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Sheldon W.
Democrat RI

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  • 375Th Anniversary of Portsmouth, Rhode Island

    by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

    Posted on 2013-07-17

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    WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, in 1638--375 years ago--a small, brave group of free thinkers banded together to establish an independent democratic community founded upon civil liberty and religious toleration.

    The settlers were followers of Anne Hutchinson, a highly educated midwife and controversial figure in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where ideological conformity was enforced by the gallows and the lash. Hutchinson and many of her allies were banished from Massachusetts for challenging the orthodoxy of the Puritan establishment. At the urging of Roger Williams, who had founded the colony of Providence Plantation just 2 years earlier, they settled on nearby Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay. The group called themselves the freemen of Pocasset, after the Native American name for the area. Eventually the new community settled on the name of Portsmouth.

    With the signing of the Portsmouth Compact on March 7, 1638, these religious dissenters, including John Clarke and William Coddington, formed a ``Bodie Politick'' that held forth the freedom to worship according to one's own conscience. Together with Roger Williams and his Providence colony, they blazed the path for American freedom of religion, one of our enduring national blessings.

    Their bold declaration would echo 25 years later in the Royal Charter granted in 1663 by King Charles II to establish the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, which provided the world's first formal establishment of freedom of religion. Their principles of tolerance are the foundation upon which our State, and afterwards our Nation, were built.

    Portsmouth, RI, was also the first community in the New World to be founded by a woman. It was in Portsmouth in 1778 that the First Rhode Island Regiment, with its complement of over 100 African-American soldiers, valiantly repulsed British forces in the Battle of Rhode Island. And it was Portsmouth abolitionist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe who penned the patriotic poem, ``The Battle Hymn of the Republic,'' in 1861. The history of Portsmouth is a legacy of America.

    I am proud to join with our State's senior senator, Jack Reed, and all Rhode Islanders in congratulating the people of Portsmouth on this historic milestone.


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