On Saturday, August 5, 2023, at 11 am, as part of the International Emancipation Day celebrations, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society will host a ceremony to recognize and celebrate the thousands of persons of West African heritage who once lived, worked, worshiped and died in Colonial Newport and who are represented by the hundreds of burial markers that remain in the “God’s Little Acre” section of the Newport Common Burying Ground.
God’s Little Acre, on Farewell Street, contains the oldest and largest surviving collection of burial markers of enslaved and free persons of African heritage, dating back to 17th-century America. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Newport was the most active seaport British North America in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Many enslaved Africans were taken by Newport slave ships from the Gold Coast or what is today Ghana. As early as 1705, a Negro Burying Ground was established within the northern section of the Common Burying Ground. By the mid-19th century, the African heritage community called the sacred burial section, “God’s Little Acre.”
The ceremony will include a reflection on the history of Africans in Newport and the history of God’s Little Acre. Afterward, Valerie Tutson, an internationally known Black Storyteller, will lead an African Libation Ceremony, a ritual of pouring a liquid as an offering to a spirit, deity, or soul of a person who is deceased. Following the ceremony, soil taken from the slave dungeons of Fort William in Anomabo, Ghana, will be buried near the markers of enslaved Africans who originated from Ghana. Many scholars of the Trans-Atlantic trade recognize Anomabo as a center of the British slave trade along the West African Gold Coast and one of the largest exporters of enslaved Africans to the West Indies and North America. Colonial merchants from Newport, Rhode Island, were the most active traders at Anomabo. The ceremony will conclude with a walking tour of the historic burying ground.
The public is cordially invited to attend and participate in the ceremonies at God’s Little Acre. Parking is extremely limited, and visitors are recommended to park at the Newport Gateway & Visitors Center and walk to the site.
About the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society
The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, formed in 1975 and is one of America’s oldest African heritage and historical organizations. Constituted for the purposes of collecting, preserving, and interpreting materials relating to the history of the African Heritage people of Rhode Island and beyond. www.riblackheritage.org