The city is the county seat of Newport County, which has no governmental functions other than court administrative and sheriff corrections boundaries. It was known for being the city of some of the "Summer White Houses" during the administrations of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. The population was 24,027 as of 2013.
Newport was founded in 1639 on Aquidneck Island, which was called Rhode Island at the time. Its eight founders and first officers were Nicholas Easton, William Coddington, John Clarke, John Coggeshall, William Brenton, Jeremy Clark, Thomas Hazard, and Henry Bull. Many of these people had been part of the settlement at Portsmouth, along with Anne Hutchinson and her followers. They separated within a year of that settlement, however, and Coddington and others began the settlement of Newport on the southern side of the island.
Newport grew to be the largest of the four original settlements of Rhode Island, which also included Providence Plantations and Shawomett. Many of the first colonists in Newport became Baptists, and the second Baptist congregation in Rhode Island was formed in 1640 under the leadership of John Clarke. In 1658, a group of Jews were allowed to settle in Newport who were fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. The Newport congregation is now referred to as Congregation Jeshuat Israel and is the second-oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. It meets in Touro Synagogue, the oldest standing synagogue in the United States.
In 1663, the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations received its royal charter, and Benedict Arnold was elected as its first governor at Newport. The Old Colony House served as a seat of Rhode Island's government upon its completion in 1741 at the head of what is now known as Washington Square, until the current Rhode Island State House in Providence was completed in 1904 and Providence became the state's sole capital city. Newport became the most important port in colonial Rhode Island, and a public school was established in 1640.
The commercial activity which raised Newport to its fame as a rich port was begun by a second wave of Portuguese Jews who settled there about the middle of the 18th century. They had been practicing Judaism in secret for three hundred years in Portugal, liable to torture and murder by the Inquisition if they were caught, and they were attracted to Rhode Island because of the freedom of worship there. They brought with them commercial experience and connections, capital, and a spirit of enterprise. Most prominent among those were Jacob Rodrigues Rivera who arrived in 1745 (died 1789), and Aaron Lopez who came in 1752 (died May 28, 1782). Rivera introduced into America the manufacture of sperm oil, which became one of the leading industries and made Newport rich. Newport's inhabitants who were engaged in whaling developed 17 manufactories of oil and candles and enjoyed a practical monopoly of this trade until the Revolution.
Aaron Lopez is credited with making Newport an important center of trade. "To him in a larger degree than to any one else was due the rapid commercial development which made Newport for a quarter of a century afterward the most formidable rival of New York." He induced 40 Portuguese Jewish families to settle there and, within fourteen years of Lopez's activity, Newport had 150 vessels engaged in trade. He was involved in the slave trade and manufactured spermaceti candles, ships, barrels, rum, chocolate, textiles, clothes, shoes, hats, and bottles. He became the wealthiest man in Newport but was denied citizenship on religious grounds, even though British law protected the rights of Jews to become citizens. He appealed to the Rhode Island legislature for redress and was refused with this ruling: "Inasmuch as the said Aaron Lopez hath declared himself by religion a Jew, this Assembly doth not admit himself nor any other of that religion to the full freedom of this Colony. So that the said Aaron Lopez nor any other of said religion is not liable to be chosen into any office in this colony nor allowed to give vote as a free man in choosing others." Lopez persisted by applying for citizenship in Massachusetts, where it was granted.
From the mid 17th century, the religious tolerance in Newport attracted numbers of Quakers, known also and originally as the Society of Friends. The Great Friends Meeting House in Newport (1699) is the oldest existing house of worship in Rhode Island.
In 1727, James Franklin (brother of Benjamin) printed the Rhode-Island Almanack in Newport, and he published the first newspaper in 1732, the Rhode Island Gazette. In 1758, his son James founded the weekly newspaper Mercury. The famous 18th century Goddard and Townsend furniture was also made in Newport.
Throughout the 18th century, Newport suffered from an imbalance of trade with the largest colonial ports. As a result, Newport merchants were forced to develop alternatives to conventional exports. Newport was also a major center of piracy during the late 17th and early 18th century. So many pirates used it as their base of operations that the London Board of Trade made an official complaint to the English government. Thomas Tew was the most famous pirate who made Newport his base. In the 1720s, Colonial leaders arrested many pirates, acting under pressure from the British government. Many were hanged in Newport and were buried on Goat Island.
During the Colonial period, Newport was the center of the slave trade in New England, active in the "triangle trade" in which slave-produced sugar and molasses from the Caribbean were carried to Rhode Island and distilled into rum, which was then carried to West Africa and exchanged for captives. In 1764, Rhode Island had about 30 rum distilleries, 22 in Newport alone. The Common Burial Ground on Farewell Street was where most of the slaves were buried.
Sixty percent of slave-trading voyages launched from North America issued from tiny Rhode Island, in some years more than 90%, and many from Newport. Almost half were trafficked illegally, breaking a 1787 state law prohibiting residents of the state from trading in slaves. Slave traders were also breaking federal statutes of 1794 and 1800 barring Americans from carrying slaves to ports outside the United States, as well as the 1807 Congressional act abolishing the transatlantic slave trade. A few Rhode Island families made substantial fortunes in the trade. William and Samuel Vernon were Newport merchants who later played an important role in financing the creation of the United States Navy; they sponsored 30 African slaving ventures. However, it was the DeWolfs of Bristol, Rhode Island, and most notably James De Wolf, who were the largest slave-trading family in all of North America, mounting more than 80 transatlantic voyages, most of them illegal. The Rhode Island slave trade was broadly based. Seven hundred Rhode Islanders owned or captained slave ships, including most substantial merchants, and many ordinary shopkeepers and tradesmen who purchased shares in slaving voyages.
Newport was the scene of much activity during the American Revolution. William Ellery came from Newport, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. 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 were exiled to the northern part of the state, such as Joseph Wanton and Thomas Vernon. In the fall of 1776, the British saw that Newport could be used as a naval base to attack New York (which they had recently occupied), so they took over the city. The population of Newport had divided loyalties; many pro–independence Patriots left town, while loyalist Tories remained. Newport was a British stronghold for the next three years.
In the summer of 1778, the Americans began the campaign known as the Battle of Rhode Island. This was the first joint operation between the Americans and the French after the signing of the Treaty of Alliance. The Americans based in Tiverton planned a formal siege of the town. However, the French refused to take part in it, wanting a frontal assault. This weakened the American position, and the British were able to expel the Americans from the island. The following year, the British abandoned Newport, wanting to concentrate their forces in New York.
On July 10, 1780, a French expedition arrived in Narragansett Bay off Newport with an army of 450 officers and 5,300 men, sent by King Louis XVI and commanded by Rochambeau. For the rest of the war, Newport was the base of the French forces in the United States. In July 1781, Rochambeau was finally able to leave Newport for Providence to begin the decisive march to Yorktown, Virginia, along with General George Washington. The first Catholic mass in Rhode Island was said in Newport during this time. The Rochambeau Monument in Kings Park on Wellington Avenue along Newport Harbor commemorates Rochambeau's contributions to the Revolutionary War and to Newport's history.
Newport's population had fallen from over 9,000 (according to the census of 1774) to fewer than 4,000 by the time that the war ended (1783). Over 200 abandoned buildings were torn down in the 1780s. Also, the war destroyed Newport's economic wealth, as years of military occupation closed the city to any form of trade. The Newport merchants moved away, some to Providence, others to Boston and New York.
It was in Newport that the Rhode Island General Assembly voted to ratify the Constitution in 1791 and become the 13th state, acting under pressure from the merchant community of Providence.
The city was the last residence of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and the birthplace of Commodore Matthew C. Perry and the Reverend William Ellery Channing.
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). Around the middle of the century, 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.
By the turn of the 20th century, many of the nation's wealthiest families were summering in Newport, including the Vanderbilts, Astors, and the Widener family, who constructed the largest "cottages", such as The Breakers (1895) and Miramar. They resided for a brief social season in grand, gilded mansions with elaborate receiving rooms, dining rooms, music rooms, and ballrooms—but with few bedrooms, since the guests were expected to have "cottages" of their own. Many of the homes were designed by New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, who kept a house in Newport himself.
The social scene at Newport is described in Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence. Wharton's own Newport "cottage" was called Land's End. Today, many mansions continue in private use. Hammersmith Farm is the mansion where Jackie Kennedy was married; it was open to tourists as a "house museum", but has since been purchased and reconverted into a private residence. Many other mansions are open to tourists; still others were converted into academic buildings for Salve Regina College in the 1930s, when the owners could no longer afford their tax bills.
In the mid-19th century, a large number of Irish immigrants settled in Newport. The Fifth Ward of Newport in the southern part of the city became a staunch Irish neighborhood for many generations. To this day, St. Patrick's Day is an important day of pride and celebration in Newport, with a large parade going down Thames Street.
The oldest Catholic parish in Rhode Island is St. Mary's, located on Spring Street—though the current building is not the original one.
Rhode Island did not have a fixed capital during and after the colonial era, but rotated its legislative sessions among Providence, Newport, Bristol, East Greenwich, and South Kingstown. In 1854, the sessions were eliminated in the cities other than Providence and Newport, and Newport was finally dropped in 1900. A constitutional amendment that year restricted the meetings of the legislature to Providence. Connecticut was the only other state to have more than one capital at one time.
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 and at what became known as the Eisenhower House, while Kennedy used Hammersmith Farm next door.
In the 20th century, immigrants from Portugal and the Caribbean began settling in Newport, adding to the diversity of the city.
The city has long been entwined with the United States Navy. It held the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy during the American Civil War (1861–65), when the undergraduate officer training school was temporarily moved north from Annapolis, Maryland. From 1952 to 1973, it hosted the Cruiser-Destroyer Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and subsequently it has hosted smaller numbers of warships from time to time. Today it hosts the Naval Station Newport (NAVSTA Newport) and remains home to the U.S. Naval War College and the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC), the center for Surface Warfare Officer training, numerous other schools, and the headquarters of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. The decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-60) was moored in an inactive status at the docks previously used by the Cruiser-Destroyer Force, until it was towed to Brownsville, Texas in August–September 2014 to be dismantled. The USS Forrestal (CV-59) shared the pier until June 2010.
The departure of the Cruiser-Destroyer fleet from Newport and the closure of nearby Naval Air Station Quonset Point in 1973 were devastating to the local economy. The population of Newport decreased, businesses closed, and property values plummeted. However, in the late 1960s, the city began revitalizing the downtown area with the construction of America's Cup Avenue, malls of stores and condominiums, and upscale hotels. Construction was completed on the Newport Bridge. The Preservation Society of Newport County began opening Newport's historic mansions to the public, and the tourist industry became Newport's primary commercial enterprise over the subsequent years.
Newport is located at 41°29′17″N 71°18′45″W / 41.48806°N 71.31250°W / 41.48806; -71.31250. It is the most populous municipality on Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 11.4 square miles (29.5 km2), of which 7.7 square miles (19.9 km2) is land and 3.7 square miles (9.6 km2), or 32.64%, is water. The Newport Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in New England, connects Newport to neighboring Conanicut Island across the East Passage of the Narragansett.
As of 2013, there were 24,027 people, 10,616 households, and 4,933 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,204.2 people per square mile (1,239.8/km²). There were 13,069 housing units at an average density of 1,697.3 per square mile (656.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 82.5% White, 6.9% African American, 0.8% Native American, 1.4% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 3.1% some other race, and 5.2% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 8.4% of the population (3.3% Puerto Rican, 1.2% Guatemalan, 1.1% Mexican).
There were 10,616 households, out of which 21.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 30.9% were headed by married couples living together, 12.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 53.5% were non-families. 41.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.7% were someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.05, and the average family size was 2.82.
The age distribution was 16.5% under the age of 18, 16.3% from 18 to 24, 28.1% from 25 to 44, 24.9% from 45 to 64, and 14.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36.4 years. For every 100 females there were 95.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.3 males.
For the period 2009-11, the estimated median annual income for a household in the city was $59,388, and the median income for a family was $83,880. Male full-time workers had a median income of $52,221 versus $41,679 for females. The per capita income for the city was $35,644. About 10.7% of the population were below the poverty line.
Newport has one of the highest concentrations of colonial homes in the nation in the downtown Newport Historic District, one of three National Historic Landmark Districts in the city. Many of these homes were restored in the late 20th century through grants made by Newport resident Doris Duke, as well as other local efforts such as Operation Clapboard. As a result, Newport's colonial heritage is well preserved and documented at the Newport Historical Society. In addition to the colonial architecture, the city is known for its Gilded Age mansions, which have also received extensive restoration from both private owners and non-profits such as the Preservation Society of Newport County. These summer "cottages," as they were called, were built in varying styles, including Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne style, stick style, and Beaux-Arts designs copied from the royal palaces of Europe.
Another National Historic Landmark District is Bellevue Avenue, the home of the International Tennis Hall of Fame where important tennis players are commemorated. This district also has a number of mansions dating back to the Gilded Age, including The Breakers, Belcourt Castle, Chateau-sur-Mer, The Elms, Marble House, Rosecliff, Rough Point, and the William Watts Sherman House. Some of these are open for guided tours.
Newport is a maritime city with coastlines on the west, south, and east. Its harbors teem with commercial fishing boats and power and sail pleasure craft. It is known as the sailing capital of the United States. Many defenses of the America's Cup yachting prize took place here by the New York Yacht Club. Newport Country Club was one of the five founding clubs of the United States Golf Association; it hosted the first U.S. Open and the first U.S. Amateur, both held in 1895. The Newport Country Club hosted the 1995 U.S. Amateur Championship, made notable by Tiger Woods' second of three consecutive wins of the event. In June 2006, the city hosted the U.S. Women's Open. Each July, it hosts the annual Hall of Fame Tennis Championships as part of the ATP Tour, traditionally the last grass court event of the season. Each August, the International Tennis Hall of Fame Champions Cup is held; this event is part of the Outback Champions Series.
In 2001, Newport became the new home of the Newport Gulls baseball team of the NECBL. The city hosted the 2005 NECBL All-Star Game at Cardines Field, originally built in 1908 and one of the oldest active baseball parks in the country. The Gulls, the historic Sunset League, and other teams attract thousands of fans to Cardines weekly throughout the summer. Directly up West Marlborough Street from the ballpark is the White Horse Tavern, built prior to 1673 and considered to be one of the oldest surviving taverns in the US.
Newport is also home to the Newport Tower, Salve Regina University, Hammersmith Farm, Prescott Farm, and the Touro Synagogue, one of the oldest Jewish houses of worship in the Western hemisphere, as well as the Newport Public Library and Redwood Library and Athenaeum, one of the nation's oldest lending libraries. George Washington gave a speech at the Touro Synagogue extolling the virtues of freedom of worship and advocating that the Jews be 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 infamously "went electric" in 1965), the Newport International Film Festival, and the Newport International Boat Show.
Newport’s scenic oceanfront, colonial homes, bustling downtown make it a popular wedding destination. In fact, President John F. Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in St. Mary’s Church in Newport in 1953. A robust wedding industry has developed in Newport and its surrounding counties since. Some popular wedding venues in Newport include the Chanler at Cliff Walk which lies on a cliff overlooking Easton’s Beach, the Eisenhower House which is located in Fort Adams State Park, and the historic Rosecliff Mansion.
Newport is also known for its renowned restaurants that draw tourists from around New England. Newport Restaurant Week, a week long affair when select restaurants in Newport County offer special, reduced price menus, is a particularly popular time. Some restaurants cater to the booming wedding industry as well, but many catering companies like Blackstone Caterers, Tom's Market Catering and Glorious Affairs have thrived from the yearly demand. As of 2012, the total expenditure on food and lodging services in Newport totaled over $411 million.
The businesses that have benefitted most from Newport's growing wedding industry have been luxury hotels like Castle Hill Inn, Oceancliff, and the Vanderbilt Grace.
Aquidneck Island is home to many beaches, public and private. In Newport, the largest public beach, Easton's beach, or First Beach, has a view of the famed Cliff Walk. Sachuest Beach, or Second Beach, in Middletown is the second largest beach in the area. Gooseberry Beach is a private beach but is open to the public on certain days throughout the year, and is located on Ocean Drive, along with Newport's two other private beaches, Bailey's Beach (Spouting Rock Beach Association), and Hazard's Beach.
The Newport Cliff Walk is considered one of the most popular attractions in the city. It is a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) public access walkway bordering the shoreline, and has been designated a National Recreation Trail.
Brenton Point State Park is home to the annual Brenton Point Kite Festival. Newport is also home to the Newport Country Club. The historical club has played host to the 2007 Women's US Open and the 1995 Men's US Amateurs. Fort Adams, an historical fort dating back to the War of 1812, houses the Museum of Yachting and hosts both the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival annually.
For many years Newport was home to the series of yacht races for the America's Cup.
As of Fall 2013, Newport has been designated a nationally recognized Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. It is the first official Bicycle Friendly Community in the state of Rhode Island.
The International Tennis Hall of Fame is also located in Newport. The Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, a men's ATP Tour event, is held every year in early July, the week following Wimbledon. The week also includes annual enshrinements into the Hall of Fame.
The annual Citizens Bank Pell Bridge Run is held every fall helping raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities.
Newport was a filming location for The Great Gatsby (1974), Mr. North (1988) and High Society (1956).