Celebrating Newport's Legacy
The Project’s central goal is to celebrate, at the place of Newport’s founding, a key and integral part of Newport’s history that has been overlooked by historians, governments, and indeed many of our citizens for centuries: that Newport was explicitly founded on the values of freedom of religion, religious tolerance, and separation of church and state.
The City of Newport was founded in 1639, and its location was described in the Records of the Colony of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations on March 16th of that year: ““It is agreed and ordered that the Plantation now begun at this South west end of the island, shall be called Newport... and that the Towne shall be built upon both sides of the spring, and by the sea-side Southward.”
Newport’s founders came to escape religious persecution in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and to govern themselves. These early settlers worked together to make Newport one of the most economically and culturally prominent cities in 18th century Colonial America. Newport’s residents united to create critical public works, including roads, wharves, and a municipal water system believed to have originated at the spring.
Newport’s growth and prosperity were only possible not just because of its safe, natural harbor but because its residents could work with and trust each other without fearing persecution because of their religious beliefs. While non-Puritans were being jailed and executed in Boston, Newport's residents worked together freely, regardless of their religious beliefs, to grow the local economy, build beautiful and cherished homes, and erect important public buildings like the Redwood Library, Colony House, and Brick Market. Unlike other New England towns, Newport’s town common was not dominated by one religion and its church. As places of worship established, they were built near the spring and the center of town, among them, the Friends Meeting House, Trinity Church, and Touro Synagogue.
Our nation’s founding principles of freedom of religion and separation of church and state are as critical today as they were at the time of our city’s founding. Newport’s key role in guaranteeing, for the first time in America, our “first freedom” will be celebrated at the spring around which the town was founded and which sustained life in Newport for generations that followed.