- Historic Sites
Longfellow and The Jewish Cemetery at Newport
February 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 2
In the summer of 1852 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, vacationing with his family in Newport, Rhode Island, happened one day upon the old Jewish cemetery, established in 1677. Impressed by the quiet of the ancient burial ground amid the bustle of the busy seaport, he persuaded “Mr. Gould the Tailor, a polite old gentleman who keeps the key,” to admit him into its silent serenity. The now-famous poem at right resulted from his walk among the crumbling tombstones.
Isaacs, Judah, Moses, Alvares, Rivera…these first Jews of Newport had arrived in the New World in 1658, fleeing religious persecution. The settlement of Newport, then only nineteen years old, welcomed them…and, later, a group of Spanish Portuguese Jews who fled the Inquisition.
In 1759 Newport’s Jewish community built one of the first synagogues in the New World, naming it Touro for its first rabbi, whose descendants lie buried beneath the graceful monuments on the opposite page. They, and the humbler Jews whose names adorn the more modest graves on the following pages, repose in surroundings little changed since Longfellow found them “at rest in all this moving up and down.” But their dead nation, contrary to Longfellow’s expectations and in a manner beyond his ken, would rise again.