A walk on the road to independence
Living in northeastern Pennsylvania, Anthony and Sara Markowski are no strangers to Quaker culture and history. But what the couple didn’t know was how the religion had become heavily affiliated with their home state.
The answer came during a Newport Historical Society summer walking tour that took attendees around the city’s Revolution-era architecture and landmarks.
“A lot of Quakers left town because everyone was mad at them before the Revolution,” said tour guide David Formanek. “The Patriots were mad at them because they weren’t going to fight, the Loyalists were mad at them because they weren’t going to fight.”
The “Road to Independence” tour brought together a dozen participants, many of them families or couples visiting the city, tracing the city’s path to revolution since its founding by English settlers in 1639. It started at the foot of Washington Square and included Ellery Park (where Formanek performed a theatrical account of the burning of HMS Gaspé), Captain William Read House, William Ellery House, Coddington Cemetery, Old Colony House and finally Vernon House. Along the way, relevant Newport landmarks and pre-auto streets served as a visual companion to the storytelling.
With the combination of historic architecture and Formanek’s narrative, it was easy to be transported back in time to around three or four centuries and imagine Newport as it was then – a bustling seaside colony of lucrative trade. , a fledgling rebellion and a staple of the American War for Home Rule.
In addition to the local timeline from early colonial upheaval to revolution against the British, tour participants also discovered Newport’s first Liberty Tree, a large button tree that once stood on the corner of Thames and Farewell streets. The land was owned by Captain William Read and ceded to William Ellery and the Sons of Liberty in support of the rebel group’s protest against the Stamp Act in 1766.
“One of the first acts of British occupation in 1776 was to pull it down because it was such a symbol,” Formanek said.
The original tree was replaced in 1897 by a European beech.
At the Vernon House, Formanek explained that General Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau once met to plan the 1781 siege of Yorktown, Virginia; the decisive battle between Franco-American forces and General Cornwallis’ overwhelmed British army that effectively ended the Revolutionary War.
The march of a sizable portion of the Continental Army to Yorktown, which was joined by French forces under Rochambeau, about 7,000 men in total, began at Newport.
But not everyone at the time was ready to take the path of battle.
The Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, the official name of the Christian movement, formed in the 1640s when religious dissenter George Fox began preaching the concept of “inner light” throughout England. the 18th century. The Conscientious Objector Act was passed in 1673, a provision that allowed anyone to refrain from fighting in a war for religious purposes. Despite the status of religion, Quakers were persecuted and some were even executed for their beliefs. A final straw for the exile of Rhode Island Quakers was perhaps the state’s passage of the Test Act in 1776, which required citizens to take an oath of loyalty to the United States.
“Quakers don’t take oaths,” Formanek said.
Many Quakers ended up in Pennsylvania because of the state’s commitment to religious freedom. There the Quakers flourished, establishing their own community, industry and way of life, which remains a tourist attraction to the present day.
When the tour arrived at the Great Friends Meeting House, a testament to the Quakers’ presence in Newport two centuries ago, attendees admired the sprawling lawn and prominent structure as Formanek explained the Quaker’s expertise in the work of the wood and furniture construction. Brown University sold a piece of furniture made by Quaker for $12 million in the 1980s, he said.
“I actually never realized how many Quakers were in Newport,” Sara Markowski said. “We hear a lot about the Quakers in Pennsylvania, obviously. We’ll go to Bethlehem, we’ll do Quaker tours near my house. But when we heard about woodworking here, I thought, “Wow,” because I didn’t know it was a Rhode Island thing.
“Understanding how Rhode Island was based on religious freedom and the role of Quakers in that area begins to understand why Quakers came to Pennsylvania,” Markowski said.
Walking tours are offered daily and include other themes, such as Colonial Newport, ‘Golden to the Gilded Age’, ‘Rogues and Scoundrels’, the Stamp Act, British occupation of the city, ‘Rum and Revolution’ and “18th Century Women in Newport. For more on walking tours, visit newporthistory.org.