Monday, April 21, 2014

William Dyer co-founds Newport, RI in 1639

And for the first time anywhere, learn who the 
FEMALE co-founders of Newport were!

© 2014 Christy K Robinson
Newport Compact -- click to enlarge
William Dyer was 28 years old when he co-founded Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1638. (It was called by its native American name, Pocasset, at the time.) His name appears on the Portsmouth Compact with the other men who bought Aquidneck Island from the natives, and it's his handwriting at the top of the document.

He was 29 years old on April 28, 1639, when he co-founded the city of Newport, Rhode Island and signed the Newport Compact. As clerk of the town, and later Secretary of the colony, it's almost surely William Dyer's handwriting that headed the compact that the founders signed.
Portsmouth Compact, 1638.
Click to enlarge.

Battery Park in Newport, formerly Dyer's Point, is on land
where Mary and William Dyer had their farm.
Newport from the northwest. The small island in the
foreground, Native Americans sold to
Newport in the 1650s. The Dyer land and burial site
were just beyond Coaster Island, and southward past
the Pell Bridge at the extreme right of the image.
After the town was legally incorporated came the distribution of community, home, and farm land parcels, and, of course, the streets and highways. William Dyer was one of the small commission that surveyed and apportioned the lots and boundaries. The following records are scanned from Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, Vol. 1, 1636-1663. (I added the modern dates.)

For a modern map of the city of Newport,
with labels for its harbor walk which would take you
along the western edge of 17th-century Dyer land,
click here.

Historical records mention only the men who attended assembly meetings, voted, held court, or signed documents, but the women should be remembered for their many sacrifices in moving the household, servants, small children, livestock, and possessions, and starting in a new, rugged place where they lived in wigwams while their first houses were being built. It was the Little Ice Age, and winters were longer and more severe than we experience now. They had just settled in Boston for a few months to four years when they were exiled and had to start again in the wilderness of Rhode Island. A year later, some of the settlers at Portsmouth began again at Newport.

Unidentified English family circa 1640.
Newport's female co-founders were:
  • William Coddington and Mary Mosely Coddington
  • Nicholas Easton  (widowed, 2 sons, married widow Christiana Beecher later in 1638)
  • John Coggeshall and Mary ___ Coggeshall, 7 children
  • William Brenton and Dorothy ____ Brenton
  • John Clarke and Elizabeth Harges Clarke
  • Jeremy Clarke and Frances Latham Dungan Clarke, 4 Dungan children
  • Thomas Hazard and Martha Potter Hazard, 5 children
  • Henry Bull and Elizabeth ___ Bull, 1 child
  • William Dyer and Mary Barrett Dyer, 1 child
This list is a family snapshot taken in 1639. Some of the founding women died and were replaced by a later wife who managed the household and bore more children. The families who settled Portsmouth and Newport were young and strong, and in their 20s and 30s when they migrated from England to Boston, then settled around New England. They had even more children once settled in Rhode Island. The nine families listed as the first founders were joined by hundreds of other pioneering families within a few months and years. 
Entrance bricks to the Newport Historical Society shop.
Photo: Christy K Robinson 2016

The attraction of Rhode Island was its dedication to living virtuous, responsible lives in a secular democracy, where people of many beliefs (Puritan, Anglican, Antinomian, Catholic, Baptist, Seeker, Quaker, Jewish) or no belief, lived in safety from religious persecution. The exception was that their first, leading members among the co-founders of Portsmouth, Anne and William Hutchinson, were hounded by the Boston theocratic government (ministers, magistrates, and governors) to the point that they moved to the Dutch colony of New Netherland to try to found a new settlement, only to be massacred by Native Americans in 1643. As I learned while researching my book, Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (see below), the massacre carried out by the tribe may have been sanctioned by the Boston theocrats. 

Update: article on 380th anniversary of the town's founding: 

 Christy K Robinson is author of two biographical novels on William and Mary Dyer, and a collection of her nonfiction research on the Dyers, as well as a 2018 biography of Anne Marbury Hutchinson. Key figures are Anne Hutchinson, Edward Hutchinson, John Winthrop, Katherine and Richard Scott, Roger Williams, Dr. John Clarke, Nicholas Easton, John Endecott, Henry Vane, and others.


Christy K Robinson is author of these books:

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)


  1. This is absolutely FANTASTIC! I just love reading your Blog with all the bits of information and attention to detail. Thank you for all you do! Your books are a great read as well.

  2. John Clarke was the brother of my ancestor, Joseph Clarke Sr.(Jeremy is not a close relative of them) Joseph's name does appear on the 1663 Royal Charter. Joseph's son, Carew married Anne Dyer, the granddaughter of William and Mary Dyer and the g-granddaughter of William and Anne Hutchinson.


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