Washington County, known colloquially as South County, is a county located in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Rhode Island. Washington County borders Kent County to the north, New London County in Connecticut to the west, Suffolk County in New York to the southwest, the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and Newport County, Rhode Island, to the east. As of 2010, the population was 126,979.
In times past, the area was actually bounded for awhile on the west and the south by either the Massachusetts Bay Colony or its territories, but in time these were ceded to Connecticut and Rhode Island, respectively. Officially and legally "Washington County" since the Revolution, the area has accumulated a series of names over the years, including "The Narragansett Country", "The Unclaimed Lands", "The Disputed Lands", "The Pettaquamscutt Purchase", "The King's Province", "The King's County", and colloquially, "South County".
Renamed "King's County" in 1729, the area was earlier styled "The King's Province" under Charles the Second, and had been placed by his commissioners under the care of the Rhode Island Colony "until his further pleasure be known". Earlier still and in his father's time it was known as "The Narragansett Country", and was originally the territory of the Algonquin tribe of Narragansett-Niantics who had pledged their fealty to the Crown and had sought its protection for it and for themselves.
After the American Revolution, its name was changed from "King's County" to "Washington County" in 1781. However, the royal association survives in the name of its first countywide township, "Kingstown", a name back then often applied to the whole county, and this name then indicated the area from which was formed the County's succeeding townships, including the present day "North Kingstown" and "South Kingstown", and the latter's present-day Village of Kingston, and the area's retention of royal names reflects a "debt of gratitude" to two Sovereigns whose Commissioners respected Rhode Island's claims to the area and helped her defend these against a number of completing claimants. At the same time, and from the time of the French and Indian Wars until well after the American Revolution, General Washington was a frequent and respected visitor to the area, as well as the frequent guest of a number of local Narragansett Planter families, and one of several Virginia buyers of the area's famed "Narragansett Pacers", and so it is most appropriate that today's "Washington County" be named after him.
Rhode Island counties, including Washington County, have no governmental functions (other than as court administrative and sheriff corrections boundaries which are part of state government).
Note: New Shoreham town (Block Island; 1960 pop. 486) was transferred from Newport County to Washington County in 1963.