Touro Synagogue


Touro Synagogue


America's oldest synagogue


Dedicated on the first day of Channukah in 1763, completed in 1768, this building is an exquisite example of 18-century Palladian architecture designed by Peter Harrison, America's first architect. The Reverend Ezra Stiles (November 29, 1727 – May 12, 1795) attended the dedication service and described the building in his diary on December 2, 1763.


The Synagogue is perhaps fourty foot long & 30 wide, of Brick in a Foundation of free Stone: it was begun about two years ago & is now finished except the Porch & the capitals of the Pillars. The Front representation of the holy of holies, or the Partition Veil, consists only of wainscotted Breast work on the east end, in the lower part of which four long Doors cover and upgright Square Closet the depth of which is about a foot or the thickness of the wall, & in this Apartment (vulgarly called the Ark) were deposited three Copies & Rolls of the Pentateuch written on Vellum, or rather tanned Calf Skin: one of these Rolls I was told by Dr. Touro was presented from Amsterdam & is Two Hundred years Old; the Letters have the Rabbinical flourishes.


A gallery for the Women runs round the whole Inside, except the east end, supported by Columns of Ionic order, over which are placed correspondent Columns of the Corinthian order supporting the Ceiling of the Roof. The depth of the Corinthian Pedestal is the height of the Balustrade which runs about the Gallery. The Pulpit for Reading the Law, is a raised Pew with an extended front table; this placed about the center of the Synagogue or nearer the West End, being a Square Embalustraded Comporting with the Length of the intented Chancel before & at the Foot of the Ark.


On the middle of the North Side & affixed to the Wall is a raised Seat for the Parnas or Ruler, & for the Elders: the Brest and Back interlaid with Chinese Mosaic work. A Wainscotted Seat runs round three Sides of the Synagogue below, & another in the gallery. There are no other Seats or pews. There may be Eighty Souls of Jews or 15 families now in Town. The Synagogue has already cost Fifteen Hundred Pounds Sterling. There are five Lamps pendant from a lofty ceiling.

 [Stiles, Ezra. Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, Vol. 1, 6]

The Reverend Mr. Andrew Burnaby, writing in 1759 or 1760, commented on the building:

This building was designed, indeed were several others, by a Mr. Harrison, an ingenious English gentleman who lives here. It will be extremely elegant within when completed: but the outside is totally spoint by a school, which the Jews insisted on having annexed to it for the education of their children.

[Burnaby, Andrew. Travels Through the Middle Settlements in North America in the Years 1759 and 1760 (London, 1775), pg. 68]


Peter Harrison




Congregation Yeshuat Israel







Peter Harrison, “Touro Synagogue,” Colonial Jewish Newport, accessed June 21, 2018,