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Re: Re Newport Tower - archaeology
Having earlier listed the archival and cartographical references which may
pertain to the twoer - nearing in mind that even the most vehement
protagonists of the so-called'Collonial Theory' have never satisfactorily
refuted them in whole or in part, now to the archaelogical excavations of
the Tower itself, both conducted in the 1950's
.Unfortunately the first official archaeological excavation was, based on
the evidence of the Godfrey report, marred by bias, flawed methodology and
unwarrantable assumptions being passed off as conclusions. It was the most
blatant example of prejudice 'prior to investigation' that we have ever seen
in a lifetime of examining such material. The archaeologist, William S.
Godfrey Jnr, published his report, an account of his investigation conducted
between 1948 and 1950, in 1951, partially in fulfilment of the requirements
of a PhD.(1) He entitled this strange document 'Digging a Tower and Laying a
Ghost'. His prejudiced position in the dispute is vividly demonstrated by
these quotations from the first chapter of his report.. . he [Benedict
Arnold] purchased some of his Newport property, specifically the section on
which he later built his house and the stone mill, the year before he
moved(2) . . . At some period before 1677 Arnold built the Old Stone Mill.'
(3) Godfrey made these statements despite the fact that three lines later he
also wrote 'Indeed, the only contemporary reference that connects Arnold to
the mill is his own will.'(4) His partiality becomes even more obvious when
he writes 'Means reviews the writings on the Tower with great care, but
fails to find any Newporter of the period, or of a later period, for that
matter, who had lost his head to the Norse.'(5) . Furthermore Godfrey
suggests that William Gibbs, who was governor of Rhode Island in 1799,
supported the Viking theory for political and social expediency: 'It would
seem that, whatever he [Gibbs] privately thought, it would be expedient for
him to espouse the Norse theory.'(6) It would seem that our erstwhile 20th
century archaeologist was also a gifted clairvoyant endowed with sufficient
psychological skills to enable him to analyse the thought processes of a
long-dead governor of the state with uncanny accuracy.
While we give Godfrey full marks for dismissing the Chesterton Mill
theory,(7) his personal prejudice becomes ever more obvious as his report
progresses. Writing of Means, whose work was published in 1941, Godfrey
writes 'he managed to change from a moderately impartial student to a
violent protagonist of the Norse theory. Every sentence in his work must be
examined for bias and frequently for malice.'(8) The bulk of Godfrey's
report is not taken up with an account of the actual archaeology of his digs
but by personal attacks on those who support views other than his own, in
which he uses words like 'crackpots',(9)'pygmies'(10) or 'zealots'(11) or
'the lunatic fringe'(12) to describe his opponents. In using terminology of
this nature Godfrey merely reinforces the impression that this report itself
is the work of a biased and partisan protagonist. Godfrey states as a
categorical fact 'there is absolutely no proof of the existence of the Mill
until 1677'(13) and ignores all eight previous references that might apply,
whether they be by Verrazano, in the Plowden document or on the various
early maps. He claims that 'the tower is unique, . . . the archaeologists, .
. . were never able to find all these features in one building.',(14) yet
any reasoned examination of the architecture of round churches in Europe,
particularly those in Portugal, Brittany, England and Scandinavia, many of
which have been mentioned earlier, gives the lie to this deliberately
blinkered and misleading statement.
Despite two years of heavily publicised excavation, while acknowledging
Godfrey's gain of both a reputation and a PhD, what have we gained as result
of his two year study? According to James P. Whittal Jnr of the Early Sites
Research Society, who worked on the tower for over 25 years, no artefacts
recovered by Godfrey can lead to a firm conclusion as to the date and origin
of the structure.(15) If dating the tower was judged solely on the evidence
of his excavated artefacts, a time frame of 1750 -1800 would be feasible,
which contradicts the documentary evidence that the tower was standing in
1677.(16) Even Godfrey himself had the honesty to conclude that 'the
tantalising fragments of our ancestor's culture..do not tell us when, why or
by whom the tower was built.'(17) Yet having admitted that, he then goes on
to make the following statement: 'Our excavations set the date of the tower'
s construction definitely between the dates of the founding of Newport
(1639) and 1677 when it is first mentioned historically.',(18) but signally
fails to produce any evidence in support of this argument. He goes on to
claim: 'On the other hand, there is very little probability that Benedict
built his Tower as a mill. . . the tower mill form, as contrasted to the
smock, post and composite forms, was not common in England until the
beginning of the 18th century, . . .'.(19) This archaeological gadfly, Mr
Godfrey, admits in his final paragraph 'This study has strayed far from
"pure" archaeology.'(20) Truth indeed!
A dispassionate examination.
Less than four years after he completed his report, Godfrey's tower
excavations were re-examined by the structural engineer, Arlington Mallery,
who was assisted by the City of Newport engineers, Gardner Easton and John
Howieson.(21) Mallery made no statements in favour of any of the three major
schools of thought regarding the origin of the tower; in a spirit of true
scientific analysis he simply reported what he found:
'We also dug plaster from under the bottom stones of the foundation and that
every joint and opening in the foundation was carefully and thoroughly
caulked with refill clay continuing particles or fragments of plaster to
prevent water seepage. Since all that plaster except possibly a few
fragments had to come from the superstructure of the tower, it could not
have been placed inside the joints and crevices of the present foundation
unless the foundation had been installed as underpinning after the tower was
'The Tower was probably underpinned in 1675. The quantity of plaster
fragments in the excavation indicates that the plaster stucco had so far
disintegrated that the Tower must have been more than 300 years old when it
was underpinned.' (23).
In his opinion, the additional architectural support to the bases of the
pillars had been done to strengthen the tower prior to its alleged use as a
windmill. This dispassionate and highly professional analysis would lead us
to believe that it was originally constructed in the latter part of the 14th
century. No one from any side of the dispute on the Newport Tower has yet
produced any evidence to refute, or even cast reasonable doubt upon,
1. Report by William S. Godfrey jnr, Digging a Tower and Laying a
Ghost, The Archaeology and Controversial History of the Newport Tower.
Thesis in partial fulfilment of a Ph. D. at Harvard University, Cambridge
1951 - front page.
2. ibid p. 5.
4. ibid. p. 6.
5. ibid. p. 13.
6. ibid. p. 14.
7. ibid. pps. 17-18.
8. ibid. p. 20.
9. ibid. p. 22.
10. ibid. p. 34.
11. ibid. p. 38.
12. ibid. p. 37.
13. ibid. p. 14.
14. ibid. p. 35.
15. James P. Whittal jnr, The Newport Stone Tower, ESRS 1995-6.
16. Ground Penetrating Radar Survey of the Newport Tower Site,
published by ESRS, 1994, p. 5.
17. William S. Godfrey jnr, Digging a Tower and Laying a Ghost,
The Archaeology and Controversial History of the Newport Tower, Cambridge
1951, p. 137.
18. ibid. p. 162..
19. ibid p. 177
20. ibid. p. 186.
21 Article entitled Brief Comments by Arlington Mallery,
published in American Anthropologist [60, 1958] p. 147.
22. Arlington Mallery's original report on the foundations of the
Newport Tower, 1956.
23. Article entitled Brief Comments by Arlington Mallery,
published in American Anthropologist [60, 1958] p. 148.
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