Whitehall, home of the great early modern philosopher George Berkeley from 1729-1731, is set on the remnants of a seventeenth century farm five miles from downtown Newport. Berkeley and his new wife Anne Forster came to Newport with the mission of starting a college which would bring the sons of colonists and of Native Americans together.The college was to be located on Bermuda, until Berkeley experienced the great beauty of Aquidneck Island. Unfortunately the funds for this enterprise were not forthcoming from the British Parliament, and so the Berkeley family returned to the British Isles, where he became the Bishop of Cloyne in Ireland.
Soon after arriving, while awaiting the birth of their first child, Berkeley enlarged the original dwelling to reflect current English tastes in architecture, and perhaps his own eminence. He chose the Palladian style for its prominent double front door, making it one of the first vernacular buildings in America to use such a detail.
During Berkeley’s stay on Aquidneck Island, many visitors knocked on this door to learn and receive counsel from this renowned philosopher and educator.
He wrote these famous lines to express his optimism for America:
“Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way;
The four first Acts already past,
A fifth shall close the Drama with the Day;
Time’s noblest Offspring is the last.”
Bishop Berkeley gave his property and much of his library to Yale College upon his departure in the summer of 1731. Rent income from Whitehall was to be used for scholarships for those studying for the ministry at Yale; hence the name of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. In the nineteenth century, planners for the new University of California, named the town of its location after this eighteenth century philosopher. So his name continues to be associated with higher education.
Whitehall is owned and has been maintained since 1900 by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The Whitehall Committee of the NSCDARI seeks to preserve, protect, interpret and keep the house as a perpetual memorial.