Historic docs at risk include RI’s copy of Bill of Rights, Gaspee Affair texts


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — An independent study of the current location of the Rhode Island State Archives — a flood plain that gives great concern to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea — shows just how much history we could stand to lose if disaster strikes.

As the Target 12 Investigators have been tracking for years, the archives have been housed in a Westminster Street building that was supposed to be their temporary home. Rhode Island is the only state in the United States that does not have a permanent location for its most valued historical records, Gorbea says.

Gorbea’s office commissioned the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) to study the current space and storage conditions of the items in the archives.

Thirty-five percent of the collection was considered “high priority” for conservation — so fragile that it’s going to be damaged if it’s simply even handled.

That includes a Rhode Island copy of the Bill of Rights, an 1823 stone printing copy of the Declaration of Independence, and texts from the Gaspee Commission — which investigated American colonists’ attack on the British customs schooner HMS Gaspee, and the ship being set on fire — later known as the Gaspee Affair, a significant milestone leading up to the American Revolution.

View Digital Copies of These Records »

Gorbea says the state needs a specialized, purpose-built facility to store its historic items, and she will continue to lobby for one.

Her office has proposed a facility near the State House at an estimated cost of about $52 million; a bond referendum for its proposal could potentially go before voters next year.

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