Rhode Island ( or ), officially the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, is a state in the New England region of the United States. Rhode Island is the smallest in area, the eighth least populous, but the second most densely populated of the 50 US states (behind New Jersey). Rhode Island is bordered by Connecticut to the west and Massachusetts to the north and east, and it shares a water boundary with New York's Long Island to the southwest. It also has the longest official name of all the states.
Rhode Island was the first of the original Thirteen Colonies to declare independence from British rule, declaring itself independent on May 4, 1776, two months before any other colony. The state was also the last of the thirteen original colonies to ratify the United States Constitution.
Rhode Island's official nickname is "The Ocean State", a reference to the state's geography, since Rhode Island has several large bays and inlets that amount to about 14% of its total area. Its land area is , but its total area is significantly larger.
Colonial era: 1636–1770
In 1636, Roger Williams, after being banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious views, settled at the tip of Narragansett Bay, on land granted to him by the Narragansett and Pequot tribes. Both tribes were subservient to the Wampanoag tribe led by Massasoit. He called the site Providence "having a sense of God's merciful providence unto me in my distress." Eventually it became a place of religious freedom.
In 1638, after conferring with Williams, Anne Hutchinson, William Coddington, John Clarke, Philip Sherman, and other religious dissenters settled on Aquidneck Island (then known as Rhode Island), which was purchased from the local natives, who called it Pocasset. This settlement was called Portsmouth and was governed by the Portsmouth Compact. The southern part of the island became the separate settlement of Newport after disagreements among the founders.
Samuel Gorton purchased the Native American lands at Shawomet in 1642, precipitating a military dispute with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1644, Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport united for their common independence as the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, governed by an elected council and "president". Gorton received a separate charter for his settlement in 1648, which he named Warwick after his patron.
During King Philip's War (1675–1676), a force of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Plymouth militia under General Josiah Winslow invaded and destroyed the fortified Narragansett Indian village in the Great Swamp in what is now South Kingstown, Rhode Island, on December 19, 1675. The Indians referred to this as a massacre. The Wampanoag tribe under war-leader Metacomet, whom the colonists called "King Philip", invaded and burned down several of the towns in the area, including Providence which was attacked twice. In one of the final actions of the war, Benjamin Church killed King Philip in what is now Bristol, Rhode Island; King Philip's head was put on a pole and stood at the entrance to Plimoth Plantation as a warning to other Indians for years.
The colony was amalgamated into the Dominion of New England in 1686, as King James II attempted to enforce royal authority over the autonomous colonies in British North America. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the colony regained its independence under the Royal Charter. Slaves were introduced at this time, although there is no record of any law legalizing slave-holding, although the colony later prospered under the slave trade, by distilling rum to sell in Africa as part of a profitable triangular trade in slaves and sugar with the Caribbean.
Revolutionary to Civil War Period: 1770-1860
Rhode Island's tradition of independence and dissent gave it a prominent role in the American Revolution. At approximately 2 a.m. on June 10, 1772, a band of Providence residents attacked, and subsequently burned to the waterline, the grounded revenue schooner Gaspee for enforcing unpopular trade regulations within Narragansett Bay. Rhode Island was the first of the thirteen colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown, on May 4, 1776. It was also the last colony of the thirteen colonies to ratify the United States Constitution on May 29, 1790, once assurances were made that a Bill of Rights would become part of the Constitution. During the Revolution, the British occupied Newport. A combined Franco-American force fought to drive them off Aquidneck Island. Portsmouth was the site of the first African-American military unit, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, to fight for the U.S. in the Battle of Rhode Island of August 29, 1778. The arrival of a French fleet forced the British to scuttle their own ships, rather than surrender them to the French. The celebrated march to Yorktown, Virginia in 1781 that ended with the defeat of the British at the Siege of Yorktown and the Battle of the Chesapeake began in Newport, Rhode Island under the joint command of General George Washington who led American troops and the Comte de Rochambeau who led French soldiers sent by King Louis XVI. In 2009, this was officially recognized by the National Park Service.
Rhode Island was heavily involved in the slave trade during the post-revolution era. In 1774, the slave population of Rhode Island was 6.3%, nearly twice as high as any other New England colony. In the years after the Revolution, Rhode Island merchants controlled between 60% and 90% of the American trade of African slaves.
In addition to the slave trade, Rhode Island was also heavily involved in the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution began in America in 1787 when Thomas Somers reproduced textile machine plans he imported from England. He helped to produce the Beverly Cotton Manufactory, which Moses Brown of Providence took an interest in. Teaming up with Samuel Slater, Moses Brown helped to create the second cotton mill in America, a water-powered textile mill. As the Industrial Revolution moved large numbers of workers into the cities, a permanently landless, and therefore voteless, class developed. By 1829, 60% of the state's free white males were ineligible to vote. After several unsuccessful attempts to address this problem, a new state constitution was passed in 1843 allowing landless white men to vote if they could pay a $1 poll tax.
Civil War to Progressive Era: 1860–1929
During the American Civil War, Rhode Island was the first Union state to send troops in response to President Lincoln's request for help from the states. Rhode Island furnished 25,236 fighting men, of whom 1,685 died. On the home front, Rhode Island, along with the other northern states, used its industrial capacity to supply the Union Army with the materials it needed to win the war. The United States Naval Academy moved to Rhode Island temporarily during the war.
In 1866, Rhode Island abolished racial segregation in the public schools throughout the state.
In the 1920s and 1930s, rural Rhode Island saw a surge in Ku Klux Klan membership, largely in reaction to large waves of immigrants moving to the state. The Klan is believed to be responsible for burning the Watchman Industrial School in Scituate, which was a school for African-American children.
Growth in the modern era: 1929–present
Since the Great Depression, the Rhode Island Democratic Party has dominated local politics. Rhode Island has comprehensive health insurance for low-income children, and a large social safety net. Many urban areas still have a high rate of children in poverty. Due to an influx of residents from Boston, increasing housing costs have resulted in more homeless in Rhode Island.
The 350th Anniversary of the founding of Rhode Island was celebrated with a free concert held on the tarmac of the Quonset State Airport on August 31, 1986. Performers included Chuck Berry, Tommy James and headliner Bob Hope.
In March 2010, areas of the state received record flooding due to rising rivers from heavy rain. The first period of rainy weather in mid-March caused localized flooding, and two weeks later, more rain caused more widespread flooding in many towns, especially south of Providence. Rain totals on March 29–30, 2010 exceeded 14 inches in many locales, resulting in the inundation of area rivers—especially the Pawtuxet River which runs through central Rhode Island. The overflow of the Pawtuxet River, nearly above flood stage, submerged a sewage plant and closed a five-mile (8 km) stretch of Interstate 95. In addition, it flooded two shopping malls, numerous businesses, and many homes in the towns of Warwick, West Warwick, Cranston, and Westerly. Amtrak service between New York and Boston was also suspended during this period. Following the flood, Rhode Island was in a state of emergency for two days. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was called in to help flood victims.
Note: Rhode Island was one of the 13 original States and has had nearly its present boundaries since Colonial times. However, a long-standing boundary dispute with Massachusetts involved a sizable exchange of territory when finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1862. Census coverage included all of Rhode Island from 1790 on.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
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