History Bytes: It Happened at the Newport Colony House

May 14, 2020

Flash(way)back Friday – it’s hard enough for some of us to remember what we did last week, let alone last year. The Colony House has been standing since 1741 – that’s a whole lot of history to remember! Thankfully, we have selected some highlights for you to enjoy:

  1. One of the most important political events of the year took place in the Colony House each May, when the election returns were counted, the General Assembly convened, and the officers were inaugurated.
  2. The death of George the II and accession of George III were proclaimed from the balcony in 1761.
  3. It was here that Governor Stephan Hopkins and the Council ordered the artillery to fire the British warship St. John in 1764, one of the earliest acts of armed resistance leading to the Revolutionary War.
  4. In 1766 there was a jubilant celebration in and around the building to commemorate the repeal of the Stamp Act.
  5. A royal commission met at the Colony House in 1772 to investigate the burning of the British cutter Gaspee by a band of colonial conspirators.
  6. On 20 July 1776, Major John Handy read the Declaration of Independence from the building’s front steps after ratification by the General Assembly. Handy reenacted his role for a celebration on the fiftieth anniversary of Independence Day in 1826.
  7. In August 1790 President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson visited Rhode Island to celebrate its recent ratification of the Constitution and attended a reception in the Colony House’s Council Chamber.


And that was just in the 18th century!


Banner: An engraving of Washington Square (c. 1860), FIC.2013.38, Collection of the Newport Historical Society