Newport Historical Society Resource Makes Newport’s Black and Indigenous History More Accessible

February 15, 2024

NEWPORT, R.I. – The Newport Historical Society (NHS) is proud to announce the launch of Voices from the NHS Archives, an expansive research project that centers the Black and Indigenous experiences embedded in Newport’s historical record. This digital tool is the culmination of four years of work, feedback from dozens of experts and advisors, and the review of 4,000 church records, business papers, ship logs, and more from the NHS archives.

Work on this project will be ongoing indefinitely, with more documents regularly digitized, catalogued, and posted for public access. This is the first digital tool of its kind in Rhode Island.

“Traditional histories of Newport in the 17th-19th centuries—and our own history as an organization—have centered on the white and the powerful. Voices from the NHS Archives is an effort to increase access to the vibrant stories and experiences of people of color in Newport,” said Executive Director Rebecca Bertrand. “We are excited to make these records more accessible to all—whether you’re a historian, a teacher, a visitor, or just curious about our Newport County community.”

Voices from the NHS Archives was supported by a grant from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation and is modeled on the work of Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade. It contains highly searchable digital records that will allow people to explore the lives, stories, and personal relationships documented within the NHS collection.

“Voices from the NHS Archives preserves and makes public information about the lives of people who have for too long been overlooked in the telling of history—named enslaved, free, and freed individuals of African and Indigenous descent who lived and labored in Newport,” said Walter Hawthorne, Professor of African History at Michigan State University, co-principal investigator of, and founder of Slave Biographies, the precursor to “The project team has created a site that will be valued by professional historians, secondary and university educators, African American genealogists, and anyone who wants to broaden their understanding of the role of people of African and Indigenous descent in shaping the world that we have inherited.”

“We are always looking for ways to make our incredible collections and treasured properties more accessible. This database is one of many examples of the ways in which we help Rhode Islanders and others engage with our organization and the history we steward,” said Douglas Newhouse, president of the NHS Board of Directors. “We hope this database will be an invaluable tool for people for generations to come.”

Database users can search records using several filters, including race and gender, occupation and freedom status, and the life events reflected in the documentary record. “The process of designing and populating this database was thoughtful and intentional, and I appreciated the opportunity to offer feedback to help shape its development,” said Theresa Guzmán Stokes, executive director of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. “This resource will be tremendously useful for academics, historians, and researchers, but also, I hope, for the community at large that, for too long, has had limited access and exposure to this chapter of our history and how it informs all aspects of our lives today.”

In addition to the digital archive, Newport Historical Society curated more than 15 stories of people who lived and worked in Newport during the era of slavery. Five of the stories will be at the center of a complementary exhibit, “A Name, A Voice, A Life: The Black Newporters of the 17th-19th Centuries,” which will open in May 2024 in the NHS’ Richard I. Burnham Resource Center on Touro Street.

To learn more about Newport Historical Society’s collections, events, and programming, visit