Until recently, what was missing from the story of how Africans arrived and lived in early America was a perspective not from the viewpoint of the slave system and master, but from the African Americans themselves, a perspective that has largely been ignored. And that story, as with American Slavery, begins in New England at the early beginnings of this countrys history.
Newport, Rhode Island with its Gilded Age mansions, Colonial Era architecture, Americas Cup legacy, and Jazz and music festivals is internationally recognized as being one of Americas top tourism destinations, but few would realize the City by the Sea during the 18th century was Americas leading African slave port. Today, a lasting legacy of that period is an historically significant burying ground called Gods Little Acre, on Farewell Street that has the oldest and largest surviving collection of burial markers of enslaved and free persons of African heritage, dating back to 17th century America.
With assistance from the Newport Historical Society, the Rhode Island Historical Society, Redwood Library and partially funded through a grant from the Rhode Island State Council of the Arts, the 1696 Heritage Group has completed a major effort to recover, digitize and present for public viewing and education over two hundred burial markers depicting how Africans and first generation African Americans lived, worked, worshipped and died in Colonial America.
Theresa Guzman Stokes, President of the 1696 Heritage Group stated, The years of work to recover, reclaim and now interpret Gods Little Acre will provide the public with a rare opportunity to learn first-hand a more complete picture of the African Diaspora, American history and the important role African and African Americans played in the building of America.
African American Genealogy records have been much more difficult to find due to the scarce number of primary source records for persons of African heritage prior to the American Civil War. The Colonial African Cemetery Project supported with numerous primary and secondary source historical records, will offer a unique opportunity to bring to life the history of Africans in America as flesh and blood human beings and not simply as chattel property or ghosts of the historical past.
A fully interactive web-based platform for viewing with computers, mobile devices and tablets has been created entitled http://www.colonialcemetery.com/ that will enable viewers to utilize a searchable data base of over two hundred and forty burial markers along with extensive historical information on the origins of American slavery, colonial Newport, and early African religion, family life, education and civic organizations. Additional public programs will include:
Travelling Photograph Exhibit entitled: Stories In Stone: Americas Colonial African Cemetery
Public Lecture Series on Recovering, Restoring & Interpreting an Historic African Cemetery and American Irony: Religious Freedom and Slavery in Colonial America.
Guided Gods Little Acre Cemetery Tours
As someone who has ancestors buried in Gods Little Acre, I have come to see this historic cemetery as a gateway to how we can learn about a more accurate and inclusive history of African and later African American people who helped build America, stated Keith Stokes of Newport.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Americas Colonial African Cemetery Project
Theresa Guzman Stokes
1696 Heritage Group
PO Box 4238
Newport, Rhode Island 02842