Providence, RI - Flanked by color guards, colonial militia, and an actor playing the role of Roger Williams, Governor Lincoln D. Chafee and Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis today announced that the Rhode Island's 1663 Colonial Charter will be celebrated in its 350th year as one of the most important founding documents in American History.
"Rhode Island is first on an important list. Roger Williams was stubbornly resolved to secure the first Colonial charter in history affirming freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and a government not appointed by the King but elected by the people. This is the very foundation of our cultural heritage," Governor Chafee said.
The State House ceremony included British Consul General Susie Kitchens, Congressmen James Langevin and David Cicilline, Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts, members of the General Assembly, and representatives of the state and federal judiciary.
"As Secretary of State, I am responsible for preserving thousands of the state's most historic documents. But none have a more important role in the history of our state and our nation than the Royal Charter," said Mollis. "Celebrating and preserving our heritage is one of the things that makes Rhode Island so special. In what other state can you walk into the State House and see one of the documents that inspired America's Bill of Rights."
Governor Chafee and Secretary Mollis also announced that the Charter will be moved to a new "Charter Room" exhibition space on the first floor of the State House. The "pocket" museum will include other exhibits from the Colonial period. Private and corporate donations will be sought for a new state of the art encasement.
Experts determined that the 350-year-old document would be better cared for in a room with climate control, away from wide variations in heat and humidity.
The Charter has been housed in a steel vault at the State House since 1915. Now on display outside the Senate Chamber, the Charter was last restored in 1996, when conservators removed the old backing and glue, mended tears and old patches, and reduced surface soiling.
"That was state of the art nearly 20 years ago, but best practices in conservation and preservation have changed since the 1990s. Moving the Charter will preserve this priceless document for future generations of Rhode Islanders," said Mollis.
In addition to the new "Charter Room," Governor Chafee and Secretary Mollis also announced that the State House Visitors Center is expected to be open this fall.
In February 2012, Governor Chafee appointed the RI 1663 Colonial Charter Commission. The group has organized a number of projects and series of commemorative events relating to the Charter. These include:
*Curriculum products, including podcasts, are being planned in conjunction with the Rhode Island Department of Education for use in 5th and 11th grade social studies and history curriculum.
*A series of academic and celebratory events throughout the year will be identified as part of the Year of the Charter program, including the Newport Historical Society's "Spectacle of Toleration" symposium October 3 - 6.
* On August 20, US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan will be featured in a forum on the significance of Rhode Island's Colonial Charter in American history.
* June 22 is designated as Rhode Island's "Charter Day." The day will include an afternoon Open House and evening Gala at the State House. Fidelity Investments and Alex and Ani have signed on as sponsors of the Charter Day Gala.
* The State House and grounds will be a "State House Wi-Fi Hot Spot" for 2013, under a demonstration project spearheaded by the new State Digital Office.
*Rhode Island Colonial Charter social media sites are now online, including Twitter, (@CharterRI) Facebook, and a new website www.livelyexperiment.org