Special to What’s Up Newp | The following was written by Keith Stokes, Vice President of the 1696 Heritage Group. This story was originally published on Feb. 1, 2021.
While Newport is internationally recognized for its Colonial Era buildings, Gilded Age mansions, historic landscapes, and rich maritime history, few would know that Newport through the centuries would also be host to many important African heritage business entrepreneurs who would leverage their commercial enterprises to promote not only economic security, but to also build the wealth they would invest in the advancement of early African heritage civic, religious, and political interests.
Andrew J. Tabb was born enslaved on August 15, 1842, in Petersburg, Virginia. At the start of the Civil War, he was conscripted into the Confederate Army, working as a waiter for General James Longstreet of the 12th Virginia Regiment. At the Battle of Fort Hell in 1863, he escaped to the Union Army and enlisted in the 114th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops. Tabb was present in 1865 at the fall of Petersburg, Virginia. After the war, Tabb became a private coachman and met Madame C. O’Donnell who employed him as her personal coachman.
Tabb traveled with O’Donnell and attended the funeral of Victor Hugo in Paris. He followed O’Donnell to Newport in1881 managing her stables and transportation needs of other summer residents. Tabb quickly became part of Newport’s fast-emerging African heritage business and civic community. He became a deacon at Shiloh Baptist Church and in 1895, he led the effort to establish the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church. He operated one of the city’s largest livery stables next to his home at 28 Edgar Court, located off Bath Road and adjacent to historic Bellevue Avenue.
Tabb’s accomplishments represent the essence of African heritage “Creative Survival” during a time of enslavement, discrimination, and isolation for many in America simply because of the color of their skin. Despite all challenges, he embodies the American ideal of the self-made man. Andrew J. Tabb is a true American and Newport entrepreneur.
This story is part of a soon to be launched online series by the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society entitled, “The Evolution of African Heritage Entrepreneurship in Newport, Rhode Island from 18th to Early 20th Century.”