Bowens Wharf

Presence of slavery and/or the slave trade on Bowen’s Wharf.

Research Summary:

Evidence of the relationship of Bowen’s Wharf to slavery and the salve trade was sought through the chain of ownership of the property and contemporary newspaper advertisements. Within the chain of ownership there was only one document that revealed slave ownership, the 1749 Will of Edward Pelham bequeathed Jupiter, Frank, Margaret and her child (Newport Town Council 8: 153) to his heirs. There is no record of these four individuals being passed or sold to later descendants, nor are there death or burial records. Given the wealth and status of the Pelham family one would expect to find a more complete record of slave ownership. This may be attributed to the lack of extant merchant documents for the Pelhams and the damaged condition of the Newport Colonial records (damaged during the American Revolution). In contrast there are numerous references to the ownership of slaves within the family of Edward Pelham’s daughter, Hermione Banister, wife to John Banister 18th century owner of the abutting wharf to the south.

Evidence of slave activity on Bowen’s Wharf was also sought through contemporary newspaper advertisements. Only one known advertisement relevant to Bowen’s Wharf was discovered. A listing in the 1 March 1783 issue of the Newport Mercury advertised the public sale of the remains of the Brig Betsey & Polly, including “a likely young Negro Fellow”.

It is important to recognize that Rhode Island’s wealth and development were historically dependent on the unwilling labor of people of African and Native descent, who played an integral role in building this State. Slavery and the slave trade under‐girded the entire colonial economy of Newport. Even though there is a lacuna of archival documentation it is certain that there was a presence of enslaved people laboring on Bowen’s Wharf in the trades that supported the maritime industry, and/or being transported on the ships that came and went, as well as the presence of the products that fueled the trans‐Atlantic trade.

Chain of ownership for Bowen’s Wharf, 1652 ‐ 1724:

1652 Jeremy Clarke to Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold (1615‐1678) moved from Providence to Newport in 1652, having purchased his house lot and other properties just prior to moving. The deed to Arnold’s lot has been lost, however numerous studies of The Old Stone Mill and the Arnold Burying Ground have suggested that the most likely grantor was Jeremy Clarke, a property abutter to the North. This missing deed appears to be confirmed by an agreement between Walter Clarke and his mother Frances Vahan (alternate spelling Vaughan) in 1656 (Rhode Island Land Evidences: 43).

Arnold’s house lot was believed to be bounded by Newport Harbor and what are now Bellevue Avenue, Mill Street, and Prospect Hill Street. Arnold’s stone end mansion fronted Thames Street with a view of his harborfront wharf.

1677 Estate of Benedict Arnold Bequest to Daughter Freelove (Arnold) Pelham

In his Last Will and Testament, Benedict Arnold bequeathed his Dwelling House and a “lesser parcel whereon is Erected my Warehouse and Wharf” to his widow Damaris (Wescott) Arnold for her natural life, then to his youngest daughter Freelove (Fiske: case 3). Freelove Arnold (1661‐1711) married Edward Pelham, son of Sir Herbert Pelham of Boston, direct descendant of Queen Anne Boleyn’s brother Thomas.

1711 Estate of Freelove (Arnold) Pelham Bequest to Son Thomas Pelham

Freelove Pelham bequeathed her northernmost lot “with the wharf and warehouse thereon” to son Thomas Pelham (Newport Town Council 7:52). Thomas Pelham (1687‐1724) died “sick and weak” and unmarried, leaving a Last Will and Testament with missing bequests. (Newport Town Council 5: 261. The record is fragmented).

1724 Estate of Thomas Pelham to Brother Edward Pelham

Thomas Pelham’s surviving Will fragment is missing all bequests, including the waterfront wharf and warehouses. It became the property of his brother Edward Pelham by bequest or a later family purchase.

Chain of ownership for Bowen’s Wharf, 1740 ‐ 1781:

1740 Estate of Edward Pelham to Daughter Penelope (Pelham) Cowley

Edward Pelham of Newport, Gentleman and Esquire, wrote his extensive will on 21 May 1740 and it was proved on 4 January 1741. The original signed document is at the Newport Historical Society as is a fragmented clerk’s copy (Edward Pelham Papers; Newport Town Council 8: 221.) Edward bequeathed his house and property to his widow Arabella for her natural life, then to daughter Penelope: “Land on Thames Street…together with the Wharf and Warehouses thereon.” Also bequeathed were Margaret, Jupiter and Frank.

The corresponding inventory of the estate included rooms of household goods. Frank and Jupiter were appraised at 135 pounds each. Margaret and her child were appraised at 110 pounds together (Newport Town Council 8: 152).

Penelope Pelham (1724‐1756) married Joseph Cowley at Trinity Church 15 November 1741, shortly after her father’s will was probated. Edward Pelham’s heirs included daughter Penelope, as well as daughter Hermione, wife of John Banister; daughter Elizabeth, wife of John Goodson.

Intermarriages and/ or business partnerships made a tangled web of property ownership among the Arnold/ Pelham family that flip‐flopped for generations. John and Hermione Banister owned the adjacent Banister’s Wharf.

1772 Deed between Isaac Prince Godfrey, Penelope Pelham Cowley Godfrey and Edward Thurston, Jr. Gentleman

This deed reveals that ownership of the Wharf had passed from Penelope Pelham Cowley to her daughter Penelope Godfrey. This deed, dated 21 April 1772, included “a certain now called or known by ye name of Cowley’s Wharf.” Nine days later the property was transferred back to the Godfreys. (Newport Land Evidence 13: 264, 265).

Chain of ownership for Bowen’s Wharf, 1781‐ 1849:

1781 Deed between Isaac Prince Godfrey, Penelope Pelham Cowley Godfrey and Robert Stevens and Henry Stevenson of Newport, Merchants

Isaac and Penelope Godfrey finally sold “all and singular wharf and land of Cowley’s Wharf” out of the family to Robert Stevens and Henry Stevenson for 1,200 Spanish Milled Dollars (Newport Land Evidence 1: 80. Newport City Hall).

1831 Bequest of Robert Stevens to Sons Robert and John Wignall Stevens

In his will, Robert Stevens bequeathed ownership of his “wharf and store” evenly between his two sons (Newport Probate 8: 499. Newport City Hall).

1849 Deed between Junius M. Stevens and George Bowen and Stephen B. Chase

Junius M. Stevens, a grandchild of Robert Stevens, sold his interests to Bowen and Chase for $500. (Newport Land Evidence 28: 16. Located at Newport City Hall). Over time, other heirs of Stevens sold their interests to Bowen as late as 1863 (Newport Land Evidence 37: 579. Newport City Hall).


1774 Rhode Island Census 1782 Rhode Island Census 1790 Rhode Island Census 1800 United State Census

Arnold, James, Vital Records of Rhode Island, 1636‐1850 (Providence: Narragansett Historical Pub., 1891‐1912).

Brayton, Alice, The Burying Place of Governor Arnold: and Account of the Establishment, Destruction and Restoration of the Burying Place of Benedict Arnold, First Governor of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: Published in Honor of a Descendant of Governor Arnold, John Howard Benson, Who Supervised the Restoration of the Arnold Gravestones and Presented the Graveyard to the Preservation Society of Newport (Newport, RI: Privately printed, 1960).

Coughtry, Jay, The Notorious Triangle Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade 1700‐1807 (Temple University Press, 1981).

Crane, Elaine Forman A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era (Fordham University Press, 1985).

Desrosiers, Marian, John Banister of Newport: The Life and Accounts of a Colonial Merchant

(McFarland & Co, 2007).

Donnan, Elizabeth, Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America (Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1930‐1935) vol 3.

Edward Pelham Papers, NHS manuscript collection, Box 36, folder 2.

Fiske, Jane Fletcher, Gleanings From Newport Court Files 1659‐1783 (Boxford, MA: Jane Fletcher Fiske, 1998), case 3.

Index of Slave Advertisements from the Newport Mercury, Newport Historical Society research file.

Newport Land Evidence, 1700‐1779, Newport Historical Society

Newport Land Evidence, 1780‐ present, Newport City Hall

Newport Town Council Records, 1700‐1779.

Newport Town Council Records,1780‐present, Newport City Hall

Rhode Island Land Evidences, 1648‐1696, Volume 1, Providence: Rhode Island Historical Society. (Reprinted 1970, Baltimore: Genealogical Publications Co).

Sterling, John, et al., Newport Rhode Island Colonial Burying Grounds (Rhode Island Genealogical Society, 2009.