Sowams Heritage Area Project

The Sowams Heritage Area Project is undertaking an initiative to develop a National Heritage Area (NHA) in Sowams, the ancestral homeland of the Massasoit Ousamequin who welcomed the Pilgrims in 1621.

The project is led by a regional coalition of town planners, tourism entities, historical societies, environmentalists, Tribal leaders, and other volunteers from the nine towns and cities that today comprise Sowams, along the northeastern shore of Narragansett Bay.

NHAs protect and promote a region’s history, heritage and culture and use those assets to advance local economies through tourism, recreation and community development.

SOAR! Highlights from the Community Conversations

More than 130 people attended the Sowams Community Conversations last month, including environmentalists, historians and scholars, Tribal members, business owners, preservationists, religious leaders, civil servants, and members of the arts, culture and humanities communities.

They gathered to discuss the future of the proposed Sowams National Heritage Area (NHA) and its impact on the nine communities in the NHA study area. This was the second of three rounds of public conversations that are integral to the development of an NHA feasibility study. The discussions were organized in a SOAR analysis, focusing on the region’s Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and desired Results.

More highlights and notes from the discussion are available on the Community Conversations page.

Sowams has national significance

Sowams is the setting of one of America’s origin stories, the critical alliance that established 50 years of peace between the Indigenous Tribes that had fished, farm and hunted the region for millennia and the English settlers arriving on the Mayflower. Sowams is also ground zero for the fracturing of that alliance during the devastating King Philip’s War.

At the heart of that conflict lay divergent worldviews of law, land ownership, and personal freedom. In Sowams, the legacy of those differences has shaped the region’s complex history from prehistory to the present.

This legacy can be seen in how people have valued and used the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay; how Roger Williams and others codified religious toleration in the founding of Rhode Island; and how ship owners in the region amassed enormous wealth in the global trade of human chattel, including people from the region’s Indigenous Tribes and people of African descent.

In addition, the clash of Indigenous and European ideals first seen here would repeat itself across the North American continent and set a precedent for the colonization of Indigenous lands, leaving wounds that can still be felt today. The history of the Sowams’ landscape has molded the political, economic, and social heritage of the nation.

A program of the National Park Service, National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are living, working, landscapes, which are designated by Congress to honor the important role of a region in our country’s development and celebrate its contributions to American history and culture. Through dynamic public-private partnerships, NHAs provide a way to recognize, share, and conserve a region’s significant history and outstanding qualities.