Update about blog

Come on over to my other blog, Alchemy of Clay and Living in Black Mountain NC, where the scenery and my ceramic arts life are combined. I've moved some personal blog posts, (as well as those that are about my ancestors) back here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

History of Newport, RI home of Swaseys (part 1)

Several members of my family have birthdays in the next few weeks.  Here is some interesting (to me anyway) info about the Alexander G. Swasey's home town before, during and after the Revolution.  The connection to me is that my dad's mom was a Swasey.

LONG history follows:
Most of the following are excerpts from:
"The Politics of Pluralism in Newport RI 1760-1800"
by Crane

The colony of Rhode Island, unlike its neighbors Massachusetts and Connecticut, never had an official religion. Rhode Island's founders, made up of Baptists, Quakers, and others fleeing persecution in neighboring colonies, specifically intended the new colony to be a shelter for persons of distressed conscience. [6] In 1647, the General Court, which represented a central administration over the four separately founded towns of Providence, Warwick, Portsmouth, and Newport, laid out a body of laws, which concluded with the statement all men may walk as their consciences perswade them, every one in the name of his God." [7]

      In January 1769,  Ezra Stiles (minister of Newport's Second Congregational Church, and librarian of the Redwood Library. [23] ) began to keep a diary, which he would maintain for the rest of his time in Newport. The early years of Stiles' diary provide evidence about how the elite of Rhode Island reacted to the looming political crisis: they avoided it at least in the social sphere. While many members of Stiles' social circle, which constituted a large portion of the elite members of Rhode Island society, involved themselves in politics in the public sphere, Stiles diary indicates they strived to maintain a sense of normalcy within their social lives. Those who held the most wealth and power in Rhode Island likely had a large motivation to hold their social network together for economic reasons, but more than that, they seem to have enjoyed the chance to interact socially with people from diverse backgrounds.

     In this respect, the diary is most interesting for what it does not include. The near lack of political discourse before 1773, coupled with documentary evidence outside Stiles' diary of a very active political discourse in the public sphere, suggests that the residents of Newport were certainly conscious of the looming political schism, but they also knew that Newport's economic success depended on maintaining strong social ties between the members of the city's many religious and political groups.

  The clear separation between church and state left room for another force to take the central place in Rhode Island life: commerce. Rhode Island had almost no hinterland, but it did have an abundance of well-formed harbors. It did not take long for Rhode Islanders to realize that if the colony was to be economically viable in the long term, it would need to rely on what the sea could provide.[8] Fortunately, many of the Quakers and Jews who had fled from Europe to Newport in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had strong connections with other Jewish and Quaker refugees in the Caribbean. Rhode Island's colonial economy was founded upon these pre-existing networks. [9]

  By the second decade of the eighteenth century, the city of Newport had become the center of Rhode Island's economic life.[10] The secular nature of Rhode Island's founding principles were deeply integrated into the physical plan of this city. Newport curled around a wide and deep bay whose fortuitous geography allowed for both an easy exit to the ocean and protection from storms on three sides. Numerous docks thrust out into the harbor, and at the central point of the harbor's arc, an earth-work pier called the Long Wharf stretched more than a third of a mile into the bay, providing moorings for the large trade vessels that frequently docked at Newport.

Source: Hand-colored engraving. Geography and Map Division, G3774 .N4 1777 .B5 Am 6-5 (9). Charles Blaskowitz. A Plan of the Town of Newport in Rhode Island (London: Faden, 1777).

      For the convenience of these traders, a large two-story brick market stood at the point where the Long Wharf met the land. A wide cobbled square was laid out on a gentle incline between the Long Wharf and the Colony House, the seat of Newport's government, creating a striking contrast to the typical grass-covered common and white church that could be found at the center of most towns and cities in colonial New England. [11] From the moment visitors stepped onto the Newport docks, they would have been acquainted with the character of the town. There was not a church in sight. It was clear that secular politics and profit ruled this city.

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