Just across Marlborough St. from The White Horse Tavern is a triangular patch of land known as Liberty Square. The square was donated to the Newport Magistrates in the mid-18th century by members of the Newport Artillery. The donation was intended to establish a “Mustering Place” where free men could assemble and speak freely under the protection of habeas corpus – a writ requiring a person be brought to court as a protection against illegal imprisonment.
In the heat of our nation’s revolutionary period, militia officers Thurston and Sheffield relinquished their deed to Liberty Square rendering it free from ownership by any corporation, person, city, state or country. As a result, this little patch of land is not considered real estate, but is more accurately described as “Surreal Estate,” a gift of freedom to our city and our nation.
Many (including this author – see George Sullivan’s comment below) mistake Liberty Square for Ellery Park located at the confluence of Farewell and Thames Street. A very old tree stands there marking the spot where 18th century slaves and free men organized and protested.
In 1755, prior to the Revolutionary War and the British occupation of Newport, Newport’s slaves gathered here to hold the first African election. They congregated under a great tree described in1766 by owner William Reed as a “large buttonwood tree,” to elect a governor for the coming year. Continue reading