Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Newport, Rhode island - More than Mansions
This week my family and I are in Newport, RI for Thanksgiving. We typically stay home for the holiday, but thought it would be fun to try something different this year. Being a seaside town, Newport is primarily a summer resort, so there are only a few hardy souls wandering the streets and beaches.
Newport is well known for its mansions of the rich and famous. The homes, referred to as cottages by their owners, are massive. For example, the Breakers built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II has seventy rooms in a gross area of 125,339 square feet with 62,482 square feet of living area on five floors. My entire house fits in the foyer with space to spare!
However, during my visit I've discovered there's more to Newport than its history as a summer playground for the wealthy during the Gilded Age. The city was founded in 1639 when a group of leaders from Portsmouth, Rhode Island had a political falling out with Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan spiritual adviser. The city was also home to many Quakers, and by 1658 had welcomed a large number of Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.
At this same time Newport was residence to many pirates; the most famous of whom was Thomas Tew, nicknamed “The Rhode Island Pirate.” Initially a privateer, Tew turned to piracy in 1692 and is reported to have captured ₤8,000 worth of goods and money - the equivalent of more than $100 million dollars today.
In addition to piracy, the town boasted seven manufacturers of lamp oil and candles, an important industry of the times. And with twenty two of the thirty distilleries in the state, Newport was a major player in the “triangle trade:” slave-produced sugar and molasses from the Caribbean that was carried to Rhode Island and distilled into rum which was then carried to West Africa and exchanged for captives.
By the end of the Revolutionary War, Newport had changed hands three times. The British took over in 1776 and held it for three years before abandoning the city to concentrate their forces in New York. The French arrived in July 1780 and used the city as a base for the remainder of the war. In 1783, it reverted back to the Americans and eight years later became the thirteenth state.
A picturesque town of nearly 25,000 inhabitants, Newport has ties to the commercial fishing industry, pleasure boating community and U.S. Navy. It has been a blessing to celebrate the holiday week in a location with 375 years of history. What are you doing this year for Thanksgiving?
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A freelance writer for over ten years, Linda Matchett also writes historical fiction. She is currently seeking a publisher for her series about war correspondent Ruth Brown. Visit her at www.lindashentonmatchett.com