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Newport was highly distinguished. Having the advantage of a safe and commodious harbor, never obstructed by ice, easy of ingress with all winds, the people early turned their attention to navigation. “For one hundred and fifty years from the arrival of the first emigrants, Newport and Boston, were the chief cities of New England, and their commerce rendered each of them superior to New York. Several of the first settlers on the island were possessed of great wealth; some of them were from the commercial cities of
South-western view of Newport. The view shows Newport, as it appears from the bights southerly from the town near the road to Fort Adams. The “Ocean House," on the summit of the elevated ground, is seen on the extreme right; the Atlantic near the central part; the harbor and lauding places on the left. Europe, and others from Massachusetts. Many who came here to reside, were learned and refined, and the society of the place was literary and polite, giving tone to that of the surrounding country, who looked to Newport for their fashions and manners. Previous to the Revolution the prosperity of the town was almost unequaled. Her streets were thronged with the intelligent and enterprising of distant lands, and the canvas of different nations whitened her capacious and delightful harbor." From 1730 to the Revolution, Newport was at the hight of its prosperity; New York, New Haven, and New London greatly depended upon it for their foreign supplies. It was said, at that era, that possibly New York might in time equal Newport !—such was the commercial superiority of Newport over the now giant city of the New World.
A writer in Harper's Magazine has given some vivid sketches upon the history of Newport. During the era of its greatest prosperity the slave-trade was extensively carried on.
At this time, 1730-50, the trade of Newport was very extensive. There were thirty distilleries constantly at work, and the rum was exported to Africa, and procured the slaves there. There were not less than forty or fifty vessels engaged in this traffic, and their owners were the leading merchants of Newport. The Quakers of whom there were many in the town, did not scruple to own them. Jo. seph Jacobs, an opulent old Newporter of that persuasion, had several slaves, who "wore the plain garb of the Quakers." And a recent historian of Newport, Mr. Peterson, who has amassed a curious collection of historical facts, declares that,
" to see the negro women, with their black hoods and blue aprons, walking at a respectful distance behind their master to meeting, was not an unpleasant sight!" Joseph Jacobs was the only possessor of a thermometer upon the island; and so precise was his punctuality, that the neighbors were wont to set their clocks and watches as he passed by to meeting, without speaking to him.
Godfrey and John Malbone were among the chief Newport merchants of this period. The elder, Godfrey, settled in the town about the year 1700; he engaged in successful enterprises, and fitted out privateers in 1740, during the French and Spanish war. A rough, bold, sea-faring man, ready to trade in slaves or rum, and to send privateers to the Spanish main, he is undoubtedly a good type of the Newport merchant of that period. There were two hundred vessels in the foreign trade, three or four hundred coasting vessels, and a regular line of London packets. Between two and three thousand seamen thronged the docks, which extended a mile along the harbor. There was no storage sufficient for the accumulating riches. The harvests and produce of the East and West Indies piled the wharves. Crates of bananas, of oranges, of all the southern fruits, lay in the yards of the houses, with turtle from the Bahamas, waiting to be cooked. Col. Gibbs, one of the chief merchants, had a negro cook, Cudjo, who prepared his master's dinners, and was loaned to the lesser neighbors upon their state occasions. He educated a family of cooks in Col Gibb's kitchen, and the epicures from every quarter were the debtors of Cudjo.
At a period a little later than this, and probably of Cudjo himself, the celebrated Dr. Channing, who was born in Newport, says, When I was young the luxury of eating was carried to the greatest excess in Newport. My first notion, indeed, of glory was attached to an old black cook, who I saw to be the most important personage in town. He belonged to the household of my uncle, and was of great demand wherever there was to be a dinner.” Seventeen manufactories of sperm-oil and candles worked with such success, that Crevecour says “they make spermacetti candles better that wax."
Noble mansions, spacious and elaborate gardens, arose and adorned the island and the town. The country-house of Col. Godfrey Malbone, which was commenced in 1744, was famous as the finest residence in the colonies. It was built of stone, two stories high, with a circular stair-case leading to the cupalo, the cost of which was reputed to be equal to that of an ordinary dwelling house. The house was within a mile of Newport, and the farm of six hundred acres sloped gently toward the bay. According to tradition, this garden was elaborately said out; ranges of banks and terraces alternated with plots of flowers, and hedges of shrubbery, and groups of rare trees; silver and gold-fish swam in artificial ponds; while over this mingled beauty the eye swept across the bay to the blue line of the opposite shore, or saw the sea flashing over the rocks and Cliffs at the entrance of the harbor.
Here met a society not unworthy so fair a palace of pleasure, if tradition may be believed. The wealthy and cultivated society of Newport seems in those days to have been acknowledged as an aristocracy. The social lines were sharply drawn. As in provincial towns the rigor of etiquette is more exacting than in the metropolis, so in the colony it is always more observable than in the mother country. The courtly rector of Trinity alluded from the pulpit to those who moved in the higher spheres."
Vaucluse, the residence of Samuel Elam, now of Thos. R. Hazard, was another of the fine places of that day. It is situated upon the eastern side of the island, about five miles from the town, and is the only estate remaining which has still some savor of its past prosperity. The entertainments at both these places, no less than those of the Overings, Bannisters, and the gentlemen of the Narraganset shore opposite, are remembered as magnificent. It was the broad English style of hospitality, abundant, loud, and, doubtless, a little coarse and rude. Prodigious oaths echoed probably along the stately halls of the Malbones, and choice wines flowed at the dinners of Vaucluse. The story of the destruction of the Malbone house, illustrates the spirit of the time. It had cost a hundred thousand dollars, which was not a small sum of money in a time and place where a man lived well upon five hundred dollars a year. But in the year 1766, as the slaves were cook
ing a dinner-to which Col. Malbone had bidden the best company of the islandthe wood-work around the kitchen chimney took fire, and, although the house was of stone, the flames soon had possession. Romance now takes up the fact, and proceeding in a strain accordant with the style of the man and his life, relates that Col. Malbone, seeing the inevitable destruction, declared that if he must lose his house, he would not lose his dinner; and, as it was early summer, ordered the feast to be spread upon the lawn, where he and his guests ate their dinner by the light of the burning house.
The society of the Narraganset shore opposite was not less distinguished, and was in constant intercourse with that of the island. Capable tutors and accomplished clergymen were the teachers of the boys who afterward graduated at Harvard or Yale, and there were good schools for the girls in Boston. The constant presence in the island of intelligent strangers, at once piqued and gratified natural curiosity, and thus, without traveling, the inhabitants of Newport enjoyed the ben, efits of travel
. Many of the leading men upon both sides of the bay had large and valuable libraries, and the collection in the Redwood Library was rich in many departments.
To these prosperous days in Newport history, belongs the career of Ezra Stiles, D.D., afterward president of Yale College, who resided in the town, as the pastor of the second Congregational Church, for about 20 years prior to the Revolution. Dr. Channing, in speaking of him, says: “In my earliest years, I regarded no other human being with equal reverence.” Dr. Samuel Hopkins, the founder of the Hopkinsian school of orthodoxy, also resided in the place. His memory has of late been revived through his introduction in Mrs. Stowe's story of New England life, “l'he Minister's Wooing :"
He settled in Newport in 1769, and with Puritan sternness, and natural intellectual independence, sought "to reconcile Calvinism with its essential truths." "Other Calvinists were willing that their neighbors should be predestined to everlasting misery for the glory of God. This noble-minded man demanded a more generous and impartial virtue, and maintained that we should consent to our own perdition, if the greatest good of the universe, and the manifestation of the Divine perfections, should so require.” This doctrine was not altogether agreeable to the Newporters, and a meeting of his society discussed the doctor's preaching, and finally resolved to intimate to him their willingness that he should leave. But when, upon the next Sunday, he preached a farewell sermon, the parish were so interested and impressed that they entreated him to remain. “His name is associated with a stern and appalling theology, but he preserved the old Puritan traditions, and represented the severe and indomitable spirit of the early New Eng. land clergy. À profound student, he was sometimes engaged for eighteen hours of the day with his studies, and died, in Newport, an honored and good man, in December, 1803.
On the breaking out of the Revolution, great numbers of the inhabitants left the island; and during the summer and fall of 1776, Newport remained in a distressed state, and without defense, except a few guns at Brenton's Point. The British fleet arrived, and the troops took possession of the town and remained three years. Before leaving, they destroyed 480 buildings of various kinds, cut down all the ornamental and fruit trees, broke up nearly all the wharves, and the places of worship, with two exceptions, were used as stables and riding-schools. The church bells, with one exception-a present from Queen Anne—the machinery from the distilleries, and the town records, were carried to New York; and when they left the place, the wells were filled up, and as much property destroyed as possible, by order of the British commander. The army quartered on the town numbered 8,000 British and Hessians. It was evacuated by the enemy in 1779. At that time the inhabitants were reduced from 12,000 to 4,000.
The business of Newport revived somewhat during the wars in Europe, but was again nearly extinguished by the embargo which preceded the war of 1812. Since the application of steam to machinery, a number of large cotton and woolen mills have been established, which, with other manufacturing establishments, have of late years given quite an impulse to the prosperity of the place. The situation of Newport gives to it the advantage of a cool, refreshing sea-breeze from almost every point of the compass : so that during the hot months, it has long been a favorite place of fashionable resort, especially for visitors from the south. Within a few years a number of large and splendid hotels have been erected, affording the best of accommodations. The place is also rendered attractive by its splendid beaches, adapted in the highest degree to the luxury of surf-bathing; its abundant means of enjoyment for those who are fond of sailing or fishing, the many beautiful rides over the island, the rear of the town, and the objects of historic interest in the place and vicinity.
State House, Newport. The state-house is situated on Washington square, and in the engraving a representation is given of its front, facing the parade, which is the principal entrance. It is built of brick and has elevated flights of steps on the north, south and west sides. From these steps the late Maj. John Handy read the Declaration of Independence, on the 20th of July, 1776; and at the expiration of fifty years he read it again from the same place, on which occasion the steps and balcony above were decorated with flowers. The state-house was used as a hospital, in succession, by the British and French troops. After the glass was destroyed, the windows were battened up, leaving only a small opening with a slide for air; and in the lower room, against the south door, the French erected an altar, where the services of the Catholic Church were performed for the sick and dying. The last time Washington visited Newport, a dinner was given him in honor of the occasion, and the table was spread the entire length of the lower floor.
The building of the Redwood Library and Atheneum, completed in 1750, is a handsome specimen of architecture, consisting of a center structure, with two small wings. It appears to have originated in a literary and philosophical society, which was established in Newport in 1730, and of which the celebrated Bishop Berkeley, who resided in Rhode Island, encouraged the formation, * often participating in its discussions, and, by the charm of his conversation, giving a delightful interest to its meetings.” Names of some of the leading men in the history of Rhode Island, are connected with this library. Rev. Dr. Stiles, afterward president of Yale College, while pastor of a Congregational society in Newport, soon after his settlement in 1755, was appointed librarian. Within its quiet walls he spent much of his time, and through his instrumentality the collection was greatly enlarged. The library contains many old and valuable books that are now comparatively scarce; but many of the finest works were carried off by the British troops when they left the island. The present number of volumes is upward of 6,000.
Anciently a considerable body of Jews resided in Newport. The first emigrants were of Dutch extraction, from Curacoa. . The deed
of their burying ground is dated Feb. 28, 1677. They were not possessed of the wealth and enterprise which so eminently distinguished those who came afterward.
Between the years 1750 and 1760, many families of wealth and distinction, from Spain and Portugal, settled in Newport, and contributed largely to the commercial prosperity of the town. The synagogue, of which the annexed is a representation, was built by these emigrants in 1762: it was once thron ged with worshipers, and “Newport was the only place in
New England where the Hebrew JEWISH SYNAGOGUE, NEWPORT,
language was publicly read and chanted by more than three hundred of the descendants of Abraham.” Abrahain Touro left $20,000 in charge of the town authorities, the interest to be expended in keeping the synagogue and grounds, and the street leading to it, in good repair, and the wishes of the donor have been carefully complied with. The following inscription appears over the granite gateway: “Erected 5603, by a bequest made by Abraham Touro, Esq.”
"About 1763, and long after, flourished the distinguished families of Lopez, Rivera, Polloek, Levi, Hart, Seixas, and their late respected priest, Isaac Touro. The north side of what is now the Mall, was once covered with Jewish residences,