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A Grant Helps to Restore the Largest Colonial-Era African Burial Ground in the U.S.

A Grant Helps to Restore the Largest Colonial-Era African Burial Ground in the U.S.

The new God’s Little Acre sign, fabricated and installed by the City of Newport, Rhode Island, marks the boundary of God’s Little Acre within the Common Burying Ground. The new sign was replicated to match the original sign that was damaged in 2011 during a storm. The United States’s largest and most intact Colonial-era African burial ground is not in New York, Chicago, or any other urban metropolis. It’s tucked into a corner of the Common Burying Ground in the small city of Newport, Rhode Island . Known as God’s Little Acre, the burial site contains a sizable collection of 200 elaborately carved, 18th-century headstones of freed and enslaved men and women of African heritage, from a time when such graves were typically left unmarked. Among the notable individuals buried here are Pompe Stevens, a craftsman enslaved to a stone carver at the acclaimed (and still operating) Johns Stevens Shop. Pompe Stevens carved at least two of the headstones in God’s Little Acre, as well as others nearby, and his work is largely considered to be among the first signed African-heritage artworks in the country. Grave markers here also include those for other notable members of Newport’s colonial African community, including Duchess Quamino , a celebrated chef whose husband was the first African American to attend Princeton University; Arthur Tikey, a rope maker and prominent member of the Free African Union Society , a mutual aid organization; and Pompey Brenton, who was elected as one of Newport’s culturally significant African Governors . The Tombstone of Pompey Brenton, Newport, Rhode Island, 1772. Through the centuries, these delicate slate grave stones have endured harsh New England weather and freeze-thaw cycles, resulting in delamination and material loss. In July, however, God’s Little Acre was named among the recipients of a grant from the the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. The $50,000 in support will help The Preservation Society of Newport County and the city’s Historic Cemetery Advisory Commission to conserve 30 of the site’s grave markers. But, more broadly, the conservation efforts will “help tell the story of Northern slavery in America, and to remember the lives and sacrifices of the enslaved Africans buried there,” says Brent Leggs, executive director of the Action Fund. A view looking at a dense section of carved slate headstones within God’s Little Acre. Though the seaside city is better known as a tourist destination with a rich history of Gilded Age wealth and a massive stock of Colonia-era houses , Newport is less known for its implications in the slave trade. By the mid 18th century, however, Newport’s economy was not only dependent upon the skilled work of enslaved people, it was also one of the country’s largest slave markets, surpassing even Boston. Bringing to life the struggles and triumphs of individual lives and deaths through such historic conservation projects illuminates their stories in our imaginations; to know more about these people is to better understand the history of the U.S. “We hope historians and all Americans will see firsthand that slavery wasn’t just confined to the South; it was a system of injustice that fueled Northern economies and cultural discrimination,” says Leggs. “We want Americans to learn about our African ancestors, hear their names, and discover burial traditions that make this hallowed space exceptional and worthy of preservation and education.”

A Grant Helps to Restore the Largest Colonial-Era African Burial Ground in the U.S.

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