Arts & CultureGovernment

1638 ‘Portsmouth Compact’ to be displayed at Town Hall

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — The 1638 ‘Portsmouth Compact’ will go on display for one day at Town Hall as part of Portsmouth Founders Day. 

The Portsmouth Compact will be on display on Tuesday, March 7, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  in the Portsmouth Town Council chambers at Town Hall, 2200 East Main Road. 

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Early arrival is recommended. 

This year’s compact display will include remarks from Town Historian and Historical Society President Jim Garman about the background and meaning of this historic document.

Garman will present his remarks at 11:30 a.m. A representative from the state archive will be on hand to answer questions about the storage and handling of the compact and other early Portsmouth documents. 

In March 1638, a group of men in Boston, followers and supporters of Anne Hutchinson, who was on trial for heresy in the Puritan-controlled Massachusetts Bay Colony, made an agreement to establish a “bodie politic.”

This new “bodie politic” would allow individuals to worship their Christian religion without interference from the government.

This unique document is considered by many to be the first document in American history that severed both political and religious ties with England.

The original document is maintained in the state archives. The 1638 “Portsmouth Compact” was first put on public display during Portsmouth’s 375th anniversary celebration in 2013.

Up until that time, the original document was stored in the “Newport Book,” so called because the founders of Newport took all the records with them when they left Portsmouth in 1639 to settle on the southern end of Aquidneck Island. 

This rare historic document is now stored in its own folder at the Rhode Island archives and is brought to Portsmouth under police escort, accompanied by a state archivist.

In 2016, at the behest of the Portsmouth Historical Society, the Portsmouth Town Council established “Portsmouth Founders Day” as an annual observance on March 7, the date of the signing of the compact.

The 1638 Portsmouth Compact is something unique to Portsmouth’s history and seeing the actual document itself, written 379 years ago, is a rare experience. 


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