Newport is well known as having been a religiously diverse and tolerant city in the colonial era. Newporter’s accepted Baptists, Quakers and Jews into their midst in the seventeenth century. The welcome did not extend to Catholics, however. Pamphlets and sermons often warned residents of the dangers of “popery” and effigies of the pope were burned each year on Thames Street.
With the arrival of General Rochambeau and his officers and chaplains, attitudes towards Catholics started to shift. Newporter’s were charmed by the French and intrigued by their solemn liturgies. Many of the city’s residents were sorry to see the French leave for Virginia in 1781.
In the first decades of the nineteenth century, new waves of nativism erupted in Boston and other New England cities in response to the growing number of Irish Catholic immigrants. Newport, which had a sizable Irish community centered around Fort Adams, did not experience the sort of conflict which was so commonplace elsewhere in New England. Surely, Rochambeau and his officers and priests helped set the groundwork for the acceptance of later generations of Irish Catholics in Newport.
JOHN F. QUINN received his Ph.D. in history from Notre Dame. He has been professor of history with Salve Regina University since 1992. A prolific writer, Dr. Quinn is the author of numerous articles, as well as the book Father Mathew’s Crusade: Temperance in Nineteenth Century Ireland and Irish-America (U. of Mass. Press, 2002). His interests include Irish America, Modern Ireland, and American Religion and Ethnicity. He is an expert on Irish and Irish-American attitudes towards slavery in the 19th Century. Dr. Quinn’s professional memberships include: American Catholic Historical Association, American Conference on Irish Studies, Irish American Cultural Institute, and Society of Catholic Social Scientists. We are delighted to welcome Dr. Quinn back for his eighth speaking engagement with the Museum.