British Empire > Newport
Newport was a city founded in 1639 in the Colony of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations and was an infamous pirate port and center for the black market trade in British North America.
Newport was founded in 1639. Its eight founders and first officers were Nicholas Easton, William Coddington, John Clarke, John Coggeshall, William Brenton, Jeremy Clark, Thomas Hazard, and Henry Bull. They 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.
In 1663 the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations received its Royal Charter and Benedict Arnold was elected its first Governor at Newport. Upon its completion in 1741, the Old Colony House, at the head of what is now known as Washington Square, served as a seat of Rhode Island's government, until the current Rhode Island State House in Providence was completed in 1904 and Providence became the state's sole capital city.
The beginning of the commercial activity which raised Newport to its fame as a rich port was begun by a second wave of Portuguese Jews who settled there about the middle of the 18th century. They had been practicing Judaism in secret for three hundred years in Portugal, liable to torture and murder by the Inquisition if they were caught, and were attracted to Rhode Island because of the freedom of worship there. They brought with them commercial experience and connections, capital and a spirit of enterprise. Most prominent among those were Jacob Rodrigues Rivera (died 1789), who arrived in 1745, and Aaron Lopez, who came in 1750. The former introduced into America the manufacture of sperm oil, which became one of the leading industries and made Newport rich. Newport, whose inhabitants were engaged in whale fishing, developed 17 manufactories of oil and candles and enjoyed a practical monopoly of this trade down to the Revolution.
Aaron Lopez (died May 28, 1782), who fled to Newport from Lisbon in 1752, is credited with making Newport an important center of trade. "To him in a larger degree than to any one else was due the rapid commercial development which made Newport for a quarter of a century afterward the most formidable rival of New York." He induced 40 Portuguese Jewish families to settle there. Within fourteen years of Lopez's activity, Newport had 150 vessels engaged in trade. Lopez was involved in the slave trade, manufactured spermaceti candles, ships, barrels, rum, chocolate, textiles, clothes, shoes, hats, and bottles. He became the wealthiest man in Newport, but was denied citizenship on religious grounds, even though British law protected the rights of Jews to become citizens. He appealed to the Rhode Island legislature for redress and was refused with this ruling: "Inasmuch as the said Aaron Lopez hath declared himself by religion a Jew, this Assembly doth not admit himself nor any other of that religion to the full freedom of this Colony. So that the said Aaron Lopez nor any other of said religion is not liable to be chosen into any office in this colony nor allowed to give vote as a free man in choosing others." Lopez persisted by applying for citizenship in Massachusetts, where it was granted.
Much of the commercial activity was centered on the area called Washington Square, which was once the center of both the commercial and civic life of the colonial city.
In the early 17th century, a large number of Quakers also 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 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. Nowadays Newport continues to be famous for its 18th century "Newport Mansions". It is also known for its history of the tall ships and the tall ships racing in which teams from all over the country compete.
Throughout the 18th 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 piracy during the late 17th and early 18th century. 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. Newport was active in the "triangle trade", in which slave-produced sugar and molasses from the Caribbean were carried to Rhode Island and distilled into rum, which was then carried to West Africa and exchanged for captives. In 1764, Rhode Island had about 30 rum distilleries, 22 in Newport alone. Many of the great fortunes made during this period were made in the slave trade. The Common Burial Ground on Farewell Street was where most of the slaves were buried. Sixty percent of slave trading voyages launched from North America—in some years more than 90%—issued from tiny Rhode Island, many from Newport. Almost half were trafficked illegally, breaking a 1787 state law prohibiting residents of the state from trading in slaves. Slave traders were also breaking federal statutes of 1794 and 1800 barring Americans from carrying slaves to ports outside the United States, and the 1807 Congressional act abolishing the transatlantic slave trade. A few Rhode Island families made substantial fortunes in the trade. William and Samuel Vernon, Newport merchants who later played an important role in financing the creation of the United States Navy, sponsored 30 African slaving ventures. However, it was the D’Wolfs of Bristol, Rhode Island, and most notably James De Wolf, who were the largest slave trading family in all of North America, mounting more than 80 transatlantic voyages, most of them illegal. The Rhode Island slave trade was broadly based. Seven hundred Rhode Islanders owned or captained slave ships, including most substantial merchants, and many ordinary shopkeepers and tradesmen, who purchased shares in slaving voyages
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