The Chateau Sur Mer Newport, Rhode Island
One of the first of Newport, Rhode Island‘s great “Gilded Era” mansions is Chateau Sur Mer that was built in 1851 as a Villa for William Shepard Wetmore who had made his fortune in the China Trade. For several decades, it was the scene of Newport’s most lavish parties and set the tone as the most palatial mansion in the area for four decades until the Vanderbilt houses in the 1890’s.
William Wetmore was born in 1801. At the age of fourteen he was hired by the merchant ship “Fame” shipping out for England, South America and the East Indies. In 1823 he became stranded in Valparaiso, Chile and became employed by the trading firm of Richard Alsop of Middletown, Connecticut. This lead to a successful partnership that lasted for several years until retiring from the firm in 1829.
On the advice of his doctor who thought the move good for his health, he went to Canton, China in 1833 and established his own trading company, Wetmore & Company. His merchant house prospered despite the fact he took a stand against trading in opium in the years leading up to the Opium War – unlike many American merchants in the Cantonese trading zone that Chinese officials tried to keep isolated from the rest of their country to prevent the spread of corrupting western influences.
Wetmore’s company became one of the largest trading houses in the Far East dealing primarily in tea, silks and spices. During his time in Asia he acquired a rich collection of Chinese antiques, porcelains and china. He returned to America and retired in Newport, Rhode Island where he bought 15 acres of hilltop property for his estate.