Black in Business:
African Heritage Entrepreneurs of Newport 18th – 20th Centuries

This online exhibit presents a vital part of American history largely unknown – the experiences of African heritage entrepreneurs of the 18th through the early 20th centuries in Newport, Rhode Island.

While Newport is internationally recognized for its Colonial Era structures, Gilded Age mansions, historic landscapes, and deep maritime history, few know that Newport was also home to many prominent African heritage business entrepreneurs. These men and women would leverage their commercial enterprises to promote economic security and racial equity and build wealth that would invest in and advance Black civic, social, and political interests. It is not surprising to find the leaders in African heritage commerce in Newport would also become leaders in African heritage equal rights organizations and government leadership.

Today’s historic Newport neighborhoods with names like Historic Hill, Bellevue Avenue, Top of the Hill, West Broadway, and the Yachting Village once comprised the heart of the early African heritage entrepreneurs where people lived, worked, and worshipped. These entrepreneurial men and women would successfully operate businesses within a wide range of commerce areas, most notably:

  • Hospitality & Dining
  • Marine
  • Boarding Houses & Real Estate
  • Professional Services
  • Dress Making and Clothing Retail
  • Barbering & Personal Services
  • Transportation Services

Adinkra symbol for Wisdom, Ingenuity, Intelligence

The exhibit presents the many layers of historic Newport that include one of America’s most dynamic African heritage communities between the American Revolution and WWI.  Exhibit viewers learn about the community that once comprised four African heritage churches, many civic organizations, and scores of businesses that catered both to Newport’s large community of color and serviced the needs of its fast-growing summer resident colony. Exhibit images include historic photographs of men and women entrepreneurs, business cards and handbills, commerce sites, and advertisements from the day. Remarkably, many historic structures still stand where African heritage people lived, worshipped, and worked in early Newport.

The African Slave Trade and Newport share common origins. Before the American Revolution, Newport was one of the largest and most active slave ports in British North America.  Arriving during the peak of Newport’s thriving 18th-century maritime trade economy, enslaved and later free Africans merged their traditional tribal skills with craft techniques that produced specialty and after-market products for export.  Africans in Newport were trained in trades such as:

Adinkra symbol of imperishability and endurance

Rope Making

Rum Distiller

Musician

Snuff Making

Barrel Making

Stone Mason

Cobbler

Candle Making

Caterer

Boat Building

Mariners

Dress Making

Chocolate Grinder

Soap Making

Cuffe Cockroach

The Akan people of the Gold Coast (Ghana) frequently name their children after the day of the week they were born and the order in which they were born.  Cuffe (Kofi) was for boys born on Friday.  Before the American Revolution Cuffe Cockroach was a celebrated cook in the Jahleel Brenton household, and the first African heritage caterer in Newport. His food nourished a large family of wealthy merchant traders and their servants.

On December 23, 1752, Samuel Freebody, a commander of Fort George on Goat Island, held the first “Turtle Frolic.” For many years the turtle frolic on Goat Island would become an annual celebration of the winter solstice. Hundreds of people came to the festive event; Cockroach’s sea turtle stew was a delicious attraction. Ingredients in the stew included lime juice combined with arrack and rum distilled from sugar from Barbados. It was served with the family’s finest silver and porcelain, brought to the island by boat.

 

Prince Updike

Prince Updike, originally from North Kingstown, became a Master Chocolate Grinder in Colonial Newport. On June 24, 1765 the merchant Aaron Lopez’s logbook credited Updike for making 46¼ pounds of chocolate. He was then given an additional 58½ pounds of chocolate to grind. Interestingly, with the passage of the Revenue Act of 1767 which imposed a tax on tea imported into the British Colonies, chocolate became a popular replacement for tea. Updike is buried in God’s Little Acre.

Another African Master Chocolate Grinder was Abraham Casey. On November 10, 1780, a group of African men, many tradesmen, assembled at the Newport home of Casey to organize and charter America’s first mutual aid society for African and later African Americans known as the Free African Union Society. The Newport African Society would help launch similar free African organizations in Boston, Philadelphia, and Providence, all led by largely African tradesmen.

 

Neptune Thurston

Neptune Thurston was trained as a Cooper or Barrel Maker as part of the Reverend Gardner Thurston family household.  Thurston would organize Newport’s 2nd Baptist Church and was also a cooper by trade but refused to use his craft for the manufacture of any kind of barrels to be used in the shipment of Rhode Island rum to the African Coast. Neptune would become an active member of the African community of 18th century Newport owning a home on Long Wharf that is later relocated to 41 Walnut Street, still standing.

Neptune is also known in an old Newport story of teaching a young Gilbert Stuart the craft of painting images on hogshead barrels. Stuart would go on to become one of early America’s most prominent portrait painters. Largely known for his famous George Washington portrait in 1796. So, the next time you see George Washington’s image on a dollar bill, you may have to also thank Newport’s Neptune Thurston.

 

Arthur Tikey aka Arthur Flagg

Arthur Tikey was born in 1739 and trained as a rope maker while enslaved to Ebenezer Flagg within Ebenezer’s rope-making business.  Tikey was also a lifetime member of Newport’s Seventh Day Baptist Church, owning a pew for himself and his family. He also became a founder of the Free African Union Society and served as judge and treasurer. He operated his rope-making business at Cross and Thames Streets. His home was located on the west side of Thames street south of the home of William Ellery, Rhode Island signer of the Declaration of Independence.  After the American Revolution, the African community of Newport would form a burial society for the specific purpose of overseeing African funerals and burials in Colonial Newport.

Tikey is buried in  God’s Little Acre and his marker was paid for by the Seventh Day Church with the inscription, “Who Changes This World For Better.

 

John Quamino

(Image: African Mariner courtesy of the collections of Christian McBurney)

Free African John Quamino of Newport, originally from the coastal town of Anomabo on the Gold Coast (Ghana), was trained initially as a Barrel Maker.

He was enslaved by Capt. Benjamin Church but was able to purchase his freedom with lottery winnings.  In 1773, Rev Samuel Hopkins and Rev Ezra Stiles had collaborated on a plan to send two African men to Africa to evangelize the continent. They secured two volunteers, Bristol Yamma and John Quamino, to study at the College of New Jersey (Princeton). Quamino would make history as one of the first Africans to attend college in America, but the American Revolution would disrupt his studies.

Like many of his fellow African brethren, the sea was a fast means to earn money to purchase the freedom of his wife and children. Quamino was killed at sea serving onboard an American privateer during the early days of the American Revolution.

Zingo Stevens

Zingo Stevens arrived in Newport from West Africa and was given the name Pompe and worked in the John Stevens Stone Masonry Shop. The shop on Thames Street opened in 1705 and continues to operate today as one of the longest-running businesses in America. Zingo worked alongside several generations of John Stevens, starting as a stone polisher and eventually making headstones for African heritage members of Newport. Like many Africans in Newport, Zingo would reclaim his African name in freedom and become a founding member of the Free African Union Society. He would also purchase a home at 41 Poplar Street and transfer it to his daughter Sarah Rodman.

Within God’s Little Acre Burying Ground are several examples of his work (signed as Pompe), including the 1765 marker of Pompey Lyndon, a child of Zingo’s close friend and fellow African Union Society member Caesar Lyndon. The marker bears his signature, making him one of America’s early African artisans.

 

Alexander Jack, Jr.

Alexander Jack, Jr. listed in the 1780 census as a free man, a shoemaker who operated a shop on Thames Street.

The Alexander Jack Jr. House, owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation, is an example of a Colonial-era home built and owned by an African heritage craftsman.  The home was originally located at 22 Levin St. (now Memorial Blvd West) and later relocated to 49 Mill Street.

 

Duchess Quamino

Arriving as a teen from Gold Coast, Duchess was enslaved in the William Channing household. She would marry her husband John Quamino in the Second Congregational Church. Duchess Quamino worked as a baker and caterer and became known as the “Pastry Queen” of Colonial Rhode Island.  Later, she would become a founder of the Free African Female Benevolent Society in Newport.

Her lifelong devotion to her church and belief in God would cause Newport’s own Revered William Ellery Channing, one of the early founders of the Unitarian Church, to call her a woman of “exemplary piety.” She is buried in her family section within God’s Little Acre Burying Ground.

Bacchus Overing

Bacchus Overing owned a home at 29 Pope Street and was an active member of the African Union Society.

In the 1790 Federal Census, he is listed as a free head of household in Newport. He was a Distiller by trade and in 1799 will left his home and personal items to his son Paul Overing.

 

Newport Gardner aka Okyerema Mireku
(Occramar Marycoo English spelling)

Like many Africans in Colonial Newport, Gardner would arrive as a youth from the Gold Coast of West Africa. Okyerema is the Akan name for a master drummer and interpreter. The Akan people of the Gold Coast (Ghana) frequently name their children after the day of the week they were born, order in which they were born or based upon a special virtue. This important naming tradition can be seen throughout the West African Diaspora including the Caribbean Islands of Jamaica and Barbados, active Newport slave trading partners. The retaining, and in some cases reclaiming, of African names became a powerful means of preserving their African identity.

Newport Gardner would become a celebrated music composer and teacher and is recognized today as the first African published composer of music in America. He taught music to both black and white Newport children and organized and taught at the African Free School. After the American Revolution he is working both as a music teacher and blacksmith.  He owned a home on Pope Street where several other free Africans owned homes that the town would name “Negro Lane.”

Later in life he became involved in the American Colonization effort and led a return of two dozen Newport Africans back to Africa landing in Liberia in 1826. He and the entire party died of African fever within a year of settlement but died a free man in a free land.

 

Obour Tanner

Obour Tanner arrived in Newport as a young, enslaved girl, with several historical sources suggesting that she also came from the Gold Coast.  Tanner became a servant in the home of John Tanner, a Newport silversmith, and Deacon at the Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House. Obour, like many enslaved Africans in Newport at the time, learned to read and write. On July 10, 1768, she was baptized and became an active member of the First Congregational Church in Newport.  Boston’s Phillis Wheatley, the first known African woman poet, would become a close friend with Obour, and both would exchange a series of letters during the American Revolution era.

Obour would lead several African women to establish the African Female Benevolent Society in 1809. The women’s society led the efforts to raise funds to support African widows and their families and operate one of America’s earliest schools for black children. Tanner would lead a highly productive religious and civic life in Newport. She died on June 21, 1835, living to the age of approximately eighty.

 

Pero Bannister

Pero, like many enslaved and free Africans in Newport were skilled craftsmen and entrepreneurs. He operated an Oyster House before the American Revolution on Bannister’s Wharf, known today as one of Newport’s most popular dining, shopping and sailing attractions. An interesting anecdote on Pero’s death reported,” Pero Banister’s oyster house was near the wharf. When Pero died, he was measured for a coffin, these useful articles not kept in stock at that time, and it happened the coffin was made too shallow. The lid would not come down on account of Pero’s nose. There was not time to make another coffin, and so the maker cut a hole in the lid and let Pero’s nose through.” Pero’s marker has been lost, but his wife’s Phillis marker is within God’s Little Acre.

“If there was a watering place in America where respectable, refined and well-bearing colored ladies and gentlemen have as little reason to feel their color as in Newport.”
                         – Colored American Newspaper, 1886

 

Few would know that Newport would also host many of the most influential African heritage political, business, and artistic leaders during the Gilded Age summers. Men, women, and families of color would travel to Newport from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington to participate in a rare opportunity for persons of color within 19th century America for unabridged social and cultural interchange.  Many families of color would also leave the Jim Crow South in search of a new life and employment opportunities in Newport. Many would catch the entrepreneurial spirit and established service and professional business specifically targeted to the fast-emerging Newport summer colony in the fields of:

  • Caterer
  • Hotelier & Boarding Houses
  • Dress Making
  • Hair Dressing
  • Dining
  • Transportation & Freight Delivery
  • Medical
  • Employment Agency

John & Patience Mowatt

John Mowatt was one of Newport’s earliest African heritage entrepreneurs owning a grocery store and real estate along Division Street. He is a founding member of the Free African Benevolent Society and Union Congregational Church and helps to organize the first Masonic Lodge of color in Newport. His wife Patience, was a founding member of the African Female Benevolent Society. Their historic home at 83 Division Street still stands today. Both are buried within their family plot within God’s Little Acre burying ground.

Benjamin Burton

One of Newport’s most successful 19th-century entrepreneurs, Benjamin Burton, arrived in Newport in 1845 from Connecticut. He was the Bellevue Avenue Express Line originator, which later extended to the Point and Broadway neighborhoods. He would later establish the “Original Express” company, one of the earliest Black-owned businesses operating in various forms at 4 Travers Block along Bellevue Avenue. He also operated a baggage transfer business transporting luggage from the steamships along the waterfront to the summer estates along Bellevue Avenue during the summer resort season. He lived at 35 Levin Street which is now Memorial Blvd.

George Thomas Downing

Born free in New York City to Thomas Downing, one of early 19th century New York’s most renowned Oystermen and restaurant entrepreneurs. Arriving in Newport by the mid 1840’s, George T. Downing would become one of 19th century Newport’s most successful hospitality entrepreneurs.  A leading advocate in Black self-help, he would sponsor dozens of families to relocate to Newport from Virginia after the Civil War, many becoming early business entrepreneurs.

Downing lobbied tirelessly to desegregate Rhode Island public schools, beginning in 1857 officially. By that time, he was well-established in Newport as the Sea Girt House luxury hotel proprietor along with a confectionary and catering business on the Downing Block. He would later lead for the repeal of the state’s ban on interracial marriage and racial discrimination in the reorganization of the Rhode Island militia.

Appointed by the U. S. House of Representatives, Downing ran the Members’ Dining Room in the U.S. Capitol from 1868 until 1876. During that time in Washington, Downing had considerable influence with Sen. Charles Sumner and others regarding Reconstruction Era equal rights policies.

Downing would also contribute to the extension of Bellevue Avenue to Ocean Drive and helped purchased Touro Park. Immediately after the Civil War, he founded the American Colored Union Labor League.

Isaac Rice

Isaac Rice was born in Narragansett in 1792 to African and Native parents and came to Newport at an early age. He became a founding member of Newport’s Union Congregational Church and a successful gardener and caterer. Rice was one of pre-Civil War Newport’s most active entrepreneurs operating a catering business on Cotton Court and served as a gardener and estate manager for Governor George Gibbs. Rice was also an active officer in the African Benevolent Society, Union Congregational Church, and African Humane Society. The Rice family home at 20 Thomas street hosted Frederick Douglas in 1843 when he visited Rhode Island to speak on Abolition for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. The Rice home was also a station on the Underground Railroad.

Thomas G. Williams

Born in 1820 in Boston, Williams was the son of Domingo Williams, a leading caterer and abolitionist leader in Boston’s Beacon Hill community. The family lived in a basement apartment within the historic African Meeting House. Thomas would relocate to Newport by 1860 and establish a series of successful catering businesses, mainly serving the summer resort community. Like his father before him, Williams would become a leading equal rights leader in both Newport and Boston, closely associated with George T. Downing and Frederick Douglas during his lifetime.

Reverend Mahlon Van Horne

Rev. Van Horne became the first man of color to be elected to the Newport School Board in 1873 and Rhode Island General Assembly in 1885. Later, President McKinley appointed him as General Consul to St. Thomas. Van Horne would help to pass Rhode Island equal education and civil rights laws. He was the minister for nearly thirty years at Union Colored Congregation Church that directly evolved from the Free African Union Society. Both his church and home still stand in Newport at 41 Division Street and 47 John Street.

Peter Quire

Peter Quire arrived in Newport from Philadelphia around 1870 and established a cobbler business in the Point neighborhood.

A long-time member of Philadelphia’s historic African Episcopal Church of St Thomas, Quire would establish an Episcopal mission in Newport, leaving half of his real estate to become Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church Newport. He is buried in God’s Little Acre.

Josephine Silone Yates

Josephine Silone Yate was the first African heritage student to graduate from Rogers High School. She graduated as valedictorian of the class of 1877.  She graduated in 1879, with honors, from the Rhode Island Normal School and she was the first African heritage person certified to teach in Rhode Island schools.

She became active in the National Colored Women’s Club movement. She became a featured writer and correspondent for the “Woman’s Era,” the first national newspaper published by and for African heritage women in America.

Andrew J. Tabb

Andrew Tabb arrived in Newport around 1881 as part of the staff of Newport socialite, Madame C. O’Donnell.  During the Civil War he served with the 114th Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Infantry.

Within several years he established one of the city’s most extensive livery stables and coaching services at 28 Edgar Court, serving the transportation needs of the summer residents.

Fredrick E. Williams

Fredrick E. Williams was the son of Thomas G. Williams.  Fredrick operated successful catering and hairdressing businesses along Bellevue Avenue and Levin Street like his father and grandfather before him. He was an active member of the Union Congregational Church and organizer of several Black political action committees. In 1906, Williams became the first African heritage person to be elected to Newport City Council.

Dr. Marcus F. Wheatland

Born in Barbados, Wheatland arrived in Newport in 1894, perhaps due to his association with two notable African heritage men, M. Alonzo Van Horne and George T. Downing. Wheatland married Irene De Mortie, the granddaughter of Downing.

Licensed to practice medicine in Rhode Island in 1895, he is the first known African heritage physician to live and practice in Newport.  He became the first doctor in Newport to use the X-ray machine as a diagnostic tool. He served as the 11th President of the National Medical Association.

Mary H. Dickerson

Mary H. Dickerson and her husband Silas arrived in Newport from New Haven, Connecticut, around 1865. Her husband Silas operated a grocery store on William Street along with an apartment complex. By 1872 she established a “Fashionable Dressmaking Establishment” at 5 Travers Block along Bellevue Avenue servicing the needs of Newport’s summer residents. She also owned several rental properties around the city and operated an employment agency for African heritage workers.

In 1895 she was a founder of the Women’s Newport League. In 1896 she was a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and in 1903 she established the first federation of African American Women’s Club in Rhode Island. She was one of the most prominent leaders of her day in equal rights and women’s suffrage.

The photograph of the Executive Committee of the Women’s League Newport led by Dickerson was displayed as part of the American Negro Exhibit at the Paris Exposition of 1900 by W.E.B. Dubois to present the progress of African heritage people at the turn of the 20th century.

Armstead Hurley

Armstead Hurley arrived in Newport from Culpepper County, Virginia, around 1886. He would soon establish a successful painting business and be a founding partner in the Rhode Island Loan & Investment Company, the first black-owned bank in Rhode Island. He owned many rental properties on Cross, Thames, Mary, and Division Streets. He was also Treasurer of the Shiloh Baptist Church.

Charles F. D. & Ella B. Fayerweather

Charles Frederick Douglas Fayerweather and his wife Ella were the African heritage power couple in 19th and early 20th century Newport. Charles operated a prosperous blacksmith shop and lived on Pearl Street. He was also a leader in promoting equal rights for Rhode Island African heritage citizens forming the Sumner Political Club in 1898. His wife Ella was a successful dressmaker and would lead several Black women’s organizations, including the Rhode Island Union of Colored Women’s Clubs.

Colored Tradesmen – 1867 Newport Directory

  • George W. Lee – Operator of City Saloon on Market Square
  • Mathew Barrett – Gardner, 8 Ann Street
  • Edward Simmons – Painter, Spruce Street
  • George Mahoney – Carpenter, 41 Broad Street
  • Joseph Marsh – Nursing, 3 Mary Street
  • Julius A. Decatur, Musician, 6 DeBlois Court
  • George Meredith, Tailor, 45 Spring Street
  • Alexander Easton, Whitewasher, 26 Levin Street
  • William Russell & William Hardy, Ice Cream Saloon, 57 Spring Street
  • John D. Nicholas, Cooper, Spruce Street
  • Jonas Elias, Intelligence Office, Bath Road & Bellevue Avenue
  • George Johnson, Stonecutter, Spruce Street

The 20th century would bring a new level of African heritage entrepreneurism to Newport. Not content to provide services within their community, men and women entrepreneurs sought to expand their business interests into the fast-growing summer hospitality industry. To meet business growth demands, the Rhode Island Loan and Investment Company was formed by D.B. Allen, Thomas Glover, Marcus C. Andrews, James Johnson, Lindsay R. Walker, and Armstead Hurley on Washington Square. This would become Rhode Island’s first African heritage-owned and operated financial institution. The Company would become instrumental in providing loans and working capital to Black businesses.

J.T. & D.B. Allen

J T Allen and his brother D B Allen came to Newport in 1893 and established several restaurant and catering businesses. They were the managing proprietors of the “HYGEIA SPA,” at Easton’s Beach.

Soon after they would open a restaurant at 29 TOURO STREET, in the historic Perry Mansion, under the Lawrence Club, one of the most aristocratic clubs of the city. As serial hospitality entrepreneurs, they were also active with the National Negro Business League was founded by Booker T. Washington. The league predated the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. M. Alonzo Van Horne

Son of Reverend Mahlon Van Horne, Dr. Van Horne graduated from Rogers High School and graduated from the Bryant & Stratton Business College. He received his medical degree in Dentistry from the Howard University Dental School in 1896. Dr. Van Hone would become Newport and Rhode Island’s first licensed African heritage dentist with offices at 22 and 166 Broadway.

He was a founder of the Newport Branch of the NAACP in 1919. He led several political organizations, including the Charles Sumner Political Club that promoted the inclusion of African Americans in all aspects of government.  He was also one of the most prominent leaders in early Masonic fraternities earning the distinction of becoming one of the few men of color to receive the 33rd Degree of Masonry.

Lindsay R. Walker

Lindsay Walker arrived in Newport from Culpeper County, Virginia, during the Civil War era. He was instrumental in recruiting other African heritage families to relocate from Virginia to Newport. He developed a successful transportation business that his son Louis Walker expanded to include a fleet of limousines and taxis. Walker was also a founder of the Rhode Island Investment & Loan Company. His building (pictured here) still stands today.

Dr. Harriet A. Rice

Dr. Harriet Alleyne Rice was born in 1866 in Newport and lived a considerable amount of her life in the family home at 75 Spring Street. She graduated from Rogers High School in 1882. She became the first African heritage graduate of Wellesley College in 1887 and soon after she would earn a medical degree at the University of Michigan Medical School.

As an African heritage woman and licensed physician, it was nearly impossible for Dr. Rice to practice medicine at any American hospital. She soon joined the famous social worker and women’s suffrage leader, Jane Adams at the celebrated Hull House in Chicago, providing medical treatment to low-income families.

At the start of WWI, she would leave for France to serve as a physician in military hospitals. In July 1919, the French Embassy presented Dr. Rice the National Medal of French Gratitude for her outstanding services treating wounded French soldiers between 1915 and 1918.

Daniel A. Smith

Daniel A. Smith came to Newport from Washington, D. C. and operated the Holly Tree Coffee House on Franklin Street. He also operated a dining room at his home at 29 Mary Street. The historic property today is owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation. His son Dr. Daniel A. Smith Jr. became a successful physician in early 20th century Newport and his daughter Ella followed Newport’s Dr. Harriet Rice as the second African heritage graduate of Wellesley College in 1888.

Reverend Henry Jeter

Reverend Jeter was trained as a bootmaker and later would become the Pastor at Newport’s Shiloh Baptist Church between 1875 and 1916. Jeter became a founding member of the New England Baptist Convention. He was also a member of the National Afro-American League and within the Republican Party, participating Republican Convention in 1903.  In later life, Jeter led the incorporation of the “Jeter Movement of Race Relations and Social Service.” The organization would aid African American families moving from the south to the north as part of the Great American Migration of the early 20th century. He and every one of his nine children learned to play musical instruments, giving performances across the country.

Jacob Dorsey

Jacob Dorsey arrived in Newport from Baltimore, Maryland before the Civil War. He and his wife operated a highly successful confectionery business on Warner street for nearly fifty years. He also operated a whitewashing business. A prominent citizen of Newport, he served as a long-term Trustee at the Mt Zion AME Church.

Jacob C. Chase

Arriving in Newport after the Civil War, Chase served as a soldier with the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. He established a Tinsmith business in Newport and lived on 16 Bath Road. Chase was an active member of several Newport Black political organizations.

Aaron Conner Buchanan Sr.

Aaron Buchanan was born in Newport in 1839. The family lived on Filmore and later at 26 Levin Street. He was a shoemaker and, in 1869, organized the Burnside National Guard at Newport, serving as captain.

Aaron C. Buchanan Jr.

Aaron C. Buchanan Jr. was an active leader in the Union Congregational Church and Grand Master with the Harmony Grand Masonic Lodge. The Harmony Masonic Lodge evolved from the earlier Hiram Lodge of 1797 and the second African Lodge in America. A painter by trade, he was particularly active working on the Newport Naval base.

William Stanley Braithwaite

The leading African heritage writer, poet, and literary critic of his day, Braithwaite had a summer home in Newport. He would later become a part of the Harlem Renaissance movement. He received the NAACP Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by an African heritage person. In 1900 he was part of a group to form the Newport Progressive Literary Society to advance reading, writing, and shared knowledge of the arts as a means of asserting identity and communication with an increasingly literate African heritage public.

Cromwell P. West

A graduate of the Howard University Pharmacy School and Pharmacy School at Rhode Island College, West operated a drugstore at Caleb Earl and West Broadway for forty years.  He was also a founding member of the Newport Branch NAACP, Newport Colored Democratic Club. As a champion for African heritage youth in sports, he founded the Old Hometown Tennis Club in Newport in 1927.

Thomas Glover

Thomas Glover was a real estate entrepreneur owning and operating several boarding homes in Newport, mainly providing lodging for African heritage workers during the summer resort season. He operated the Glover Hotel at 26 Brinley Street.  Glover was also a founder of the Rhode Island Loan and Investment Company located on Washington Square. His Newport properties were in the Green Book, a catalog of Black-owned businesses around the country during the early 20th century.

Nelly Brown

Nellie Brown was born in 1880 in Maryland and arrived in Newport in the early 20th century.  Brown was a real estate entrepreneur who owned and operated several rooming houses within the Top of the Hill neighborhood off Bellevue Avenue. She would found and operate the Golden Age Rest Home at 21-23 Brinley Street for senior citizens of color.  Today, the properties are known as the Gilded Newport Hotel.

1696

Early Arrivals

Early Arrivals

The first documented slave ship arrives in Newport from Africa via Barbados. Named the “Seaflower,” the vessel leaves a dozen enslaved Africans in Newport.

1703

Negro Code

Rhode Island General Assembly adopts an early “Negro Code” to restrict activities of free and servant Negros and Indians stating, “If any negroes or Indians either freemen, servants, or slaves, do walk in the street of the town of Newport, or any other town in this Colony, after nine of..Read More

1705

God’s Little Acre

God’s Little Acre

A Negro burying section of the Common Burying Ground is established. It is later known to the African heritage community as “God’s Little Acre.”

1741

Newport Sites Built by Africans

Newport Sites Built by Africans

Several of Newport’s most important civic structures, Old Colony House, Redwood Library, Brick Market and Touro Synagogue are built with the participation of enslaved and free African skilled labor.

1752

Colonial African Caterer

In December of that year, Cuffee Cockroach, an enslaved African cook of Jaheel Brenton, prepared a feast that featured a sea turtle stew for a community gathering held at Fort George, on Goat Island. The “Turtle Frolic” became an annual celebration.

1765

Master Chocolate Grinder

Prince Updike is listed as a Master Chocolate Grinder in Colonial Newport.

1766

An African Picnic

An African Picnic

A group of free and enslaved Africans take a picnic in Portsmouth led by Caesar Lyndon, personal secretary, and clerk for Governor Josias Lyndon. (Image courtesy of the Rhode Island Historical Society)

1770

Colonial African Artisan

Neptune Thurston was trained as a Cooper or Barrel Maker as part of the Rev. Gardner Thurston family household.

1774

First Africans to Attend College

First Africans to Attend College

Africans John Quamino and Bristol Yamma are sent to study at College of New Jersey (the future Princeton University) to train as Christian Missionaries. These will be the first Africans to attend college in America. The plan is devised by Rev’s Samuel Hopkins and Ezra Stiles of Newport.

1780

An African Stonecarver

A group of free African men led by Zingo Stevens meet in the Newport home of Abraham Casey and form the Free African Union Society, the first such society in America.

1790

Early African Home

Alexander Jack, Jr. is listed in the census that year as a free man and a shoemaker who operated a shop on Thames Street.

1792

Rhode Island Pastry Queen

Rhode Island Pastry Queen

African Charity “Duchess” Quamino dies in Newport; recognized as the “Pastry Queen of Rhode Island” and one of the most successful African women entrepreneurs of her time. Her marker is inscribed by Reverend William Ellery Channing.

1800

A Free African Neighborhood

Five free Africans, including Baccus Overing, own homes on the section of Pope Street in Newport, between Spring and Thames street, referred to as “Negro Lane.”

1803

African Heritage Composer

Former enslaved African Okyerema Mireku, aka Newport Gardner, becomes the first published African musical composer in America; songs include “Crooked Shanks” and the religious anthem “The Promise.”

1808

First Free African School

In March, the Free African Benevolent Society of Newport establishes the first free African school (private) in America on School Street.

1809

African Women Leadership

The Free African Female Benevolent Society is established in Newport with Obour Tanner and Sara Lyna included as founding members.

1820

Building Business & Community

John Mowatt was one of Newport’s earliest African heritage entrepreneurs, owning a grocery store and real estate at 83 Division Street. He is a founding member of the Free African Benevolent Society and Union Congregational Church and helped to organize the first Masonic Lodge of color in Newport.

1845

A Moving Empire

One of Newport’s most successful 19th century entrepreneurs, Benjamin F. Burton, arrived in Newport from Connecticut. He would establish the “Original Express” company, one of the earliest Black-owned businesses operating in various forms at 4 Travers Block along Bellevue Avenue. During the summer resort season, he also operated a baggage..Read More

1846

African Heritage Serial Entrepreneur

The summer of 1846, African heritage businessman, George T. Downing opens a restaurant on Bellevue Avenue in Newport to cater to the emerging summer resort market.

1860

Underground Railroad

Underground Railroad

The home of Isaac Rice, a successful caterer in Newport, is used as an Underground Railroad stop.

1865

Newport & Boston Connections

Thomas G. Williams arrives in Newport, the son of Domingo Williams, a leading caterer and abolitionist leader in Boston’s Beacon Hill community. Thomas would establish a series of successful catering businesses along with becoming a civil rights leader in Newport and throughout New England.

1869

Dynamic Pastor Arrives

Rev. Mahlon Van Horne assumes the pastorate of Union Colored Congregational Church on Division Street in Newport.

Colored Labor Union Convention

Colored Labor Union Convention

A news article from 1896 calls for the formation of a Colored Labor Union convention. Early meetings were organized at the Union Congregational Church in Newport and led by Reverend Mahlon Van Horne and Newport entrepreneurs George T. Downing and Thomas G. Williams.

1870

THE FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT

The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified prohibiting the restriction of voting rights “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

1872

Rev. Mahlon Van Horne

Rev. Van Horne becomes the first African heritage member of the Newport School Board.

1873

1873 COLORED CONVENTION

1873 COLORED CONVENTION

A major event is hosted on Thanksgiving Evening by leading political and business leaders to promote sending a Newport delegation to the 1873 Colored Convention in Washington, DC. Participating leaders include Benjamin Burton, Thomas Williams, and Rev. Van Horne.

1875

Peter Quire

St John’s Episcopal Church in Newport is founded at the Point Neighborhood home of African heritage person Peter Quire.

1877

Josephine Silone Yates

Josephine Silone Yates was the first African heritage student to graduate from Rogers High School. She graduated as valedictorian of the class of 1877. She graduated in 1879, with honors, from the Rhode Island Normal School and she was the first African heritage person certified to teach in the schools..Read More

1881

A Gilded Age Entrepreneur

Andrew J. Tabb arrived in Newport as part of the staff of Newport socialite, Madame C. O’Donnell. Within several years he established one of the city’s largest livery stables and coaching services at 28 Edgar Court serving the transportation needs of the summer residents

1882

CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1875 UNCONSTITUTIONAL

On October 15th, the Supreme Court declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional and declared that the Fourteenth Amendment forbids states, but not citizens, from discriminating on the basis of race.

1883

Bellevue Avenue’s Coolest Shop

Bellevue Avenue’s Coolest Shop

The Daisy Tonsorial Parlor is established at 148 Bellevue Avenue by African American business and civic leader, Fredrick E. Williams.

1885

Pulpit & Ballot

Rev. Van Horne of Newport becomes the first African heritage member of the General Assembly of Rhode Island.

George T. Downing

George T. Downing

George T. Downing is a member of the committee responsible for the Bellevue Avenue extension to Bailey’s Beach in Newport.

1886

Race & Gender Discrimination Conquered

Dr. Harriet A. Rice was born to George and Lucinda Rice in Newport. She graduated as a top student at Newport’s Rogers High School and in 1882 went on to become the first African heritage student to graduate from Wellesley College. Soon after she would earn a medical degree at the..Read More

1890

Allen Brothers

Allen Brothers

JT Allen and his brother DB arrive in Newport and soon established the Hygeia Spa at Easton’s Beach, and a dining facility in the Perry Mansion on Touro Street.

1894

“He Doctors the Swells”

“He Doctors the Swells”

Dr. Marcus Wheatland becomes the first known African heritage physician to live and practice in Rhode Island. Dr. Wheatland was nationally recognized as an early radiology specialist.

1896

PLESSY V. FERGUSON

United States Supreme Court issues Plessy v. Ferguson ruling deciding that “separate but equal” facilities satisfy Fourteenth Amendment guarantees, thus giving legal sanction to Jim Crow segregation laws.

1897

Van Horne – U.S. Consul to Danish West Indies

President William McKinley appoints Rev. Van Horne of Newport to become U.S. Consul to St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies, serving through the Spanish American War.

First African Heritage Dentist

Newport born Dr. M. Alonzo Van Horne graduates from Howard Medical School and becomes the first African heritage dentist in Newport practicing at 47 John Street and later at 22 Broadway.

1898

Sumner Political Club

Sumner Political Club

The Senator Charles Sumner Political Club is formed by George Downing, Charles Fayerweather, Dr. Mahlon Van Horne and others to advance Black political rights in Newport and Rhode Island.

1899

A Renaissance Woman

A Renaissance Woman

Members of the (African heritage) Women’s League Newport gather, led by Mary H. Dickerson who owns a dress shop on Bellevue Avenue.

1900

African Heritage Power Couple

Charles Frederick Douglas Fayerweather and his wife Ella were the African heritage power couple in 19th and early 20th century Newport. Charles operated a successful blacksmith shop and lived on Pearl street, while Ella was a dressmaker and leader within the Colored Women Clubs movement.

1905

The Possibilities of Negro Women in Business

The Possibilities of Negro Women in Business

Madame C. J. Walker, the first Black female self-made millionaire in America, comes to Newport at the invitation of the Rhode Island Colored Women’t Clubs to promote African heritage women entrepreneurs. Her presentation “The Possibilities of Negro Women in Business” was presented at Touro Chapel.

Building Black Capital

Armstead Hurley establishes a successful painting business along with being a founding partner in the Rhode Island Loan & Investment Company, the first black-owned bank in Rhode Island.

1915

First African Heritage Pharmacist

Dr. Cromwell P. West establishes a Pharmacy on Caleb Earl Street.

1919

Newport NAACP

Newport NAACP

Newport Branch of NAACP is established at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. Founding members include Dr. Mahlon Van Horne, Cromwell P. West, Armstead Hurley, and D. B. Alen.

1927

Black Business & Recreation

Cromwell P. West organizes, and is the first President of, the Old Hometown Tennis Club. The first tennis courts are in the backyard of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church.

1930

America’s Cup Reception Committee

Dr. Marcus Wheatland, Oliver Burton, and Dr. Cromwell West are appointed to the reception committee for Sir Thomas Lipton and the America’s Cup Races in Newport.

Early Activism

William H. Jackson of Newport, the State House Sergeant At Arms, presents an Anti-Lynching platform to the Republican National Convention.

1933

Advancing Political Accountability

Advancing Political Accountability

Martin Canavan is chairman of the Newport Colored Men’s Democratic Club. The club is an outspoken critic of lack of patronage support for Negros by the Republican Party locally and nationally.

1939

The Negro Motorist Green-Book

The Negro Motorist Green-Book is launched. African heritage entrepreneurs Nellie Brown and Thomas Glover are long-time operators of guest homes for summer workers and visitors of color in early 20th-century Newport.

“Black in Business” Exhibit is made possible through sponsorship by

You cannot copy content of this page