What Is the Oldest Charitable Trust in the U.S., and What Does It Fund?

In the New England states, many charitable foundations have histories that date back to the 1800s because of the longstanding wealth of local families here. However, the John Clarke Trust is the oldest foundation we’ve ever encountered—created all the way back in 1676. It is the oldest charitable trust in the United States, and still today, it awards thousands of dollars in grants to nonprofits in southeastern New England.

Here’s what nonprofits should know about this historic trust that still remains very active 343 years later.

Background on John Clarke

John Clarke was born in 1609 and emigrated from Europe to Boston in 1637. At that time, he was a Baptist clergyman and a physician, but finding his new calling as a colonizer, he helped to establish a settlement on Aquidneck Island in 1638. Clarke is also credited with writing the Royal Charter of 1663, which led to Rhode Island becoming an American colony. He established a free school in Newport, Rhode Island and maintained roles as both a minister and holder of public office. Learn more about his legacy on the website for the John Clarke Society of Early American Democracy.

Top Interests Are Education and Human Services

Given Clarke’s dedication to education during his lifetime, the John Clarke Trust prioritizes education still today. Education support has gone to the Community College of Rhode Island, Community Preparatory School, and Rogers High School. There is also a strong focus on people who are economically disadvantaged, and this translates into grants for human and social services projects. Grantees include Lucy’s Hearth for homeless shelter services and Newport Hospital for an interventional radiology campaign. Last year, the Newport County YMCA purchased eight acres of land in Middletown from this trust to better serve Newport County.

All About Rhode Island

Clarke was an early founder of Rhode Island and the foundation maintains a strong focus on Rhode Island nonprofits to this day. Primarily, the trust supports groups on Aquidneck Island and within the East Bay area of Rhode Island. Here, the trust provides scholarships, capital campaign support, unrestricted general support, and program support.

Administered by Bank of America

Like many small family foundations in New England, the John Clarke Trust is administered by Bank of America. This means that the funder has an accessible application process that is conducted online and has an administrator available to answer grantseeker questions. Emma Greene is the Bank of America trustee, while other trustees are William W. Corcoran, Esq. of Newport Rhode Island and Barbara N. Watterson of Westport, Massachusetts.

Unsolicited Applications Are Welcome

Rhode Island nonprofits should know that this historic trust is open to unsolicited grant requests two times per year. The application deadlines are April 1 and November 1 of each year, and the funder’s decision dates are June 30 and January 30 following those deadlines. The application process for John Clarke Trust grants is conducted online.

Read more about the John Clark Trust in IP’s New England Funders Guide.