Bull-Mawdsley House // c.1680

One of the oldest houses in Rhode Island, this beautiful home has a full history that will be hard to fit in a post, but here goes! The earliest, two-room rear part of this house was built around 1680, probably by Jireh Bull near the time of his first marriage to Godsgift Arnold, the daughter of Benedict Arnold, the first Governor of Rhode Island. After Bull’s death, the wealthy businessman and privateer Captain John Mawdsley acquired the house and he enlarged it in keeping with his prominent social status, adding elements inspired by the Georgian classicism. Mawdsley in 1774 owned 20 slaves, many of which likely worked on his ships as crew or cooks. He was a Loyalist, and fled Newport during the American Revolution. During the winter of 1780-81, this was the home of French Major-General François chevalier Beauvoir de Chastellux, who was third in command of French forces in America under the French expeditionary force led by general Rochambeau. After the War, Mawdsley was actually allowed to return to Newport, and resided at the home until his death in 1795. In 1795, after Mawdsley’s death, the house was purchased by slave ship captain and wealthy merchant Caleb Gardner, who is said to have brought thousands of humans in bondage to the shores of Rhode Island and in the Caribbean. Gardner is responsible for the Federal period entry and marble front steps we see today. The home was purchased by Historic New England in the 20th century, and was documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. It is now a private home.

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