An Off-Limits Piece of History

Origins of Newport's Naval War College



One of the most interesting attractions of Aquidneck Island is one that most tourists to Newport may never see. The Naval War College (NWC), sitting around Coddington Cove and looking out at the Newport Bridge has a fine museum dedicated to underwater warfare and the naval tradition. Sadly, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, security measures have been taken requiring that only visitors with Military ID’s and those with sponsors having picture ID’s are admitted to the grounds.

Perhaps the day will come when the grounds are reopened, or perhaps the museum exhibits can be put into a traveling display where they can be appreciated by lovers of the sea and history. Until then, the NWC grounds themselves tell a story a history that visitors can appreciate.

… “a place of original research on all questions relating to war and statesmanship … ”

Early American Colonists recognized the diverse geographic advantages of Newport, city by the sea. Newport’s economy at that time centered as a seaport and harbor where citizens were provided with a small boat to protect and defend unwelcome visitors. It wasn’t until early settler Nicholas Easton along with his son Peter, explored Aquidneck Island in 1639 that it began what was to become part of the Triangle Trade route and identified as a seaport.

In the mid 18th century, Newport was known as the center of commerce of the American Colonies, mirroring ports in New York and Boston. It was a busy harbor with twelve thousand in population and fortunes made in the Triangular Trade route from the West Indies to Africa to Newport. Newport protected its 21 Rum Distilleries and 17 factories as it processed sperm whale oil and manufactured candles.

In 1764 Robert Melville surveyed the harbor its bays and inlets along with the docks and shipyards. He deemed the entire bay as an excellent man-of-war harbor providing great anchorage and shelter from every direction. He also noted the proximity to the ocean.

It wasn’t until some one hundred years later, in 1869, that the Navy developed Narragansett Bay, when the Secretary of War established an experimental Torpedo Station on Goat Island to study and later construct naval ordinance. In 1919 Gould Island produced 80% of the sub torpedoes serving World War I and World War II. Rose Island became a depot for explosives.

US Navy Commodore Stephen Bleecker Luce, due to a lack of post graduate school for junior officers, established the Navy’s first Recruit Training Station on Coaster’s Harbor Island and by 1887 he had over 300 recruits reporting for training. In 1883 he founded the Naval War College and served as its President in 1884. The former Newport Asylum for the poor was christened as the United States Naval War College.

Luce, a true person in charge, saw education and training as the way to modernize the Navy. He described the NWC as “a place of original research on all questions relating to war and statesmanship…”

The second president was Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan who added immensely to the school by way of his published writings on sea power. His first article titled, “The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783” won world wide acclaim and established the status of Mahan as a naval historian in 1890.

War gaming of the past was a fundamental part of the Naval War College since 1887 under LT. William McCarthy Little. He taught war gaming techniques to support the teaching objectives of WWI and WWII.

Over the years the curriculum was modified to meet the needs of the ever-changing international state of affairs. At present the NWC, the oldest of its kind in the world and the highest professional education institution in the US Navy, consists of four resident schools, a College for Continuing Education and a Center for Naval Warfare Studies for advanced research.

Most recently the region has developed into a major center for naval command and for naval underwater weapons research and development.

To find out more, log on to the Naval War College website



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