$50K grant will help preserve headstones at African burial ground in Newport

NEWPORT – The Preservation Society of Newport County has received a $50,000 grant from the National Trust of Historic Preservation to help preserve vulnerable Colonial-era slate headstones at a historic African burial ground.

The preservation society said the money is coming from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Culture Heritage Action Fund and will conserve about 30 headstones at Newport’s God’s Little Acre, which contains carved grave markers of free and enslaved Africans dating back to 1800 and earlier.

The preservation work will be done in collaboration with the city’s Historic Cemetery Advisory Commission.

God’s Little Acre, one of the oldest and most-intact African burial grounds in the U.S., features about 200 professionally carved headstones from a time when the graves of Africans were typically left unmarked, according to the preservation society.

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The burial ground is contained within the Common Burying Ground and Island Cemetery on Farewell and Warner streets.

“God’s Little Acre is a critical resource for the exploration of Newport’s African American heritage,” said Leigh Schoberth, preservation policy associate at the preservation society. “Through conservation, this support will help us continue to educate the public about the significance of this site.”

Over the last century, nearly 80 slate headstones have been destroyed by weathering, according to the preservation society. The layered quality of slate makes the stone sensitive to moisture and freeze-and-thaw cycles.

The $50,000 grant will be combined with previous contributions by the city, the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society and private donations.

The site contains headstones of well-documented members of Newport’s colonial African community, such as Pompey Stevens, Duchess Quamino and Arthur Tikey. In some cases, the headstones serve as the only record that the deceased had ever existed, the preservation society said. The iconography, epitaphs and placement of the headstones offer insight into individuals and family relationships that are otherwise unrecorded. By conserving God’s Little Acre, the site will remain a monument to Newport’s African American Heritage, the society said.

William Hamilton is PBN staff writer and special projects editor. You can follow him on Twitter @waham or email him at hamilton@pbn.com.