The Steward Society
Newport is a city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States, about 30 miles (48 km) south of Providence. Known as a New England summer resort and for the famous Newport Mansions, it is the home of Salve Regina University and Naval Station Newport which houses the United States Naval War College, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and a major United States Navy training center. The city is the seat of Newport County. Newport was known for being one of the “Summer White Houses” during the administrations of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. The population was 26,475 at the 2000 census.
Newport was founded in 1639 and its eight founders and first officers were Nicholas Easton, William Coddington, John Clarke, John Coggeshall, William Brenton, Jeremy Clark, Thomas Hazard, and Henry Bull, who left Portsmouth, Rhode Island after a political fallout with Anne Hutchinson and her followers. As part of the agreement, Coddington and his followers took control of the southern side of the island. They were soon joined by Nicholas Easton, who had recently been expelled from Massachusetts for holding heretical beliefs. The settlement soon grew to be the largest of the four original towns of Rhode Island. Many of the first colonists in Newport quickly became Baptists, and in 1640 the second Baptist congregation in Rhode Island was formed under the leadership of John Clarke.
Peace did not last long in Newport, as many did not like Coddington’s autocratic style. As a result, by 1650 a counter faction led by Nicholas Easton was formed. The Coddington/Easton divide would dominate Newport politics for much of the 17th century. Newport soon grew to become the most important port in colonial Rhode Island. A public school was established in 1640. In 1658, a group of Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal were allowed to settle in Newport (Jews fleeing Brazil after defending Dutch interests there against the Portuguese were denied the right to stay in then-Dutch New York until governor Peter Stuyvesant finally relented in 1655; seeking asylum in Spain and Portugal was not an option). The Newport congregation, now referred to as Congregation Jeshuat Israel, is the second oldest Jewish congregation in the United States and meets in the oldest standing synagogue in the United States, Touro Synagogue. At the same time, a large number of Quakers settled in Newport. The evidence of this population can be seen today in the fact that many streets in the oldest part of town known as the “The Point”, are named after trees. The Quaker meetinghouse in Newport (1699) is the oldest house of worship in Rhode Island. In 1727, James Franklin (brother of Benjamin) was printing in Newport; in 1732, he published the first newspaper, the Rhode Island Gazette. In 1758, his son James founded the Mercury, a weekly paper. Throughout the 18th century the famous Goddard and Townsend furniture was made in Newport.
Throughout the eighteenth century, Newport suffered from an imbalance of trade with the largest colonial ports. As a result, Newport merchants were forced to develop alternatives to conventional exports.
Newport was also a major center of pirate activity during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. So many pirates used Newport as their base of operations that the London Board of Trade made an official complaint to the English government. The most famous pirate who made Newport his base was Thomas Tew. Tew was very popular with the locals; after one of his pirating voyages, it was reported that almost the whole town came out to greet him.
In the 1720s, colonial leaders, acting under pressure from the British government, arrested many pirates. Many were hanged in Newport and were buried on Goat Island.
During the colonial period, Newport was the center of the slave trade in New England. Many of the great fortunes made during this period were made in the slave trade. The Old Brick Market in Newport was the scene of many slave auctions. The Common Burial Ground on Farewell Street was where most of the slaves were buried.
American Revolution and 19th Century
During the American Revolution, Newport was the scene of much activity. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, William Ellery, came from Newport. He later served on the Naval Committee. In the winter of 1775 and 1776, the Rhode Island legislature put militia General William West in charge of rooting out loyalists in Newport, and several notable individuals such as Joseph Wanton and Thomas Vernon were exiled to the northern part of the state. In the fall of 1776, the British, seeing that Newport could be used as a naval base to attack New York (which they had recently occupied) took over the city. Because most of the population was pro independence, the British allowed them to leave. The city was repopulated with loyalists and British soldiers. For the next three years, the whole of the Narragansett Bay area became one large battlefield, with Newport being a British fortress. The Breakers mansion in August 2006
In the summer of 1778, the Americans began the campaign known as the Battle of Rhode Island. This was the first joint operation between the Americans and the French after the signing of the treaty of alliance. The Americans based in Tiverton, planned a formal siege of the town. However, the French (wanting a frontal assault) refused to take part in the siege. This weakened the American position and the British were able to expel the Americans from the island. The following year, the British, wanting to concentrate their forces in New York, abandoned Newport.
In 1780, the French under Rochambeau landed in Newport and for the rest of the war Newport was the base of the French forces in the United States. The first Catholic mass in Rhode Island was said in Newport during this time.
By the time the war ended (1783) Newport’s population had fallen from over 9,000 (according to the census of 1774) to less than 4,000. Over 200 abandoned buildings were torn down in the 1780s. Also, the war destroyed Newport’s economic wealth, as years of military occupation closed the city to any form of trade. The Newport merchants moved away, some to Providence, others to Boston and New York.
It was in Newport in 1791 that the Rhode Island General Assembly, acting under pressure from the merchant community of Providence, voted to ratify the Constitution and become the 13th state.
The city is the site of the last residence of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the birthplace of Commodore Matthew C. Perry and the Reverend William Ellery Channing. Newport’s City Hall
Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, wealthy southern planters seeking to escape the heat began to build summer cottages on Bellevue Avenue such as Kingscote (1839). Eventually wealthy Yankees such as the Wetmore family also began constructing larger mansions such as Chateau-sur-Mer (1852) nearby. Most of these early families made a substantial part of their fortunes in the Old China Trade. They were followed by the richest families in the country, such as the Vanderbilts and Astors who constructed the largest “cottages”, such as The Breakers (1895) in the late nineteenth century.
In the mid 19th century, a large number of Irish immigrants settled in Newport. The Fifth Ward of Newport (in the southern part of the city) became a staunch Irish neighborhood for many generations. To this day, St. Patrick’s Day is an important day of pride and celebration in Newport, with a large parade going down Thames Street.
The oldest Catholic parish in Rhode Island, St. Mary’s is located on Spring Street, though the current building is not the original one.Newport has one of the highest concentrations of colonial homes in the nation, in the downtown Newport Historic District, one of three National Historic Landmark Districts in the city. Many of these homes were restored in the late 20th century through grants made by Newport resident Doris Duke, as well as other local efforts such as Operation Clapboard. As a result, Newport’s colonial heritage is well-preserved and documented at the Newport Historical Society. In addition to the colonial architecture, the city is known for its Gilded Age mansions, which have also received extensive restoration from both private owners and non-profits such as the Preservation Society of Newport County.
Another National Historic Landmark District, Bellevue Avenue, is the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, where important tennis players are commemorated, as well as a number of mansions dating back to the Gilded Age, including The Breakers, Belcourt Castle, Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, Marble House, Rosecliff, Rough Point, and the William Watts Sherman House. Some of these are open for guided tours. The nearby Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum has a fine collection of trees and plants, including the largest sequoia on the East Coast.
With coastlines on the west, south and east, Newport is a maritime city. Its harbors teem with commercial fishing boats, power and sail pleasure craft. It is known as the sailing capitol of the United States. Many defenses by the New York Yacht Club of the America’s Cup yachting prize took place here. Newport Country Club was one of the five founding clubs of the United States Golf Association; it hosted the first U.S. Open and the first U.S. Amateur, both held in 1895. The Newport Country Club hosted the 1996 U.S. Amateur Open, made notable by Tiger Woods’ third consecutive win of said Open and concurrent entrance to the PGA. In June 2006, the city hosted the U.S. Women’s Open. In June it also hosts the annual Campbell’s Hall of Fame Championships tennis tournament as part of the ATP Tour (it is traditionally the last grass court event of the season). Each August the International Tennis Hall of Fame Champions Cup is held; this event is part of the Outback Champions Series. Marble House, owned and operated by the Preservation Society
In 2001, Newport became the new home of the Newport Gulls baseball team of the NECBL. The city hosted the 2005 NECBL All-Star Game at Cardines Field, which, originally built in 1908, is one of the oldest active baseball parks in the country. The Gulls, the historic Sunset League, and other teams attract thousands of fans to Cardines weekly throughout the summer. Directly up West Marlborough Street from the ballpark is the White Horse Tavern, built prior to 1673, and considered to be one of the oldest surviving taverns in the United States.
Newport is also home to the Newport Tower, Salve Regina University, Hammersmith Farm, Prescott Farm, and the Touro Synagogue, the oldest Jewish house of worship in the Western hemisphere, as well as the Newport Public Library, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, the nation’s oldest lending library. George Washington had given a speech at the Touro Synagogue extolling the virtues of freedom of worship and that the Jews were allowed to live and worship freely in the United States. This speech has often been referenced by American Jews to show gratitude and admiration for living in the United States.
Newport plays host to a number of festivals during the summer months, including the Newport Jazz Festival, the Sunset Music Festival, the Newport Folk Festival (where Bob Dylan shocked the crowd by playing an electric guitar), the Newport International Film Festival, and the Newport International Boat Show.