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Found: Ezra Stiles’ “Bill of Mortality for Newport,” 1765-1776

This post is contributed by Cherry Fletcher Bamberg, Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists and Editor of Rhode Island Roots

Ezra Stiles, minister of Newport’s Second Congregational Church and an indefatigable collector of facts, kept a “Bill of Mortality for Newport” that has been the delight of historians and genealogists for more than a century. A transcription of the years 1760 through 1764 from a document at Rhode Island Historical Society appeared over two issues of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1908 and 1909. The manuscript showed the names, religious affiliation, age, and occasionally circumstances of death as far as Stiles was able to determine them. The only problem with this five-year window into Newport history has been its brevity.

Recently a researcher working in Second Congregational Church records at Newport Historical Society on an unrelated matter discovered that Stiles continued his bills of mortality 1765 through 1776, some of the most turbulent years in Newport’s history. His Bills of Mortality were neatly kept in 2nd Congregational Record Book 1725-1772, a title that in no way hints at the riches inside. That Stiles completed 1776 at all is remarkable: he had fled with his family for the safety of Dighton, Massachusetts in March of that year. His entries for that year include deaths of privateers and soldiers and those who “died abroad” (off the island) in addition to burials reported to him by a church sexton. These records are presently being transcribed for publication in New England Historical and Genealogical Register. The interval between the first part of the transcription and the second will undoubtedly be the longest in the journal’s history.

Image: detail of the 1776 entry in Ezra Stiles’ “Bill of Mortality for Newport”