First Medallion Plaque Ready for Patriots Park

By Newport This Week Staff, August 22, 2019

Charles Robert based the R.I. Slave medallion on a 1768 gravestone. (Photo above by Susan Duca)

Originally published in Newport This Week

The Rhode Island Slave History Medallions Project will install its first medallion plaque on Aug. 25 at Patriots Park in Portsmouth. Carved by Allison Newsome of Warren, and designed by project chairman Charles Roberts, it is a recreation of an image carved by enslaved artisan Pompe Stevens for the gravestone of his enslaved bother, Cuffy Gibbs, in 1768.

Stevens not only carved the stone but signed it, making it one of the first pieces of African American artwork still existing in North America. It is in God’s Little Acre in the Newport Common Burying Ground.

The medallion plaque is an artistic representation of the ‘Soul Effigy’ angel images produced at the John Stevens Shop during the Colonial era. For authenticity, Nick Benson, a descendant of the original owner who works in the shop, assisted with the design of the lettering so that the medallion would have the look of artwork made by hand.

Medallions will be placed on historic buildings or granite pedestals, and visitors will be able to scan them with a phone, making it possible to view the historic information. In the future, medallion plaques are expected to be placed at the John Stevens Shop and the Newport Historical Society, among other sites.

This is a special moment in American history,” said National Park Service Superintendent Terry E. Brown. “Let’s unite as one on this day and show our appreciation for 400 years of African American history. We must embrace the West African concept of Sankofa, which teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward.”

Newport is one of 52 documented Middle Passage locations across the country. It is also one of 42 that recently received the international designation of a “Site of Memory” associated with the UNESCO Slave Route Project.

The Middle Passage Port Marker Project has already been established to honor and remember the Africans of the Triangular Trade who perished during the journey from Africa to America, as well as to acknowledge survivors who helped build Newport and the nation both economically and culturally. Newport was one of four ports statewide involved in this human trafficking; the others being Bristol, Warren and Providence. In honor and remembrance, a site has been secured at Liberty Square for the erection of the Middle Passage Port Marker Monument.

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