The 1783 tabletop piano, from the NHS collections.
A tabletop piano dating to 1783 was recently rediscovered in the Newport Historical Society’s furniture collection. According to the maker’s mark inscribed just above the keyboard, the instrument was made by Phillipus Schmidt of London. The actual strings and keyboard are encased in a box that could be lifted from its tapered wooden frame and placed, as the name suggests, on a separate table. This maker is represented by only two other surviving examples dated 1780 and 1782. He was probably part of the large number of German instrument makers who had migrated to London in that period.
The piano has a few details that experts believe to be unique:
- The construction of the soundboard’s grain direction is about 90-degrees different than is commonly seen.
- The vents in the soundboard in the right rear corner are another distinct feature.
- The piano has thick key front moldings.
This piece has been listed in the Clinkscale Online Database at EarlyPianos.org.
A sideview of the 1783 tabletop piano, from the NHS collections.
This pair of men’s shoes was found under the floorboards of the courtroom of the Colony House in October 2013.
Experts locally and regionally have examined the photographs and tell us that:
The shoes are turnshoe construction and most likely made for indoor wear, but the iron cut nails around the heels and the wear patterns indicate that they were worn outdoors. The narrow oval toe with pronounced left/right shaping, the short heel and the smaller wood pegs encourage us to believe that they were made circa 1830-1840.
The slippers were discovered by Steve Guglielmo. Mr. Guglielmo is a Principal with Saccoccio & Associates Architects whose firm is managing the multiyear restoration project of the Colony House. It’s believed that the shoes were concealed as talismans for good-luck and were probably stashed by workmen in the mid-19th century.
Presentation Firemen's Trumpet from NHS collection.
The Newport Historical Society is home to a number of historic instruments, including this ceremonial valve-less trumpet dated to 1873. According to the piece’s inscription, it was given to the Rough and Ready Engine Company No.2 by D.S. Mayberry. Northwest of the where Cardines Field is today, the engine company was originally located on Bridge Street and served Newport’s Point neighborhood. In addition to beautiful etchings of period firefighting tools, the piece also has intricate angular designs decorating the bell and rings shaped like eagle heads for now detached cording. The trumpet was certainly an impressive tribute to the Rough and Ready Engine Company and it remains a striking NHS collection piece.
Etching on Firemen's Trumpet from NHS collection.
Decorative eagle shaped rings to attach separate cording.
Page of plainchant music found in the NHS collections.
The Newport Historical Society is home to an impressive collection of sheet music, manuscripts, and full scores from Newport’s early musical events. Tucked between these 19th and 20th century items, we recently found chant music dated to the mid-17th century. While religious chant was originally remembered and communicated orally, religious officials eventually saw a need to gather and transmit music in a more standardized way, leading to the first cohesive form of musical notation in the 12th century. Rather than the metered, five-line notation standard today, this early musical notation used four lines and a series of stemless, square and angled notes. While difficult to understand now, this concept of notation allowed for the copying and transmission of music throughout the European and North American continents. The music at NHS is in Latin with Germanic subtext, inscribed on vellum, animal skin, and is likely a copy of an earlier compilation of chants. The chant itself is Regina Cœli, a well-known Catholic hymn praising the Virgin Mary. Translated, the page reads:
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia,
For He whom thou didst merit to bear in your womb, alleluia,
Has risen, as He promised, alleluia,
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
This page serves as an interesting testament to the beauty and novelty of early musical notation and the music of Newport yet to be studied.
Two melodies from the Singers' Assistant from the NHS collections.
In an effort to simplify worship and distinguish themselves from the lavishness of the Catholic Church and Church of England, many early American religions followed texts derived directly from the Bible, such as the Book of Common Prayer and later, the Bay Psalm Book. The psalms and hymns of these texts were meant to fit to unadorned, vernacular melodies known within the congregation. Not surprisingly, when American musicians and composers sought a unique national sound after the Revolutionary War, many turned to these religious roots, reshaping vernacular tunes into larger, multipart pieces. This Singers’ Assistant, dated to 1792 and belonging to Misses E. and M. Morris, was likely a personal collection of these pieces. It contains short handwritten melodies, some of which are actually single parts of songs intended for a full choir, as in the case of the two pieces pictured, Greenfield and Greenwich. The small book provides a truly personal glimpse at the music of the developing nation.
Cover of the personal hymn book, or Singers' Assistant, belonging to Misses E. and M. Morris from the NHS collections
Text of the retreat order, from the NHS collections.
On 28 August 1778 General Sullivan ordered the American forces on Aquidneck Island to retreat to the north and hold positions at Butt’s Hill, with flanks on the east road and west road. This document, signed by Adjutant General William Peck, forwards orders to Colonel John Laurens who followed the west road and engaged the British at Butt’s Hill the following day. Col. John Laurens (1754-1782) was a member of Washington’s staff and served at Brandywine, Monmouth, Germantown, Valley Forge and Yorktown. On the reverse, the document includes a notation written by William Ellery.
A detailed image of the Lopez Account Book from the NHS collections.
Laura Parrish, Associate Librarian at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library in Delaware, contacted the Newport Historical Society to help authenticate a suspected Aaron Lopez account book in their collections. We were able to do so by comparing the account balance of Mary Tomlin in their book to a similar entry in one of the books in our collection. In October 1765 she had a balance of £89.16 which was transferred to a new ledger book “M” after the clerk ran out of room in the old book. Our Lopez book “M” picked up the same balance, transferred from the old book, thus proving the connection. These missing puzzle pieces from around the world come to our attention often and always shed light on the scope of international trade and the depths of our own collections.
NHS account book “M” showing same balance transferred in October 1765.
This interesting pencil sketch was donated to the NHS in the 1980s by Sarah Smith. We know nothing more about it. It is beautifully done, on older paper, and looks to us like it might have been copied from a painting.
We hope to find out more in the weeks to come!
“Commenced with moderate breezes from the No and Est & cloudy weather. At 8 AM mustered the crew. Crew employed setting up rigging & other requisite duties.”
Camillus Saunders, Midshipman, US Ship Natchez 1836
Camillus Saunders married the daughter of Newport’s William V. Taylor, who fought with Oliver Hazard Perry in the war of 1812. Saunders kept the log of the USS Natchez in 1836, and probably drew this beautifully detailed portrait that we just discovered in the log book. In another example of 6 degrees of separation from Newport, Saunders was an ancestral relative of author Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote the classic children’s book A Wrinkle in Time.
It is well known that during the American Revolution the French Navy printed a journal titled the Gazette Françoise. This was the first entirely foreign-language publication in Newport. What is less well known is that documents in other languages were printed in Newport prior to the Gazette Françoise. This broadside, recently re-discovered in the Newport Historical society’s collection, is one of the best examples of the earliest bilingual press in Newport and another remarkable document of the American Revolution.
During the Occupation of Newport by the British army between 1776 and 1779, Germans from Hessen-Kassel and Anspach-Bayreuth, known popularly as “Hessians,” made up more than half of the occupying army. The proportion of Germans in the occupying force must have encouraged the British to print documents, as well as important ads and announcements in the loyalist Newport Gazette, in German for the benefit of the more than 3,000 German-speaking soldiers. This broadside, establishing free access to the market by residents of Aquidneck and Conanicut Islands, was printed in two halves, in English and German. Most bilingual documents in Newport appeared this way, with English above and German below.
Newport did not have a large German population prior to the war and it is clear that the British printed German text using the same Latin letters used to print English. In Pennsylvania, which had an active German press, some printers used the traditional German Fraktur script. In Newport, the printers lacked the type to print an umlaut ( ¨ ) or an esset ( ß ), making the German somewhat crude, but undoubtedly legible.