The Dry Goods Businesses of the Newport Shermans

Job Sherman
Job5 Sherman (Philip1 > Samson2 > Job3 > Samson4 > Job5 )
Job Sherman's Signature
First Page of Job Sherman's Day Book, 1796
Top of the first page of Job Sherman's Day Book
"Moved to Newport ye 5th, 5mo, 1796"

In 1796 Job moved from Portsmouth to Newport, where he founded the dry goods business which later, under the management of his sons William and David, used the name William Sherman & Company Dry Goods Concern. He was one of the original trustees of the Savings Bank of Newport. He was a staunch Whig. He was a member of the Society of Friends, and for many years served as trustee of the Society in Newport. Job Sherman was born on 21 January 1766 at Portsmouth, Newport County, RI. He married Alice Anthony, daughter of Isaac Anthony and Rebecca Bennett, on 9 December 1795 at Newport, Newport County, RI. He died on 24 January 1848 at Newport, Newport, RI, at age 82.

Published on the front page of July 12, 1832 issue the Herald of the Times Newport newspaper, was an advertisement headed "JOB SHERMAN" announcing that he "Has just received per steamboat Benjamin Franklin, a large assortment English, French & American Dry Goods, consisting of...." and ending with, "Together with a large assortment of Millinery Goods, &c. which have been carefully selected the past week in New-York, & will be sold at a very small advance."

William Sherman David Sherman
Photographs of portraits of William and David Sherman
Sherman Dry Goods Trade Card William Sherman Death Notice
The building was originally numbered 67 & 69, but in 1882 the post office changed the numbers.

William Sherman Invoice
From an unspecified paper of May 5, 1896 – possibly The News—Newport

William Sherman & Company.

Today Messrs. William Sherman & Co. complete a full century of an uninterrupted business in this city. May 5, 1796, Mr. Job Sherman, grandfather of one of the members of the present firm, started in the general merchandise business, in a building which stood on the corner of Thames street and Frank street, or Church lane as it was then called, the site of the building now occupied by Messrs. Walsh Brothers. The original account book which records the opening of the business is still in the possession of the firm, and the writing in it is so clear that all the items can be easily read. The first entry is "Moved to Newport ye 5th, 5 mo, 1796;" and the second "Bo’t Goods of Robert Jamison, payable in four months, to the amount of 77 9s. 11 1/4d." Following these are charges and credits which show that the business consisted of the sale of dry goods, crockery, boots and shoes, groceries and general produce, and several of the credits show that everything was not paid for in money, but in "candlesticks and snuffers," "meal," "eggs," etc. Among the names of those who became creditors of Mr. Sherman are those of Francis Malbone, Jonathan Dennis, Samson Sherman, David Buffus, John Earl, Peleg Almy, Peleg Weaver, Clarke Rodman, Robert Sherman, Benjamin Hadwin, Benjamin Mott, Benjamin Fish, and Preserved Sherman.

Mr. Sherman moved in 1798 to the present building occupied by the firm. He had purchased and assembled on the wharf adjoining lumber for a new building, but owing to a temporary embarrassment abandoned the project, and in the words of the present proprietors: "Here we are in the same old building." [135 and 137 Thames Street]

The late William Sherman, when a boy of sixteen, entered into Mr. Job Sherman’s employ, and in 1848, when the latter died, Messrs. William and David Sherman continued the business under the present firm name, William Sherman & Co. David Sherman died in 1865. In the following year Mr. Albert K. Sherman was admitted to partnership, and in 1874 Mr. Thomas G. Brown became a member of the firm. Mr. William Sherman died in 1885, and Messrs. A. K. Sherman and Brown have continued the business to the present time.

Postcard showing two Sherman buildings 1863 Ad for Edward A. Sherman StoreFive of Job’s sons, and one grandson, were in the dry goods business. Job’s son Edward Albert Sherman, (born 4 November 1809, died 1865) had a store opposite Job’s business on Thames Street. When Edward died his son Walter took over the business. The original building was replaced by Walter and is the one seen in this postcard view, looking towards Washington Square. It shows the two stores: Edward's at 140 (originally #76) and Job Sherman's at 135 and 137 Thames Street.

Rowland (21 April 1818 to 8 September 1892) was a salesman at his brother Edward’s store. Later the building at 140 Thames was occupied for many years by the Newport Daily News. Edward married Elizabeth Moore Almy, daughter of Jonathan Thurston Almy and Ann Cranston, on 20 July 1837.

Right: two ads from the 1876 Hopkins Newport Atlas. These ads have the old numbers. Sections of the maps are linked below.

Above left is part of page 177 of the 1884 Newport Directory. Above right is Walter Sherman's ad on the back cover of the 1884 directory advertising 134 Thames. Click each image to see the full page.

At the left is a picture taken of 140 Thames Street on July 29, 2004 by Jesse Fleurent Joseph Levesque. After the newspaper moved to a new building in 1970, the Sherman family sold this one the following year. There have been many occupants: Herman Mines Shoe Store; Barney's Music Store; WADK radio; Diana Dinsmore dance studio; and now The Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant and Top of the Brick. The 1945 fire engine (Engine 4) and paint make the businesses hard to miss. The building to the left is very much the same on the outside as 100 years ago.

Source: Newport Life, Fall 2003

The Store of Albert Sherman and Some Trade Cards
Home and business of Albert Sherman, 259 Thames Street
These trade cards show the early 259 number. Above right are four fan shaped trade cards. Each is 3 3/4" high and 3 3/8" wide. I don't know if there were more to this series. The larger than life scans are available individually: One; Two; Three; Four. Click Here for another trade card with children that has a misspelling of Thames Street.

Above is a section of the 1883 map of Newport showing the location of Albert's store with the new numbers, 397. Click here for a larger (over 1 MB) size. Above is a section of the 1876 Hopkins Newport Atlas plate of the same area showing the old numbers 259, Click here to see a larger area.

Albert Sherman Ad - 1863 DirectoryAlbert Sherman, son of Job, was born on 14 August 1815 at Newport, Newport, RI. He married Sarah Catherine Marble, daughter of Benjamin Marble and Sarah A. Holt, on 2 September 1841 at Newport, Newport County, RI. In early life he learned the trade of sailmaker, an occupation which he followed for many years in Newport and later at Poughkeepsie, NY, where he was engaged successfully in business until 1841. In that year he returned to Newport and established himself in the dry goods business at number 259-61 lower Thames Street (later numbered 397). His wife had a millinery shop with it’s own entrance (the one with the frilly canopy). Her sisters, an aunt and a niece helped wait on customers in both shops. The house and store building that Albert erected is no longer there.

ll health forced Albert to lead a life of comparative retirement, however, he was for many years a director in the Merchants' Bank of Newport, and was active in the founding of the Newport Hospital, to which he was a generous donor throughout his life. He was a member of the Society of Friends. Albert Sherman died at his home on 30 June 1884 at Newport, RI.

Albert Keene Sherman, son of Albert, was born on 17 March 1844 at Newport, Newport County, RI. He married Mary Eliza Barker, daughter of Robinson Potter Barker and Julia Ann Peckham, on 3 September 1874 at Middletown, Newport County, RI. His first employment was in the grocery store of Captain Oliver Potter, with whom he remained as a clerk for about a year. On May 6, 1862, Albert K. Sherman entered the employ of his uncles, William (born 5 December 1801, died 16 February 1885) and David (born 19 May 1808, died 26 November 1866) Sherman, proprietors of the dry goods establishment of William Sherman & Company, which was founded by his grandfather, Job Sherman. Albert Keene Sherman and partner Thomas G. Brown succeeded to the management of the business upon the death of William and David. They developed it into one of the largest and most successful of the its kind in the State of Rhode Island at that time.
1893 map showing two Sherman stores and house property At the left is a portion of an 1893 map showing Thames Street near Washington Square, Touro Street and Clarke Street with the Sherman properties marked. What is marked as City Hall is better known as the Brick Market. What is marked as Court House at the top of Washington Square is the Old Colony House. Click on the image to enlarge. Note that this map shows the new numbers assigned by the post office.

To view the 1876 Hopkins Newport Atlas plate of the same area showing the old numbers, Click Here.

William Sherman & Company Dry Goods Store Albert Keene Sherman was one of the best known Newport citizens: director of the Newport National Bank; trustee of the Newport Savings Bank; director of the Aquidneck Mutual Insurance Company; member of the Newport Historical Society; Newport Natural History Society; Redwood Library, and the Athenaeum; treasurer for many years of the Newport Branch of the Young Men's Christian Association; member of the Central Baptist Church of Newport on Clarke Street and the Henderson House Commission. In 1882 he built a home at 12 Clarke Street which is still there. Click here to see a picture taken in 1999. He died on 30 December 1915 at Newport, Newport County, RI.

W. B. Sherman Dry Goods Co.
Home of Job Sherman, Thames Street
Above left is a picture of the "W. B. Sherman Dry Goods Co." [the 'B' is incorrect - there was a store belonging to a William B. Sherman, but not this building] taken around 1900. The building to the right is the Great Atlantic and Pacific Company store. This scan was generously provided by Rob Lewis. He used the picture on page 17 of his book Images of America: Newport, published by Arcadia Publishing, 1996.
The picture above right of the William Sherman Dry Goods Store is from the Sherman family's copy of The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; Biographical opposite page 256.

Above is the back of the store and home.

Newport Herald [not dated, however, the "Going Out of Business" sale began January 2, 1912]
Mr. Albert K. Sherman is to Retire from Business.

Newport is to have a handsome new business building and incidentally it is to lose from its business circles one of its oldest and most trustworthy storekeepers, Mr. Albert K. Sherman. Mr. Sherman has arranged to dispose of the entire stock of William Sherman & Company and as soon as possible, probably early in February, he will retire from business. Had he decided to remain engaged till next May he would have completed just half a century of active business life.

The going out of business of Mr. Sherman will wind up a concern that dates from May 5, 1796. Then Job Sherman founded the business, setting up at the corner of Thames street and Frank street or Church lane as it was then called. Mr. Sherman moved to the building at present in use by William Sherman & Company two years later. The building which is now to be torn down, was old then, but like all the structures of those days it was well build of heavy timber and has not yet begun to yield to time. The business having come down to William Sherman and David Sherman, his brother, was given its present name, William Sherman & Company, in 1846. David Sherman died in 1865 and in March, 1866, Mr. Albert K. Sherman, who had been in his uncle’s employ since 1862, was taken in as a partner. In 1874 Thomas G. Brown was taken in as a partner. William Sherman died in 1885 and Mr. Brown in 1910.

The new building which will be erected where the present wooden one now stands will be of brick. Its design and dimensions, however, have not yet been determined upon and no plans have yet been drawn. They will be, however, in a short time and the new structure will be built around the present one so that business can go on inside uninterrupted. Then when the brick outer building is finished the wooden one inside will be torn down. The new building will be larger than the present one, but just how much has not been decided. Work will be begun in the spring and it will be completed by fall. It has already been rented to a new dry goods firm, it is stated.

Newport Journal; Friday, October 4, 1912.
Leys Century Store, left, Brick Market, right
Century Store Opening.

The new Century Store had a formal opening Wednesday evening when not only was it shown to its best advantage, but 5,000 roses were distributed to those attending.

[From the Library of Congress files. Click images to enlarge.]

William Leys Dry Goods Store (Century)
During the past summer this building has been under construction and, while not quite completed in a few of its exterior details, it is ready within for whatever demands may be put on it. It is something novel in a business venture for Newport, since it is an entirely new building, modeled after the modern stores of the big cities. It is high between joints, is provided with an unusually large number of side windows for the admission of both light and air, is conveniently arranged for showing a great stock of goods, and at the same time for the care of a large crowd of shoppers. As to appearance, it is decidedly inviting.

Tuesday the widened sidewalk was being concreted. The show windows are ready for dressing, but the canopy over the main entrance will not be in place and neither will the glass in the front of the second floor be in position.

As one enters through the spacious doors he finds himself at liberty to take on or two wide aisles which run through the store, there being a center row of shelves and counters in addition to those on the sides for the entire length. Many of the counters are of the glass-front type, electric-lighted, so that there is an abundance of show room for goods. At the far end is a commodious office, which is the cashier’s den, with every sales point in the store connected with it by the most improved cash carrier system. Behind this is a stock room on one side, entered from the wharfway, and on the other toilet and dressing rooms for the employees. The store is well provided with heating apparatus and in addition there are fan-operated ventilators in the ceiling, ensuring good air at all times.

On the north side a flight of stairs leads to the second floor, the coat and suit department, which has its own storerooms and fitting rooms. On this floor, with a side entrance, is an office for Mr. A. K. Sherman, the owner of the building, who retired from active business when the store sold to the new company.

The show windows are a feature which will attract the attention of shoppers, and that they may show well at night there is 2,200-candle-power of light in each window. Throughout the store is provided for complete lighting by either gas or electricity.

1966 Photos of William Leys Dry Goods

Left: 135-137 Thames. Dennis Avenue on the left, and Whittier Avenue is on the right.

Right: First floor of the department store. The mezzanine offices are at the rear and the front stairway to the second floor is at the right.

Left: First floor looking towards the Thames street entrance.

Right: Second floor taken from near the rear stairway and stock rooms.

Leys Century Store Ad, 1927-8This is an ad from the Newport Directory of 1927 (issued in 1928). The name of the store is both William Leys Dry Goods Co. (as the sign on the building states) and The Century Store. The directory listings were mixed, and Newporters called it Leys (pronounced "Lees"), Leys Century Store, and The Century Store.

The building at 135-137 was later replaced by a low modern brick building and then torn down.

Several correspondence from companies wishing to do business with the William Sherman store have survived. One, dated September 1888, is from a company selling Camel Hair Underwear. It claims that it is warmer than wool and will not shrink.

References, in addition to original documents in the possession of the author, Susan White Pieroth, and research notes of other family members:

1856 Newport Directory - Sherman Listings
Some of the Descendants of Philip Sherman: The First Secretary of Rhode Island, 1968, by Roy Sherman.

The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; Biographical, New York, NY: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1920 (289 page book).

The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; Biographical, New York, NY: The American Historical Society, Inc, 1920 (page 254-7 of the 475 page book).

Some of the articles quoted here were pasted onto the inside cover of Job Sherman's first Day Book. To see that page, click here. To see the complete day book, click here.

Scans and text by Susan White Pieroth, Copyrighted 2000 to 2020

These documents are made available for non-commercial personal use. If you wish to incorporate any of this into any commercial product, or use it on your web site (a link does not require permission), you must first obtain permission.

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