Zipped explores the hidden histories of both the Rhode Island School of
Design and Providence as a whole. Though both places holding reach and
interesting histories I found that there are a lot of stories that are
missing from the narrative of RISD and Providence. It made me
curious about the other narratives and people that have gone
through the space that have gone unheard.
My research first began with Market House. A building on RISD's
campus. Ever since my first day at RISD I could tell there was more
history behind the name of the building. I scoped out the plaques on the
side of the building in hopes that I could find one acknowledging the
purchasing and the selling of enslaved people but to my surprise all I found
were plaques acknowledging a Boston Tea Party, that Joseph Brown was an
architect of the building, commanders and generals staying in the space and
natural catastrophes that the building survived. After this it made me want to know
how who built this building and if anyone was enslaved there. This information proved to be a lot more difficult to find since there isn't "concrete" evidence of enslaved people contributing to the erection of the building.
I first did a deep dive into the archives of Brown Library. Their collection included a variety of documents connecting to the ship Sally, which brought a majority of the enslaved people who built Brown and who I also believe built parts if not all of Market House. These documents kept me on my toes never distinctly connecting enslaved people to Market House and instead acknowledging that most of the Brown family was a part of the building of the
building. These names were Joseph Brown, who I mentioned was the original architect of the building. John Brown who helped Bring the dirt and soil from the top of college hill to the construction space. Moses Brown who facilitated the lottery within market house. Then Nicholas Brown, who is historically known as the person that laid the Corner-stone of the building.
After my time with the archives at Brown University I went to more digital sources and articles coming from providence local organizations such as the Providence Warwick Convention and visitors Bureau, the Providence Journal, the Smithsonian and so many more. All these resources started to make me realize that I had to broaden my scope of research. I started to consider spaces like Snowtown a mixed race community that was destroyed by a group of rioting white people in 1831. This community is currently where the Rhode island Capital hill stands. Artifacts of the space have been recovered and the Snowtown Project. After reading an article from the Smithsonian I noticed a familiar name.
Christopher Roberts, a Professor at RISD was apart of the Snowtown Project and has also conducted research around both Snowtown and Market house. We were able to sit down in an interview in which he talked about his extensive research on the Market house. He shared this document showing the names of Pero Paget, Thomas Shoemaker, and Pop Smith from the Rhode
Island Historical Society. This image is from the papers of Obadiah Moses Brown and John Brown. In our discussion he discussed the importance of acknowledging that these three enslaved people had in fact worked on the building of Market house and that it helps the argument of enslaved people working on Market house become less disputable. He also said,
"Finding and working about the seller. That’s the phrase that really draws the through-line really
getting people to think about the 60 days of working and tending about is alluding to the fact that
they were helping to build this structure. So that is kinda a thing that only came up in the past 5 years
and was contested for at least the past 20 years. The two things being contested were 1. Was
anyone really enslaved there and did enslaved people even contribute to the construction of the
building or anything like that.we’ve reached a point where there is less questioning around that
second part. More of an understanding that that likely happened."
This conversation helped me confirm my believe that enslaved people had help build Market house. When talking to him about the importance of the acknowledgement he discussed the idea of combined efforts from both the RISD and Rhode Island community to uncover the history.
But first I think it's important that we acknowledge that these histories have happened in the first place. This project was my opportunity to branch the history of enslavement in Providence and on RISD campus to the current and past students of RISD. When going through RISD's Archives I found that most of the documents connected to the phrase "Market" or "Market House" were all related to student protest. Students were asking the institution to acknowledge our history for decades. Petitions, protest, and RISD newspaper articles. The only question I have now is why hasn't anything been done to acknowledge all the people that were force to help build the institution we go to today?