Finding Native Americans in the Historical Record
Map of New England and North America (c.1676), 2009.6, Collection of the Newport Historical Society
In 1638 the first European settlers on Aquidneck Island purchased settlement rights from Canonicus and Miantonomi, sachems of the Narragansett tribe. The agreement, signed by both the colonists and Native Americans, stated that the current inhabitants would remove from the island. The first Europeans to settle permanently were Anne Hutchinson and her followers, who had been banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony. They settled at present day Portsmouth. By the following year, disagreements within the group led to an offshoot settling at the southern tip of the island in present day Newport.
There is abundant evidence, however, that the Native people did not entirely abandon Aquidneck Island, but rather continued to make use of this land, while finding ways to adapt to the presence of European settlements. In addition, the Native people of South County were actively engaged in business and other activities that took them to Newport. This evidence is found in legal and court records; in merchant, tradesman, and doctor’s account books; in letters and reminiscences, and even in the artifacts of the Colonial period. This story has not been part of the dominant narrative of Newport’s development, which rather ignores the presence of Native peoples once the British colonists arrive. But it exists, as do the descendants of the people who left their mark in the record. Both deserve recognition.
Information in this exhibit was taken from research completed by NHS staff and Buchanan Burnham Visiting Curator of Native American History (2017) Michael Simpson, in the NHS archival and library collections.