Born in Barbados, Wheatland arrived in Newport in 1894, perhaps due to his association with two notable African American men, M. Alonzo Van Horne and George T. Downing. Wheatland married Irene De Mortie, the granddaughter of Downing.
Licensed to practice medicine in Rhode Island in 1895, he is considered to be the first known African American physician to live and practice in Newport. He became the first doctor in Newport to use the X-ray machine as a diagnostic tool.
He served as the 11th President of the National Medical Association.
Arriving in Newport by the mid 1840’s, George T. Downing would become one of 19th century Newport’s most successful hospitality entrepreneurs.
Downing lobbied tirelessly to officially desegregate Rhode Island public schools, beginning in 1857, by which time he was well-established in Newport as the proprietor of the Sea Girt House luxury hotel along with a confectionary and catering business on the Downing Block.
He would later lead for the repeal of the state’s ban on interracial marriage, and racial discrimination in the reorganization of the Rhode Island militia. Downing helped purchased Touro Park and founded the American Colored Union Labor League.
Mary Dickerson and her husband Silas arrived in Newport from New Haven, Ct. around 1865. By 1872 she established a “Fashionable Dressmaking Establishment” at 5 Travers Block servicing the needs of Newport’s summer residents.
In 1896 she was a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and in 1903 she established the first federation of African American Women’s Club in Rhode Island that is still active to this day.
Rev. Van Horne was Pastor at Union Colored Congregational Church between 1868 & 1896. This church was established in 1824 as a religious extension of the 18th century Free African Benevolent Society.
Later Van Horne became the first African American on the Newport School Board in 1871 and the first African American to serve in the RI General Assembly in 1885. In 1898 he was appointed General Counsel to Danish West Indies by President McKinley during Spanish American War.
Dr. Harriet A. Rice was born in 1866 in Newport and lived a considerable amount of her life in the family home at 75 Spring Street. She graduated from Rogers High School in 1882 and she went on to become the first African American to graduate from Wellesley College in 1887. Soon after she would earn a medical degree at the University of Michigan Medical School.
As an African American woman and licensed physician, it was nearly impossible for Dr. Rice to practice medicine at any American hospital. She soon joined the famous social worker and women’s suffrage leader, Jane Adams at the celebrated Hull House in Chicago providing medical treatment to poor families.
At the start of WWI, she would leave for France to serve as a physician in military hospitals. On July 1919, the French Embassy presented Dr. Rice the National Medal of French Gratitude for her outstanding services treating wounded French soldiers between 1915 and 1918.
One of Newport’s most successful 19th century entrepreneurs, Benjamin Burton arrived in Newport in 1845 from Connecticut. He would later established the “Original Express” company, one of the earliest Black-owned businesses operating in various forms at 4 Travers Block.
He was the originator of the Bellevue Avenue Express Line which later extended to the Point and Broadway. During the Summer resort season, he also operated a baggage transfer business. He lived at 35 Levin Street.
Armstead Hurley arrived in Newport from Culpepper County, Virginia Around 1886. He would soon establish a successful painting business along with being a founding partner in the Rhode Island Loan & Investment Company, the first black-owned bank in Rhode Island.
He owned many rental properties on Cross, Thames, Mary and Division Streets. He was also Treasurer of the Shiloh Baptist Church.