John Stevens Shop

Nicholas Benson at work at the John Stevens Shop

John Stevens II (1702-1778) was a superbly skilled craftsman, cutter of gravestones, and stone and brickmason. Like all artisans in colonial Newport, he provisioned the maritime traders, particularly the African and West Indies slave trade. The shop today houses the business of renowned stone carver Nicholas Benson.

 

From his shop on 30 Thames Street, John Stevens produced an array of items for the leading slave traders. For Merchant John Banister, he constructed cooking pots and brick furnaces on twenty-one ships, many of them slaving voyages, including the following ships:

 

Vessel TypeVessel Names
ShipRising Sun, London, African, Prince of Orange, Lee Frigate, Honduras Galley
BrigAbigail, Hannah
SloopBetsey Bell, Little Polly
SnowSwan, Hardman, American, Handley
SeteeEagle

The snow “Hardman” alone carried 653 captives to Jamaica and Barbados in three voyages in the 1750s.1

Over the course of four years, Stevens earned over £582 pounds from Banister to build ship mess kitchens.2

With profits from the trade, Banister was able to pay Stevens £992 pounds to improve Banister’s estate, embarking on a grand project of brick, plaster, lathe, pavement, and tile. This price is the equivalent to about $130,000 in today’s dollars.3

And finally, when enslaved servants died, John Stevens, himself also a slave owner, was sometimes paid to cut gravestones to mark their resting places – a fitting remembrance of his craftsmanship that survives to this day.4

“In Memory of Phyllis, wife of Pero Banister and servant of Charles Wickham, died 30 July 1773, age about ??”

 

  1. Slavevoyages.org, David Eltis, (http://www.slavevoyages.org/voyages/Gj8cUzzM accessed 17-Sept-2017).
  2. John Banister of Newport: The Life and Accounts of a Colonial Merchant, Marian Mathison Desrosiers, 2017, p.116-117
  3. Desrosiers, p.153
  4. “The Beautiful, Forgotten and Moving Graves of New England’s Slaves”, Caitlin Galante-Deangelis Hopkins, 10/26/16 (http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-beautiful-and-forgotten-gravesites-of-new-englands-slaves – accessed 17-Sep-2017)