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Many of the first colonists in Newport became Baptists, and the second Baptist congregation in Rhode Island was formed in 1640 under the leadership of John Clarke.In 1658, a group of Jews were allowed to settle in Newport who were fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.Newport became the most important port in colonial Rhode Island, and a public school was established in 1640.The commercial activity which raised Newport to its fame as a rich port was begun by a second wave of Portuguese Jews who settled there about the middle of the 18th century.

Throughout the 18th century, Newport suffered from an imbalance of trade with the largest colonial ports.So many pirates used it as their base of operations that the London Board of Trade made an official complaint to the English government.Thomas Tew was the most famous pirate who made Newport his base.During the Colonial period, Newport was the center of the slave trade in New England, active in the "triangle trade" in which slave-produced sugar and molasses from the Caribbean were carried to Rhode Island and distilled into rum, which was then carried to West Africa and exchanged for captives.In 1764, Rhode Island had about 30 rum distilleries, 22 in Newport alone.