A Thousand Ships

A ritual of remembrance at WaterFire marking the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. An installation by The Museum on Site and Barnaby Evans.

In collaboration with the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, Brown University’s Rites and Reason Theatre, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, the Rhode Island Historical Society, Rhode Island for Community and Justice, The Providence Black Repertory Company and Rhode Island Black Storytellers.

At sunset on October 4th, four small boats travel up the river from the historic Providence harbor on the edge of the Atlantic. Tens of thousands of people are gathered at WaterFire but many may not know the full history of the water by which they stand.

This is a night of remembrance – an occasion to celebrate the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, but also a night to acknowledge and mark Rhode Island's century-long involvement with this trade. Merchants from Rhode Island mounted more than a thousand slaveship voyages on these waters, carrying over 100,000 Africans into New World slavery. One of these ships was called the Providence, and more slaveship voyages sailed from Rhode Island's harbors than from any other state.

A Thousand Ships is a night for contemplation and recognition – a ritual observance acknowledging the state's historic involvement with human bondage. A night filled with music and silence, dance and stillness, fire and water. Echoing a traditional African ritual, a thousand people will join together to offer a libation to the ancestors by pouring into the river and onto the ground a thousand vessels of water, each representing a slave voyage from Rhode Island. Actors will walk through the crowds giving voice to historic figures from Rhode Island, sharing their stories of freedom and bondage and the struggle to abolish slavery and the slave trade. Torches will be lit, the infamous triangle trade will be demarcated, chains will be burned and broken, and our entire community will gather together to remember, honor, watch, listen and feel.

This opening event at WaterFire is dedicated to the memory and work of the late Rhett S Jones and begins the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities' Freedom Festival, a month-long exploration of African-American heritage in Rhode Island.

A Thousand Ships will be a time for remembering, and a night to remember. We cannot allow ourselves to forget.

To be involved or to join our mailing list, contact us.

Please comment below with any thoughts or reflections about this event and the issues it raises.


Amy said...

I've been meaning to comment for a long time. I brought my mom and grandmother to waterfire this night for the first time. They were so impressed and moved to tears. My grandmother is turning 88 this month and keeps asking me if I know who sung the opening "Amazing Grace" song. Can someone tell me so I may get it to her for her birthday. Thanks!

Amy said...

I've been meaning to comment on this Waterfire for a long time. I brought my mother and grandmother here for the first time to see it. This was a very special Waterfire and they were moved to tears. My grandmother is turning 88 this month and she keeps asking me who sung the opening "Amazing Grace" song and I was hoping someone could tell me so I may get it to her for her birthday. Thanks!

Andrew Losowsky said...

Dear Amy

Thank you for your comment! It was Paul Robeson. You can buy the track here:


Thanks again,

The Museum On Site