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Re: Re[ The Newport Tower (1)
As Promised some views on early reference to the Newport Tower - figures in
brackets refer to the sources listed below.
Pre-Colonial references to the Tower.
When the explorer Verrazano landed in Narragansett Bay in 1524, he reported
that he found a European-style structure located on the east side of the bay
near its mouth, which he called the 'Norman Villa'.(8) He described the
people near the tower as the most beautiful and civilised that he had met on
his expedition; they excelled his own people in size and he called them
'white European-Amer-Norse'.(9) When the first English settlers arrived in
this district in the 1600s, they described a group of fair-haired and
blue-eyed natives as 'the Banished Indians' which were, presumably, the
descendants of people described by Verrazano.(10)
A building or settlement of some description is marked on the site of
Newport on several early maps. In Mercator's World Map, published in 1569,
the tower was clearly recorded and placed in present day New England, which
the geographer called, intriguingly, Norumbega.(11) Another was made by the
Dutchman Cornelis Hendriexson before 1614 and which was later included in
his Atlas published in 1635 The original map was found in the Dutch archives
of The Hague in 1841.(12) This map shows the islands and coast of
Narragansett Bay, with one small area on the east side of the bay marked
'New England', the only part of the map with an English name. On this map a
'Toret' is shown as a small circle on the Western end of Newport Island.(13)
The Englishman, John Smith, left a description of this area and a chart of
its coast, dated 1614, which accurately charts Narragansett Bay, Mount Hope
Bay, and Mount Hope and its Indian village. When passing the future site of
Newport, Smith spied some structure there which he believed was an English
settlement and marked the site on his map.(14) Later, in 1621, he received a
letter from 'New Plymouth' describing the new colony. Apparently when he
marked its position on his chart he renamed the original site he had
indicated as 'an English settlement' as 'Old Plymouth'.(15) It was described
as a 'rownd stone towr' by English seafarers in 1629-3016 and William Wood
mentioned it on a map he derived from coastal observation in 1629. According
to Arlington H. Mallery writing in 1958, Wood's belief that there was an
English settlement on the site of Newport in 1629 was not inspired by Smith'
s map, but by his own sighting of the Newport Tower.(17) In London, records
exist of a petition in 1632 by Sir Edmund Plowden,(18) who wished to
establish a colony in Rhode Island that was to be called New Albion and
later became known as Old Plymouth. In this he describes an existing round
tower as an asset for the colony.(19) Neither Sir Edmond nor his heirs ever
exploited their successful petition, but a colony was eventually founded in
1636 and the city of Newport in 1639.(20) The tower is mentioned in a
property deed dated 1642, which states that the boundary line of the
property is 'so many lots from the Old Stone Tower'.(21) According to
Lossing it was there when the English settlers came and he believed the
natives had no knowledge of its origin,(22) although we have since learned
that the elders of the Narragansett Indians have a tradition that states
that the tower was constructed by 'Green-eyed, fire-haired giants who came
in peace, had a battle and then left.'(23) So, apart from the Indian
tradition, there are eight cartographical or archival references to the
tower which all predate colonial settlement.
The architectural style and the nature of the building's construction
proves, beyond all dispute, that the Newport Tower was not built by the
Native American people of the area or by any of those who built in stone in
Central or Southern America. According to Professor Horsford of Harvard, the
Newport Tower has the shape and form of a baptistery and he believes that it
indicates a Viking presence in Newport that predates the colonial era by
several centuries.(24) In this he is only echoing comments made in 1879 by
R. G. Hatfield, the president of the New York Chapter of the American
Institute of Architects, who also claimed that the tower was built by the
Viking founders of the Vinland colony.(25) The Professor of Medieval
Architecture at Harvard in 1954 was Kenneth J. Conant, who said of this
controversial structure: 'The actual fabric is medieval while the statistics
of the building are Norse. It so happens that the only arch left from
medieval Norse construction in Greenland is like that.'(26) He is later
reported to have said, in reference to the window and doorway of the first
floor of the tower: 'The semi-circular discharging arch and tympanum are a
regular medieval construction, carried down from classical times, and lost
sight of by colonial times.'(27) The structural engineer, Edward Adams
Richardson of Bethlehem PA., who believed that the tower itself could be
questioned to provide an answer to the query 'when was it built?'. Writing
in 1960, he claimed that 'The design proves adequate, by modern standards,
for a particular structure, while the windows and fireplace form a
sophisticated signalling and ship guidance system characteristic of the 14th
century.'(28) According to Hjalmar R. Holand: 'As even a small cannon would
be sufficient to shatter the tower, this implies that it was built before
1400, when cannon came into general use.'(29)
The Medieval Round Churches.
The idea that the Newport Tower may well have been a baptistery or church
gains credence when it is compared to Great Hedinge Church in Denmark, St.
Olaf's Church at Tonsberg in Norway, the Church of St. Mikael in Schleswig
in Denmark, Osterlars Church and Oles-Kirke on Bornholm, Vardsberg Church in
Ostergotland in Sweden, the plans of the round church that once stood at
Nidros in Norway and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Cambridge,
England.(30) A very similar structure also exists at Lanleff in Brittany
where there stands a round church surrounded by the ruin of a roofed
ambulatory but with the difference that this round church stands on ten
columns rather than eight. Originally thought to be Celtic in origin, this
church has now been firmly classified as either being built or substantially
modified by the Order of the Knights Templar in the 12th century.(31)
Circular churches of similar type to the Newport Tower were constructed
throughout Europe by the Knights Templar,(32) some of which, as we have
previously mentioned, can be found on Bjornholm, a Danish island in the
Baltic. Every architect who has commented on the Newport Tower describes its
design and structure as medieval and whether it was built as a church, a
lighthouse or a mill it is unquestionably pre-Columbian in date. According
to Sue Carlson, an architect working for New England Historical
Restorations, writing in 1997:
To all trained architects and architectural historians, the style of the
Tower is unquestionably medieval, as indicated by the quality of the rough
stone masonry with its round stone columns supporting stone arches awkwardly
making a transition to the superstructure above.(33)
European architects and historians who are not bound by the premise 'that
there was no European contact with the Americas before Columbus' are
virtually unanimous in their conclusion that the tower is of medieval
European design. In 1844, Charles Rafn, Professor of Northern Antiquities in
Denmark, 'suggested that the tower was a Norse Christian baptistery'.(34)
Professors Boisseree, Klenze, Tiersch and Kallenbach who, in the 1840s, were
renowned as authorities in art and what we would now call archaeology, wrote
as follows: of 'Judging from drawings of the Old Stone Mill sent from
America, having all declared in favour the ruin being the remains of a
baptismal chapel in the early style of the Middle Ages'.(35) In 1951,
further reinforcement of the medieval origin of the tower was given by the
Danish historian, Johannes Brondsted, who stated that 'The medievalisms are
so conspicuous that, if the tower were in Europe, dating it to the Middle
Ages would probably meet with no protest.'(36) In 1911, the Swedish
architectural historian, Hugo Frölen, suggested that the tower was
Anglo-Norman in design and very similar to Templar churches in Cambridge and
Northampton.(37) A similar conclusion was reached by Dr. F. J. Allen, the
English architectural historian writing in 1921, who said that the Newport
Tower was 'Of the shape of the central portion of a 12th century round
church, from which the surrounding isle or ambulatory has been removed.'(38)
Open-minded and impartial academics can still, thank God, be found in North
America, and some of these echo the views of their European colleagues. The
Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution said 'everything taken into
consideration, I am most inclined to regard the Newport Tower as an English
watchtower or beacon . . .'(39) A recent comment by Dr. Gunnar Thomson PhD,
the author and historian, makes a valid comparison between style of
construction used in the Newport Tower and similar buildings in Europe, when
he claimed 'but we do find a similar technique in medieval buildings in the
Scottish Isles.'(40) Dr. Haraldur Siggurdson, of the University of Rhode
Island, stated after examining the tower that it was unlikely to be Viking
in origin, that is built before 1200, because of the presence of ancient
mortar. However, he went on to say that nonetheless the tower had
apparently been constructed to Scandinavian design.(41)
In the light of the evidence and expert opinion quoted above, it is bizarre
that there has been such a sustained effort to date this building as early
colonial, when every architectural feature within it clearly and
indisputably proclaims its medieval European design and construction. As we
have mentioned, unlike other disputed artefacts there are eight archival
and map references to it that clearly predate the era of colonial settlement
on Rhode Island. Just as telling is the fact that there is no evidence
whatsoever that stone buildings were constructed in this part of New England
in the 17th century.(42) It is, therefore, extremely puzzling how any
academic historian can seriously claim that the Newport Tower was built by
the first colonial settlers - yet that is precisely what many do state with
a conviction bordering on fanaticism.
More pre-Columbian evidence.
According to Governor Gibbs, who was governor of Rhode Island in 1819, the
exterior of the Newport Tower was covered with white hard stucco over its
exterior surface and, according to Lossing, It was originally covered within
and without with plaster, and the now rough columns with mere indications of
capitals and bases of the Doric form were handsomely wrought, the whole
structure exhibiting taste and beauty. . . . Of its existence prior to the
English emigration to America there is now but little doubt . . . and if the
structure is really ante-colonial and perhaps ante-Columbian, its history is
surely worthy of investigation.(56)
A Portuguese Origin for the Tower.
The third theory of supposed origin for the Newport Tower was proposed by
Dr. Manuel Luciano da Silva , a physician on the staff of the Bristol County
Medical Centre, Rhode Island. Writing in a medical journal in March
1967,(60) da Silva claimed that the Newport Tower closely resembled the
Rotunda of the Monastery of Tomar in central Portugal.(61) Da Silva is
indeed correct when he mentions that round churches were built throughout
Europe by returning crusaders, especially the Knights Templar, in the style
of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The monastery of Tomar was
built as the headquarters for the Templars in Portugal and later became the
training centre for all navigators and missionaries working under the
direction of the Knights of Christ who succeeded the Knights Templar after
the suppression of that order. The Rotunda or Charola of the monastery has,
like the Newport Tower, eight columns and eight arches giving evidence of an
After the Templars in Portugal became the Knights of Christ, Prince Henry
the Navigator became the newly formed orders third grandmaster. Under his
direction the eight-pointed croix pattée of the Templars was carried to many
continents throughout the era of Portuguese exploration and discovery.
According to da Silva, two Portuguese explorers from the order, Gaspar and
Miguel Cortereal spent something like nine years in the area of Narragansett
Bay evangelising the natives. He also states that this gave sufficient time
to build the Newport Tower and they were most probably motivated in doing
this by their devotion to their alma mater, the Monastery of Tomar.(63) Da
Silva was scathing about the colonial theories of origin for the tower,
particularly as he believed that 'The feeble locking columns of the Newport
Tower could never sustain the tremors and stresses of use as a windmill.'
(64) He was equally dismissive of the Viking theories of origin claiming,
quite correctly, that Leif Erikson could not have been inspired by the Holy
Sepulchre in Jerusalem as the first crusade did not take place for a further
100 years. He ruled out Bishop Gnupsson as the architect as he too would
have been unaware of the architecture of Jerusalem.(65)
8. Siggurson, Earl; The Newport Tower, an article published
by the 'American-Scandanavian Review' found in the James Whittal Archive,
File no. Newport Tower, 1971-1980.
9. Notes on the Newport Tower by Magnus Hrolf in the James
Whittal Archive, file no. Newport Tower, 1991-2000.
10. Pohl, Frederick; Atlantic Crossings before Columbus, p.
190 & Sinclair, Andrew; The Sword and the Grail, p. 141.
11. Notes on the Newport Tower by Magnus Hrolf in the James
Whittal Archive, file no. Newport Tower, 1991-2000.
12. Mallory, Arlington, article published in The American
Anthropologist, 60, 1958, p. 149.
13. Frank Glynn writing in 1961, in the James Whittal
Archive, Newport Tower file for 1961-1970.
14. Mallory, Arlington, article published in The American
Anthropologist, 60, 1958, p. 150.
16. Holand, Hjalmar R: America 1355-1364, p. 36.
17. Mallory, Arlington, article published in The American
Anthropologist, 60, 1958, p. 150 & Holand, Hjalmar R; Exploration in America
before Columbus, p. 212.
18. The original Plowden Petition is kept in the National
Records Office in London.
19. Pohl, Frederick; The Lost Discovery, pps. 182-184.
20. Means, Philip Ainsworth; Newport Tower, p. 9.
21. Channing, George G; Newport Rhode Island 1793 - 1811, p.
22. Lossing, Benson J; Pictorial Field Book 1855 p. 65.
23. Sinclair, Niven; Beyond Any Shadow of Doubt, Section 10.
24. Gibbs George; The Gibbs Family of Rhode Island and some
Related Families, 1933.
25. Article in 'Scribners Magazine' 1879.
26. Article entitled 'Yankee explores the legend of the Old
Newport Tower, by the architect Conant,published Yankee Magazine1954
27. Reference found in the James Whittal Archive, File name
Newport Tower 1940-1960.
29. Article written by Hjalmar R Holand in an unnamed magazine
dated April 1953, vol. 12, no. 2 p. 62, found in the James Whittal Archive,
Newport Tower 1940-1960.
30. See File of comparative studies between the Newport Tower
and Round Churches in the James Whittal Archive.
32. Hopkins, Simmans & Wallace-Murphy; Rex Deus, p. 121.
33. Carlson, Sue; New England Historical Restorations, 1997,
found in the James Whittal Archive, File name, Newport Tower 1991-2000.
34. Rafn, Carl Christian; Memoire sur la decouvertes de l'
Amerique au dixieme siecle, Copenhagen 1843.
35. List of comments contained in document entitled ' Newport
Stone Tower, comments by European Architects and Historians' in the James
39. The Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1953.
40. Thompson, Gunnar; American Discovery.
41 Magazine entitled 'The Voyage of the Wave Cleaver, vol I,
no. 3 pps 63-64.
42. Paraphrase of comments by David Wagner, New England
Historian and Architect writing in 1997, his work is included in the file
Newport Tower, 1991-2000 in the James Whittal Archive.
50. Lossing, opus cit. p. 66.
56. Lossing, opus cit. p. 65.
60. Article entitled 'Finding for the Portuguese' published in
'Medical Opinion and Review, March 1967.
61. ibid. p. 48
63. ibid. p. 50.
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