Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Historical Archaeology

First Advisor

David B. Landon

Second Advisor

James Garman

Third Advisor

Stephen A. Mrozowski


The Capt. Thomas Richardson household rose to prominence in Newport, Rhode Island during the community’s golden age of prosperity in the 18th century when Newport quickly became one of the leading seaports in the New World. However, all prosperity halted due to the hardships and damage Newport suffered during the American Revolutionary War. Much of the city’s property and economic success was destroyed at the hands of occupying British troops, and the Rhode Island community was never able to fully recover. Like others in colonial Newport, Capt. Thomas Richardson achieved genteel status as a merchant, distiller, and slave ship owner during the city's golden era, but died in 1782 as a shell of the man he once was, his property and status having been heavily damaged.

Archaeological excavations along with the analysis of material culture of the Richardson houselot on Thames Street in Newport have sought to more clearly define the role and activities of Capt. Thomas Richardson and his family as members of Newport’s elite merchant class that largely controlled the economic and social structures within the community. Additionally, women’s household activities and gender roles are examined in this study in order to better understand women’s lived experiences in colonial Newport. Artifacts recovered from the Thames Street houselot are used as an access point into the practices and objects necessary to display, maintain, and reproduce social status within merchant society.

The artifact assemblage comprising of ceramics, glasswares, and small finds revealed a merchant household that achieved a growth in wealth and status due to its participation in Atlantic trade, but experienced downfall at the destruction caused by the American Revolutionary War. This data, along with documentary evidence, supports the conclusion that a merchant was not necessarily synonymous with elite class, as the case of Capt. Thomas Richardson shows. Instead, merchants moved more fluidly amongst classes depending on their ability to maintain material and behavioral appearances. Just like financial booms and busts, merchants rose and fell in Newport society in correlation with their ability to maintain practices of gentility.