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Trinity Church, Newport, RI, places flags at historic veterans graves


NEWPORT – The inscription on the first veteran’s grave in Trinity Church – that of Robert Gardner – tells us that he was “one of the first promoters of the Church in this place, he survived all his Brethren and had the happiness of seeing this Church Completely completed, he was a Ship’s Officer and Receiver of this port for many years, also employed in the affairs of this colony, and discharged his trust in Satisfaction. He died on May 1, 1731, the day of his birth, at the age of 69.

During Veterans Day week, Gardner and 22 other Newport veterans who died between 1731 and 2022 and served during the colonial period, during the Revolution and as recently as the Vietnam War are honored with flags of their respective historical periods displayed on their graves until Sunday, November 13.

Gardner’s inscription can once again be read, along with the inscriptions on the nearby stone of Captain James Cahoone and several other 18th and 19th century veterans, thanks to the efforts of stone conservation volunteer Jimmy Lappin, who makes amazing job cleaning the old tombstones. using wooden skewers, a toothbrush, water and lots of elbow grease.

The transformation rendered by Lappin, who says he always pays close attention when a grave he rehabilitates turns out to belong to a veteran, is nothing short of amazing. The slate and marble tombs, some of which are so covered in moss and mud that they are completely impenetrable, shine and shine in the late afternoon sun when Lappin is done with them.

“You have to realize that Newport is so connected to the military,” Lappin said. “It always has been since its inception.”

Trinity Church tour coordinator Charlotte Johnson, who was already doing ongoing research into the church’s congregational genealogy, said she decided to search for veterans specifically after a visitor suggested that the church commemorate veterans’ graves with flags.

However, she pointed out to this visitor and the Daily News that not all the flags would be American flags, since the Colonial Cemetery predates the United States of America.

“Most of the flags are British; it was an English colony! Johnson explained.

“We had to work out who was British and who had become a patriot,” she added with a laugh.

Betsy Ross flags adorn the graves of Revolutionary War veterans who fought for independence; Johnson, who traces his own lineage to the church’s founding congregation in 1726, says these pre-American veterans would likely have called themselves patriots rather than Americans at the time.

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18th century British flags identify Loyalists – Gardner, who died more than forty years before the American Revolution, was of course a loyal subject to the British crown, but some of the Loyalists in the cemetery are veterans of the British side of America. Revolution, buried alongside other members of the same congregation who chose to fight for independence. Their shared place of worship and resting place testifies to the complicated social divide that the revolution caused in Newport, as in many American colonial communities.

Looking at the historical timeline, it’s possible that Gardner, who is recorded as fighting in unspecified “colonial wars”, fought for the British Crown in Queen Anne’s War, which took place from 1702 to 1713 and included a front on the Maine border fighting the French and the Wabanaki Confederacy of native tribes.

Flags of the French Royal Navy are visible on the three 1780 graves of French officers who came to fight alongside American patriots during the War of Independence, including Admiral Charles-Henri-Louis d’Arsac, Chevalier de Ternay, arrived at Newport on July 11. 1780, with a fleet of ships carrying 5,500 French army soldiers under the command of the Count of Rochambeau.

Admiral de Ternay died of typhus only five months later, on December 15, 1780, at French army headquarters in Newport, now known as Hunter House, on present-day Washington Street. The entire French army marched through the streets of Newport as part of the Admiral’s funeral.

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One of the other French tombs belongs to Major Pierre du Rousseau, Chevalier de Fayolle. Rousseau, a personal assistant to Lafayette, also died in 1780 when the tender he was driving in Newport harbor was accidentally overturned by the frigate to which it was entrusted.

While Trinity Church is now an Episcopal church and was founded as an Anglican church, the corner of the cemetery where the three French soldiers are buried was actually consecrated Catholic in 1780 in order to give the men a proper burial appropriate according to their own religious custom.

The modern Stars & Stripes flag has been placed on seven graves of Navy and Navy veterans – three of whom died between 1807 and 1845, and four more who died between 1992 and 2022 and whose cremated remains lie in columbariums in the southwest part of the cemetery.

A French Royal Navy flag marks the 1780 grave at Trinity Church of a French officer who came to fight alongside American patriots during the Revolutionary War.

The four most recently deceased veterans are Capt. Richard Long, USNR; Lieutenant Commander B. Mitchell “Tony” Simpson, USN; Captain Poyntell “Pete” Caldcleugh Staley, USN; and Capt. Charles Walter Jauss, USN. Simpson, Long and Jauss all served in the Vietnam War, and Staley served in an Iceland-based anti-submarine unit during World War II.

Jauss, who died in 2022, was Johnson’s predecessor as church tour coordinator, and is now an important figure in church history in his own right. “He’s known for his work in the church — he started our touring program, touring and learning history and everything,” Johnson explained.

Johnson and historian John Hattendorf have compiled a report on the veterans’ graves they have identified so far and continue to research the topic among many other facets of Trinity Church’s fascinating history. The flags will be on display until Sunday November 13 and the churchyard, which is directly adjacent to Queen Anne’s Square grounds, is open to the public.