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History Bytes

History Bytes: Newport Cabinetmakers

The Yale University Art Gallery recently unveiled the exhibit Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650-1830 which features several pieces from the Newport Historical Society’s collections, including a side chair made by Job Townsend. The Townsends and their contemporaries the Goddards are renowned Newport cabinetmaking families linked in history through their craft and through marriage.

The first Townsends were early settlers of Providence, as well as the towns of Flushing and Oyster Bay, Long Island. These were New York Quaker communities with many Rhode Island connections. The Goddards descended from Henry Goddard, a weaver from Quedgeley, Gloucestershire (b. 1665), Dartmouth, Massachusetts and Jamestown, Rhode Island.

Later generations of Townsends and Goddards settled in the predominately Quaker section of Newport, “The Point,” and there established friendships through trade, community and the Quaker Meeting. Intermarriages between the families were inevitable, as in the case of two Goddard brothers marrying two Townsend sisters, helping to ensure dynastic survival.

Image: Witnesses at the marriage of John Goddard to Hannah Townsend, held at the Great Friends Meeting House on 6 August 1746, a virtual festival of cabinetmakers, joiners and artisans. Included is the family of Samuel Casey, silversmith of South Kingstown, and kinsman Governor Gideon Wanton.

History Bytes: Old Port Days

In the 1920s, Newporters looked internally to their own origins and the birth of the nation. Colonial revival decoration and architecture were increasingly popular and the great period of the 18th century was celebrated with festivals, house tours, music and costumes.

Old Port Days began in 1929 as an all-day block party on Washington Street to raise money for the restoration of the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House, Newport’s first historic house museum. The Old Port group hosted similar events through the 1930s and 40s, as well as provided educational programs about history and architecture. In 1963, Old Port morphed into Operation Clapboard, the beginning of the city-wide house restoration movement.

Above: Residents from the Point neighborhood wearing historic costumes greet visitors for tours of the “Hunter House” (St. Joseph’s Convent) in 1929.

History Bytes: Seaman’s Protection Certificates

In 1796, Congress authorized the creation of Seaman’s Protection Certificates as a way to prevent foreign navies from kidnapping or “impressing” American mariners into service. Issued by the US Customs House of the home port, the certificates were proof of American birth or citizenship including the name of the sailor, his age, height and other distinguishing physical features such as scars, birthmarks and hair color. One copy was held by the mariner and a duplicate was filed with the Custom House, now in the custody of the National Archives.

Seen here, a 1797 protection certificate for 15 year old John Borden signed by William Ellery, from the NHS archives.