Original Portsmouth Compact coming Thursday


PORTSMOUTH — The original Portsmouth Compact, a document signed on March 7, 1638 that marked the town's founding, will be on display Thursday at Town Hall.

"It's coming," Town Clerk Kathleen Viera Beaudoin confirmed today.

The document, which is in the possession of the state archives under the secretary of state's office, will also be getting some VIP treatment.

"Portsmouth Police are going up to escort the document from the state archives," she said.

The town will greet the Compact with great fanfare starting with a noontime ceremony March 7 at Town Hall, 2200 East Main Road. The Artillery Company of Newport will be on hand to lend color to the event.

Later that day, at 6:30 p.m., local historian James Garman will speak on “The Portsmouth Compact: How it Came About (375 Years Ago Today),” at the Portsmouth Free Public Library, 2658 East Main Road. Both events are free of charge and open to the public.

The Portsmouth Compact has never been publicly displayed in such a manner before, said Ms. Beaudoin. "It's the first time they've ever done this," she said.

Esmond D. "Doug" Smith, chairman of Portsmouth 375th steering committee which is hosting the event, was excited to hear that the original compact will be in town, if only for a day.

"It'll be here during and after the ceremonies. People will be able to go up and look up at," said Mr. Smith, who earlier had thought the town might have to settle for a copy of the Compact. "This thing is a 138 years older than the Declaration of Independence. It's a really old document."

The 1638 Portsmouth Compact, which some argue established the first true democratic form of government, came as a result of Anne Hutchinson and some of her followers challenging the authority of the clergy who ruled over the theocratic Massachusetts Bay colony. The group of dissidents were banished from the colony and later, with help from Roger Williams, purchased Aquidneck Island from the Narragansett Indians.

On March 7, 1638 (most likely in Boston), 23 men signed the Compact, which established a "civil bodie politick" based on Christian principles but non-sectarian in governance. It also severed religious and political ties with mother England.

1639 Compact in town's possession

Although the Portsmouth Compact will be sent back to Providence after the ceremony, the town did recently come into possession of a latter Compact, signed in 1639. The state archives agreed to give the town a book of Portsmouth records from 1638 to 1700, which includes the second Compact.

"This is the original paper," said Ms. Beaudoin, pointing to the 1639 record at Town Hall Monday. "They do what they call a transformation onto (the pages of the book)."

Ms. Beaudoin and former town clerk Carol Zinno retrieved the book during a trip to the state archives.

Ms. Zinno, the town clerk said, was "thrilled."


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I am proud to be a direct decendent of one of the Compact's signers. I have heard all my life the stories of my ancestor, John Coggeshall and the men and women who settled this great town. I am glad that this important document is coming home even if it is for one day. I wish I could be there so see it. I sincerely wish the Town of Portsmouth, which I concider my real home in my heart, a Great 375th!

Wendy Mitchell

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