2014-04-24 / Front Page

Newport Founders Devise a Plan

A Look Back


William Coddington was the wealthiest founder. He also brought legal, business and political leadership to the group. William Coddington was the wealthiest founder. He also brought legal, business and political leadership to the group. 375th Anniversary

Right about now, 375 years ago, nine gentlemen led by the powerful William Coddington set a plan in motion to leave Pocasset (Portsmouth) and establish a new town on the island that better suited their ideals. Joining Coddington was William Brenton, one of the richest Bostonians and a successful merchant and farmer; Henry Bull, who later became Governor of Rhode Island; Jeremy Clarke, a surveyor and merchant; Dr. John Clarke (no relation to Jeremy), a physician, preacher and scholar who later authored the King Charles II Charter of 1663; John Coggeshall, a wealthy merchant and farmer; William Dyer, a merchant and soldier; Nicholas Easton, a builder and farmer; and Thomas Hazard, a farmer and surveyor.

They drafted the Newport Compact on April 28 (at right). Two days later, Easton, with his sons Peter, 17, and John, 15, “proceeded by boat down Narragansett Bay along the west shore of Aquidneck, and began the settlement of Newport on 1 May 1639.” (Documentary History of Rhode Island, Volume Two, by Howard M. Chapin, 1919) They actually landed first on Coasters Harbor Island and then crossed over to the basin where Cardines Field is today.


One of the early policies was that the Judge and Elders would assemble on the first Tuesday of the month. On those Tuesdays they would "hear and determine all such causes as shall be presented." One of the early policies was that the Judge and Elders would assemble on the first Tuesday of the month. On those Tuesdays they would "hear and determine all such causes as shall be presented." Other founders traveled along crude Indian paths and joined the Eastons on May 16. The Narragansett Indians were considered a friendly tribe and later helped the settlers clear land along the coast.

One of the most important points of business at this first meeting, which probably occurred near where the Great Friends Meeting House is now, was setting the town’s boundaries and determining how land within the new “plantation” would be divided. Those who first came were given 10 free acres.

Later, the nine founders allotted themselves four acres for their in-town homes (Coddington was given six acres so he could plant an orchard), tracts of land along the harbor, and land for their large estates “in the country”: Coddington was allotted 750 acres; Easton was given 389 acres along Sachuest Beach; other founders William Brenton received 399 acres for his Hammersmith Estate; John Coggeshall received 389 acres along what is today, appropriately, Coggeshall Avenue; William Dyer, 200 acres; Jeremy Clarke, 186 acres and Dr. John Clarke only received 148 acres.

One of the most comprehensive accounts of the founding can be found in “Newport, A Lively Experiment,” by Rockwell Stensrud, (2006).

On the 28th of the 2d month (April) 1639.

It is Agreed

By us whose hands are underwritten to propagate a Plantation in the midst of the Island or elsewhere, and do engage ourselves to bear equal charge answerable to our strength and Estates in common, and that our determination shall be by major voice of Judge and Elders, the Judge to have a double voice.

Wm. Coddington, Judge

Nicholas Easton

John Coggeshall Elders

Wm. Brenton

John Clarke

Jeremy Clark

Thomas Hazard

Henry Bull

Wm. Dyer, Secretary

On the 16th of the 3d month (May) 1639

It is agreed and ordered that the Plantation shall be called Newport. It is ordered that every such servant as shall abide with any of us that first came forth shall upon their due admission have ten acres of land given them gratis.

It is ordered that the town shall be built upon both the sides of the spring and by the seas side Southward.

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