The Historic Hill Association

Newport, Rhode Island

Pirates of Colonial Newport
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Captain Kidd burying Treasure
Image from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates
Red Sea pirates sailed out of Newport Harbor, attacked Muslim ships, returned to Newport, sold plunder and spent foreign gold. Privateers who dabbled in piracy, pirates who pretended to be privateers and outright pirates all weighed anchor in Newport Harbor. Liars, thieves, murderers and rapists drank at local taverns and bribed their way to sanctuary.

Captain Kidd pursued Newport pirates until Muslim treasure drew him off course. Kidd sailed to Narragansett Bay to get help from Governor Cranston and Captain Thomas Paine. Captain Paine, retired Caribbean pirate, hid Kidd’s treasure, helped found Trinity Church and led Rhode Island in her first naval victory.

Once Newport’s prosperous shipping fleet was on the receiving end of piracy, its citizens turned dock lines into hangmen’s nooses. Newport hung 26 Caribbean pirates in 1723; the largest mass execution in the colonies.

In the late eighteenth century another form of robbery threatened Rhode Island’s shipping; taxation stole profits and British enforcement ships stole cargo. When colonists burned a British ship, the Gaspee, London called the perpetrators pirates and accused them of treason. Many of those perpetrators became privateers in the American Revolution.

The colorful history of Newport's pirates played out in the Historic Hill neighborhood. Many locations including Gravelly Point, Trinity Church, the Old Stone Mill, the Colony House, White Horse Tavern and Washington Square played a role in their story. The rogues dropped anchor in Newport Harbor, patronized local taverns, and were tried and executed all within our neighborhood. Let's raise a tall rum drink to their memory!
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Thomas Tew, Newport native and Red Sea pirate, with New York's governor Fletcher, pirate patron.
Image from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates.
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Five of Trinity Church's 16 founders had connections to piracy, including Captain Thomas Paine, retired Caribbean pirate and friend of Captain Kidd.
photo courtesy of Helene Scola
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Liars, thieves, murderers and rapists drank at local taverns including the White Horse Tavern, owned by the father of Red Sea pirate William Mayes, Jr.
photo courtesy of Helene Scola
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More about this exciting part of Newport's history in this fabulous book by Gloria Merchant Here.
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About the author
Gloria Merchant is an artist, teacher, sailor and author. Her degrees in art history and art education led to a rich and varied career. Memberships in the Newport Historical Society, Redwood Library & Athenaeum and Preservation Society of Newport County nourish her interest in local history. Gloria grew up on Narragansett Bay. She and her husband have sailed the Bay and beyond for over forty years and know its waters as well as Newport's colonial pirates did. Gloria is a resident of The Historic Hill.