame, cash


So, what to make the Washington, DC, lobbyist interested in introducing legislation that would ban openly gay athletes from playing in the National Football League?

Last week lobbyist Jack Burkman released a draft text of what he has named “The American Decency Act of 2014,” which would not only ban openly gay athletes from playing earning a living in the NFL but would levy multi-million dollar fees on teams that dared to violate the act, were it to be enacted.

Initially, one might simply shrug off the announcement as the ranting of a publicity-seeking jackass.

Yes, it’s hard to believe someone who earns a living from political lobbying would stoop to such a low maneuver, but things like this have been known to happen.

Magnanimously, the bill would exempt teams that build separate locker facilities so that gay and straight players may shower apart. Ah, good. I was so hoping we would find some way to reintroduce Separate but Equal; it was such a hit the first time around.

“I truly believe NFL team owners and coaches do not want openly gay players on their teams because of the issues that will cause and I think they may tell you that if they answered honestly,” Burkman said in a press release. “The morals in this country have dropped so low that it’s sad that a bill like this is even needed.”

Fortunately, because Burkman is a lobbyist he cannot introduce legislation, which must be done by a member of Congress. He claims his proposal has the support of several members of Congress, however.

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Grad to world: I deserve more, now!


The Huffington Post has always seemed a bit of an odd creature. Described as an online news aggregator and blog, the site offers news and original content, and covers a variety of topics, including politics, entertainment, culture and comedy.

Yours truly isn’t a regular reader of The Huffington Post, but when I came across a story about a 24-year-old recent college graduate unhappy with the low pay associated with her first job – titled “I Feel Like I’m Just Starting My Life And I’m Already Miles And Miles Behind” – I initially thought it was a parody, something along the lines of The Onion.

Consider this excerpt from a first-person account by Monica Simon, a Penn State grad who works full time at an online advertising firm in Philadelphia and earns $23,000 a year after taxes:

“I like it, but it doesn’t pay as well as I’d like it to. So I’ve looked around for other jobs. But really, I can’t find any. I’m thinking about going back to school because I’m not even sure at this point if this job is going to hold out in the future. Right now I’m just up in the air on what steps to take next.”

Comic genius, right? Sadly, no. In fact, there’s more real-life woe-is-me bleating:

“I probably take in about $1,800 a month. My anxiety is constantly high about bills I have to pay,” Simon writes. “My student loans make me so nervous because I have my family co-sign on them. It’s not just my credit on the line. It’s theirs, too. That’s a constant anxiety that I have.

“Sometimes I get paid and then I have, maybe, $150 left over for the two weeks,” she adds. “I really don’t have enough for food and gas, so I rely a lot on my credit cards. I just feel I’m getting way behind where I want to be for my age. I feel I’m just starting my life and I’m already miles and miles behind.”

That’s right, this is no parody. This is an adult woman who is whining because her first job doesn’t, it appears, allow her to assume the lifestyle she expected to walk into right out of college.

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