Jamestown finds its long-lost founding document

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On a spring night nearly 350 years ago, 100 of Newport's land-hungry elite gathered at a colonial home on Marlborough Street to divvy up the large island to their west owned by the Narragansett Indians. William Coddington and Benedict Arnold, the influential men who presided at the gathering, were joined by the politically and religiously powerful along with sheepherders and land speculators. Among them was young John Greene, who would become the first white settler of the island that bears two names: Conanicut, after the Indian chief sachem, and Jamestown, after the future king of England. The document they drafted was not a deed, but a plan of attack. It divided the island, and it named a committee from the larger group to negotiate with the Indians. Two years later, chief sachem Cashanaquont (also referred to as Cojonoquant) drew a small bow and arrow on the sale agreement, signing away the rights to "every part and parcel of the afore named Island Quononaqutt" for "several gifts of value" and 100 British pounds. Cashanaquont also agreed as part of the deal to remove "all ye Indian inhabitants." A copy of the agreement, essentially the founding document of Jamestown, ended up in Book One of the Jamestown Land Evidence records. The original disappeared. NEARLY THREE centuries later, sometime in the 1940s, it reappeared, in the hands of a young Newport collector, John S. Martin. His widow, Dorothy Martin, recalls that when people asked how he came into possession of the document, he would say simply that "a butler on the avenue" had given it to him. Now the Swann Gallery of New York City have decided it was real, and experts at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University have verified its authenticity. The ink, though rare at the time, they concluded, was available in the mid-17th century.

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