Photo: Peter Bours house (47 Division Street), Location of AUS as early as 1781

On November 10, 1780, the African Union Society (AUS) of Newport, Rhode Island was established. It was the first attested Black Mutual Aid Society. Former slaves, including Newport Gardner and Pompe (Zingo) Stevens, were two of the leaders in creating the AUS.

In 1787 Richard Jones and Absalom Jones founded the second attested Black Mutual Aid Society, the Free African Society of Philadelphia.

Also in that year, Prince Hall obtained a charter from the British Masons to establish in Boston the first black Masonic lodge in America.

Mutual aid and self-improvement societies were formed to assist the poor and sick and promoted self-respect by setting high moral standards for their members. They also tried to combat racism by showing whites that blacks could be good, responsible citizens.

An excerpt from Early Black Benevolent Societies (1780-1830);

“Early mutual benefit societies, like the African Union Society established in 1780 in Newport, Rhode
Island or the African Society formed in 1796 in Boston, provided proper burials, administered the wills of their members, and cared for widows and orphans. 8 In addition to concerning themselves with the financial needs of their free black members, they were also committed to the antislavery cause. These organizations linked the maintenance of a free society to abolition and the welfare of free blacks to the welfare of slaves, attacking the inconsistency of a “freedom loving” nation’s toleration of slavery. In an Essay on Freedom, one member of the African Society of Boston attacked slavery and the hypocrisy of a people who “love freedom themselves… [but who] prevent [others] from its enjoyment.. . .”

Today, Newport is home to a historically noteworthy burying ground that the African and African American community commonly called “God’s Little Acre.” This burial area on Farewell Street has been recognized as having possibly the oldest and largest surviving collection of markers of enslaved and free Africans, the earliest of whom were born in the late 1600’s.

For More Information, This Story Is Worth A Read & God’s Little Acre: Slavery and Race in a Colonial Burial Ground

This story was originally published on November 10, 2016.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What'sUpNewp. 
Belmore has been involved with What’sUpNewp since shortly after its launch in 2012, proudly leading it to be named Best Local News Blog in Rhode Island by Rhode Island Monthly readers in 2018, 2019, and 2020 and an honorable mention in the Common Good Awards in 2021.

Born and raised in Rhode Island, Belmore graduated from Coventry High School and the Community College of Rhode Island. In addition to living in Newport for 10 years, he has lived in Portsmouth, Coventry, Providence, Smithfield, Burrillville, and East Greenwich.

Belmore currently serves as Vice President of the Board Of Directors for Fort Adams Trust and on the Board of Directors for Potter League For Animals. He previously served on the Board of Lucy's Hearth and the Arts & Cultural Alliance for Newport County.

Belmore and his wife, Jen, currently live in Alexandria, Virginia, a move they made in 2021. Read more about that here -

Belmore visits Newport every couple of weeks to support the 12+ paid contributors What'sUpNewp has on the ground across Rhode Island, a place he called home for 39 years.

Belmore is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, Society of Professional Journalists, and the North American Snowsports Journalists Association.

In 2020, Belmore was named Member of the Year by LION and won the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Newport County's Dominque Award.
Belmore can be contacted at and 401-662-1653.

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