Bristol is a town in and the historic county seat of Bristol County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 22,954 at the 2010 census. Bristol, a deepwater seaport, is named after Bristol, England.
Major industries include boat building (and related marine industries), manufacturing and tourism. The town's school system is united with neighboring Warren, Rhode Island. Prominent ethnic minorities include Luso-Americans (Portuguese-Americans), mostly Azorean, and Italian-Americans.
The first battle of King Philip's War took place here in 1675; although Philip was eventually defeated, a variant of his Indian name, Metacomet, is now the name of a main road in Bristol: Metacom Avenue (RI Route 136).
King Philip made nearby Mount Hope (Montaup) his base of operations. "King Philip's Chair", a rocky ledge on the mountain, was a lookout site for enemy ships on Mount Hope Bay. After that war concluded, the town was settled in 1680 as part of the Plymouth Colony. It was presumably named after Bristol, England.
Bristol was the "shire town" (county seat) of Bristol County, Plymouth Colony, when the county was created in 1685. (It was later split into Bristol County, Rhode Island and Bristol County, Massachusetts.) It was sold for £1100 to four Boston investors by the names of Byfield, Walley, Oliver, and Burton. It remained a part of Massachusetts until the Crown transferred it to the Rhode Island Colony in 1747.
The DeWolf family was among the earliest settlers of Bristol. Bristol and Rhode Island became a center of slave trading. James DeWolf, a leading slave trader, later become a United States Senator from Rhode Island. Quakers from Rhode Island were involved early in the abolition movement.
During the American Revolutionary War, the British Navy bombarded Bristol twice. On October 7, 1775, a group of ships led by Captain Wallace and the HMS Rose sailed into town and demanded provisions. When refused, Wallace shelled the town, causing much damage. The attack was stopped when Lieutenant Governor William Bradford rowed out to the Rose to negotiate a cease-fire, but then a second attack took place on May 25, 1778. This time, 500 British and Hessian troops marched through the main street (now called Hope Street (RI Route 114)) and burnt 30 barracks and houses, taking some prisoners to Newport.
Bristol has the oldest continuously celebrated Independence Day festivities in the United States. The first mention of a celebration comes from July 1777, when a British officer noted sounds coming from across Narragansett Bay:
This being the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Rebel Colonies, they ushered in the morning by firing 13 cannons, one for each colony, we suppose. At sunset, the rebel frigates fired another round of 13 guns, each one after the other. As the evening was very still and fine the echo of the guns down the Bay had a grand effect.
The summer celebrations usually conclude at Independence Park, on Labor Day Sunday with an open aired free concert featuring the Rhode Island Philharmonic and a spectacular fireworks display.
Until 1854, Bristol was one of the five state capitals of Rhode Island.
The southerly terminus of the East Bay Bike Path is located at Independence Park on Bristol Harbor. The bike path continues north to East Providence, R.I. Constructed on an old abandoned railway, some of the best views of Narragansett Bay can be seen along this magnificent corridor. This path is a valued commodity to Bristol, it allows bikers, roller skaters and walkers to enjoy the area. The construction of the East Bay Bike Path was highly contested by Bristol residents before construction because of the potential of crime, the Bike Path has become a welcome asset to the community, and the anticipated crime was non-existent.
The Bristol-based boat company Herreshoff built five consecutive America's Cup Defenders between 1893 and 1920. The Colt Estate, now known as Colt Park, was home to Samuel P. Colt, nephew of the man famous for the arms company. Colt Park lies on magnificently manicured gardens abutting the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, and is popular for its unparalleled views of the waterfront and spectacular sunsets.
Bristol is the site of one National Historic Landmark, the Joseph Reynolds House built in 1700. The Marquis de Lafayette and his staff in 1778 used the building as headquarters during the Battle of Rhode Island.