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The Ongoing Mystery Of Who Really Built the Newport Tower

historical landmarks | July 16, 2018

The Newport Tower (also known as: Round Tower, Touro Tower, Newport Stone Tower and Old Stone Mill), Rhode Island, USA, circa 1960. (Photo by Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

In Newport, Rhode Island, there stands a curious ancient structure. Known as the Newport Tower, the structure stands on eight legs linked by arches and all constructed of uncut native stone that was carefully and masterfully mortared together. Holes in the stone seem to indicate that wooden beams were once used to create a second floor inside the building but the wood is long gone. There are also four windows and a fireplace build into the east wall. The tower does not look like any other structure in New England. Many residents of the area claim that the Newport Town pre-dates European settlements in the area. Still, others say it was built by America’s best-known traitor, Benedict Arnold, at the time of the American Revolution. The Newport Tower is a mysterious structure and, like any good mystery, there are a number of suspects of who could have built the tower. 

(www.history.com)

Was it Benedict Arnold?

Before he infamously sold out the young United States to the British in Revolutionary War times, Benedict Arnold was the governor of Rhode Island. In his 1677 will, he used the Tower as a landmark to show where he wanted to be buried and to indicate the parcel of land he wanted to bequeath to his wife. Records show Arnold owned the land on which the Newport Tower sits from 1651 to 1678, the year of his death, but there is no evidence that he build the tower. Still, many people claim that he constructed the tower and that is was originally a mill. 

Was it Henry Sinclair?

One hundred years before Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World, Scottish nobleman and explorer, Henry Sinclair voyaged from Scotland to Greenland, Nova Scotia, and down the coast of the United States from Maine to Massachusetts. He left behind monuments to mark his passage through an area and to help him and others find their way back. Many people believe that it was Henry Sinclair who built the Newport Tower to serve as a beacon for other European sailors exploring the new world. To support this claim, proponents of the theory point to the Westford Knight, a carving in a rock face in Westford, Massachusetts. The carving, although weathered and faded, seems to show a medieval knight with a sword and shield, yet the carving pre-dates Columbus’s discovery of America. Other supporters of the theory call attention to the similarities between the Newport Tower and European church, with its arched doorways.  

Was it the Knights Templar?

Henry Sinclair is often linked to our next possible tower builders, the Knights Templar. A secret society, the Knights Templar was a mysterious group connected to the Freemasons who were, ironically, master stone builders. Although the Newport Tower may look like a breeze to construct, it would have been an impressive undertaking for even the most skilled builders of the day. The multiple arches pose a challenge that, some theorists suggest, could have only been accomplished by the Freemasons, who were said to be in possession of trade secrets and sacred geometry. Experts note that the Newport Tower was built in the Norman Romanisk style of architecture and may have even been inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Knights Templar were known to build other round churches that included many of the same features that we see in the Newport Tower, such as arches, key stones, niches, and the precise celestial orientation of openings. The Knights Templar were facing religious persecution in Europe and were looking to build an new society in a faraway land. Perhaps, they chose Massachusetts. 

(Pinterest)

Was it Norse Vikings?

The Danish Secretary of the Royal Society of Northern Antiquities, Carl Christain Rafn, claimed in 1830 that the Newport Tower was built by Norse Vikings sometime between 1112 and 1121. Rafn believed the tower was constructed under the direction of Eric Gnupsson of Gardar, Greenland. Rafn made these claims, however, without ever seeing the Newport Tower for himself. He based his theory on drawings of the tower. 

(PBS)

Was it the Chinese?

There are historians who claim that the Newport Tower is, in fact, a lighthouse that was built by the Chinese in 1421. These historians believe that an expedition of Chinese explorers sailed to the east coast of what is now Florida and continued up the coast into New England. The commander of this expedition, Admiral Zhou Wen, landed in Newport and decided to keep his men there long enough to restock their food supplies. While they were at it, the experts claim, they built a lighthouse resembling lighthouses in the Fujian area of southern China that dates to the Song Dynasty. The Zaiton lighthouses, however, are much taller than the Newport Tower, but supporters of this theory note the lack of tools and little time that Admiral Wen’s men had to complete their task. 

Photo of the Dighton Rock in 1893...does it prove Miguel Corte-Real was in Massachusetts?

Was it the Shipwrecked Corte-Real Brothers?

Portuguese explorers and brothers, Gaspard, Miguel, and Vasco Corte-Real sailed to Greenland and Labrador around 1500. Gaspar tried to return to Portugal, but was caught in bad weather. His brother, Miguel, left to search for him. Neither brother was ever seen again, leaving Vasco as the only surviving brother. Not far from Newport, in the town of Dighton, Massachusetts is a strange boulder that is covered with carvings and what appears to be navigational coordinates. One controversial translation of the carvings reads “I, Miguel Cortereal, 1511. In this place, by the will of God, I became a chief of the Indians.” Historians posit that Miguel and Gaspar Corte-Real reached the Newport area, where they built the Newport Tower in hopes of attracting rescuers. 

Newport Tower Museum

So far, no conclusive evidence has been unearthed to definitively identify the builders of the Newport Tower. The old, yet solidly built tower attracts thousands of visitors each year, especially during the summer and winter solstices when the rising sun illuminates certain parts of the interior of the Newport Tower. 

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.