By Nicholas H. Kondon | March 31, 2011
In Part One of the Newport Tower mystery, a grand jury of our readers heard flimsy evidence that Vikings, knights, monks, and Benedict Arnold built the Tower in Newport, Rhode Island.
Not as a team, of course, but each was briefly a lone suspect. Your author, with as little evidence as was used by “experts” to put these characters in the dock, dismissed all charges. But, two suspects remain: The Cortreal Brothers of Lisbon, and the Chinese admiral, Zheng He.
The Portuguese Theory. About 1500 AD, somewhere near New England, the navigator, Gaspar Cortreal was lost, and his sibling, Miguel, was shipwrecked while on a search and rescue mission to locate Gaspar. The tale told is that one of the brothers, it’s optional which one, built the Tower as a beacon to signal the other that…that what? I was here but now am gone? I don’t think so. The Newport Tower is 450 tons of fieldstone. Its construction required buckets, chisels, axes, adzes, saws, planes, joiners, sledges, and on, and on. The Portuguese’s theory would have us believe that 30 men ran their caravel aground and built the Tower hoping that, with all the world to search, the other Cortreal brother would sail up Narragansett Bay looking for a lighthouse that wasn’t there before. Case dismissed.
The Chinese Theory. The Chinese discovered Newport, Rhode Island, and built the Newport Tower circa 1425 AD. Really?
During the Ming Dynasty there arose a eunuch Mandarin, Zheng He, who became admiral of China’s Treasure Ship fleet. Scores of ships, we are told by the controversial author, Gavin Menzies, late of Her Majesty’s nuclear submarine fleet. Ships with lengths and beams that strain credulity - 416 feet long with 170-foot beams – some of them. The Santa Maria was a puny 59 feet long and 39 feet rail to rail. Imagine them berthed along side one another in Newport’s impressive tony harbor. That would be yacht envy!
The fertile-minded Menzies says Zheng’s armada consisted of specialized vessels. Equine ships, water tankers, war ships, supply ships, fast explorers. His compliment of crew – both men and women, (these were long, long voyages) consisted of sailors, soldiers, carpenters, navigators, cartographers, farmers, doctors, prostitutes, and cooks.
Menzies has theories about the Tower and its possible function and, in supplying them, he, too, dismisses the Templars, and the feckless Cortreal brothers from Lisbon. He writes that the Chinese fleet met with the same tempests and mishaps that any fleet must. But when a ship of the fleet was damaged, her survivors were taken aboard sister ships. Whatever of the crippled ship could be salvaged, was. Overcrowding was solved by making landfall and leaving behind a sufficient crew with the skills needed to survive, and maybe even flourish – until the fleet returned to carry them back to China. Men with leadership qualities, laborers, skilled builders, tools, food, animals, and women would establish an outpost, its location clearly marked on the Mother ship’s charts.
If the Chinese peopled Newport with a cadre of sufficient numbers, and skills, to build a lighthouse, where are they? If they were here, admittedly over 200 years, their genes were diluted by intermarriage with the native population, but did anything survive? In 1524, Giovanni Verrazano found Chinese settled in several places from New England to New York. Hmm.
In the upper Narragansett Bay, the Taunton River leaves salt water and heads generally northeast. Eventually, it comes upon a place called Dighton Rock. Glyphs on the rock are variously sworn to be Scandinavian, Celt, Amerindian, and graffiti. Chinese characters are equally likely. And, it is at Dighton Rock that the European, Bishop Berkley, described seeing “Mongolian people living in the area and writing as Mongolians.” Whatever but the truth would posses a bishop to report something so utterly fantastic?
Did these Mongolians, unlike the Scots, the Irish, the Portuguese, and the Norsemen, leave fingerprints at the scene? Yes, says Menzies. They left what we now call the Rhode Island Red chicken. They left hops, rice, and tea. And, they might have left a mysterious tower that, even tonight, waits for Zheng He’s return.
I like this theory best. Not because it has any more evidence to support it than the others, but for a different reason altogether. Lately, in every quarter, we complain that everything we buy is made in China. It makes me feel good thinking that, in Newport, Rhode Island there is a Chinese Tower, made in America.