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Historical Society Purchases 1821 Letter Written by a Slave

Historical Society Purchases 1821 Letter Written by a Slave

The Newport Historical Society has purchased an 1821 letter from a former slave whose story made him one of the city’s most notable free African-American citizens.

Published February 8, 2012

 A Rhode Island group has purchased a priceless piece of history.


The Newport Historical Society has purchased an 1821 letter from a former slave whose story made him one of the city’s most notable free African-American citizens.


The letter was written by Newport Gardner, a slave who was purchased and renamed by a local ship captain in 1760. It was addressed to his niece and it contained religious observations and updates about relatives. According to the Newport Daily News, Gardner led the Free African Union Society, believed to be the first association of African-Americans in the country. Gardner was also the country’s first Black music teacher.


Thirty-one years later after he was purchased, in 1791, Gardner won the lottery and used the proceeds to buy his freedom.


The letter was purchased by the Historical Society from an unidentified out-of-state collector. They are now raising money to preserve the artifact.


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(Photo: Courtesy NEWPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

Written by Danielle Wright

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