TOURO SYNAGOGUE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
The oldest synagogue in the United States
The Touro Synagogue was dedicated in 1762, and serves an active congregation today. The congregation was founded in 1658 by Sephardim who fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal and were searching for a haven from religious persecution in the Caribbean. Today, the synagogue celebrates not only their story, but serves to honor all who came to this shore seeking to worship freely.
Touro Synagogue, dedicated in 1762, is the oldest synagogue in the United States and the only one that survives from the colonial era. The congregation was founded in 1658 by Sephardim, descendants of Marranos who fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal and who were themselves seeking a haven from religious persecution in the Caribbean. They came to the the Colony of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations because of the assurance of freedom of religion and liberty of conscience promised by Roger Williams to all who came within its borders
When the British captured Newport in 1776 and shut down the maritime trades, most Jews left. The Synagogue became a hospital for British troops until the French liberated the town. In 1781, George Washington met Generals Lafayette and Rochembeau in Newport to plan the final battles of the Revolution. It was on that visit, that General Washington attended a town meeting in the Synagogue.
In 1790, the congregation of the Synagogue wrote a letter to President Washington, expressing their good wishes, and asking his views on their continued peaceful existence in Newport. Washington replied in a letter to "The Hebrew Congregation in Newport," that:
. . . happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
With this statement, Washington set the standard for religious freedom and civil liberties in America.
In 1946, the Touro Synagogue was designated a National Historic Site. Today, it continues to serve an active congregation.