A distinguished citizen and prosperous merchant of Newport, William Vernon born January 17, 1719, used his vast experience in seafaring activities to orchestrate the building and equipping of vessels for the newly organized American Continental Navy.
Vernon was elected President of the Eastern Navy Board on May 6, 1777, in Boston, which lasted for the duration of the American Revolutionary War. So committed to his duties, he repeatedly advanced considerable sums of money to meet immediate demands upon the government and had little of ever being paid. Bear in mind, it was not until 1798 that the title “Secretary of the Navy” was first used when Benjamin Stoddert of Maryland was appointed to that position.
Vernon was a founder and second president of the Redwood Library; a member of the Second Congregational Church with Rev. Ezra Stiles as pastor; a founding member of the Artillery Company in 1741; and was instrumental in establishing the Newport Bank, the third bank of Newport (chartered: 1803), the building is now known as Citizens Bank on Washington Square.
Both of his homes still stand today. At One Mile Corner, there is his country home called Elmhyrst, located on the southeast corner away from the road (behind the old gas station). The Vernon House, which bears his name and where he died, at the northeast corner of Clarke and Mary Streets. He is buried at the Common Burial Ground nearest the Warner Street entrance, marked by the tallest obelisk in the family plot.