« AnteriorContinuar »
of repair; and many stand endwise upon the street. The town strikes the eye of a traveller, therefore, much less agreeably, than he would naturally expect from the figure, which it has long made in the history and commerce of this country. To most of the houses are attached small, and to a considerable number large, gardens, which diffuse a cheerful, sprightly aspect around them. The good houses, of which there is a considerable number, are scattered; and frequently illuminate spots, which would be otherwise absolutely gloomy. A few of them may be styled hand
Newport contains ten buildings, erected for public worship: of which the Baptists have four, the Presbyterians two, the Episcopalians, Moravians, Quakers, and Jews, one each. Of these buildings the best is the Episcopal church; but even this appears old and neglected. There is also an academy, a library, a courthouse, and a gaol. The court-house is a decent building. The library was formerly valuable: but many of the books were lost, or carried away, and many more were injured, while the British were in possession of the town.
The harbour of Newport is deep, and sufficiently capacious, to admit any number of vessels of any size, which will probably ever be assembed in one body. Indeed, all the waters which encompass this island, except those on the South, may be regarded as one vast harbour. The anchorage is very good. The egress and ingress are perfectly easy; and its position is in the highest degree favourable for the commerce of the East, and of the South.
Fortifications were begun here under the auspices of President Adams; who intended this place as a station for the future American navy. They consist of six different erections; one on GoatIsland: one on Rose-Island; one on Canonicut, at the Point called the Dumplings; two on Rhode-Island; and one on another island. These are all parts of a great scheme, intended to affect, and controul, the harbour, and its entrances; and, it has been supposed, will be sufficient for this purpose. Of this subject I am a very incompetent judge; yet I cannot but confess myself doubtful concerning it.
I was never so struck with the insidiousness of the proposal, made by the French Government, to have this island, and harbour, ceded to them by Congress, as at this time. Congress, indeed, had it not in their power to alienate any part of the territory of any State. The arguments, adduced by the French to persuade Congress to a compliance with their wishes, were, that a French fleet, being kept here with a considerable body of land forces, would prevent the island from being seized anew by Great Britain, and preclude the British from a harbour on our coast; would be ready at all times, as an ally, to defend us in war; and would furnish a valuable market for our productions in peace. Had this story been told in plain English, it would have run thus. Newport would furnish a convenient station for French ships at all times; and especially when France was at war with Great-Britain; would enable the French to awe us in time of peace, and to distress us by harassing our coast, and destroying our trade in time of war; would furnish us with just such an ally, as the man in the fable became to the horse, when he assisted him to drive off the stag; with masters, voluntarily invited by us, and kindly disposed to rule, and ride us, according to their pleasure.
Soon after Mr. Jefferson's entrance upon the Presidency, the fortifications in this harbour were discontinued. Any nation, that pleases, may, therefore, now occupy this advantageous spot; and will never be driven off from it by force, until the Americans shall have wisdom enough to raise up a fleet, sufficient to command it on the side of the ocean.
The commerce of Newport was formerly extensive; but was destroyed in the Revolutionary war. A part of the inhabitants were driven off; and the part which remained behind, were not a little distressed by their invaders. The effects of these disasters are felt to the present time; and the town has never recovered its former prosperity. Before the Revolution, also, the inhabitants carried on a brisk trade to the African coast. This has been prohibited by the National Government; and has therefore been chiefly, though it is said not entirely, discontinued. A few individuals with a laudable spirit of enterprize have made several
successful attempts in commercial business of other kinds; and the spirit of the citizens, which seems to have been rather asleep than awake, for some years past, is beginning to revive. Still an air of inactivity prevails here: and, though many of the inhabitants are said to be rich, few of them seem to be engaged in any active designs of adding to their property.
On Monday morning, D. Lyman, Esq. Collector of this port, a gentleman to whom we were indebted for many civilities, accompanied us to the seat of the late Godfrey Malbone, Esq. now the property of Mr. William Rotch of New-Bedford. The gardens appear to have been once well stored with fruit, and other productions. The spot is delightful; and the house originally included many conveniences, but its appearance must have been always indifferent. The farm, on which it stands, containing a thousand acres, is an object of great beauty and value.
From this place we proceeded to Tommany Hill, a little Eastward of Mr. Malbone's house; on which the British built a fort, while they had possession of Newport. This is a fine eminence, commanding the best view of the island, the bay, the town, the neighbouring islands, the river far up towards Providence, and the opposite main.
In the afternoon, I accompanied Major Lyman to the Southern shore of the island. Here, at the distance of a mile and a half from the town, is a remarkable range of cliffs, formed of puddingstone, exactly like that which abounds in the neighbourhood of Boston; particularly on the Dedham and Plymouth roads. These cliffs are forty feet in height; and contain a chasm six feet wide, one hundred and fifty feet long, measuring back from their front, and descending below the surface of the water, to a depth which is unknown. The darkness, raggedness, and perpendicularity, of this chasm give it an awful appearance; and have entailed upon it the emphatical name of Purgatory.
One of our American philosophers, whom Major Lyman conducted to this place some years since, and who observed, that he had never before seen any thing, which resembled these rocks, was asked what he thought concerning their origination. He an
swered, that they were undoubtedly derived from the petrifaction of vegetable matter. Upon being further asked how long he supposed the progress of petrifaction had been going on, he replied, "probably a million of years; perhaps two million; and not improbably five or six. The period has undoubtedly been a very long one, but how long, it is impossible to determine."
A plain man, in the exercise of mere common sense, would naturally have recollected, that vegetable matter contains in itself no principle of petrifaction; that whenever vegetables have been petrified, the induration has been invariably effected by means of some fluid, existing in the earth or its waters; that no vegetable was ever known to be petrified, while lying in a dry position on its surface; that vegetables are indeed capable of becoming mould; but that this mould, unless accumulated by rains, or streams, does no where, even on this continent, where it seems to have been forming from the remotest period, exceed twentyfour inches in depth; and that, therefore, it cannot possibly have been accumulated here alone, to the depth of more than forty feet.
Such a man would also have asked, how this vegetable matter was originally formed, and afterwards petrified, beneath the surface of the ocean; where no terrene vegetable could possibly grow. He would next have inquired, how the plums, (i. e. the pebbles, and other larger stones,) often exceeding twelve inches in diameter, embosomed by this mass in numbers apparently infinite, could exist in petrified vegetable matter; whether they originally grew within the substance of plants, shrubs, and trees; or whether they were anciently, (i. e. two or three millions of years ago,) the kinds of fruit, which they bore; or whether the cause of the petrifaction, proved by the uniformity of the embosoming mass to be perfectly simple, turned the vegetable matter, uniform also, partly into this mass, and partly into the plums, of which some are slate; some are quartz almost pure; some are granite; some are sandstone; and others are very different from each other, and from them all. If neither of these modes of explanation satisfied him, he would further ask, whether, when the first stra
tum of vegetable matter began to undergo the process of petrifaction, it lifted, by some unknown effort, the plums, which were beneath, above its upper surface, that they might be ready for the next stratum; and then another set of plums, above the surface of the second, to be ready for the third; thus raising them through all the superincumbent strata, until, finally, the last collection was supplied for the stratum which was uppermost.
After making these inquiries, he would have recurred to his own observation, if it had extended so far, and recollected, that pudding stone exists at little distances in every part of this country; and that the embosoming mass always partakes of the nature, qualities, and appearances, of the ground, in which it is formed. He would recollect, that this mass is sometimes cemented loam, containing in it the same grit, which is found in the adjoining earth; that in sand, it is a mere sand stone, differing from the surrounding sand in nothing but hardness; that in the soil called brick-mould, it varies from a brown, faintly shaded with red, to a red, approaching to crimson; and that in yellow earth, its hue is a variety of the same colour. He would remember also, that in its tenacity it varies from mere earth to the most solid rock the parts being often so friable, as to be easily pulverized between the thumb and finger; that they are often decomposed by the weather; and that in both these cases they become again the very earth, of which they were formed. He would remember also, that rocks of pudding stone, both solid and stratified, of every form and every size, exist in the bowels of the earth, at every depth, which has been explored, and in the bowels of mountains; and that they rise singly to a considerable height above the surface adjacent; so as to require for their formation, that the vegetable matter should be heaped up, and confined, in detached spots, in an extraordinary manner. Finally, he might be informed, that great mountains are chiefly composed of the same stone; to the formation of which, it must be admitted, a soil unusually productive, and a vegetation remarkably prolific, were indispensable. From all this a plain man would naturally conclude; especially as he always found the stones, in the emVOL. III.