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Published Date: 
January 6, 2021

Should We Continue to Celebrate a Slave Ship Captain in 2021?

s Esek Hopkins a hero – or a villain? These days, a growing number of Rhode Island leaders, community organizations and members of the public are more inclined to think the latter. Is it appropriate to continue to commemorate Esek Hopkins with a statue, or name Providence streets and schools after him, given the eighteenth-century naval commander’s connection to the slave trade? On Thursday, January 14, 6:00p.m. – 7:15p.m., the Wanskuck location of Providence Community Library (PCL) will reevaluate Hopkins’ contribution to history from a contemporary perspective at a special panel discussion: Viewing A Rhode Island NativeThrough Today's Lens: Esek Hopkins.  Patricia Raub, Rhode Island historian and President of the PCL Board of Trustees, will moderate the free, virtual event, which will stream via Zoom. The event is sponsored by Friends of Wanskuck Library.

The following panelists will tackle this challenging topic from a variety of perspectives:

  • Henry Marciano, retired Hopkins middle school teacher and Esek Hopkins expert;
  • Marcus Nevius, assistant professor at University of Rhode Island, who focuses on slave resistance, slavery-based economies, and abolition in his research and teaching;
  • Ray Rickman, co-founder and Executive Director of Stages of Freedom, a nonprofit that teaches swimming to children of color and provides African American cultural programs to thousands of Rhode Islanders of          all races;
  • Matthew Garza, performance artist who is currently Artist in Residence for the Historic Esek Hopkins Homestead & Park. 

Esek Hopkins was a successful privateer before the American Revolution and was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental navy during the war.  He had a successful career but was accused of disobeying Congressional orders and dismissed from the Navy in 1778. Before the war, Hopkins was the captain of the Sally, a slave ship commissioned by Nicholas, John, Joseph and Moses Brown. The ship lost 109 out of its cargo of 196 enslaved Africans during a disastrous voyage in 1764-65.  A statue of Hopkins was erected in 1891 in Hopkins Square and the city-owned Hopkins Homestead on Admiral Street, and the Esek Hopkins Middle School, are named after the Scituate native. A proposal to rename the school is currently before the City Of Providence. Both Councilman Salvatore (Ward 14) and Councilman Narducci (Ward 4) have made public statements encouraging a fresh look at the facts.

“Providence Community Library has a role to play in the current debate about Esek Hopkins,” said moderator, Patricia Raub.“As social values and attitudes change, libraries such as PCL have an ethical responsibility to support intellectual freedom by providing reliable information and a public forum for reassessing our beliefs.” 

Register for a free ticket and to receive a zoom link to participate. For more information about materials, services and programs at Providence Community Library, visit