NEWPORT , city in Rhode Island located at the southern tip of Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay. Newport was founded in 1639 by religious dissenters from Massachusetts Bay Colony. Roger Williams, also an outcast from the Puritans' dominion, had founded Providence, at the head of Narragansett Bay, three years earlier. Newport became the first of five rotating capitals in a state still known officially as Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
In 1658, approximately 15 Jews from Barbados settled in Newport. The Jewish cemetery, consecrated in 1677, was the subject of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem published in 1854. Jews Street was identified in John Mumford's map drawn in 1712.
Newport's Jewish community was reestablished during the 1740s, when settlers arrived primarily from New York City. Several Jewish merchants flourished through trade with American ports, the West Indies, England, and West Africa. By far the most successful was Aaron Lopez, who emigrated from Portugal in 1752. He gained renown as a merchant, shipper, and manufacturer.
Congregation Yeshuat Yisrael (Salvation of Israel) was established in 1756, and land for a synagogue was purchased three years later. Peter Harrison, a Newporter and one of the colonies' most distinguished architects, designed an exquisite two-story brick building with a central bimah based on prototypes in Amsterdam and London. It accommodated approximately 30 Jewish households or 200 people, less than two percent of the town's population. Ezra Stiles, the Congregational minister who became president of Yale College, documented the synagogue's dedication in 1763 as well as other aspects of Jewish communal life. In 1773, Ḥayyim Caregal, a rabbi from Hebron in the Holy Land, preached in Newport. When it appeared in the Newport Mercury, his was the first Jewish sermon published in North America.
During the Revolution, Newport's Jews were loyalists and patriots. Most fled the lengthy British occupation.
In 1781, President George Washington visited the synagogue when it housed Rhode Island's General Assembly and Supreme Court. When he returned to Newport on August 17, 1790, Washington received a congratulatory letter from the Hebrew congregation, written by ḥazzan Moses Seixas, a fellow Mason. Washington's reply, perhaps America's most important expression of religious liberty, proclaimed "For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should discern themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support." The statement reflected the language of the invitation to Washington, but it help set the tone for religious liberty in the United States.
As Newport's economy continued to decline, however, Jews sought opportunities elsewhere. In 1822, Moses Lopez, the last Jew, departed for New York City.
The first reference to Touro synagogue occurred in 1824, when the nearby street, originally known as Griffin, was renamed Touro. Two years earlier, Abraham Touro provided funds to maintain the synagogue in memory of his father, Isaac, who had been the congregation's first ḥazzan. In 1854, the magnanimous bequest by Abraham's unmarried brother Judah, of New Orleans, provided for the perpetual care of the synagogue and cemetery. Keith Stokes, a business leader and historian currently living in Newport, is a sixth-generation descendant of Judah Touro and his free African-American mistress, Ellen Wilson.
Although the synagogue reopened for summer visitors, it was not reconsecrated until 1883, when Rabbi Abraham Mendes arrived. Its ownership, retained by the founding families, was transferred to New York City's Shearith Israel in 1894. Though there were fewer than 100 Jewish families in Newport, two groups vied for Touro's use. An agreement reached in 1903 permitted Shearith Israel to lease the building to an Orthodox congregation of its choice and participate in the selection of a rabbi. The congregation's longest-serving clergy, beginning in the 1940s, were Cantor Ely Katz and Rabbi Theodore Lewis.
A second Orthodox congregation, Ahavas Achim, which existed from 1915 until 1981, participated in a United Hebrew School. In 1919 a ymha was established, and in 1926 a historic house was moved to a site opposite Touro for use as a community center.
In 1946, largely through the efforts of Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, the synagogue was one of the first buildings designated a National Historic Site by the Interior Department. Though it was America's oldest surviving synagogue, Touro's recognition derived from the building's association with George Washington and its design by Peter Harrison. In 1982, Washington's 250th birthday was commemorated with a postage stamp showing Touro and quoting the "to bigotry no sanction" passage from his letter.
Touro's Society of Friends, which restored and helps maintain the building, has emphasized the synagogue's importance as a symbol of religious liberty. The reading of the Seixas and Washington letters has become an annual tradition. Numerous dignitaries have participated, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Patriots' Park was built adjacent to the synagogue, and a visitors' center is planned.
Newport has been home to two of America's most successful summer music series. The Jazz Festival began in 1954, and the Folk Festival followed five years later. Both have featured numerous Jewish performers, and both have been produced by George Wein, a Jewish impresario.
In 2002, the Jewish population of Newport County was about 1,000. Rabbi Marc Jagolinzer was the long-time leader of Temple Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Middletown, which built its synagogue in 1978.
S.F. Chyet, Lopez of Newport: Colonial American Merchant Prince (1970); G.M. Goodwin and E. Smith (eds.), The Jews of Rhode Island (2004).
[George M. Goodwin (2nd ed.)]
Newport, Rhode Island was founded in late 1639 by Antinomian sympathizers from Massachusetts, who sought religious freedom and economic opportunity in the excellent harbor on southwestern Aquidneck Island. Traditions of religious pluralism, independent self-governance, and tax evasion attracted merchants and traders of all kinds, in spite of the limitations of the town's agricultural hinterland. The plantations of Narragansett Bay provided some produce, dairy products, livestock, and lumber for trade with other colonial ports, but the city's fortunes depended on its integration into the Atlantic trading networks of nearby Boston and New York. In 1720 Newport merchants entered the slave trade, which remained a central part of the port's function and character up to the American Revolution. In fact, Newport was the lynchpin of the slave-carrying trade, clearing many more ships for Africa than any other colonial North American port and conducting as much as 70 percent of the North American African trade.
The city's golden age came in the mid-eighteenth century, when Newport was the fifth-largest city in British North America. Several industries—producing rum, spermaceti candles, furniture, and ships—took root, though the coastal and carrying trade dominated the economy, and Newport made its fortune as an entrepôt. Trade was vitally important to the small colony of Rhode Island; export figures for 1770 show that of all of the British North American colonies, Rhode Island had the highest rate of exports per capita, and Newport was the primary gateway of this trade.
The American Revolution was the turning point for Newport's economy, population, and society. Residents began fleeing the city in 1775; by the time British troops took possession in December 1776 only a fraction of the population remained. The city was never again a leader in terms of population or profit. The favorable conditions that supported the carrying trade—benign neglect of British officials on molasses taxes and profits from privateering, a core population of well-connected merchants, and the reliable profitability of the slave trade—were lost. Small cotton mills did emerge around Newport, replacing the putting-out arrangements between female household workers and town merchants that had thrived for decades, but in contrast to their neighbors in Providence, Newport merchants failed to reorganize the local economy around manufacturing.
After a brief period of moderate success as a shipbuilding and whaling town in the 1830s, Newport was re-born by the mid-1840s as a resort destination. Travelers from northern cities and southern plantations arrived via regular steamship service to participate in socially mixed recreation centered on large hotels and warm beaches. Once again, city life was dominated by a service economy, though this time catering to tourists and summer people rather than sailors, merchants, and traders.
During the Civil War, the maritime function of the city shifted from commerce to combat when Newport housed the Naval Academy, which was moved from Annapolis, Maryland, for the duration. Although the academy moved back when the war ended, the navy retained a presence with the construction of the Naval War College in 1884. After the war the popularity of the hotels dwindled, and the city was reshaped as a place of private leisure for the extremely wealthy, exemplified in the construction of extravagant summer homes called "cottages" by wealthy families from New York, Boston, and the Deep South. Today these mansions, together with the city's maritime history and facilities for modern pleasure sailors, draw new visitors to Newport.
SEE ALSO Agriculture; Baltimore; Boston; Brown Family; Cargoes, Freight; Cargoes, Passenger; Chambers of Commerce; Charleston; Containerization; Empire, British; Free Ports; Harbors; Los Angeles–Long Beach; New Orleans; New York; Philadelphia; Port Cities; Privateering; Salem; San Francisco–Oakland; United States.
Bridenbaugh, Carl. Cities in the Wilderness: The First Century of Urban Life in America, 1625–1742. . New York: Oxford University Press, 1966.
Bridenbaugh, Carl. Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1743–1776. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955.
Coleman, Peter J. The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790–1860. Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 1969.
Crane, Elaine Forman. A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era. New York: Fordham University Press, 1992.
Price, Jacob M. "Economic Function and the Growth of American Port Towns in the Eighteenth Century." Perspectives in American History 8 (1974): 123–186.
Withey, Lynne. Urban Growth in Colonial Rhode Island: Newport and Providence in the Eighteenth Century. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.
Newport: Geography and Climate
Newport: Population Profile
Newport: Municipal Government
Newport: Education and Research
Newport: Health Care
Newport: Convention Facilities
The City in Brief
Founded: 1639 (incorporated 1784)
Head Official: Mayor John J. Trifero (since 2005)
2004 estimate: 25,879
Percent change, 1990-2000: -6.2%
U.S. rank in 1990: 958th (State rank: 7th)
U.S. rank in 2000: 1,223rd (State rank: 7th)
Metropolitan Area Population (Newport County)
Percent change, 1990-2000: -2.0%
U.S. rank in 1990: Not reported
U.S. rank in 2000: 611th
Area: 11.47 square miles (2000)
Elevation: From 6 to 96 feet above sea level
Average Annual Temperature: January, 30.4° F; July, 71.0° F; annual average, 50.78° F
Average Annual Precipitation: 44.7 inches rainfall; 35.7 inches snowfall
Major Economic Sectors: U.S. Navy-related activities, tourism and related activities, education and healthcare
Unemployment Rate: 4.8% (April 2005)
Per Capita Income: $25,441 (1999)
2004 ACCRA Average House Price: Not reported
2004 ACCRA Cost of Living Index: Not reported
2002 FBI Crime Index Total: Not reported
Major Colleges and Universities: Salve Regina University, U.S. Naval War College, Community College of Rhode Island-Newport
Daily Newspaper: Newport Daily News