The Dyer Farm
Newport prospered as one of the principal commercial centers of British North America, rivaling Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charlestown, South Carolina, and making fortunes in the trade of rum, molasses, spermaceti (whale oil), pineapples, and African slaves. Thus, at the outbreak of the American Revolution, the British sent a large force to occupy the town. Half the population, including most of its merchants, took what they could and fled the town. In need of firewood for cooking and warmth during their three-year stay, the British dismantled about five hundred houses, cut down almost all the trees, and destroyed most of the wharves. Those citizens who did not collaborate with the occupying forces further suffered routine plunder and extortion. When the French Fleet entered Newport harbor in the early autumn of 1779, the British took what little remained in town and hurried to New York. When the war was over, most merchants saw little reason to return to Newport. The British embargo during the War of 1812 dealt a second severe blow to any merchants who had attempted to revive their business. The town remained impoverished until the mid-nineteenth century, when it saw an economic and cultural revival as a fashionable resort for the wealthy.
The 121-acre Dyre farm remained in the possession of Captain Samuel Dyre, Mary’s grandson, until his death in 1767. Then it passed to his son, Samuel, whom the Reverend Ezra Stiles noted was an arch Tory. The southern boundary of the farm also marked the siege line that the British army established around Newport from December 1776 to October 1779. While laying siege to Newport, the British army took down one of Samuel Dyre’s houses and dismantled his joiner’s shop to use the materials for the Naval Hospital. Since Daniel Wheeler wrote in his journal of seeing “the site of the dwelling … place of Mary Dyer,” the original house must have been gone by 1839 and may well have been this house taken down by the British between 1777 and 1779.
When the British abandoned Newport, Dyre was taken on November 1, 1779 by order of General Gates and jailed. The following year he was tried for collusion with the enemy and found not guilty, but the rebel authorities suspected him of tampering with the jury, declared a mistrial, and obtained his conviction in a second trial. On October 5, 1781 his petition for release from prison was granted and on December 7 he was finally discharged.
Samuel Dyre’s extended incarceration and his consequent inability to manage the affairs of the farm led to his financial collapse. Moreover, as a Tory, he surely was ostracized and suffered as a social and economic outcast at the hands of his neighbors. In 1791, Dyre sold the southern-most 100 acres, soon after declared insolvency, and what remained of the farm devolved through a series of owners until it came to the City of Newport for unpaid taxes. The Navy next acquired the property and holds it today. The Dyre farm’s southern boundary was at Fort Greene, now Battery Park, just south of Newport Bridge on the water, ran northeast to Dyre’s Gate (where 3rd Street goes under the bridge), north to the rotary, west to the main gate to the Navy Base, and then back south along the water to the park. Third Street used to be the road to Dyer’s Farm. The Dyre house stood close to where the Navy Hospital now is and the cemetery lay just south of the house.