Redwood History: John Banister

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 10:22am -- mfarias

In early Newport society, many of the most prominent men belonged to the Redwood Library and their membership was later continued by their sons. It was clearly something of a family tradition to belong to and support the library, especially in the beginning, such as with the Banister family.


Bannister's Wharf today, with another spelling of the name (Photo Credit: Bannister's Marina)

John Banister (1707-1767) was the son of Boston merchant Thomas Banister (c.1683-1716). He left Boston around 1736 to move to Newport and establish his businesses here. He made a successful living trading with England and the West Indies and engaging with privateering and the slave trade. He owned a number of wharves and warehouses on the water and gained even more property through marriage: property along Pelham Street, Old Stone Mill, and what is now known as Touro Park. In the Redwood Annals, John Banister is admitted as a member of the Redwood Library in September, 1751, four years after the founding of the Redwood Company and just a year after the construction of the library building.


View of Banister's home, built 1751-1754 (Photo Credit: Explore Historic Newport)

Banister’s advantageous marriage was to Hermione Pelham (1718-1765), a descendant of Governor Benedict Arnold. Their wedding took place on November 14, 1737 at Trinity Church in Newport. Together they had three children, Pelham (1739-), John (1744/5-1807), and Thomas. The younger John Banister graduated from Harvard in 1764 and inherited a share of his father’s property just three years later when his father died in 1767. John and Thomas were left the majority of his estate in his will, but it was John who became owner of the family residence in Newport and continued his father’s work as a Newport merchant while maintaining the residence, a farm in Middletown, land throughout New England, and a plantation in North Carolina.


Portrait of John Banister (1744/45-1807) c. 1775 - Gilbert Stuart
From the collection of the Redwood Library & Athenaeum 

On September 29, 1768 Banister married Christian Stelle (1747-1830), daughter of Capt. Issac Stelle, in Trinity Church. They had one child, named John Banister Jr. who left no descendants. Their home was occupied by rebel troops during the Revolutionary War, although he managed to remain in town during the occupation. Following the war, Banister continued to be an active member of Newport society. In 1789 and 1790 he served as a Justice of the Peace for Newport and in the Redwood Annals, he is mentioned in declarations of members from both 1790 and 1791. He was very interested in the success of the Redwood Library and his portrait, done by Gilbert Stuart, is a part of our collection, along with a painting Stuart did of Banister’s wife and young son.

Portrait of Christian Stelle Banister (1747-1830) and son John Jr. c. 1774/5 - Gilbert Stuart
From the collection of the Redwood Library & Athenaeum 

From 1794 to 1802 Banister made his home in South Kingston, but he returned to Newport where he died on November 10, 1807, leaving a large estate. Not much is known about his son other than that he died leaving no descendants. The connection of Banisters at the Redwood Library may have ended when the second John Banister died in 1807, but there were plenty of other families who kept up the tradition of supporting the Redwood Library, keeping it alive through a war and through recession, to thrive today.