What did it mean to be a merchant in 18th-century
Newport? From the early 1750s until the outbreak of war with Britain, Newport flourished as the leading seaport and urban commercial center of Rhode Island. During this time, it was home to a myriad of social classes and occupational groups, most notably a
class of merchant elite.
With wealth accumulated in the hands of the upper tiers of sea captains, distillers
and slaveholders, the social stratification of Newport created a growing number
of inhabitants dependent on trade, merchant activity and the urban market
system for provisions and everyday necessities. Both blessed and cursed by its
reliance on the sea, life in Newport would forever change during the joint
British-Hessian occupation of the city from 1776-1779. The invasion suspended
commercial activity, forced large sectors of the population to flee, and left
the once prosperous town in ruins.
Through the analysis of material culture assemblages from 18th-century contexts,
archaeologists can better understand the social and economic forces driving Newport
during its "Golden Age" and the class relations that produced and reproduced the
great power enjoyed by its merchant oligarchy. Field schools at the Newport
Historical Society's Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House, the Newport Restoration
Foundation's properties and the Whitehall Museum are engendering new
interpretations of the merchant elite.
2011 Archaeological Field School
Salve Regina and the University of Massachusetts Boston will
offer a collaborative archaeological field school in Newport during the summer
of 2011. The research theme of the project is "Interpreting the Lives of
Merchants in Eighteenth-Century Newport" with a focus on the role of
mercantile capital in shaping the urban landscape and the city's social
structures of race, class, and gender during the colonial period.
Through daily archaeological fieldwork and laboratory
analysis, students will learn the process of excavation, field recording, sample
collection and basic artifact analysis in historical archaeology. The course
includes an explicit focus on urban environmental archaeology, with specialized
sampling for recovery of plant, animal, insect and parasite remains to study
health, diet and the changing urban landscape.
For more information, contact Dr. James Garman at (401)
341-3127 or email@example.com.
Click here for a gallery of images from the 2010
field school at the Whitehall Committee's Whitehall Museum in Middletown, R.I.