What the
Europeans Found

The interplay of land and sea define Newport. Situated at the southern tip of Aquidneck Island, the city is set in a varied topography of marshy lowlands, hills, valleys and cliffs bordered by water on three sides. This veritable arcadia of scenic views is composed of a sheltered west facing harbor with coves, wetland and stony outcroppings. 

Above: Giacomo Gastaldi’s La Nuova Francia [New France], 1556. “Port du Refuge” is Narragansett Bay. (Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University)

“We found an excellent harbor… When we went farther inland, we saw their houses, which are circular in shape, about XIII to XV paces across, made of bent saplings, they are arranged without any architectural pattern…They move these houses from one place to another according to the richness of the site and the season.”

Giovanni di Verrazzano, 1524

Detail from A Map of New-England drawn by William Hubbard, 1677. (Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
This was no virgin wilderness, but a highly cultivated landscape created by generations of Native Americans. Giovanni da Verrazano did not remain in the locale he called “Port di Refugio,” but continued on with his exploration of the coastline north to Nova Scotia. The remarks he made on this island would be repeated by countless observers commenting on the abundance, allure and enchanting seaside atmosphere of what appeared to be paradise. Another century passed before European colonists settled in Newport. A place of remarkable fertility and natural beauty, the stage was set for the creation of the city that eventually rose on this apparently blessed spot.


This project is made possible by the generous support of Elizabeth "Lisette" Prince and the Buchanan Burnham Endowment for Visiting Scholars.  All images are from the collections of the Newport Historical Society unless otherwise noted.