The Ocean State showcases the coolest stuff from its attic.

Editor's note: Although the Rhode Island Treasures exhibit is done and the displayed artifacts have been returned to the institutions and individuals from which they were lent, this article will remain here to tell the stories behind a few of the items that were a part of that exhibit.

For those of you who have trouble finding time to visit history museums, here's your chance to get a sweeping overview of Rhode Island history all at once—one-stop enlightenment. The Rhode Island Treasures exhibit, appearing at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence from May 10 to June 15, 2003, includes more than 140 objects on loan from 34 state agencies, historical and preservation societies, educational institutions, and private individuals. Objects range from a set of five 2,400-year-old Native American clay pots from Block Island to the Rhode Island quarter, released by the United States Treasury in 2001. In between are original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, as well as other items related to the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the slave trade, the Dorr Rebellion, the Gilded Age, women's suffrage, the costume jewelry industry, amusement parks and carousels, and much more.

As Rhode Island celebrates the 400th birthday of founder Roger Williams throughout 2003, Rhode Island Treasures will help to remind us about our state's origins.

We here at Quahog are pleased to feature here just a few of the objects that will be on view at Rhode Island Treasures. For tickets and other information about the show, visit the Rhode Island Treasures website.


The compass used by Roger Williams to find his way to Providence.

Roger Williams's Compass
A Calvinist and supporter of a government based on complete religious toleration, Roger Williams's "new and dangerous opinions" precipitated his hasty exit from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. For one thing, he believed that civil magistrates had no right to interfere in matters of religion. In Puritan Massachusetts Bay, where religion permeated all aspects of life, such views were seen as heretical.

Driven into the wilderness with an order of deportation over his head, Roger Williams began his journey to Narragansett Bay with one companion, his devoted servant, Thomas Angell. The two wandered for almost fourteen weeks through the winter and into the spring of 1636, encountering hardships along the way. However, as the refugees reached the opposite side of the colony from which they had been cast, they landed upon the shores of the Indian Canonicus's territory. A close friend of Williams, Canonicus and his people welcomed the colonists to their land, food, and friendship. There, Williams found the freedom he had longed for.

Williams's guide south from Salem was a brass compass and sundial. Despite the centuries that have passed since it was last used by the banished preacher, this intricately constructed instrument exists in perfect condition to this day.

Williams respected the land claims of the Native Americans and rightfully purchased the land from the Narragansett Indian tribe. He named the place Providence, "for God's merciful providence unto me in my distress." Rhode Island was hence designated as a refuge for all from religious persecution.

Dedicated to complete religious toleration and separation of church and state, Roger Williams traveled to England in 1643 to obtain a colonial charter that would integrate the settlements of Providence, Newport, Warwick, and Pawtuxet as the "Incorporation of Providence Plantations in the Narragansett Bay in New England." The rights of the charter were confirmed and Williams returned to the safe harbor of Rhode Island where he served as President from 1654 to 1657, and then continued in the colony's political life until his death in early 1683.

Roger Williams's compass is on loan to Rhode Island Treasures from the Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence.


Rhode Island didn't always have our beloved anchor and "Hope" flag.

Royal Charter Flag
The Royal Charter of 1663, granted by King Charles II, not only gave Rhode Island rights as a colony of England, it also guaranteed freedom of religion and the right of self-government. No other colony was granted such freedoms. Tradition holds that when the Royal Charter was brought to the colony in the fall of 1663, the Rhode Island colonial magistrate, bearing the Rhode Island colonial flag, met the British ship as it came into Newport harbor. The flag was made from dyed blue cotton and painted with the red crosses of St. Andrew and St. George.

This original flag was discovered in the 1850s, when renovations were being made to the attic of the house of former Governor John Wanton (now known as the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House). Wanton served as governor of Rhode Island from 1734 to 1740 and died in 1742; the Wantons remained prominent in state history for many years. The 26 x 37-inch British "Union Jack" flag has been dated to the time of the Royal Charter, and is thought to be the very flag that flew the day the Royal Charter arrived in Newport. It was most likely passed down through the family as each generation assumed a role in the colony's history.

The Royal Charter flag is on loan to Rhode Island Treasures from the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, Newport.

The Royal Charter of 1663 is available for public viewing at the Rhode Island State House during normal working hours.


Poe's last photograph: Did he know his buttons were undone?

The Last Photograph of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe, poet, editor, essayist, and short story writer, was born in 1809 to David and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, members of a repertory theatre company. Orphaned at an early age, he became the foster son of John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia. As a young man, he became estranged from Allan owing to differences in outlook. His careers both at the University of Virginia and in the military were cut short because of financial problems.

Poe's first published work was Tamerlane and Other Poems, published anonymously in Boston in 1827. He continued to write poetry and short fiction for the next several years, and in 1835 his always precarious financial situation was remedied to a certain extent when he accepted a position with a monthly Richmond publication, the Southern Literary Messenger. Over the next decade, he continued to publish the poetry and short stories for which he is best known, including "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), "The Black Cat" (1843), and "The Raven" (1845).

In 1848, Poe visited Providence, where he met poet Sarah Helen Whitman, with whom he had been in literary correspondence. In November, Poe and Sarah Helen entered into a "conditional engagement": Poe was to cease drinking, and Sarah Helen would seek the approval of her mother (upon whom she was financially dependent) for their marriage. On November 13, Poe had this daguerreotype taken for Sarah Helen at the studio of Masury and Hartshorn, on what is now Westminster Street, near the corner of Memorial Boulevard.

Poe could not keep his promise to Sarah Helen, and the engagement was broken. In 1849, Poe died in Baltimore. He remains perhaps the best-known American poet of his time, and his works have been translated into countless languages. Poe's detective stories inspired a new genre, in which his influence is still felt.

A digital image of the Whitman daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe is on loan to Rhode Island Treasures from the John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence.


Sissieretta Jones was condescendingly nicknamed "the Black Patti" by a newspaper reviewer after her appearance at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1892. She disliked the tag but was never able to shake it.

Sissieretta Jones's Dresses and Performance Posters

"The flowers absorb the sunshine because it is their nature. I give out melody because God filled my soul with it." —Sissieretta Jones

In her day, Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, was one of the best-known and highest-paid black singers in America. Born in Virginia in 1869, she moved to Providence with her family in 1876, where she attended Meeting Street and Thayer Schools and sang at school functions and at Pond Street Church. Sissieretta married David Richmond Jones in 1883, and he became her manager. They divorced in 1899 after he reportedly squandered and mismanaged her money.

Sissieretta attended the New England Conservatory in Boston and began performing in front of much larger crowds in Boston and New York. She toured the West Indies with a black troupe and began to be known as "The Black Patti," in comparison to the Italian opera singer, Adelina Patti. She sang for President Benjamin Harrison in the White House and starred in the Grand African Jubilee, a three-day event at Madison Square Garden in New York.

After signing a contract with manager Major J.B. Pond, Sissieretta charged $2000 per appearance, then the highest fee ever paid to a black artist. She embarked on an extended tour in Europe (after her husband tried to book appearances independently of her manager), and sang for the Prince of Wales and the Kaiser. She later formed Black Patti's Troubadors, her own touring company, which toured for the next 20 years.

Sissieretta retired in 1916 in Providence and died of cancer in 1933. By that time, her savings were nearly gone.

Sissieretta Jones's dresses and performance posters are on loan to Rhode Island Treasures from the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, Providence.

A&L Tirocchi Dresses
A&L Tirocchi Dressmakers was owned and operated by Italian-born sisters Anna and Laura Tirocchi in their Victorian mansion at 514 Broadway in Providence from 1915 to 1947. A&L Tirocchi served the elite women of Providence, providing custom dressmaking to the wealthy.

The dresses, coats, bathing suits, and evening wraps that the Tirocchi sisters sold reflected the changing times. America entered a prosperous era following World War I, with more relaxed customs and morals than before. The stock market was booming. Women were given the vote and entered the workforce in record numbers. As women's social roles changed, the younger generation chose sportswear with shorter skirts and pleats, gathers, or slits, which permitted greater ease of motion.

Low-waisted dresses with full hemlines allowed women to dance with ease to the new jazz music, while other styles, such as two-piece sweater and skirt outfits in luxurious wool jersey, were perfect for everyday wear. Textile designs closely followed changes in the art world. After 1924, busy Tirocchi clients often requested ready-made dresses by famous French designers rather than the sisters' custom creations, which required the client to spend hours at the shop for design and fittings.

The Tirocchi staff was made up of young women from the surrounding area. Although some were Italian born, others were Irish, French, or Yankee, and had well-developed sewing skills. Most of their families had come to Providence at least ten years previously and already owned homes and businesses.

After Anna Tirocchi died in 1947, Laura Tirocchi Cella closed the shop, shutting away three decades worth of dressmaking history. Everything was found still in place in 1989, when Laura?s daughter, Beatrice, died. The sewing room and storerooms on the third floor of the Broadway shop housed every element of the designer's creations. Anna Tirocchi conducted the draping of fabric on forms, then the shop workers cut and stitched the garments and ironed and finished the designs. Fabric samples, luxury cosmetics, small pincushions, a "machine age" 1930s iron, and letters from clients were all found in these rooms. The A&L Tirocchi collection of textiles, costumes, and dressmaking records is now in the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design.

You can find out more about the Tirocchi shop by accessing the A&L Tirocchi Dressmakers Project website

A&L Tirocchi Dresses are on loan to Rhode Island Treasures from the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.


For a few hours at least, this Street Fighting Man was under the thumb of the City of Warwick.

Mick Jagger's Mugshot
Rhode Island has been host to some of the best musicians and artists in the world. The Jazz Festival, the Folk Festival and The Warwick Musical Theater have all seen some great acts. But, the Warwick Police Station has also seen its share of musical talent!

On July 18, 1972, an airplane bearing the Rolling Stones and their entourage was diverted from Boston's Logan Airport by heavy fog and forced to land at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick. On the ground, Keith Richards got into a scuffle with a newspaper photographer, and he, Mick Jagger, and three of the band's staff soon found themselves in jail on charges of assault and obstructing police.

To avoid a potential riot at the concert venue, Boston Mayor Kevin White personally interceded on the band's behalf and was able to get the boys released. They made it to their gig at the Boston Garden (where they were introduced by the mayor himself), hitting the stage only four hours late.

Mick Jagger's Mugshot is on loan to Rhode Island Treasures from the Archives of the City of Warwick.

That's just a taste of what's in store for you at Rhode Island Treasures. Get your butt down to the Rhode Island Convention Center, where these and many other fascinating objects and stories await your enthralled gaze. And while you're filling your head with learnin', give a thought to the following fine private individuals, lending institutions, and companies, without which you would be standing in an empty building, staring at a blank wall:

Presenting Sponsors: Fleet-Rhode Island; O. Ahlborg and Sons, Incorporated; Providence Tourism Council.
Supporting Sponsors: Rhode Island Convention Center; The Office of the Secretary of State of Rhode Island; Providence Journal; National Education Association-RI; CVS/Pharmacy; John and Happy White Foundation; The Rhode Island Foundation; Rhode Island Public Transportation Association; Verizon; Piccerelli, Gilstein and Company, LLP; Hope Global; Computer-ed Institute, Allied Health Division; Rhode Island College; Paul Arpin Van Lines; Providence Marriott; Providence Biltmore; Card$mart; Feinstein IMAX Theatre; International Institute for Events Leadership; Concept Link, LTD; Printing Solutions; Arkwright; Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.
Media Sponsors: Rhode Island Monthly; WPRI-TV 12; Fox Providence; WPRO 630 News Radio, Lite 105; Newspapers in Education; Providence Phoenix.
Lending Institutions: Barrington Preservation Society; Block Island Historical Society; Carousel Park Commission; East Providence Historical Society; Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum; Herreshoff Marine Museum; John Hay Library, Brown University; Massasoit Historical Association; Museum of Natural History; Naval Historical Collection; Newport Historical Society; Newport Preservation Society; Pawtuxet Valley Preservation; Pettaquamscutt Historical Society; Private Collections; Providence Athenaeum; Providence City Hall; Providence Jewelry Museum; Providence Journal Bulletin; Redwood Library and Athenaeum; Rhode Island Black Heritage Society; Rhode Island College; Rhode Island Historical Society; Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation; Rhode Island Militia; Rhode Island School of Design Library; Rhode Island School of Design Museum; Slater Mill; South County Museum; Rhode Island State Archives; Touro Synagogue; University of Rhode Island; Varnum Memorial Armory; Warwick Tourism Council; Woonsocket Museum of Work and Culture.

This article last edited July 10, 2003

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