1st Congregational Church, 49 Division Street, Newport, RI
Newport Gardner was the first African American to open a music school and church for former slaves in colonial Newport, RI. A former slave who purchased his freedom, he was well educated and an accomplished musician and composer.
Newport Gardner, born in Ghana in 1746, was sold into slavery to Caleb Gardner by a sea captain who promised his mother he would have a good education. His African name was Occramer Marycoo. He eventually did received an education in music and French as a slave, and was known for his great aptitude for music. In 1791, he purchased his family's freedom from the proceeds of a lottery ticket an started his own singing school. He published his first song in 1803.
Gardner established the African Free Union Society with the help of Dr. Samuel Hopkins, an abolitionist. This society was a benevolent society established to help former slaves obtain help with finances to return to Africa, food, clothing, and medicine. He then established the first African American Church in 1833, the Union Congregational Church for the African Americans in Newport, RI out of the African Free Union Society. The church first met in homes and then had its residence at 49 Division Street. The building still stands today.
Newport Gardner composed many songs, one of which was an anthem for the church which was the most known among his works. Published in 1826 in Boston, Massacusetts, the words are as follows:
The Promise Anthem
"Hear the words of the Lord, O ye African race; hear the words of Promise. But it is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to thhe dogs. Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters table. O African, trust in the Lord: Amen. Hallelujah, praise the Lord, Praise ye the Lord, Praise ye the Lord, Hallelujah, amen."
Newport Gardner also established the first school, the African Free School for the education of African American freed slave children and advertised it in the Newport Mercury Newspaper on March 25, 1808. The school, located at 8 Division Street, was free and Newport Gardner asked for cooperation of the whites in encouraging the African former slaves to attend.
In 1824, the church was renamed the Union Colored Congregational Church. The church eventually moved to Thames Street where its name was changed to Mount Olivet Batist Church and then to West Broadway in Newport, where the name was changed again to Community Baptist Church. Community Baptist Church is still holding services to this day.
Newport Gardner and his group had a desire to return to their native homeland. They eventually returned to evangelize the citizens, but soon died of diseases shortly after they arrived in Africa in 1826. Newport Gardner was eighty years old.
The RI Kids Create Music School is trying to raise funds to establish a school in Portsmouth, RI. We appreciate any support you can give us. Please donate to our project at the top of this blog page.