Foodways to Freedom: African Heritage Entrepreneurs in 18th- and 19th-Century Rhode Island

This is a free event presented by the 1696 Heritage Group and the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society as part of our Relishing Rhode Island programming theme, and it takes place on June 22, 5:30pm, at the Aldrich House (110 Benevolent St.). Please register here.

During the 18th-, 19th-, and into the early 20th centuries, two trades that were almost the exclusive territory of free African heritage people were that of barber and caterer, both of which could be very lucrative professions. In Rhode Island and New England, a number men and women would operate catering and restaurant businesses that would not only reflect their success as early African heritage entrepreneurs, but afford them the financial freedom to use their foodway businesses as pathways to employ many other people of color and also underwrite early abolitionist and civil rights endeavors.

Foodways to Freedom is a free public lecture by Keith Stokes that will present images and exhibit of historic people, business cards, and food and dining event flyers representing the African heritage catering and restaurant business in Rhode Island dating back to the Colonial Era.

Profiles of entrepreneurs will include:

Duchess Quamino: Born in Africa in 1739, she would obtain her own freedom after her husband’s death during the American Revolution and earned her living as a pastry cook. Her reputation as a fine cook would lead her to be called the “Pastry Queen” of Rhode Island. Quamino would use her financial freedom to become a member of the Free African Union Society.

Elleanor Eldridge: Born in Rhode Island in 1784 to an African father and Indian mother. She would build her own home in Providence and was widely recognized as a dairy-woman and premium cheese-maker in Rhode Island.

George T. Downing: By the mid-19th century, Downing would become one of the most successful African heritage hospitality entrepreneurs in America, owning various catering, restaurant, and hotel businesses in Newport, Boston, Providence and Washington, D.C. Downing’s business wealth would help him become one of America’s leading abolitionists.

JT Allen and DB Allen: Came to Newport in the late 19th century and would establish several restaurant and catering businesses, most notably “HYGEIA SPA,” at Easton’s Beach and TOURO RESTAURANT in the Perry Mansion under the Lawrence Club, one of the most aristocratic clubs of the city during its day. Both brothers would help to establish the first Black-owned bank in Rhode Island.

Thomas G. Williams: Established a series of catering, restaurant and hairdressing businesses in Boston and Newport in the mid-19th century. His establishments were sited along two of America’s most exclusive and historic districts, Beacon Hill in Boston and Bellevue Avenue in Newport. Williams would become a leader in Republican Party in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island and along with Downing a founder of the Sumner Political Club in 1898.

Register for this free event here!

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