Researchers looking for distillery at slave trader site in Rhode Island

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Thomas Richardson II was a wealthy, 18th-century Newport merchant and captain, a slave trader and member of the city’s privileged elite who, researchers say, manufactured rum on his waterfront property and ventured to the Caribbean and Africa.

That much is already known. But his backyard may hold many more clues to his life and that of other merchants of the time.

A team of excavators who have already spent two summers at the Richardson property, digging up everything from Chinese porcelain to animal bones, will return this summer to complete their work at the site.

The researchers are hoping to uncover a large distillery they believe was used by Richardson’s slaves to make rum. The alcohol was produced in copious quantities in colonial Newport, helping make the city a commercial hub, and it was a key element of the so-called triangular trade that carried slaves, rum, molasses and other goods and supplies between Africa, the Caribbean and New England.

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