Newport is a beautiful seaside city in Rhode Island that is famous for its mansions and for hosting the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival. Cobblestone streets and brick sidewalks accent an upscale touristy harbor area with many, many shops, galleries and restaurants. Newport sits on the southern end of Aquidneck Island and features several fine beaches, rocky cliffs and much history including an old fort.
Newport was founded in 1639. During the American Revolution, Newport was the scene of much activity. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, William Ellery, came from Newport. He later served on the Naval Committee. In the winter of 1775 and 1776, the Rhode Island legislature put militia General William West in charge of rooting out loyalists in Newport, and several notable individuals such as Joseph Wanton and Thomas Vernon were exiled to the northern part of the state. In the fall of 1776, the British, seeing that Newport could be used as a naval base to attack New York (which they had recently occupied) took over the city. Because most of the population was pro independence, the British allowed them to leave. The city was repopulated with loyalists and British soldiers. For the next three years, the whole of the Narragansett Bay area became one large battlefield, with Newport being a British fortress.
Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, wealthy southern planters seeking to escape the heat began to build summer cottages on Bellevue Avenue such as Kingscote (1839).Eventually wealthy Yankees such as the Wetmore family also began constructing larger mansions such as Chateau-sur-Mer (1852) nearby. Most of these early families made a substantial part of their fortunes in the Old China Trade. They were followed by the richest families in the country, such as the Vanderbilts and Astors who constructed the largest “cottages”, such as The Breakers (1895) in the late nineteenth century.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier were married in St. Mary’s Church in Newport on September 12, 1953. Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower both made Newport the sites of their “Summer White Houses” during their years in office. Eisenhower stayed at Quarters A at the Naval War College, while Kennedy used Hammersmith Farm.
Newport is also home to the Newport Tower, Salve Regina University, Hammersmith Farm, Prescott Farm, and the Touro Synagogue, the oldest Jewish house of worship in the Western hemisphere, as well as the Newport Public Library, Redwood Library and Athenaeum, the nation’s oldest lending library. George Washington had given a speech at the Touro Synagogue extolling the virtues of freedom of worship and that the Jews were allowed to live and worship freely in the United States. This speech has often been referenced by American Jews to show gratitude and admiration for living in the United States.
Newport plays host to a number of festivals during the summer months, including the Newport Jazz Festival, the Sunset Music Festival, the Newport Folk Festival (where Bob Dylan shocked the crowd by playing an electric guitar), and the Newport International Film Festival.