Michel Martin, NPR “Tell Me More” Host – 200 Years After: Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Abolition of Slavery

October 9, 2008 at 10:56 am (African Americans in RI, Bicentennial of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slav, Freedom Festival)

Michel Martin talking with Mary-Kim Arnold

Michel Martin, host of NPR’s “Tell Me More” came to the Providence Black Repertory Theatre, on Monday, October 6th to tape her show “200 Years After: Commemorating the Bicentennial of the Abolition of Slavery,” part of the Freedom Festival series, and a fund-raiser for the newly independent R.I. NPR station WRNI.  Panelists included Mary-Kim Arnold, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, whose initiative “On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in RI” the Freedom Festival is part of; Katrina Browne, the writer, director, and filmmaker of Traces of the Trade: a Story of the Deep North, a documentary about her family’s involvement in the slave trade; Dr. James Campbell, Africana Studies at Brown, and now at Stanford University, whose research focuses on African American history and on the wider history of the Black Atlantic, and whose recent book Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005 was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History; and the Reverend Jeffery A. Williams, founder and head pastor of the Cathedral of Life Christian Assembly in Providence.

“Tell Me More” taping                                     Mary-Kim Arnold, Rev. Williams, Katrina Browne

WRNI held a reception at 6:30 and everyone had an opportunity to chat and get to know each other.  The taping began at 7:30 and was absolutely riveting.  Michel Martin has a true gift, in which she combines a tremendous sense of humor, with critical thinking, and the abililty to put her guests at ease and make REAL conversation flow.  Marc Fisher writes, “Michel Martin has a keen ear, a taste for good stories, and a knack for asking tough questions” – so true!  Audience members felt honored to witness the process, and to be involved in a question/answer period  – the conversation went on for at least 90 minutes, the final show (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95465836 ) was edited down to 17 minutes.  Each panelist brought such relevant input to this large question of how the legacies of slavery in America continue to affect contemporary society and how, until we come to grips with that legacy it is tough to move on to a broader and more inclusive world view.

Marie Nelson, Executive Producer “Tell Me More” and Reza Clifton of RezaRites.com

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“A Thousand Ships”; Ray Rickman; Cape Verde Museum opening

October 6, 2008 at 3:51 pm (A Thousand Ships, African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)


Saturday, October 4th, a quintessential New England Fall day, was my BUSY BUSY BUSIEST day – I began at 11 am listening to Ray Rickman hold forth at the Roger Williams National Memorial (U.S. Park Service) site on “How Providence Became a City: the Impact of the HardScrabble and Snowtown Riots of 1824 and 1831” – an insightful look of how history continues to have resonance in our contemporary lives, and how important it is to remember and retell these stories.

Ranger Chuck Arning, Risa Gilpin, Ranger Sparkle Bryant, Ray Rickman at Roger Williams National Memorial, Prov., RI

Then it was off to the Cape Verde Museum, 1003 Waterman Ave., East Providence, RI for the opening of their “Slavery and the Cape Verde Islands”  – the three curators who were there (Yvonne Smart, Denise Oliveira, and Virginia Gonsalves) enthusiastically showed me around – this is a little known museum site, housed in a row of commercial spaces and well worth a journey – their collection of maps and artifacts is enlightening…

Yvonne Smart, Denise Oliveira, Virginia Gonsalves at the Cape Verde Museum

And then, at 2 pm, I came back to Providence to participate in WaterFire’s “A Thousand Ships” event – a ritual of remembrance marking the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade – an installation by Barnaby Evans and the Museum On Site (Lyra Monteiro and Andrew Losowsky’s site – www.themuseumonline.com

Andrew Losowsky, Barnaby Evans, Mary Tinti, and Lyra Monteiro – the movers and shakers behind “A Thousand Ships” – discussing final details.

Events included:

6:15 pm – A Thousand Ships, A Thousand Libations – pouring 1,000 bottles of water into the river as a libation ritual, in the lights of the burning braziers at Waterplace Basin – each bottle represented a slaveship voyage that left from Rhode Island.

7:00 pm – Remembrance and witness – a torchlit procession traveling to significant downtown sites to bear witness to Providence’s relationship with the slave trade and connected industries.  African drumming and dancing by New Works, led by Michelle Bach-Coulibaly.

8:00 pm – Triangle of trees/Triangle Trade – Paper chains suspended from trees in a triangular configuration, representing the “triangle trade” between R.I., the west coast of Africa, and the Caribbean, were burned and then replaced by luminaria in memory of the victims of the slave trade. Singing by The RPM Voice of RI, Clarice Thompson, Director.

8:30 pm – Actors bring voice to the institution of slavery by delivering pieces collected from the RI Historical Society, the RI State Archives, the John Carter Brown Library, the Bristol Historical Society, and from the poetic works of Kalyana Champlain and Nehessaiu deGannes.

What an incredible day – never to be forgotten!  The relevance and the power of public arts and humanities work was exemplified by these events – planting the seeds for further exploration of the legacies of the slave trade and of the many significant contributions of African Americans to our state and to our nation.

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Freedom Festival begins – Saturday, October 4th

October 1, 2008 at 4:34 pm (A Thousand Ships, African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

“It is necessary to stay on the march, to be on the journey, to work for peace wherever we are at all times, because the liberty we cherish, which we would share with the world, demands eternal vigilance.  And democracy is no easy path, but those of us who believe in it must be prepared to sacrifice in its cause more willingly than those who are prepared to die in the wars of aggression.  We, too, must be dedicated to the cause of freedom.”  Ossie Davis

Please check the calendar on our website www.rihumanities.org for the MANY events scheduled throughout the month of October, associated with FREEDOM FESTIVAL – commemorating the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade AND celebrating African American Heritage in Rhode Island.

Calling out the following:

Ray Rickman presents “How Providence Became a City: the Impact of the HardScrabble and Snowtown Race Riots of 1824 and 1830” at the Roger Williams Memorial, 282 North Main Street, Providence, from 11:00 am-1:00 pm.

The opening of the exhibit “Slavery and the Cape Verde Islands” at the Cape Verdean Museum, 1003 Waterman Avenue, East Providence, RI, from noon-4 pm.

Due to the deluge last Saturday, WaterFire has been rescheduled for this coming Saturday, October 4 at dusk.  “A Thousand Ships” presentations will be taking place throughout the evening.  Then, there’s a symposium related to “A Thousand Ships” (approximate # of slave ships sailing from Rhode Island ports in the 18th and 19th centuries) at the John Nicholas Brown Center, 357 Benefit Street, on Sunday, October 5th at noon.

Here’s a pdf of the flyer for Freedom Festival – for more information contact me, Risa Gilpin, at risa@rihumanities.org or call 401-273-2250 –


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WATERFIRE, September 27th – A Thousand Ships

September 15, 2008 at 4:21 pm (A Thousand Ships, African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

The official opening event, kicking off our month-long, statewide FREEDOM FESTIVAL, part of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in Rhode Island initiative, is a very special ritual of remembrance at WaterFire, the amazing art installation by Barnaby Evans, with help from The Museum on Site, and marking the bicentennial of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

At sunset on September 27th, four small boats travel up the river from the historic Providence harbor on the edge of the Atlantic.  Tens of thousands of people are gathered at WaterFire but many may not know the full history of the water by which they stand.

This is a night of remembrance – an occasion to commemorate the bicentennial of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, but also a night to acknowledge and mark Rhode Island’s century-long inivolvement with this trade.  Merchants from Rhode Island mounted more than a thousand slaveship voyages on these waters, carrying over 100,000 Africans into New World slavery.  One of these ships was called the Providence, and more slaveship voyages sailed from Rhode Island’s harbors than from any other state.

A Thousand Ships is a night for contemplation and recognition – a ritual observance acknowledging the state’s historic involvement with human bondage.  A night filled with music and silence, dance and stillness, fire and water.  Echoing a traditional African ritual, a thousand people will join together to offer a libation to the ancestors by pouring into the river and onto the ground a thousand vessels of water, each representing a slave voyage from Rhode Island.  Actors will walk through the crowds giving voice to historic figures from Rhode Island, sharing their stories of freedom and bondage and the struggle to abolish slavery and the slave trade.  Torches will be lit, the infamous triangle trade will be demarcated, chains will be burned and broken, and our entire community will gather together to remember, honor, watch, listen and feel.

This event at WaterFire is dedicated to the memory and work of the late Professor Rhett S. Jones and a formal West African libation ceremony in honor of Professor Jones will be poured by Professor Anani Dzidzienyo of the Brown University Department of Africana Studies.

A Thousand Ships will be a time for remembering, and a night to remember.  We cannot allow ourselves to forget.

To make it happen, we are going to need lots of volunteers. Please e-mail Lyra Monteiro at lyra@TheMuseumOnline.com or call 401-261-3441 if you are interested in participating.  Slots available are from 2-6 pm and 6-10 pm.  Thanks for helping to make this all possible!

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Neglected – Boston Globe article, etc.

June 24, 2008 at 4:34 pm (African Americans in RI, Freedom Festival)

so, hello everyone, finally a blog entry that looks like a blog entry (what do I know???) – i.e. the more personalized version of communication. I’ve uploaded lots of lists and reference tools and all sorts of materials and thoughts, and will continue to do so, but thought it might be refreshing just to say HELLO to anyone landing here for the first time. I’ll also try to intersperse quick quirky updates along with the more serious material.

We’re really excited about this new programming initiative “On the Road to Freedom: African American Heritage in Rhode Island” and are daily reminded how important this work really is. As we collect these “neglected” or sometimes “hidden” stories, we look forward to sharing them with you. We are convening groups statewide who are participating in the upcoming “Freedom Festival” taking place between October 9-October 20th – more on that soon. Just to tease you, keynote speakers Paula J. Giddings and Ira Berlin will both participate. There will be a Family Festival at the Cathedral of Life Assembly in Olneyville in Providence; several film screenings (Oscar Michaeux) and gospel concerts in Newport, and Providence; salons about free black life, taking place in Pawtucket, Providence and Westerly…details momentarily!

Slavery and its legacies are just part of this story. In today’s Boston Globe, Vanessa E. Jones writes a compelling article entitled “Neglected – Some say New Englanders are ignoring the commemoration of slavery’s end.” Check it out http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/articles/2008/06/24/neglected/?s_campaign=8315

loads of Rhode Island references.

did I say short and sweet (or did I just think it?) – well therefore I’ll say farewell until next time…



Ted Widmer, Director of the John Carter Brown Library (Brown U.) and Risa at the Frederick Douglass Book Prize ceremony, Gilder Lehrman Center, Yale Club NYC. This years prizewinner was Christopher Leslie Brown for his book “Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism.”

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Historic Calendar of Events in RI, related to African American Heritage

June 16, 2008 at 3:21 pm (African Americans in RI, Research)

January 3, 1859 James Howland, the last slave in Rhode Island, dies in Jamestown.
January 9, 1901 Edward M. Bannister, well-known painter and philanthropist, dies in Providence.

January 12, 1914 First meeting of the Providence Branch NAACP, with Dr. Julius Robinson as the first President and Roberta J. Dunbar as Secretary.

January 14, 1790 African Union Society meets in Newport to prescribe burial procedures for Blacks.

January 18, 1867 A circular entitled “Famine at Home” read to the Freedman’s Aid Society in East Greenwich.

January 26, 1866 Mrs. Josephine Griffing, of East Greenwich, commended by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands.
January 28, 1849 Benjamin Burton of Newport goes to California to seek his fortune in the Gold Rush.

January 29, 1789 First meeting of the Providence Abolitionist Society.

February 1, 1836 Anti-Slavery Convention held in Providence.
February 2, 1778 The RI General Assembly passes legislation to raise a troop of Black Soldiers.
February 7, 1860 African Union Church established in Providence.
February 13, 1784 RI Assembly legislates that all children of slaves born after March 1 shall be born free.
February 19, 1672 A black servant to Samuel Reep complains to officials of Providence about his mistreatment at the home of Mr. Reep.
February 20, 1936 John Hope, President of Atlanta University and 1894 graduate of Brown University, dies.
February 23, 1784 RI General Assembly passes Negro Emancipation Act.
February 24, 1869 Shiloh Baptist Church in Newport first used for church purposes.

March 1, 1784 RI General Assembly passes law that henceforth, all Negroes born of slaves should be freed at the age of 21 for males and 18 for females.
March 3, 1744 Primus, a mulatto, and widow Hannah Toby, a Native American woman, both of South Kingstown, are married.
March 7, 1886 RI General Assembly passes school integration act.
March 9, 1819 African Meeting House opens in Providence.
March 10, 1808 African Benevolent Society opens the first African free school in America in Newport.
March 19, 1708 There are 426 blacks in Rhode Island, with 220 of this number residing in Newport.
March 22, 1746 James Hazard, a mulatto, and Sarah Sam, a Native American woman, marry in South Kingstown.
March 23, 1881 RI General Assembly recognizes marriages between blacks and whites.

March 26, 1848 In the first of several such acts, the RI General Assembly passes a fugitive slave law prohibiting assisting runaway slaves.

April 3, 1976 RI Black Historical Society’s first annual Edward M. Bannister Forum
April 12, 1810 Free African Colonization Society organized in Newport.
April 14, 1832 Eleanor Elldredge of Providence goes to court and successfully defends her brother against charges of assault.
April 18, 1788 William Dyre of South Kingstown files his will manumitting his Negro servant, Prince.
April 24, 1910 Rev. M.A. Van Horne, Pastor of Union Congregational Church in Newport for 29 years, dies in Antigua.

May 4, 1861 Moses Brown deeds his lot to build a meetinghouse at Congdon and Angell Streets in Providence.
May 5, 1885 Daniel Harry dies in Wakefield.
May 10, 1864 First Black Shiloh Church organized in Newport.
May 21, 1803 The “India Point” leaves Providence for Liverpool, England, with three Blacks in the crew.
May 22, 1885 The Narragansett Times carries story on burial of Daniel Harry in Peacedale.
May 24, 1918 The Narragansett Times reports Frederick Olney’s death.

June 1, 1874 Union A.M.E. Church organized in Providence.

June 5, 1880 The Providence Art Club founded in studio of Edward Bannister, famed landscape artist.

June 7, 1759 Silas Casey of East Greenwich and Abigail Coggeshall of North Kingstown marry.
June 10, 1772 Aaron Briggs participates in burning of British schooner “Gaspee” off Pawtuxet.

June 11, 1731 Phillip, Anthony, and Agnes Berkley are baptized by Henry Berkeley, son of the Bishop and philosopher of Whitehall, and are received into Trinity Church,

July 3, 1790 The Brown Fellowship Society was founded by “free Brown men” to give aid and comfort to one another in times of need.
July 9, 17777 Jack Sisson participates in capture of British General Prescott in Portsmouth.
July 10, 1891 Ruth E. Occomy, nurse and missionary, is born in Providence.
July 16, 1862 Frederick C. Olney, criminal lawyer, born in Wakefield.

July 21, 1903 George Downing, who donated land to the City of Newport, dies.

July 24, 1935 Charles Battle, author of Negroes on Aquidneck Island, dies.
July 28, 1778 The newly recruited RI Black Regiment is sent to General Sullivan’s army in Providence for its first missions.
July 29, 1765 The Nicholas Brown Co. sent the ship “Sally” to Africa; 109 of the 167 Africans died on the return voyage to RI. http://www.projo.com/extra/2006/slavery/day4/

August 3, 1805 Daniel Rodman born in Wakefield.
August 8, 1864 The RI Association of freedmen formed. http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/Mss664.htm

August 12, 1776 Caesar Lyndon’s picnic in Portsmouth. http://www.projo.com/extra/2006/slavery/text/day3.htm
August 17, 1906 Oliver Burton, Newport civic leader, policeman, and businessman, born.
August 23, 1772 Mingo, a Negro belonging to Col. Silas Niles, and Dinah, a Negro belonging to Jeremiah Niles, Esq., marry in South Kingstown.
August 30, 1835 The Free Will Church splits from the African Union Meeting House in Providence an erects a church on Pond Street.
August 31, 1821 African Union Meeting House opens in Providence on Meeting and Congdon Streets.

September 2, 1787 Dr. Will Thornton of the West Indies African Union Society arrives in Providence.

September 3, 1887 Rev. Van Horne speaks at dedication of Lenthal School in Newport.

September 3, 1912 Josephine Silone Yates, first Black graduate of Rogers High School, Newport, dies.

September 6, 1750 RI General Assembly passes law that any White householder who allowed a slave to engage in “dancing, gaming, or any other diversions whatsoever” was subject to a fine of 50 pounds or 1 month in jail.
September 7, 1839 First Public School for Blacks opened in Providence.
September 7, 1861 London Weeden dies in South County.
September 10, 1839 The Underground Railroad is set up in Newport and Providence.
September 14, 1977 Bethel A.M.E. Church burns in Providence.
September 15, 1940 James N. Williams becomes Executive Secretary of newly established Providence Urban League.
September 16, 1793 William Robinson of Portsmouth is named Executor in the estate of Quoco Robinson, a Black man, in South Kingstown.
September 21, 1831 Snowtown riot at foot of Olney Street in Providence.

October 1, 1868 Rev. M.A. Van Horne, pastor of Union Congregational Church, arrives in Newport.
October 3, 1835 George McCarthy sold several Meeting Street lots to local Providence citizens.
October 5, 1827 Harmony Lodge formed in Providence.

October 6, 1776 Caesar Lyndon marries Sarah Searing.
October 6, 1885 Benjamin Burton, early Black businessman in Newport, dies.
October 8, 1841 Blacks petition in RI for right to vote at People’s Convention.
October 8, 1894 Mt. Olivet Baptist Church organized in Newport.
October 11, 1839 Two-thirds of Blacks in Providence live in their own homes.
October 12, 1856 Thomas Howland becomes the first Black wardsman from Providence.
October 17, 1736 William Enos and Sarah Lad marry in South Kingstown.
October 18, 1824 “Hardscrabble Riots” racial riots in Providence. http://thephoenix.com/Providence/News/13888-Memorializing-the-1824-Hardscrabble-race-riot-take/?rel=inf
October 20, 1841 George Fayerweather dies in Kingston.
October 21, 1841 Blacks owned grocery stores, candy stores, shoe repair shops and clothing stores in Rhode Island.
October 22, 1792 Isaac Rice, who landscaped Touro Park in Newport and used his home in Newport as a station on the Underground Railroad, born in Narragansett.
October 24, 1899 Emma Elmira, a Black, marries Henry van Tassel, a White, in Newport.
October 26, 1763 Rev. Marmaduke Brown, rector of Trinity Church, opens a school for colored children in Newport.
October 27, 1887 Rev. Van Horne states that three-fourths of the Black population in Newport are small property owners.
October 28, 1779 RI Legislature passes an Act prohibiting the sale of slaves outside the state against the will of the slave, “unless he proves to be a person of bad character.”
October 29, 1865 Freedmen’s Aid Society is organized in Greenwich.

November 1, 1868 Rev. Van Horne becomes pastor of Union Congregational Church, Newport.
November 10, 1780 African Union Society, first organization of free Blacks in America, founded in Newport.
November 10, 1975 Rhode Island Black Heritage Society receives its own charter.
November 23, 1842 Town Act for “Colored Suffrage” in Middletown, RI.
November 27, 1842 The Dorr Rebellion resulted in the Legal Party pushing through a new constitution that gave Blacks in RI voting privileges.

December 6, 1805 Sloop Juliet sets sail from Newport to Africa with complement of Black crewmen.
December 8, 1840 Meeting Street Church is established in Providence.
December 9, 1781 RI’s General Nathanael Greene tells the Governor of South Carolina that slave enlistments are necessary to protect that state’s territory.

December 11, 1755 There are 1,234 Blacks in Newport; one in three persons in Washington County is black; there are 418 Blacks to 712 Whites in Charlestown, RI.
December 17, 1843 Frederick Douglass speaks at the Little Compton Abolitionist Society.

December 21, 1807 A number of colored people meet at the home of Abraham Casey on Levin Street in Newport to discuss the plans of the African Union Society.
December 28, 1976 Grace Anderson Gibbs of Providence celebrates her 105th birthday.

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Bibliography – African American Heritage in Rhode Island

June 3, 2008 at 4:17 pm (African Americans in RI, books, Research) (, , , )

Bibliography of books related to African American Heritage in Rhode Island

Armstead, Myra B. Young. “Lord, Please Don’t Take Me in August”: African Americans in Newport and Saratoga Springs, 1879-1930. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 1999

Bartlett, Irving H. From Slave to Citizen: the Story of the Negro in Rhode Island. Providence, RI: Urban League of RI. 1954/1972

Battle, Charles A. Negroes on the Island of Rhode Island. 1932.

Bell, Jr., Andrew J. An Assessment of Life in Rhode Island as an African American in the Era from 1918 to 1993. New York: Vantage Press. 1997

Cottrol, Robert J. The Afro-Yankees: Providence’s Black Community in the Antebellum Era. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 1982

Coughtry, Jay. The Notorious Triangle: R.I. and the African Trade in Slaves. Temple University Press. 1981.

Fitts, Robert K. Inventing New England’s Slave Paradise: Master/Slave Relations in Eighteenth-Century Narragansett, Rhode Island. Ed. Graham Russel Hodges. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1998.

Greene, Lorenzo Johnston. The Negro in Colonial New England. New York: Athenaeum. 1974

Kaplan, Sydney and Emma Nogrady. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution. Amherst: UMass Press. 1989

Kuns, Richard R., and John Sabino, eds. Underground Railroad in New England. American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, Region 1. 1976.

McBurney, Christian M.  A History of Kingston, RI, 1700-1900, Heart of Rural South County.  Kingston, R.I., Pettaquamscutt Historical Society.  2004 – This book has chapters on slavery; on the South Kingstown town council refusing to free a female slave even though her master wanted her freed; on the Kingston Anti-Slavery Society; on Sarah Harris Fayerweather, an abolitionist who socialized with William Lloyd Garrison; and on the Fayerweather family, who included middle class African American blacksmiths, and whose house still stands.  for more info check www.freewebs.com/kingstonrihistory.

McBurney, Christian M.  Jailed for Preaching: the Autobiography of Cato Pearce, a Freed Slave from Washington County, Rhode Island.  Kingston, RI: Pettaquamscutt Historical Society.  2006.  This is the only RI memoir of a RI slave (William Brown’s and Eleanor Elldridge’s parents were slaves, but not them).  The first part of the book summarizes slavery in souther RI and puts the memoir in context.  The author grew up in the Elisha Potter homestead where one of the main events in the book occurred.  more info – www.freewebs.com/jailedforpreaching

Melish, Joanne Pope. Disowning Slavery: gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860. New York: Cornell University. 1998

Pierson, William D. Black Yankees: the Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England. (, Amherst, MA, UMASS Press. 1988

Rappleye, Charles. Sons of Providence: the Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2006.

Stewart, Rowena. Creative Survival: the Providence Black Community in the 19th Century. Providence, RI: Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. 1986

Stewart, Rowena. A Heritage Discovered – Blacks in Rhode Island. Providence, RI: Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. 1978

Weeden, William B. Early Rhode Island: A Social History of the People. New York: Grafton Press. 1910.

Youngken, Robert C. African Americans in Newport, 1700-1945. Newport, RI: Newport Historical Society. 1995

Please suggest any additions! Contact Risa – risa@rihumanities.org

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