Isaac Gilliard researching in Cuba
Research in Cuba, May, 2017

Descendant Voices in Action is doing the challenging work of locating living descendants of enslaved African and Indigenous people of Bristol RI. Our goal is to complete and tell the rich and important histories of their ancestors. We also thought it was important to be an instrument that could and would amplify the voices of the descendants in the telling of their history. Our extensive research through records of censuses, churches, Bristol births, deaths and wills, military and many other documents allows us to fill in past history and reveal the real people who lived here. We consolidate this information for easier access, then connect those facts with current living descendants.

 Pokanoket: The First people of the East Bay, by Students of Roger Williams University  Photo credit: print of Metacomet by Paul Revere; Early Map of New England
After Metacom was assassinated in 1676, captured survivors, including Metacom’s wife Wootonekanuske and his son Metom, were sold into slavery in Bermuda and the Azores and the Caribbean.

Bristol RI is an important place in the history of America. It was the site in King Philip/Metacom’s war and it was also an major port in the Middle Passage. Descendant Voices in Action recognized that this history was becoming lost to its most important community, the descendants.

1800 United States Census Heading for Bristol, RIAll other free persons except Indians not taxed, Slaves

Researching Native Indigenous people and early Africans is a difficult task. The native indigenous people were their own community with a separate language and culture and the Africans who were brought here came from many tribes each with its separate language and culture and the enslavers, and colonizers worked to erase, rather than preserve these cultures and languages for future generations. Enslaved African and Indigenous people were only recorded as chattel. They were not recorded as people.

There are multiple sources related to the Indigenous and African Americans in Bristol – unlike many other areas of the country.

However, Bristol was a place where some extraordinary things happened which preserved a window through which we can now look and discover some amazing and enlightening histories. We found a copious number of related records and documents that allowed us to bring to life some fascinating and courageous members of this community. African and Indigenous people found ways to not only survive but to thrive and participate in the shaping of America.

We chose these Adinkra symbols to symbolize our efforts. They mean peacemaking; Life-long education; unity, human relations; initiative, dynamism, versatility, and; excellence, genuineness, authenticity

Many communities are grappling with telling these stories or making them available to the public. What they fear is that somehow it will be a judgment against them. What must be understood by all of us is that this is history, it actually happened. Wish and try as hard as we would all like to, we cannot change it. It is part of the American fabric. Many African and Indigenous ancestors who were living in these communities during these early days thought it would be the end for them. It was not only the end, it was also a whole new beginning. We wish not to dismiss or gloss over the centuries of difficulty faced by the descendants. We also want to look at ourselves and know that we have overcome and are overcoming each and every day. For descendants of these brave and extraordinary people it is our beginning in this country and we need to reveal those stories.