The Free African American Cultural Landscape: Newport, RI, 1774--1826

Date of Completion

January 2008


Anthropology, Archaeology|Anthropology, Cultural|History, Black




The dissertation, "The Free African American Cultural Landscape: Newport, Rhode Island, 1774-1826," examines, through documentary evidence and material culture, the processes of community integration at Newport, development and maintenance of an African American elite, and community disintegration in the form of repatriation of community leaders to Africa. The dissertation also examines the nature and scale of social interaction—such as community events, marriage patterns, and neighborhood development—within the African American community between approximately 1774 (the year of the first census of free African Americans in Newport) and 1826 (the year community leaders emigrated to Liberia). This analysis is placed within the context of contemporary theory in African American Ethnohistory and the presentation of African American history in Newport. Census documents, diaries, probates, deeds, and correspondence of the Free African Union Society of Newport offer primary accounts of the lifeways of African Americans in Newport during this time period. ^ While an African American community developed out of the recognition of a general African identity based on eighteenth century racial ideologies, this dissertation explores the emergence and mechanisms of social stratification within the African American community and the negotiation of racial and class identities. This dissertation serves as a critical and reflexive assessment of African American history in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, specifically critiquing the absence of African American history in Newport public memory, tourism, and the landscape.^