Slate Rock Park

Slate Rock Park is named after the ledge where Roger Williams and a handful of his followers are said to have first stepped ashore in the spring of 1636 after crossing from their original settlement on Omega Pond across the Seekonk River.

[From] Having been notified that the land already belonged to Plymouth Colony. While Williams was on friendly terms with the governor of Plymouth, he was a wanted man in the powerful Massachusetts Bay Colony. Knowing that Massachusetts’s reach extended well into Plymouth, Williams had no choice but to leave immediately. So Williams and his friends packed themselves and all they could carry into a single canoe and took off, regretfully leaving their newly planted fields behind.


When they arrived on the west side of the river, they had the good fortune to be met at Slate Rock by a number of friendly Narragansett Indians, one of whom greeted them with the phrase “What cheer, netop?”—essentially, “What’s up, bud?” in a mixture of old English and Narragansett. Williams stepped from the canoe to the Rock, where he explained his predicament and asked the Indians if they knew of a place where he and his company could settle. The Indians directed the group to continue down the river, around the point to the west, and up another small river to a cove. There, they were told, they would find a suitable spot to live. Williams gratefully took the advice. In the fullness of time, the little settlement he established by the cove became the city of Providence.


(Above, the rock is pictured in a drawing and in an early postcard) This is a very nice little story, one that is only slightly diminished by the fact it’s probably not entirely true. Scanty historical evidence suggests Williams had only one companion with him that day, a young man named Thomas Angell who was something between a servant and adopted son. What’s more, it’s likely Williams never set foot on Slate Rock, but that he held his conversation with the Indians by means of hand gestures and shouted phrases from out on the river. The conversation could, in fact, have taken place anywhere along the river south of Rumford. If so, the original landing place of Roger Williams would actually be near the spring at the present-day Roger Williams National Memorial.


Veneration of Slate Rock as the official landing spot may have begun no earlier than 1821, shortly after Plymouth had celebrated its bicentennial. Plymouth had Plymouth Rock, the site where tradition stated that the Pilgrims had first set foot in the New World, so why shouldn’t Providence have a rock, too? Such imitation is perhaps even more appropriate when you consider that the Pilgrims actually landed first on Cape Cod before proceeding across the bay to the spot that would become Plymouth. It can’t be proved any one of them ever stepped on Plymouth Rock, either.

In 1877, when city workers used a bit too much dynamite while trying to uncover more of the rock. With Slate Rock in little bits, plans to enshrine it in a Plymouth Rock-like pavilion had to be abandoned, and the present-day monument, designed by Frank Foster Tingley and sculptor E.C. Codman, with plaques cast by Gorham, was erected in its place in 1906. The Providence Association of Merchants and Manufacturers footed the bill. While the monument looks like a pedestal, it was never meant to hold a statue, and never has. Click here for the full story by the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Click here for a Google Map of Slate Rock Park on Roger Williams Square on Gano Street between Power and Williams Streets on the East Side of Providence.