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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI to dedicate Niles Farmstead Cemetery,
May 9 Public invited to historic site

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 26, 2002 -- When the University of Rhode Island dedicates the Niles Farmstead Cemetery on Thursday, May 9, it will add a page in Rhode Island history books that has long been missing.

During the 1700s, Rhode Island was involved in slave trade between Africa, the West Indies, and the southern states. Through oral history, it has been known that some Rhode Islanders also lived on plantations and held enslaved persons. The cemetery offers physical evidence.

To understand the cemetery’s significance and what it means to the development of our culture and our society, the University is inviting the public to the dedication to learn more from people who have studied this part of our past. The dedication will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the cemetery site, located at the south plaza of the Convocation Center, under construction as part of URI’s athletic complex. In the event of rain, the dedication will take place in the nearby Tootell building, room 122.

Between 1729 and 1731, Nathaniel Niles acquired 350 acres in Kingston where he established a farm. It became one of the southern Rhode Island farms whose operations included enslaved labor of both African American and Native American persons. The farm operated until 1783.

A century passed and the Niles Farm faded from memory. The state purchased the land in 1888, which became part of the University of Rhode Island. In 1999, workers discovered the burial ground on the corner of the football field while exploring the area in preparation for the construction of the Convocation Center. Archaeologists believe the cemetery shows evidence of use by both the family and the enslaved persons living on the farm.

Recognizing the site’s historic value and to honor the deceased, the University determined to preserve the site and relocated the Convocation Center footprint to accommodate it.

The University has since built a gray fieldstone wall to enclose the 1/4-acre cemetery. The fieldstones come from old farm walls that were on the University campus. A wooden gate, facing the south plaza, completes the enclosure. A nearby plaque will inform visitors of the cemetery’s historic significance in Rhode Island.

Speakers for this community event will be:

o Joanne Pope Melish, Ph.D. who has written and spoken extensively on the issues of slavery in New England. An associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky, Melish is the author of Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England 1780-1860. (Cornell University Press, 1998.) Melish has previously taught at Brown, URI, and RIC and will relocate to Rhode Island in May.

o Ella W. T. Sekatau, DHL. who is the ethno-historian of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. She co-authored the essay, The Right to a Name: The Narragansett People and Rhode Island Officials, 1750-1800, which won the Robert F. Heizer award as the best published article in ethno-history in 1997. For five years, she directed the Native American program at Plimoth Plantation.
For Information: Lawrence Bacher, 874-2026, Jan Wenzel, 874-2116

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