Sowams Heritage Area Launched

News Release – September 10, 2018

Suggested Title: Sowams Heritage Area launched at Hunt’s Mills

A project to bring the 17thcentury to light in eight communities in East Bay Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts was launched pm September 9, 2018 at the John Hunt House Museum, home of the East Providence Historical Society in Rumford, Rhode Island. The Sowams Heritage Area includes Barrington, Bristol, East Providence, Providence and Warren, RI as well as Rehoboth, Seekonk and Swansea, Massachusetts.

Many remnants of that time period are still around us, but we have a hard time seeing them,” stated Project Coordinator David S. Weed. “The creation of a Heritage Area will help people to uncover the history of the transition from an indigenous culture to a colonial culture that took place here nearly 400 years ago.”

From the time of the last glacial retreat approximately 12,000 years ago, the lands and waters in the East Bay and nearby Massachusetts have proven to be a bountiful resource for those making this area their home. The land was called Sowams or ‘south country’ in the Native American language. The original Algonquian people came to be known as the Pokanoket which refers to the “place of the cleared land” and as the Wampanoag, “people of the first light”.

Maps and brochures prepared with the assistance of local experts will be available at multiple locations throughout the area to help people discover points of interest and enable the public to:

  • Learn about the descendants of Massasoit, the Native American chief who helped the Pilgrims to survive and who continue to live in the Area;
  • Visit Massasoit’s burial site and locations used by indigenous people for thousands of years;
  • Look at artifacts that were used by those who lived here 4,000 years ago;
  • See where Roger Williams first settled in Rumford in 1636 before starting the City of Providence and visit the memorial that today celebrates his life;
  • Find the place begun in 1680 where John Brown of Providence later started trade with India;
  • Learn the history of the King Philip War, the bloodiest war in North America that started and ended in Sowams;
  • Visit two of the dozen houses built in the 1600s that still stand today;
  • Discover three churches that started in the 1600s and see the site where the first Baptist Church started in Massachusetts;
  • Explore nine burial grounds that contain the graves of 17thcentury colonists;
  • Learn about two ancient farms dating to the 17thcentury that are still in operation today; and
  • Find four natural areas with walking paths open to the public that reveal the land as it was 400 years ago.

The project team has also prepared an extensive website at that describes over fifty historic locations from the 1600s in eight communities.

The web site promotes identifying, preserving and protecting the open spaces and waterways that still remain. It locates places of importance to the indigenous people, identifies markers that signal the historical transition, and encourages limiting development that could encroach on what is left of this historically significant land.

The web site also includes links to six videos that describe the history of the area and the reasons why it’s important to protect the land that supported people for over 10,000 years. This knowledge will assist efforts to preserve the land and natural sites that have changed little over this time.

We believe that by learning more about the history of the area, people will be better prepared to preserve what we have,” commented East Providence Historical Society Co-chair Nancy Moore. Other organizations that have been involved in the development of the project include the Pokanoket Tribal Council, Historical and Preservation Society representatives from Bristol, Warren, Barrington and Swansea, as well as staff from the Carpenter Museum in Rehoboth, and members of the Warren Conservation Commission.

This project may lead to the eventual establishment of a National Heritage Area similar to the Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor that could bring in additional resources and attract visitors from outside the region. The concept was first described to the Barrington Preservation Society in 2014 by Society member Helen Hersh Tjader of Acorn Nonprofit Solutions.

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For further information, contact David Weed at 508-837-9029 or by email at

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