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Highlights: Newport -- A Lively Experiment, 1639-1969
Highlights: Newport
A Lively Experiment, 1639-1969

Highlights: Newport -- A Lively Experiment, 1639-1969
By Rockwell Stensrud, hardcover, 544 pp., illus., Redwood Library and Athenaeum, $49.99.

Cities such as Boston and Philadelphia have eclipsed Newport in historical accounts of the American continent. But in the 1600s, the town of Newport, Rhode Island, played a dominant role in defining the future United States of America, according to author Rockwell Stensrud in his narrative history of the town that is most often remembered today as the resort for the wealthy.

In his book, the first in-depth treatment of the subject, Stensrud covers the political, social, and cultural importance of the city since its origins, and shows how Newport's unprecedented level of freedom among the thirteen colonies -- obtained directly from King Charles II by an almost forgotten polymath of the seventeenth century -- has become part of the American way of life four hundred years later. "What Newport and Rhode Island brought about was nothing short of revolutionary in the ideas of how individuals and their government should interact," writes Stensrud. "Roger Williams, the founder of Providence, led the way in the quest for religious freedom in the colonies…. What stands out is how absolutely radical, how new, this idea was."

Highlights: Newport -- A Lively Experiment, 1639-1969
Portrait of a Clergy (thought to be John Clarke), 1659. By Guilliam de Ville. Redwood Library and Athenaeum.

Stensrud closely examines the unique factors that made Newport such an important city in the colonial era and the factors that continued to make it an historically significant community. He profiles the city's founders (including the little-known Dr. John Clarke who secured Newport's religious freedom), its institutions, and some of the great moments in its history. He delineates the defining characteristics of Newport through the centuries; seventeenth-century Newport was distinguished by its insistence on religious freedom; in the eighteenth century it was characterized by its international trading status; nineteenth–century Newport became a Mecca for the powerful who built their summer mansions there; while the twentieth century saw a broad-based renaissance in the arts and architecture in this city of 26,000 people.

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