God’s Little Acre: Revealing untold stories of America’s African heritage, Part 2
In this second episode of our interview with Keith Stokes, advisor to the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, we continue learning about Newport’s underrepresented history during our walk through God’s Little Acre.
God’s Little Acre has been recognized as the oldest and largest colonial African burial ground in the United States; it dates back to the late 1600s and contains the graves of over 300 enslaved and free Africans and African Americans.
In Episode One, Keith introduced us to prominent Africans like Pompey Brenton who lay buried in God’s Little Acre. In this second episode, Keith sheds light on the significance of this burial site and the stories of the people who were laid to rest there, providing a deeper understanding of the African presence in Newport’s history.
Join World Footprints as we uncover the hidden stories of this important piece of Newport’s and America’s past from God’s Little Acre.
“The African slave trade was the world’s first equal opportunity employer….”Keith Stokes
What You’ll Hear in this Episode:
[1: 57] Reintroduction of Pompey Brenton
[3:23] Reason for not unearthing markers
[5:43] Exercising caution when interpreting history
[7:47] The first Emancipation
[9:50] The world’s first equal opportunity employer
[11: 25] Identifying old grave markers
[14: 45] Finding the foundational documents and artifacts
[18: 19] A different perspective on Black history
[24: 17] The beginning of cemeteries
[27: 40] Reparation strategies
[31: 54] Amazing story of Zingo Stevens
“The whole purpose of being here is being here. That’s what we memorialize. That’s what we celebrate– the fact that we’re here.”
“We need to break free from the confines of societal expectations that dictate how we should look, speak, or where we should come from.”
“We’ve always had this; it’s just we need to empower more of us to want to interpret it and embrace it.”
“It’s not 40 acres and a mule. That’s not measurable.”
Book your stay in Newport, Rhode Island
Use the interactive map below to search, compare and book hotels & rentals at the best prices that are sourced from a variety of platforms including Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Vrbo and more. You can move the map to search for accommodations in other areas and also use the filter to find restaurants, purchase tickets for tours and attractions and locate points of interest!
Listen to Podcast and/or read full transcripts below!
[00:00:10.890] – Keith
In 1787, the Free African Society in Newport established their own African burying society and fund. They had rules and regulations. They had in fact, today we sometimes, when we’re in New Orleans, recognize it as the jazz funeral, or it could be Junkanoo in the Bahamas. But right here in Newport, across the diaspora in the 18th century, there were African funerals that followed very specifically the Akan people of today’s Ghana ceremonies. We have hundreds of Africans assembling in the in the center of town marching here, chanting, drums, music to lay the rest their dearly departed because under the Akan tradition, they’re being reunited with their ancestors. And then after this is celebration.
[00:00:53.970] – Tonya
Welcome. You’re listening to world footprints. I’m Tonya Fitzpatrick.
[00:00:57.910] – Ian
And I’m Ian Fitzpatrick. You just heard a clip from episode one of our interview with Keith Stokes, advisor to the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society and 8th generation Newporter.
[00:01:11.590] – Tonya
This is the second episode of our two part interview with Keith. In this episode, Keith continued to unpack Newport’s underrepresented history as we stroll the burying grounds of God’s Little Acre, a two acre colonial African cemetery that is situated within the ten plus acre boundaries of Common Burying Ground. Newport, Rhode Island’s oldest public cemetery.
[00:01:38.630] – Ian
God’s Little Acre has been recognized as the oldest and largest colonial African burial ground in the United States. It dates back to the late 1600s and contains the graves of over 300 enslaved and free Africans and African Americans.
[00:01:57.040] – Tonya
In this episode, Keith shared stories of prominent Africans like Pompey Brenton, who was the servant of Rhode Island Governor Brenton. Later, as a free man, Pompey would become governor of the Free Africans of Rhode Island. Elected by the African community during their annual election day ceremony, Pompey died August 5, 1772, at approximately the age of 55. At the time of his death, Pompey Brenton was one of the most prominent Free Africans of New England. His is just one of many stories that the century old stone markers of God’s Little Acre disclose.
[00:02:39.050] – Ian
The burying ground offers many more clues to African heritage, and we pick up our conversation with Keith about the meaning of the different size and shapes of the grave markers.
[00:02:50.790] – Keith
These granite columns are just would have been plot markers. Remember, this burying ground dates back over three and a half centuries. So you have three and a half centuries of burials here. It is now not an active burying ground. In fact, my family owns the only last plot, my late mother, we buried here last year. So, there are no active burials here. And there are the density that you see there is a density that should be here. So now that we’re restoring all the existing markers, we have a landscape plan to come in place and restoration plan. We’ll use ground-penetrating training radar and start to unearth and start to reset markers. But one of the reasons why we have not moved to unearthing. So many of the markers that have settled to the ground is the ground makes a great preservation material. Slate is a very porous material. You can kind of see this. Slate is very, very porous. And what happens is with the rain and then the extraction and contraction from winter to the spring, it just splits and falls off. So here is an example of how we’ve inserted a natural epoxy to restore that marker.
[00:03:58.920] – Keith
That marker would have been just chipped and broken and frayed, and we have lots of discussions. I mean, I’m a purist, and we talk about how much outside material should we be introducing to these historic artifacts? And we’ve had discussions about that. But everything that we use is a natural and eventually mold into becoming part of the larger structure. But again, this marker here would have looked more like these, where you see the flaking and the peeling. So this is an ongoing effort of restoration, preservation, interpretation, and this is a city-owned asset. So the people have a right to come through here. We just guide them. No pick up after your dog, no stone rubbings. You know, manage this place as a sacred place. Generally, people have been respectful to this.
[00:04:55.470] – Ian
I wanted to ask you about the enslaved and the free people of color and African Americans in this part of the country. Clearly, there were more opportunities to learn trades, to be educated. That is a little different than what people may necessarily think of when we think of what enslaved people go through, what they have access to.
[00:05:32.110] – Keith
Yeah, let’s go in the shade, and I’m going to sit here so I can we’ve got to be careful in how we interpret history. We have to base it upon the primary evidence that we have.
[00:05:45.100] – Ian
[00:05:45.780] – Keith
And then if there’s gaps, we have to be very careful how we’re interpreting closing that gap. Okay. The Africans that arrived here were absolute chattel property, and we have significant numbers of runaways. We have significant numbers of brutal beatings of African men, women, and children. So to say that New England slavery was uniquely different or better than the south or the Caribbean really doesn’t understand the system. Africans, because of the fact that they had trading and there was investments in them, significant monetary investments, they were managed more efficiently, not treated better. There’s an old slave saying, if you might have heard it’s called “sold down the river.” And what sold down the river means is better to be a house servant in Boston than be in a tobacco plantation in the Virginia colonies, which was still a lot better than being with the mosquitoes and yellow fever in the Carolinas in a rice plantation. And nobody wanted to be in a sugar plantation where the life expectancy was less than three years. So, they were replaceable assets. Thus, that’s why the system sustained itself so aggressively. So, it’s important to understand that by the very conditions, by the economy.
[00:07:11.290] – Keith
It would require enslaved Africans to have access to tools and sets to benefit their master and to benefit their master’s prosperity and economy, not themselves. Once they became free and once slavery ended earlier here, Africans had toolsets and capabilities that would accelerate them far beyond their brothers and sisters, father south or in the West Indies. So, I want to be clear here. White folks aren’t doing us favors now. They weren’t doing us favors back then. This is our ingenuity; this is our decisions. And that’s one of the reasons why in United States history, we make a terrible mistake by thinking that the first emancipation is 1865, the end of the Civil War or the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. The first great African emancipation starts in 1777 in Vermont. And over the next ten years, every New England and Northern now becoming state, either gradually or immediately abolishes slavery. By the end of the 18th century, you have a new kind of people in America that never existed before. Free, educated, literate, engaged Africans, and they start colocating and building these free communities all across the Northeast. Newport have one of the largest free communities with us today–Bellevue Avenue.
[00:08:31.470] – Keith
In Providence, it’s College Hill, where Brown University is. In the case of Boston, it’s Beacon Hill on the west slope. That’s why Joy Street and the African Meeting House is here. In Philadelphia, the 7th Ward. And they had names like in Bristol, they’ll talk to you about The Wolf, but nobody would talk about Little Liberia in Little Goree neighborhoods in Bristol, on Wood Street, or in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Little Liberia. So, the point is that it’s these free Africans who have access to skills and education organization. Many of them have similar African origins of Akan people. So, they share cultural religious identities. They begin setting up the first everything–Free Black Church. They’re setting up the first free benevolent society. Prince Hall in Boston establishes the Prince Hall Masonic Order. The second’s in Providence, the third’s in Philadelphia. In the next few years, Prince Hall is sending letters to the Newport Africans here, talking about everything from trade issues to correspondence issues. They’re sharing money. So, I just want to be clear to the fact that slavery began here because the United States of America began here in New England. And the white people institutions who participated in it did it because it was their direct personal benefits.
[00:09:45.370] – Keith
And there were some that disagreed, but they were the far minority of the majority. And the African slave trade was the world’s first equal opportunity employer. Christians, Jews, Muslims, every European country participated. I chaired the education committee here at Touro Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue in America, and my maternal grandmother was Jewish. And the Jews were actively engaged in the slave trade, not because they were Jews, because they were 18th century merchants from Portugal and Spain. The first slave traders in Newport were Quakers. My grandmother used to have a great story about Quakers in old Newport–one foot in the Counting House and one foot in the Meeting House–because they didn’t let economic prosperity to get away from their religious piousness. And in fact, their justification was, let’s convert them all. There was just wholesale converting of Africans into the religion of the household. Not for free access to religion, but it’s a control mechanism.
[00:10:41.210] – Tonya
I see. That’s a story that nobody really knows about. We have a different idea of who the Quakers are.
[00:10:46.350] – Keith
And the Africans are talking about that. Again, I don’t need to read William Penn’s interpretation. Africans in Philadelphia and Newport are talking about these things. They’re talking about the fact that now that we’re free, in fact, it’s the Africans in Philadelphia and Newport and Providence are saying we don’t want to all go back to Africa. If we go, we’ll go on our own rights. You’re not sending us back. So, they actually reject the American colonization society initially.
[00:11:10.950] – Tonya
God’s Little Acre holds centuries of rich history. And because there are markers hundreds of years old and in need of restoration, we asked how those markers are identified.
[00:11:25.210] – Keith
Every marker that you see exists in the spot at the time that person was buried there.
[00:11:30.590] – Tonya
I see. Okay.
[00:11:31.260] – Keith
So just to give an example here and they’re buried in family systems. They’re buried in religious systems. This is the family of Arthur Tikey. And Arthur Tikey arrived as Nuba Tikey. He’s enslaved by Ebenezer Flag, who is a rope maker and a member of Newport’s First Baptist Church, actually, the Sabbatarian Seventh Day Baptist Church, which began here. And he’s trained as a rope maker. And in fact, he converts into the Baptist Church and becomes a lifelong member, a pew holder of that church. And then as a free man, he reverts back to his name. He keeps his Christian name Arthur, but it becomes Arthur Tikey. This is his wife; this is his sons. This is his children. Here’s a child, Solomon Nuba Tikey. You can see the death set. We use his head set for our African sign there. Arthur Tikey is the founder of the Free African Benevolent Society. He is the founder of the first free African school–both Boston and Newport simultaneously. By 1809 established free African schools. Free, meaning we own it, we operate it, we teach it. His son is a teacher there. And then here’s his three grandchildren that unfortunately, they all die from yellow fever.
[00:12:57.770] – Keith
Again, we’re a seaport. So as goods and products are coming in, so are rats and fleas and vermin. So yellow fever, cholera, smallpox is sweeping across this community. But he buries them together.
[00:13:14.430] – Male Announcer
You are listening to the award-winning World Footprints podcast with Ian and Tonya Fitzpatrick. World Footprints connects you to the world through powerful storytelling that illuminates our common humanity and uncovers the full narrative of our cultural and human experiences. Support World Footprints by leaving a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast platform. This will help other like-minded and interested travelers find us. Also, please join the World Footprints community by subscribing to our newsletter from worldfootprints.com.
[00:13:48.570] – Tonya
Here’s more of our conversation with Keith Stokes as we walk through God’s Little Acre in Newport, Rhode Island, America’s oldest and largest colonial African burial ground.
[00:14:03.390] – Ian
One question that I have for you. You have focused and emphasized the African origins of this history, the record, the caretaking from an African perspective, not a Eurocentric perspective. In terms of doing that research, the challenges, finding the foundational documents, finding the artifacts. How does one really go about doing that here in in America where our repositories are not the repositories?
[00:14:45.600] – Keith
It’s a great question. Today it’s easier because many of these things are being digitized. So, from an access standpoint, I’ve been the Rhode Island advisor for the National Trust Historic preservation. I’ve set on National Local Preservation Board. So, I’ve always had access to archives. And if it was 25 years ago, my wife and I would be crawling through stacks and archives. Our running joke was we would be in Barbados, Curacao, Bermuda. I very rarely been on a beach in those locations. If I’m in Jamaica, I’m in Kingston or Spice Town or Jamaica Town or Spanish Town looking at archives. The same in Bahamas. And again, I’ve always had the honor to work with African heritage scholars who share this interest. In fact, they’re surprised. You’re an American, you want to talk about and you’re in Jamaica and you want to talk about African, Jamaican history. That’s really neat. We don’t get that so much. Usually, Americans run to the beach. So, you want jerk chicken? No. So, first of all, the documentation is there. It’s always been there, the primary and secondary. The second is we need it interpreted through the lens of people of color.
[00:15:53.060] – Keith
We see things differently. We’re looking for things from a different perspective. I’m fortunate, I’m blessed that my kids are 9th generation and I’ve grown up with this. My grandmother walked me through here. I can show you a picture. I think I have it. Oh, yeah. That’s my mom and me in 1966.
[00:16:13.860] – Tonya
Oh, my gosh.
[00:16:15.050] – Keith
Here my uncle was a CEO Airmen, that was killed in service in 1945 as a Newport kid. And he’s right here. So, I mean, for us, this is who we are. Again, as I said, my grandmother, who was Jewish, you know, would be the one to remind her and her husband. My grandfather was the part of the African she would be the one to remind me, oh, Blacks, Jews, we were here before all of you. Forget about all you Irish and Italians, all that. It’s us. This is our community. And she would say that. And we have artifacts and records to see that. And so, for me, it was cool being black, even though when I went to school in Chicago and elsewhere, people said, Well, Keith, you’re mixed. You’re not Black. You’re really Black. You don’t sound Black. You’re from New England. Guys, we’d come in all shapes and colors, right? You got to understand this. You got to step away from this box that we’re placed in that we have to look a certain way or speak a certain way or come from a certain you got to stop that because everywhere else in the Diaspora, they don’t think that way.
[00:17:11.130] – Keith
So, I’m blessed to have this as an opportunity. And even my kids now who are young adults, they help out here. They’re doing this work. We’re proud of it. But again, my wife, who really runs the black hair size, doing good work. Last year, we’re the first state in the country that passed legislation to require every K-to-12 public school to have comprehensive African heritage history curriculum. Not African American. She’ll be the diaspora.
[00:17:37.390] – Tonya
[00:17:37.810] – Keith
She’ll have some announcements I can’t leak, but she’s partnering with historical organizations, colleges. They’re going to be announcing an entire African Heritage History Chair. They just selected someone nationally to come in. They’ll be digitizing all the collections and creating what she’ll call the Roadshow R-H-O-D-E for Rhode Island and where any kid or student or teacher can go on a portal, and it will have access to all that information with pop up videos, kind of like TikTok.
[00:18:06.650] – Tonya
[00:18:07.120] – Keith
So, we’re about two years away from that. I mean, she’s today going to unveil some of it, but the point is that we’ve always had this. It’s just we need to empower more of us to want to interpret it and embrace it. So, I’m being very candid. I think white folks have a place for this, but I think they should allow us to lead this history. And when I hear things about John Brown of Providence being the largest slave trader, and James DeWolf in New Bristol and here it’s every merchant, my response is, yeah, that’s what they did. So what? Okay, I want to talk about John Camino. I mean, there are lots of people I want to talk about that are so much more interesting to me than people who made money off our ancestors backs.
[00:18:49.930] – Tonya
This is so rich.
[00:18:51.220] – Keith
It’s just a different perspective.
[00:18:53.070] – Ian
It is, and it’s helpful and it’s needed. I mean, we want to talk about our continuing, challenging dilemma here and even picking a place to start in terms of understanding this and even how we talk about it. I noticed that you said African heritage. You did not say African American heritage, even though we’ve talked about African heritage.
[00:19:18.570] – Keith
Yeah, it’s years and years of being able to interact and befriend fellow African heritage across the Diaspora. I’ve been better embraced in Ghana than sometimes in being in Chicago. In fact, they’re looking at me saying, okay, you got all that white mixed up, and everybody came. Keith, just to give an example, what we did is I had said my ancestors were taken from Fort William in Ghana to Jamaica. They brought me back in 2019 for a whole ceremony. And Onan amba is a very small town north of Accra, but Fort Williams still exists. And they brought me into the slave castle, and we had a whole series of libation ceremonies. Whole village was there. Then they brought me to the Doors of No Return that they all have, the big doors that separate the castle and the beach, and then you’re off and you never come. So, they had me push it open. And when they opened it, everyone cheered and clapped. We all had Schnapps and beer. And they said, well, for you, it’s the door of return. And nobody was talking about slavery, and nobody was talking about American versus Ghanaian or Fonte versus Akan.
[00:20:25.120] – Keith
They were just saying, Keith, you took the time to come back and we welcome you. And that was so cool. I’m going to make sure I get every one of my kids there wipe there, because that’s how we should be expressing our history and culture. And again, talking about slave traders and slave systems gets into the way because that’s been done. That’s been done to death. It gets into the way of us really starting to extract the information history that values our kids.
[00:20:50.930] – Ian
As we talked and walked towards the God’s Little Acre sign, we asked why Black cemeteries aren’t traditionally on the grounds of Black churches unlike other denominations.
[00:21:01.910] – Keith
This was largely set up for Negroes. But then the town expanded rapidly, and they were running out of room as people were dying from pestilence and disease and war, and they filled it up. And then later, Portuguese, you’ll see Greeks, they come here. There are enslaved Africans on the other side either. Also, that enclosed area there is William Ellery–our signer of the Declaration of Independence. There’s several Africans behind him there. Again, this is all because of John Clark’s vision of not separating men and women and families in life and death by religion or class. This is a physical reminder the importance of separation of church and state. So it’s laughable for me today to listen to some of these Republicans and Trump folks and this term national Christianity or Christian nationality. And I’m sitting here and saying, that was never the intent. And I have the documentation, I have the primary research, and my own life is tied to there was never an intent that this be a Christian nation, and the founding men and women of this colony would have laughed at a Donald Trump or a Marjorie Taylor Green. So this is the back of the sign in the front of it.
[00:22:24.270] – Keith
What we did in designing this is we wanted to have the sign itself tell a story. So, the wrought iron is representing the manacles, the iron shackles of slavery. That’s the Star of Ghana, which represents a majority of the Africans would arrive from the Gold Coast. The two pineapples at the top. Pineapples are the 18th century symbol of maritime prosperity. If you’re in Charleston, South Carolina.
[00:22:52.960] – Tonya
[00:22:53.660] – Keith
You’re in Barbados, Jamaica, anywhere. Everyone’s got pineapples edged on doors, paintings. I have big paintings in my house because it’s also the sign of African slavery. Because those that harvested and planted and died for these commodities were largely African men, women, and children. And then we put different sayings in the back, proverbs in the front, and we’ll be restoring the sign again. You see, the words are chipping a bit, but the top is Solomon Nuba Tikey. Yeah, that’s what you just saw? Yeah, that’s his marker. And again, that’s because many of the Africans that arrived here were children. And ironically, this is Farewell Street and this was named that way because of the burying ground here.
[00:23:40.310] – Tonya
God’s Little Acre is one of Newport’s special gifts to the public.
[00:23:45.210] – Keith
This is a public space. Anyone at any time have a right to come here and interact with this space. But it’s also a sacred space in a fragile space.
[00:23:55.850] – Tonya
And what do you think…
[00:23:56.760] – Keith
Burying grounds are not cemeteries. Burying grounds are you’re buried as the land and as the topography exists. In fact, these trails that you see and where my car is, that was put in later in the mid-19th century. So, for the most part, everything you see outside of some of the ornamental trees are the way it lays. Cemeteries began and accelerated after the Civil War when they became places to memorialize the dead. And that’s when trails were built, gardens were built larger almost. I mean, like a Belmont Mausoleum started to be built. Whereas here, under the vision of Clark and others, we’re all equal no grand markers. Just like if you’re in downtown Newport, we’re one of the only New England communities in our town center that has no church at the top of the town center. We wouldn’t allow that. In fact, all of our places of worship are in an equal semi-distance around. But where we’re walking here, there’s all burials here.
[00:24:55.230] – Keith
My mom, who was 98 last year when she died, would tell me as a kid in the 30s, she could barely walk through here, was so crowded. So, it’s only been in recent history that we’ve seen the loss of markers. And again, most have just simply collapsed into the ground.
[00:25:12.470] – Ian
In terms of the resources and the help that you’re getting to help tell this history, where is that coming from? Is it a private source?
[00:25:25.830] – Keith
No, it’s coming from when I was on the city council back in 92, I established the City Burying Ground Commission and now my wife’s on it. Our historical societies–Rhode Island Black Heritage Society–and it’s their job to come up with a management plan, a landscape plan. We also set up a separate nonprofit in the city to raise funds and, you know, raising funds to restore has not been a problem because the identity is pretty high, and there are families in this community that have a sense to contribute to that. So that’s not been the issue. It’s just painstaking. As I said, it’s close to $3,000 a marker to restore. We have artists come in and do this by hand, and it’s just trying to keep up with the restoration. We’ve done about half. That’s the good news. So, over the next…we’re projecting by the next two to three years, we’ll have everything restored. Then we can go into the ground-penetrating radar and start to identify and then begin to bring them back.
[00:26:20.780] – Tonya
[00:26:23.770] – Keith
I would never restrict public access to this. We’ve had discussions about, should we restrict access? Instead, we’ve decided, no, we should maintain access. But don’t walk your dogs through here off leash. Pick up after yourself. Don’t play football in here. Be careful in here. And for the most part, people have responded very favorably. This is in better shape since I’m 62. This is better shape since I’ve seen it in my life.
[00:26:49.570] – Tonya
Is there something you want visitors walking through these grounds to take away? What do you hope they experience here?
[00:26:59.000] – Keith
I want everyone to walk away and say, wow, this is cool. We existed. This is us. Not everyone looked like George and Martha Washington. They looked like Pompey Brenton. That’s what my daughter my daughter, who’s 33 now, she said that once. She said, oh, it looks like me when she was eight. We’re working here. And that’s cool because she has a sense of identity. This is why Black Panther was such a cool movie, because kids got to go there and say, wow, that’s a superhero. Well, these are the real superheroes here.
[00:27:27.790] – Ian
As we started to wrap up our conversation with Keith and head back to our cars, Keith spoke to us about a reparation strategy he was involved with, and he pointed out some of the other markers of note.
[00:27:41.050] – Keith
As a part of our reparations investment strategy, we’re going to be investing heavily in expanding African heritage, history and culture and identity. We are looking at a project birthright program because we want to make sure that every kid of African heritage gets to go back to Ghana or maybe back to Barbados and Jamaica and reconnect in that level. So that’s a part of our strategy. Recommendations. It’s not 40 acres and a mule. That’s not measurable. I mean, cash allotments aren’t measurable. But there are things that we can do strategically that we generally feel the larger White institute community would be comfortable with, because ultimately, they’re going to have a position because it’s still their world.
[00:28:18.030] – Ian
I’m going to have to come back to that statement. You can ask the cash allotments are not measurable. If you say that to an accountant or someone that we can’t count the money, you are really talking about looking at what we need to do to help people who are essentially left out become included and begin to see that…
[00:28:47.540] – Keith
We’re repairing harm. Reparations is simply repairing harm. And that’s more than a cash allotment…And my ancestor Ottobah. And we can walk up if you want. We got to go up here. I can send you. We have a web link. And my maternal family’s name is Barclay, and they were all a part of the Barclay family, Barclays Bank founders and such. But when he was emancipated [Ottobah], he was specifically brought to Philadelphia, set up with a dowry, set up in training, and then introduced and placed in, at the time, the largest free black settlement in the western hemisphere of Philadelphia. So, he was able to immediately, through his Reparations effort, build a life as a free African in America, surrounded by some of the most, I think, well known, successful black entrepreneurs. James Forten; earliest black religious leaders such as Absalom Jones, Richard Allen–those were all his contemporaries. And it was so the equity investment they made in him in Reparations was not only monetary, it was cultural, it was religious identity. Everything about him was supported. This is our family plot right here. So that’s my dad, my mom, maternal grandparents. That’s the Tuskegee Airman there. So, this area is ours here.
[00:30:12.310] – Keith
And again, the markers are kept very simple here. This is not Island Cemetery. We the whole purpose of being here is being here. That’s what we memorialize. That’s what we celebrate. The fact that we’re here in the picture I showed you, I’m standing about right here with my mom looking at his marker.
[00:30:32.570] – Tonya
The symbolism of the stone.
[00:30:36.330] – Keith
Well, the crosses are veterans, veteran markers.
[00:30:40.420] – Tonya
Those are the rocks on top of this.
[00:30:43.710] – Keith
I don’t know who does it. It’s my maternal grandmother, who is Jewish, but she converted to be a Christian in 1903 in Newport. But that is a symbol of life after death in Judaism. So, by placing if you go to Israel, you go to a burying ground, there’s stones on markers, but it’s a symbol of your everlasting life and remembrance and memorial. So, someone comes by here and does this–just kind of fun. But the stories we have, I mean, the markers that are here are pretty extraordinary. Prince Updike, he’s a master chocolate grinder. We have it because we have his chocolate grinding records. When the sugar tax was put in place, sugar was hard to come by in the colonies. So, it’s several of the Jewish merchants who decide to bring cocoa beans in and they start grinding chocolate. So, chocolate becomes a very, very well-used product versus coffee and tea. And it’s a number of African enslaved and free, that become master chocolate grinders. This is the burial area of Zingo Stevens. Zingo, again, came from Onan ambo. Names like Zingo and Sambo. We have a lot of them here. Those are African names that the white culture and community indoctrinate us that somehow that’s not a positive reference they named.
[00:32:10.220] – Keith
Zingo Stevens–these are his three wives. He outlived. You can see here Elizabeth. Elizabeth. Phyllis. Violet. Right here. Wife of Zingo Stevens. Zingo Stevens is a stone polisher in the John Stevens shop, polishing stones. As such. He’s there at the time with two other Africans. There’s some who interpret that Zingo is the one that carves some of the markers that are here. There are two remaining with the carving, but there’s another that has Pompey Stevens. Looking at the records at that time in the gaps, there’s a general belief by some that Pompey and Zingo are the same person, that Pompey is a slave name, and then it becomes free. He’s always known as Zingo Stevens because Pompey disappears from the records almost exactly when Zingo appears. And then going forward as a free man, it’s Zingo Stevens, whereas the two markers have P S or Pompey Stevens. So, there are some who believe they might be two different people, others who might think one versus the next. My sense is it doesn’t matter. These are Africans cutting stones and signing. It one of the things that’s injured about Zingo Stevens, we have no idea where he’s buried.
[00:33:32.380] – Keith
There’s no record. He’s buried here. His home still stands. This is his daughter Sarah, who married. This is Cuffy Rodman. And their home still stands in the point. In fact, we have over 30 homes where Africans owned and lived in the colonial time still standing. Many are now Airbnb’s. And I guess it’s not sexy to name it after an African name. They want a pirate or English captain, but one of the great. And I want you to look at this very carefully, this marker, very, very carefully. If you look at it, Phyllis. Now, Phyllis was, along with Zingo, member of the Second Congregational Church, Reverend Ezra Stiles. And we have styles as records and such when she died, and all their kids are converted and all of them baptized in the church. She died giving birth to her son, Prince. I mean, obviously, childbirth was reckless then, and a number of children are stillborn. Like it’s this term here. So, the child was buried here, and she died a few days later and was buried with the child. But I want you to look very carefully at this. The child in her hands has African features.
[00:34:40.270] – Keith
That’s an African child. And she’s wearing a headwrap. She’s wearing a very traditional African woman headwrap, which they would have worn consistently at that time. So, again, this marker tells us so, so much more about slavery. And then at the end, you have some verses from the Bible which they believed in very strongly. But it’s the imagery that it has there. I mean, beneath the stone is an African child and woman. And today, anyone can come here and see this. And when I show this to kids of color, they’re like, wow, who cares about George Washington? Tell me more about Phillis, and she and other African women here were friends and contemporaries of Phillis Wheatley in Boston. There’s a whole series of letters between an Obour Tanner, who’s there, and Phyllis Wheatley that still exists, and they’re talking back and forth as two free African women. In fact, Phillis Wheatley’s first published poem is in the Newport Mercury. Here in Newport, not Boston. And she has letters talking to a number of Africans that are buried here who are all friends of her talking about religion. She came from Senegal originally. In fact, the Newport Africans tried to convince her to return to Africa with her, and she said, no, she’s too sickly.
[00:36:07.810] – Keith
She’s forgotten the language. So, my point is, is that there’s so many stories here that we can tell you about the people. And I’ve not even gotten into 18th and 19th, early 20th century. We have some of the first Black graduates of Wesleyan here, some of the first doctors.
[00:36:29.230] – Tonya
Wow. We’ll just have to come back.
[00:36:31.150] – Ian
And we will be back.
[00:36:38.110] – Tonya
Keith left us with so much to unpack. We could actually spend an hour reflecting on our conversations.
[00:36:45.330] – Ian
Yes, indeed. And we only offered a brief mention of our conversation about reparations that go beyond what he calls unmeasurable cash allotments.
[00:36:55.830] – Tonya
I know. And that was a very interesting conversation we’ll have to save for another time. So, in the interest of time, we’re going to yield the remaining time to Keith as we learn about the person, past or present, that he’d like to travel back to Ghana with.
[00:37:11.450] – Keith
Oh, I’d return with my great great grandfather, Ottobah. I would just want to see his face in his eyes, what it’s like. I would go from Newport to Philadelphia to Jamaica and to Ghana and just be able to see him returning home and what he felt like and what it means to him, and then have him take me by hand and walk me through plantations in Jamaica and then walk me through small townships. That’d be cool. That’s an easy one.
[00:37:40.130] – Tonya
We’re Tonya and Ian Fitzpatrick, and we’re so happy that you’re here. It would mean a great deal if you could leave a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening to us on.
[00:37:52.120] – Ian
We’d love for you to join our community, so please subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter from our website at worldfootprints.com. Our newsletter is full of travel news, tips and resources, including our favorite links.
[00:38:07.450] – Tonya
Thank you so much for your support and for giving us a space to share the world through the stories we offer on World Footprints.
[00:38:17.390] – Female Announcer
This World Footprints podcast with Ian and Tonya Fitzpatrick is a production of World Footprints LLC, Silver Spring, Maryland. The multi-award-winning podcast is available on worldfootprints.com and on audio platforms worldwide, including iHeartRadio, Public Radio Exchange, iTunes, and Stitcher. Connect with the world one story at a time with World Footprints. Visit worldfootprints.com to enjoy more podcasts and explore hundreds of articles from international travel writers and be sure to subscribe to the newsletter. World Footprints is a trademark of World Footprints LLC, which retains all rights to the World Footprints portfolio, including worldfootprints.com and this podcast.