Namesakes and Gravesites at North Burial Ground

Rhode Island’s landscape is marked by numerous named places, from a world-renowned university to obscure public squares and forgotten ruins. Neighborhoods and towns bear the names of people who made their contributions to the region’s development centuries ago. Locals and visitors alike enjoy recreation in area parks, rivers, and natural areas that memorialize the people who built our community.

Providence’s oldest public cemetery, the North Burial Ground, contains the remains of many of the individuals whose names still mark the local landscape. Established in 1700, the burial ground’s 110 acres are similarly marked by names, familiar because of their association with named places around the state. A stroll through the various sections of the cemetery, added piecemeal to the original colonial burying ground, takes visitors past tens of thousands of graves and through more than three centuries of local history. Thus, the North Burial Ground remains a hub of recognizable Rhode Islanders.

If you can, visualize a map that shows Fort Barton in Tiverton, Goddard Park in Warwick, Olneyville in Providence, and Allendale Mill in North Providence. Though miles apart, the historical figures for whom these places were named lie within yards of each other in the burial ground. While these public memorial spaces seem disconnected from each other because of the distances between them, the proximity of the men’s graves to one another points to certain connections. We see that these famous individuals belonged to a community, located in a particular space and time, and achieved their remembered feats within and because of that community, rather than as isolated or exceptional individuals.

The landscape of the burial ground thus compliments and complicates the broader landscape. The familiar namesakes of Rhode Island link to the names etched on gravestones, which are themselves a sort of namesake -- and the only sort that awaits most of us upon our death. By linking the two landscapes and reuniting name and namesake, this is a tour that operates on two different planes but nevertheless encourages you to look for points of intersection.

William Goddard's Park

Goddard Memorial State Park is more than a simple plot of land. A state recreation area with 490 acres of land in Potowomut Neck, Warwick, the park has a lot of history behind it. In 1792, Nicholas Brown acquired this land. He later passed it on to…

Founding Father: Stephen Hopkins and the Hopkins House

Stephen Hopkins was born on March 7, 1707, the second of nine children of William and Ruth (Wilkinson) Hopkins. Hopkins later married Sarah Scott, and together they had seven children. Unfortunately, only five of them survived to adulthood. Despite…

From Portsmouth to Providence: Moses Brown School

Born in 1738, Moses Brown was the youngest of the five brothers born into the prominent Brown family. He became an abolitionist, and manumitted his slaves in 1773; he did this although other members of the Brown family were slave traders. He was also…

The Hair Doctress Gives: Christiana Bannister's Legacies

Christiana Bannister founded the Home for Aged Colored Women in 1890. Initially, the home was established to care for retired black female domestic workers. Later the name was changed to Banister House to honor its founder. In 1974 a new multi-level…

Pining for La Pigna: Providence's Pre-Little Italy

Despite the popular misconception, the figure that hangs under the arch as you ascend Atwells Avenue onto Federal Hill is not a pineapple, but a pinecone. A symbol for abundance and quality, the pinecone, or, La Pigna, is a nod to the rich Italian…

John Brown & The John Brown House Museum

Grand and distinct, the John Brown House’s imposing federalist façade befits Providence’s most influential family. This 1788 mansion belonged to the wealthiest and most successful entrepreneur of his age: John Brown. A China trade merchant, slave…

Artistic Freedom: Edward M. Bannister & Bannister Gallery

Since 1978, contemporary artists and art enthusiasts have enjoyed the use of the Bannister Gallery, located within Roberts Hall at Rhode Island College. The space is named for famed African-American landscape artist, and Rhode Island resident, Edward…

Safety First: Zachariah Allen & Allendale Mill

Built in 1822, the Allendale Mill on Woonasquatucket Avenue currently serves as apartment housing for the North Providence community. Although the building’s existing structure provides hints of its historic past, most simply ignore it as just…

The Crown Brown: Brown University's Namesake

There are a few things that Rhode Island lacks: adequate parking at the beach, pothole-free streets, and enough Del’s to go around. One thing it does not lack however is prominent figures with the last name “Brown.” To be fair, it was a Brown that…
The pins on this tour were researched and written by Rhode Island College students in "Introduction to Public History," Spring 2018.