Excerpted Texts

Supporting the Colonial Theory

From: "Newport: Historical and Social." Harper's New Monthly Magazine, vol. 9, no. 51 (August 1854). 

 

Supporting the Portuguese Theory

From: da Silva, Manuel Luciano. "Portuguese Tower of Newport." In Portuguese Pilgrims & Dighton Rock. Bristol, R. I: [s. n.], 1971. 

 

Newspaper Stories

From: Grist Mill, "The Old Stone Mill," Newport Daily News, 19 November 1985, sec. A4. *Narragansett Indians and the Old Stone Mill. 

 

Literature & Poetry

From: Longfellow, Samuel. Life of  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1886.

From: Hinds, Ernest Jasper. "The Old Stone Mill," 147-48. In Newport Poems. Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1942.  

Ernest Jasper Hinds

 

The Old Stone Mill  

     – Ernest Jasper Hinds

 

Built high upon a sea-beholding hill,   

Defiant, quaint, impenetrable, still,  

Mysterious enigma of the years,  

There stands the ruin of an ancient mill. 

 

Did old Red Eric Warlock, stern and bold  

Or some wild sea wolf of the days of old,  

Build here a bower for his lady love,  

A shelter here to shield her from the cold? 

 

Or did some prehistoric race of man  

Some colony from far-off  Yucatan,  

Erect a summer palace for their King,  

For thus the Red Men's ancient legend ran. 

 

If Christian white men built this tower so tall,  

Why did they put those altars in its wall?  

And why the pagan symbols south and north?  

Or why the need for building it at all? 

 

But Newport, smiling in her summer dress,  

Smiles on, and hazards many a guess  

To read the riddle of her ancient mill  

And with her matchless beauty all to bless. 

 

And thou, Oh Newport, goddess of the sea,  

How oft thine absent lovers yearn for thee,  

When they perchance have wandered far afield,  

What joy once more thy storied cliffs to see.  

 

To see thy breakers marching row on row,  

To feel the sharp pull of the undertow,  

To hear the sun-browned children shout in glee,  

While ceaselessly the bathers come and go. 

 

What mem'ries linger round this hallowed hill,  

Guarded by Channing and Perry still,  

And Newport, queen of fair Aquidneck Isle,  

Ever the same shall guard her old Old Stone Mill.         

 

from:

Hinds, Ernest Jasper. "The Old Stone Mill,"  147-48.  In Newport Poems. Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1942.

 

A native of East Boston, Hinds came to Newport at the age of 28, shortly after his marriage to Mary Richardson of Northampton, MA, in 1918. Employed at the Naval Torpedo Station, he subsequently served as the sexton of Channing Memorial Church until two years before his death in 1945 at the age of 74.

Grist Mill

Grist Mill  [Leonard Panaggio]

"The Old Stone Mill," Newport Daily News, 19 November 1985, sec. A4. 

 

The Old Stone Mill, perhaps one of this nation's oldest tourist curiosities, has been "built" by Vikings, Portuguese explorers, Irish monks, and, of course, our Colonial Settlers. On Aug. 31, l918, the Providence Journal reported the observations of Chief Strongheart, a member of the Yakima tribe. The Yakima Indians live in Washington State.   

 

Chief Strongheart made the claim that the stone tower was not built by Norsemen or the British, but by Narragansett Indians. It was not built for mill purposes, but as a temple!  The Indian chief was lecturing in the interests of the YMCA at the naval stations and army cantonments while on a tour of the installations in the Newport district. Maybe the visiting Yakima leader has a point to consider. Many of the miles of beautiful dry stone walls, made from the local field stones, just like those in the Old Stone Mill, were constructed by Indians working for early settlers.  

 

Harper's New Monthly Magazine

An excerpt from "Newport: Historical and Social," in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, vol. 9, no. 51 (August 1854): 314-315

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We speak of the old days of Newport, and of its vanished glories.  But there remains one monument which interests the poet, the antiquarian, the traveler, the controversialist, the divine; of which sweet songs have been sung, wild theories spun, and happy hoaxes invented,  It is the "stem round tower of other days," the Newport ruin, the old mill.  It stands upon a lot between Mill and Pelham streets, opposite the front of the Atlantic House.  It tells no story itself, but it is suggestive of romantic legend, although there can be little doubt that it is only an old mill.  A pamphlet published two or three years since in Newport, and understood to be written by Rev. Charles T. Brooks, the accomplished and genial scholar, the graceful poet, and pastor of the church at whose dedication Dr. Channing paid his interesting and beautiful tribute of remembrance to the island, contains the most lucid and comprehensive account of the structure.  The society of Danish Antiquaries at Copenhagen had, upon the reception of some imperfect drawings, hastily decided that it was probably built in the twelfth century by the Northmen who coasted along the New England shore, and called the country Vinland, from the abundance of grapes.  It is upon this romantic hint, and the discovery of "a skeleton in armor" at Fall River, upon the main near Newport, that Longfellow has founded his heroic ballad of the same name. 

 

The Viking escapes with his mistress from her forbidding father and the Norsemen: 

 

"Three weeks we westward bore,  

And, when the storm was o'er,   

Cloud-like we saw the shore,   

Stretching to leeward;   

There, for my lady's bower,  

Built I the lofty tower,   

Which, to this very hour,   

Stands, looking seaward." 

 

The old mill is about seventy-five feet above the high-water level in the harbor, and about a hundred and twenty rods from the shore. The earliest settlers make no mention of it, and this is quite sufficient proof of its erection since that period, as the original settlement of the town was very near the site of the building, and so remark-able an object would not have escaped mention by some of the profuse diarists of the times.  In 1663, Peter Easton, one of the first settlers, says in his Journal, that the first wind-mill was built during that year; and, in 1675, it was blown down by a heavy gale.  This fact would induce its reconstruction in a more solid manner.  In 1653, Benedict Arnold, who was of a different family from that of the traitor, came to Newport from Providence, where he had had difficulties with Roger Williams and with the Indians.  He settled in Newport, and was presently made Governor.  He built a house upon a lot of sixteen acres, just in the rear of the present site of the Rhode Island Union Bank upon Thames Street, the eastern part of which includes the mill. Governor Arnold died in 1678, aged sixty-three years.  His will is dated 20th December, 1677, and speaks of the lot upon which stands "my stone-built wind-mill."  It would be very natural that Arnold, who was not in favor with the Indians, would be quite willing to erect a building which not only should look like a fort, but might actually serve as one, and especially as the wind-mill had just been blown down, he would wish to build securely. 

    

Mr. Joseph Mumford stated, in l834, when he was eighty years old, that his father was born in 1699, and always spoke of the building as a powder-mill, and he himself remembered that in his boyhood, say in 1760, it was used as a hay-mow.  John Langley, another octogenarian, remembered hearing his father say, that when he was a boy, which must have been early in the eighteenth century, he carried corn to the mill to be ground.  Edward Pelham, who married Arnold's granddaughter, in his will, dated in 1740, calls it "an old stone wind-mill." 

 

This is the direct historical testimony.  The evidence from the material, form, and quality of lime, &c., is equally satisfactory.  It was built of stone, because there were no saw-mills then upon the island to make boards, and because the material was ample and accessible.  The shells, sand, and gravel for lime were equally convenient to use.  In the year 1848, some mortar from an old stone-house in Spring Street, built by Henry Bull in 1639, from the tomb of Governor Benedict Arnold, and from various other old buildings, was compared with the mortar of the old mill, and found to be identical in quality and character. The form is that of English mills at the period, with which the builders would be most familiar. In the Penny Magazine for November, 1836, there is a picture of a mill in Warwickshire, designed by Inigo Jones, who died in 1652, of which the form is quite the same.  Old sea-captains and travelers testify to having seen hundreds of similar wind mills all over the north of Europe.

 

Vague romance totters under these direct blows of fact. 

 

"Alas the antiquarian's dream is o'er-  

Thou art an old stone wind-mill, nothing more!" 

 

sings Mr. Brooks in his poem of  "Aquidneck." But the old ruin does not lose its interest.  It is a permanent link with the earliest historical days of the Island. It belongs still to as much romance as the poet can bring to it.  No one has more fully proved it than the author of an admirable antiquarian hoax upon the building, in a series of letters professing to come from "Antiquarian," dating from Brown University, in 1847.  He introduces the Danish theory, supported by reports of fabulous investigations by fictitious characters, which did not fail of provoking caustic correspondence, and finally achieving its triumph by eliciting a solemn denial, from Professor Rafn, of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries at Copenhagen, of the existence of such characters as Bishop Oelrischer, Professors Scrobein, Graetz, &c.  Its true history, also, has been hinted in song by the laureate of Old Grimes, a Rhode Island poet, scholar, and gentleman [Albert G. Greene, of  Providence], whose musical verses sum up the whole matter.  It is the Song of the Wind-mill Spirits

 

"How gayly that morning we danced on the hill,   

When we saw the old Pilgrims were building a mill.   

Its framework all fell ere a century waned,   

And only the shaft and the millstones remained.   

It was built all of wood,   

And bravely had stood,   

Sound-hearted and merry, as long as it could;  

And the hardy old men   

Determined that then   

Of firm, solid stone they would build it again,  

With a causeway and draw,   

Because they foresaw   

It would make a good fort in some hard Indian war." 

 

Longfellow

 

"Three weeks we westward bore, 

And, when the storm was o'er,  

Cloud-like we saw the shore,  

     Stretching to leeward;  

There, for my lady's bower, 

Built I the lofty tower,  

Which, to this very hour,  

     Stands, looking seaward.

There lived we many years; 

Time dried the maiden's tears; 

She had forgot her fears, 

     She was a mother; 

Death closed her mild blue eyes, 

Under that tower she lies; 

Ne'er shall the sun arise 

     On such another!" 

 

These stanzas are excerpted from The Skeleton in Armor by Henry W. Longfellow (Boston: J. R. Osgood, 1877). 

 

Regarding The Skeleton in Armor, Longfellow (1807-1882) had written to his father, Stephen Longfellow, on December 13, 1840:

 

I have been hard at work, - for the most part wrapped up in my own dreams. Have written a translation of a German ballad, and prepared for the press another original ballad, which has been lying by me some time. It is called 'The Skeleton in Armor,' and is connected with the old Round Tower at Newport. This skeleton in armor really exists. It was dug up near Fall River, where I saw it some two years ago [when returning from Newport]. I suppose it to be the remains of one of the old Northern sea-rovers, who came to this country in the tenth century. Of course I make the tradition myself; and I think I have succeeded in giving the whole a Northern air. You shall judge soon, as it will probably be in the next Knickerbocker; and it is altogether too long to copy in a letter. I hope it may be successful, though I fear that those who only glance at it will not fully comprehend it; and I must say to the benevolent reader, as Rudbeck says in the preface of his Atlantica (a work of only 2,500 folio pages), "If thou hast not leisure to study it through ten times, then do not read it once, - especially if thou wilt utter thy censure thereof." A modest request!  

 

From Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by Samuel Longfellow, ed. (Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1886), vol. 1, p. 366.

 

1852 JOURNAL

Longfellow's Journal records his impressions of his visit to Newport:

 

July 3rd

Newport.

Here we are, in the clover-fields on the cliff, at Hazard's house; near the beach, with the glorious sea unrolling its changing billows before us. 

 

6th

A drive and a bath on the beach. How beautifully the soft sea spreads its broad-feathered fans upon the shore. In the afternoon we went and sat by the sea under the cliff and watched the breakers and the sails, and thought the rocks looked like the Mediterranean shore, and that the Italian language would sound well.  

(p.223)

Portuguese Tower of Newport

Excerpted from Dr. Manuel Luciano da Silva's Portuguese Pilgrims and Dighton Rock.  Bristol, R. I: [s. n.], 1971,  74-78

 

The Newport Tower, located in Touro Park (Newport, Rhode Island), is considered the single most enigmatic and puzzling structure to be found in the United States. Many scholars here and abroad have written extensively about its probable builders. They all agree that it was not erected by the American Indians. Its architectural characteristics indicate a style from Europe or the Near East.  

  

LOCATION

The tower is situated at 41° 27 minutes north latitude on the highest point of the peninsula which forms the City of Newport. It was built about a half mile from both the East and West shore lines of the city. Its panoramic view dominates all water entrances of the Narragansett Delta.  

 

ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES

The tower is a cylindrical structure with an outside diameter of 23 feet, and 24 1/2 feet in height. It has eight round columns or pillars, 7 1/2 feet high. 

 

Columns 1 and 5 are situated in a true North-South line oriented by the North Star. Each column rests on a base with a circumference of 12 feet. The columns are connected by 8 round arches, forming an inverted U and suggesting a Romanesque style. 

 

Above the arches are three principal windows. The first window, at 70' east northeast looks toward Easton Point and the mouth of the Sakonnet River. The second window is situated due south facing the Atlantic Ocean. The third window points west facing Newport Harbor and the entrance to Narragansett Bay. 

 

Inside, the Tower has 7 small niches and a so-called "fireplace" built into the wall. At the top of each column on the inner side, and between the arches, there are triangular sockets which served to insert wooden beams. 

 

The Tower is composed of laminated slate, sea-worn stones and mortar. The mortar is composed of sand, fine gravel and lime derived from sea shells or limestone. All these materials were native and could be found within the region nearby. The seashore is only one-half mile away.  

 

OCTAGONAL CONFIGURATION

The round arch as an architectural form, first appeared in the Near East. Byzantine architects (IVth Century, A.D.) began constructing four-sided towers, gradually evolving into an octagonal shape, and finally building round towers on which to rest the domes of their churches. 

 

Since then, both the round and octagonal forms have been used interchangeably as serving the same architectural function. Both styles were adopted throughout Christendom. The church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (built 330 A.D.) containing the tomb of Christ, has around altar. The Templars worshipped at the main altar of the Holy Sepulcher Church. Upon returning from the Crusades (XIIth Century) they introduced round and octagonal churches throughout most of Europe. 

 

Initially, the round towers were used to support domes which symbolized the stars or heaven. But soon the same style was used in building the watchtowers of the medieval castles. There are many round and octagonal churches in Europe but most are to be found in Southern Europe. The secret of the Newport Tower lies in one of these round European structures erected by the Templars. 

 

THEORIES

There are two major theories concerning the on gin of Newport Tower: 1) the Arnold or Yankee theory, 2) The Norse, Viking, or Scandinavian theory.  

 

THE ARNOLD THEORY

The Arnold theory is based on two assumptions: 1) Benedict Arnold, Governor of Newport, R. I. refers to the Tower in his will (November 24, 1677) as "my stonebuilt-windmilln." 2) The architectural form of the Tower resembles a windmill standing in Chesterton, England, where Arnold was born. Robert Philip Means in his book, Newport Tower (1942) disproved conclusively the Arnold theory. 

 

First, Means shows that Arnold was born far from the Town of Chesterton and what the Arnoldists refer to as a "mill" was actually an observatory of six arches and six columns. He also observes that in the year 1675 - when Arnold was supposed to have built the Tower - the colonists were engaged in a bloody Indian war known as ''King Philip's War." The year 1675 marked the peak of the war between colonists and Indians. How could Arnold mobilize the manpower to move tons of material to build such a fancy "windmilln" and not erect instead a fort to protect the whites from the rampaging red men? "Building from the ground up so amazing a windmill under these circumstances is inconceivable" Means asserted. 

 

And he finally proposed that, if Governor Arnold built the Newport Tower he should be credited with "the first and only tower windmill in the English-speaking world." 

 

If the Arnoldists insist on supporting their theory with a pair of hyphenated words ("stonebuilt-windmilln") they will be propping their view only with sentimentality and prejudice.  

 

THE NORSE THEORY

The Viking theory is based on three assertions: 

1) According to the "Vinland Sagas", the Norsemen (Norwegians chiefly, Danes and Swedes) made voyages to North America from the Xth to the XIIth Centuries: 

     a) Leif Ericsson c. 1010 A.D. 

     b) Thorfinn Karlsefni c. 1010 A.D. 

     c) Bishop Eric Grunpfson c. 1121 A.D. 

2) The Norsemen, during that period, made the inscriptions on Dighton Rock. 

3) The Norsemen also built the Newport Tower as a Catholic Scandinavian church.  

 

REFUTATION

1) The "Vinland Sagas" cannot be considered reliable historical references. The scholars that have studied "the Sagas" are the first to admit that they are a collection of legends carried down through generations of hearsay. Until more concrete evidence is found, no historical value can be attributed to the tales described in the voyages of the Norsemen to North America, and more specifically to Narragansett Bay. 

 

2) It has been demonstrated conclusively (Chap. 7) that the theory proposed by Charles Rafn in 1836, namely that Thorfinn Karlsefni was the author of the Dighton Rock inscriptions, has no foundation and is totally erroneous. 

 

3) The Scandinavians were the last to accept the Catholic religion. They also have the smallest number of round or octagonal churches in Europe. Denmark has one octagonal and three round churches. Sweden has two round ones and Norway none. 

 

Robert Means, after doing such excellent work in killing the Arnold theory, went specially to the Scandinavian countries hoping to find an abundance of round churches to uphold the Norse theory. He was heartbroken, when in Norway, the country chiefly associated with the Norse voyages, he could not find even one round or octagonal church standing. 

 

If we assume that Ericsson and Karlsefni came to America in the XIth Century, it is obvious they could not have built the Newport Tower inspired by the style of the Holy Sepul chre rotunda, because the first crusade to the Holy Land took place a century later. 

 

Bishop Eric Grunpfson also could not have built the round tower of Newport because there were, before his supposed departure, no round or octagonal churches in any of the Scandinavian countries. It is impossible to believe that with the tempting offer of heaven to those who would participate in the crusades, some Bishop would choose to venture into the unknown Atlantic to christianize the natives, when Christian Europe was actively fighting the Arab and Turkish infidels. If the Norsemen made so many trips to North America, as noted in the "Sagas", why did they not build any other church, round or square, elsewhere in America? 

 

If the Norsemen did come to North America, it is because they drifted into the Greenland Current which runs from Europe to Greenland. With their type of sailing vessel, the Norsemen could not navigate below the tip of Cape Cod, against the strong opposing winds and currents of the Gulf Stream. Centuries later, this same current forced the Pilgrims to navigate above Cape Cod, and away from their original destination of Virginia. 

 

The Norsemen also did not have the jib sail, which was necessary in order to navigate against the wind or in a zigzag fashion. This technique was later developed by the Portuguese. It is absurd to claim that the Norsemen navigated the rough North Atlantic, from Iceland or Greenland, directly to Narragansett Bay before the discovery of the caravel. 

 

The arguments in favor of the Norse theory are much weaker than those backing the Arnold theory. They are so vague and unspecific, that the Nordists can hardly support their theory on ethnic sentimentality and prejudice. 

 

Means confessed to be "bothered" by the evidence of Dighton Rock inscriptions in favor of Corte Real and also by the cannon and sword found near Ninigret Fort. He also states that "he saw in the old Portuguese fort of Tangier cannons like this one (at Ninigret)."

 

Disillusioned, Means, who painstakingly gathered material for the Norse theory, in the last chapter of his book nevertheless assigns a meager "five per cent" probability to the Portuguese theory of Newport Tower.  

 

PORTUGUESE THEORY

The Portuguese theory begins in Tomar, a city in central Portugal. It is not a legend nor a saga. It is there today, gallant and beautiful, as the main rotunda or charola of the Castle of Tomar. It was erected in 1160 by the Portuguese Order of Templars, which later in 1320 was named Order of Christ. This Order furnished the financial resources, the manpower, and religious training for the navigators and missionaries of the Portuguese discoveries. The Portuguese Templars, inspired by the round and octagonal churches they saw in the Near East, especially the Holy Sepulcher, built five castles (Almoural, Idanha, Monsanto, Pombal, Tomar and Zezere) , in the same style.  

 

Newport Tower with 8 arches.
Charola, or main altar, with 8 round arches, in the Castle of Tomar.

 

The Castle of Tomar is the prototype of the Portuguese octagonal rotundas with eight arches. It has an outside wall which is round and terminates in a watch tower. Herbert Pell, former United States Ambassador to Portugal, was the first (1948) to make the direct connection between Newport Tower and the main tower of the Castle of Tomar. 

 

He pointed out that the Portuguese have always been good masons: "Even today their favorite way of construction is to use small stones thickly embedded in cement" which was the method used in Newport Tower. Pell should have noted that the Portuguese, during the time of the discoveries, used the same method to build more than 150 castles and churches in North, West, and East Africa, the Far East (Ceylon, Japan, India) and Brazil. 

 

No European country has built more churches and castles with round and octagonal towers than Portugal in so many distant lands. In fact, the Portuguese flag is the only one in the world in which there are castles. The arches of these castles resemble those of the Newport Tower. 

 

It does not matter for which purpose the Newport Tower was built: (a) windmill, (b) Catholic church rotunda, or (c) watchtower. The evidence in favor of the Portuguese theory by far outweighs that of the Yankee or Norse theories. 

 

The round windmills, which had their origin in Persia, were introduced into Europe by the Moors via the Iberian Peninsula. Advanced knowledge of the windmills was acquired by the Portuguese Navigators on their voyages to the Persian Gulf. 

 

In the United States, it is thought that Holland is the country that has the largest number of windmills. In actual fact, the Dutch have five-hundred windmills and Portugal has three thousand. We have seen that the Portuguese had the practice of building a combined church and fortress. Starting with the main rotunda (octagonal or round) , the church terminated in the watchtower. 

 

The construction of Newport Tower was a gigantic enterprise, considering the availability of material and manpower. Only a very strong motive could have inspired its builders. There are many octagonal and round churches in Portugal which could serve as prototypes to the Newport Tower. 

 

However, evidence strongly indicates that Miguel Corte-Real and his crew built the Newport Tower to use as a church-watchtower in anticipation that Miguel's oldest brother, Vasqueances, would come searching for him, as Miguel had done for Gaspar. 

 

As stated before, Dighton Rock is the primary evidence for the Corte-Real discovery of Narragansett Bay. Together with the anthropological and linguistic evidence, the Newport Tower constitutes another strong link in the Portuguese theory. One further link in the Portuguese chain of facts brings us to the archeological findings at Ninigret Fort. 

 

This chapter is reprinted with the kind permission of Dr. Manuel Luciano da Silva.