Cathedral may host slave trade museum
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A plan to open what would be the nation’s only museum centered on the trans-Atlantic slave trade would focus on the Episcopal Church’s role in its history and the sometimes-buried legacy of slavery in northern states such as Rhode Island.
The museum at the shuttered Cathedral of St. John, a church where slaves once worshipped, would explore how the church benefited from the trade and helped bring it to an end, said Bishop Nicholas Knisely of the Diocese of Rhode Island.
“Our story’s mixed,” he said. “We haven’t talked in the country about the role of religion and religious voices in abolition and the slave trade.”
To make it happen, the diocese is working with the Tracing Center, a group set up by descendants of what was once the nation’s most prolific slave-trading family, and Brown University, which in recent years has worked to come to grips with its own connection to slavery.
The Rev. Canon Linda L. Grenz calls it a “teaching museum” and says it would be part of a larger project to show how people can use painful history to help overcome differences and be honest with one another.
Diocesan officials emphasize the plan is in the early stages. They don’t have a way to pay for converting the 200-year-old building, and they’re not sure what they want it to look like.
A Brown report issued in 2006 found that about 60 percent of all slave-trading voyages from North America came from Rhode Island. More than 1,000 slave-trading voyages were launched from Rhode Island, the report says, and 80 of those came from one family, the DeWolfs of Bristol.