Brown University Library Special Collections

Time Capsule

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on April 18, 2012

A recent blog post titled Baptist Churches announced the arrival of the records for 4 Baptist Churches in Rhode Island.  This week brings a glimpse into the life of one of them – the Roger Williams Baptist Church of Providence, RI.

How often have you walked past the cornerstone of a building and wished you could look inside the time capsule housed within?  What do people put in them?  Do the contents survive the journey through time?

The members of the Roger Williams Baptist Church built a chapel in 1889 to accommodate their growing community.  On September 14, 1889 they celebrated the new building with a service to lay the new cornerstone.  Underneath the stone they enclosed a time capsule in a copper box.  When the membership swelled to over 400 members they built an addition to the church in 1906. The time capsule was moved and placed underneath the new cornerstone.  The photo below shows the stone suspended on a pulley.  The man standing in the middle is Manton Metcalf holding the copper box in his left hand.

Laying the cornerstone for the new addition on the Roger Williams Baptist Church, Providence, RI, June 2, 1906.

David Dobson opening the copper time capsule box, October 1, 2011.

Starting in the 1950s, the membership of the church steadily declined until weekly attendance dwindling to less than twenty in 2010.  The remaining members voted to close the church with the last service on November 20, 2011.  But before they closed their doors they opened the cornerstone and retrieved the time capsule.

What they found inside were mementos from 1889 documenting the church, Rhode Island, and the world including: a list of all the members of the church, constitution and by-laws of the church, publications relating to the Baptist Church in RI, 2 newspapers, money, and 35 small flags from most of the countries in the world at the time.

Contents of the 1889 time capsule of the Roger Williams Baptist Church, Providence, RI.

The most curious object is a small American flag with 36 stars.  There were 38 states in September, 1889 when the time capsule was created (4 more states were admitted in November 1889) and the inscription reads “God Bless the Commonwealth of Rhode Island, Loyalty to Ceasar.”  The flag probably dates to 1865-1867, the only years during which there were 36 states.  Rhode Island is generally not called a Commonwealth. Only 4 states use that term in their official names: Massachusetts, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  And why is someone, who doesn’t know how to spell Caesar, pledging their loyalty to him?  The reason it was included may simply be because it was the smallest flag available and the inscription was written years prior by someone else.  It is nonetheless a curious item.