Rhode Island


Rhode Island
/rohd/
a state of the NE United States, on the Atlantic coast: a part of New England. 947,154; 1214 sq. mi. (3145 sq. km). Cap.: Providence. Abbr.: RI (for use with zip code), R.I.

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officially Rhode Island and Providence Plantations

State (pop., 2000: 1,048,319), northeastern U.S. One of the New England states and the smallest U.S. state, it covers 1,212 sq mi (3,139 sq km); its capital is Providence.

Rhode Island is bordered by Massachusetts on the north and east, and Connecticut on the west. The Rhode Island Sound on the south is the basis of the state's fishing industry. The original inhabitants of the area were Narragansett Indians. The first European settlement was in 1636 by Roger Williams and his followers, who were banished from Massachusetts; in 1663 King Charles II granted a charter to Williams. Though it never officially joined the New England colonies in King Philip's War, it suffered greatly when many settlements were burned. It was at the forefront of the fight against British customs laws that led to the American Revolution. An original state of the Union, in 1790 it was the 13th state to ratify the Constitution, agreeing only after the Bill of Rights was included. The state's original charter remained in effect until Dorr's Rebellion (see Thomas W. Dorr) in 1842 led to extension of suffrage. The cotton-textile mill built by Samuel Slater in Pawtucket in 1790 initiated the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. Manufacturing is still important to the economy, and products include jewelry and silverware, textiles and clothing, and electrical machinery and electronics.

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also called  Aquidneck Island,  

      island, largest in Narragansett Bay, eastern Rhode Island, U.S., occupying an area of 44 square miles (114 square km). Aquidneck is the Indian name for what was later called Rhode Island. The source of the modern name is unclear: it either was given by colonist Roger Williams (Williams, Roger), thinking it was the island (Block Island) the Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano (Verrazzano, Giovanni da) had seen in 1524, or it was named by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block in 1614. Known to American colonists by its Indian name, northern Aquidneck was the site of the Battle of Rhode Island between American forces and the British in 1778. A nearby memorial honours the black soldiers of the First Rhode Island Regiment who took the brunt of the British attack.

      Basically rural in character, Rhode Island includes two towns (townships), Portsmouth and Middletown, and a city, Newport.

Introduction
officially  The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations 
Rhode Island, flag of    constituent state of the United States of America (United States). It was one of the original 13 states and is one of the six New England states. Rhode Island is bounded to the north and east by Massachusetts, to the south by Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound of the Atlantic Ocean, and to the west by Connecticut. It is the smallest state in the union—only about 48 miles (77 km) long and 37 miles (60 km) wide—but is, however, one of the most densely populated states. The extreme compactness of area, proportionally large population, and economic activity have tied it closely to its neighbouring states. In addition, Rhode Island's intimate connection to the sea—including more than 400 miles (640 km) of coastline—is the basis of its nickname, the Ocean State. The capital is Providence.

      The name Rhode Island is of uncertain origin. It originally applied to the island in Narragansett Bay that the Native Americans called Aquidneck Island. Aquidneck's renaming as Rhode Island (a name that came to be used as shorthand for the whole colony) by the English in 1644 may have come in part from English settlers' confusion between two foreign sources: Giovanni da Verrazzano (Verrazzano, Giovanni da)'s earlier comparison of Block Island to the Greek island of Rhodes, and the name Roodt Eyland (Red Island), which the Dutch had given to Aquidneck because of its red soil. Providence Plantations, the first settlement on the mainland, on Narragansett Bay, was named by the minister Roger Williams (Williams, Roger), founder of the state, who credited Divine Providence with bringing him safely there in 1636.

      The contributions of Rhode Island to the forming of the new country were remarkable. Particularly important was the concept of freedom of conscience—the legacy of Roger Williams. Rhode Island also had an important influence on the industrial development of the United States. Area 1,223 square miles (3,168 square km). Pop. (2000) 1,048,319; (2005 est.) 1,076,189.

Relief
   The western two-thirds of Rhode Island is part of the New England Upland, with hills rising as high as 800 feet (240 metres) above sea level. The Narragansett, or Seaboard, Lowland comprises coastal lowlands and islands that are below 200 feet (60 metres) in elevation. The highest point in the state is Jerimoth Hill, 812 feet (247 metres) high, near North Foster.

      The state's territory includes Block Island, about 10 miles (16 km) south of the mainland, and several islands in Narragansett Bay, including Conanicut, Prudence, and Rhode islands. In order to avoid the confusion that resulted from having the same name for both the island and the state, an attempt was made at the beginning of the 21st century to officially restore the name Aquidneck to the island of Rhode Island, but the effort was unsuccessful. The name Aquidneck nevertheless is widely used within the state.

Drainage
      Several river systems drain Rhode Island. The most important are the Blackstone (Blackstone River), the Pawtuxet, and the Pawcatuck (Pawcatuck River). The Blackstone River and its tributaries drain the northern part of the state. Originating in Massachusetts, the Blackstone once provided waterpower for the textile mills built at Woonsocket, Pawtucket, and a dozen villages in between. The Pawtuxet River drains the central part of the state. Its north branch was flooded in the 1920s when the city of Providence built a dam at the village of Kent. The resulting Scituate Reservoir is now the state's largest body of fresh water, supplying Providence and its neighbouring communities. The Pawcatuck River flows west across the southern part of the state into Block Island Sound, south of Westerly.

       Mount Hope Bay feeds water from the Taunton River in Massachusetts into Narragansett Bay. The bay has always been Rhode Island's greatest asset, providing a convenient waterway running two-thirds the length of the state. The commercial trade of the 18th century—on which the wealth of Newport, Bristol, and Providence was founded—provided some of the capital for the industrial development of the state in the 19th century. However, once Rhode Island became industrialized, little was exported from the bay. It became the path for importing coal, oil, automobiles, and other such bulk goods. The bay has substantial recreational uses and still supports a considerable shellfishing industry, although pollution restricts the areas where shellfish are available.

Soils
      The state's soils are primarily glacially derived. In the western area many rocks and boulders lie on rolling land with outcrops of granite and gneiss. Better soils with fewer rocks are found in the lowlands and adjacent bay islands, where the soil base is sedimentary. Along the west side of Narragansett Bay and in river valleys, glacial outwashes of sand and gravel are rapidly drained.

Climate
      The state has a humid continental climate, with winds predominantly from the west. Marine influences are discernible in differences between coastal and inland locations. The average monthly temperature is 29 °F (−2 °C) in January and 71 °F (22 °C) in July. The average annual temperature is 50 °F (10 °C), and the average precipitation is about 46 inches (1,170 mm) per year. The major weather characteristic is variability, with extreme weather conditions such as tropical storms (including occasional hurricanes), ice storms, and heavy snow.

Plant and animal life
      More than three-fifths of the state is forested with secondary tree growth. White pine grows in scattered locations. Several varieties of oak are abundant and, with other hardwoods, form the bulk of the timber harvest. Ash, hickory, and maple are widely dispersed, with some birch, black walnut, and hemlock also found in mixed woodlands. Swamp maple grows in wet places, while cedar, juniper, and poplar fill in abandoned fields and pastures. Favoured species of spruce, fir, and pine are grown on Christmas tree farms.

      Small animals such as rabbits, woodchucks, raccoons, skunks, opossums, red and gray squirrels, minks, and beavers are distributed widely outside urbanized areas. Red and gray foxes are increasingly common, while white-tailed deer are found on Prudence and Block islands, in the western woodlands, and in suburban areas. The eastern coyote and the wild turkey are found in growing numbers all over the state.

People

Population (Rhode Island) composition
 Native Americans (Native American) lived in the Narragansett Bay area for thousands of years before English settlers began arriving in the 1620s and '30s. It has been estimated that prior to 1610 as many as 144,000 Indians lived in southern New England. The native people generally welcomed the newcomers, but the diseases carried by the English would eventually kill much of the indigenous population. In the first 50 years of English settlement, relations between the two groups were generally peaceful, but by the 1670s the native peoples had been seriously weakened by recurrent epidemics. As a result, the Native American population shrank dramatically, and settlers took their place. Continued loss of land and population during the following first two centuries was such that the 1832 Rhode Island census counted only 80 Indians.

      During the colonial era most settlers were English Protestants, although some Irish Protestants, French Huguenots, and Jews also arrived then. Added to this mix were African slaves, who began arriving in the 17th century. Irish Roman Catholics began to come in large numbers in the 1820s, and their numbers swelled even more after the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. By the time of the state census in 1865, the foreign-born Irish constituted approximately one-tenth of the state's population. French Canadian immigrants, after trickling in before the American Civil War, began coming in larger numbers in the 1870s. Immigration also brought other western Europeans as well as Armenians, Russians, eastern European Jews, Syrians, and Cape Verdeans. In the 1890s Italian immigrants began arriving in great numbers. In 1911 Providence was recognized as an official port of entry for immigrants, and by 1920 some three-tenths of Rhode Island residents were foreign-born—the highest proportion of any state. By then the state had a Roman Catholic majority.

      In the decades after World War II, newcomers from East and Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America were the most numerous immigrant groups. Hispanics came to outnumber African Americans. Still, the vast majority of Rhode Islanders today trace their ancestry to Europe. Some two-thirds of the population is Roman Catholic; there are smaller numbers of Protestants (especially Episcopalians and Baptists) as well as Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus.

Settlement patterns
      Rhode Island's major population centre is Providence and the nearby communities of Pawtucket, North Providence, Johnston, Cranston, Warwick, and East Providence. The other major population clusters are in Woonsocket in the north and Newport in the south. Providence in particular underwent a renaissance beginning in the 1980s and experienced steady population growth after a continual decline that had lasted from 1930 to 1980. The building of the highway system in the mid-20th century brought hitherto scattered villages throughout the state within commuting distance of the city; rural areas and villages experienced considerable pressure from encroaching development, and the size of the state's forested areas shrank. Such pressures sparked efforts to contain urban sprawl and to promote planned growth.

Demographic trends
      The population of Rhode Island grew slowly in the 20th century. In addition, the overwhelming presence of people of European origin declined somewhat with the continuing immigration of Hispanics and people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and India. In the early 21st century Hispanics were the largest minority, more than double the size of the African American component. Native Americans constituted only a tiny fraction of the population.

Economy
      In the 20th century Rhode Island experienced the painful transition from a heavily industrialized to a service economy. With the exception of the World War II era, the process of deindustrialization occurred steadily beginning early in the century. Rhode Island's economy is now based primarily on government, health services, business services, education, and tourism.

Agriculture and fishing
      Agriculture and related services, forestry, and fisheries account for just a tiny fraction of Rhode Island's annual income. Agriculture has been in a steady decline since the end of the 18th century, and the amount of the state's land area under cultivation is now negligible. The Rhode Island Red chicken, bred for its egg laying, is the official state bird and a symbol of the state, but egg production is not a notable factor in the state's economy. Nursery products and turf farming accounted for most of the state's agricultural output.

      Efforts to clean up Narragansett Bay, begun in the 1970s, improved the health of the water, and shellfish landings of lobsters, oysters, and quahogs (the local variety of hardshell clams) had increased by the end of the 1990s. Fishing in the ocean had declined, however. Many of the preferred commercial species—flounder, striped bass, cod, and mackerel—were severely overfished in the 1970s and '80s, which led to the imposition of legal limitations on commercial catches. Rhode Island's commercial fishing industry declined, as did those of other New England states.

Resources
 Except for sand and gravel, the state has no exploitable mineral resources, and the thin, rocky, acidic soil is barely fit for agriculture. The one great natural resource is Narragansett Bay, which has provided a living for fishermen since first settlement and has been a playground for visitors and vacationers since the 1730s. In the 19th century the shores of Rhode Island had so many resorts, beaches, and amusement parks that it was called the “Playground of New England.” Industrial and human waste and pollution ended much of this—until the rise of a vigorous environmental movement beginning in the 1960s.

      Narragansett Bay also attracted the U.S. Navy, and Rhode Islanders have been prominent in the navy throughout its history. The first ship in the Continental Navy, in 1775, was the Providence, formerly known as the Katy, a Rhode Island Navy vessel. Rhode Islander Esek Hopkins (Hopkins, Esek) was the first commander in chief of the Continental Navy. During the Civil War the U.S. Naval Academy (United States Naval Academy) was moved to Newport from Annapolis, Md., and the Naval War College was established there in 1884. The naval presence expanded even more during World War II; Narragansett Bay was one of two main bases on the Atlantic coast. In 1974 most naval facilities in the state were closed, and some four-fifths of all naval personnel were transferred to other bases. Today only a small number of active-duty personnel remain, although the navy maintains several significant research and educational facilities, including the Naval War College and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

Manufacturing
      Rhode Island became a pioneer manufacturing state, principally in textiles, after the American Revolution. Manufacturing concerns produced jewelry, silverware, electrical equipment, textiles, transportation equipment, and fabricated materials. As Rhode Island was deindustrialized in the 20th century, the proportion of wage earners in manufacturing decreased from nearly three-fifths in 1900 to less than one-sixth by the early 21st century. The decline of Rhode Island's textile industry was accompanied by that of many other manufacturers, notably those most closely associated with textiles. In most respects, Rhode Island suffered through an economic depression from the 1920s to the late '50s. The one manufacturing sector that bucked the general trend through most of the century was jewelry making, and Rhode Island was long dubbed the “jewelry capital of the world.” Until the late 20th century, the state produced much of the costume jewelry made in the United States, but global competition caused Rhode Island's share of even that activity to drop sharply in the 1990s.

Services and taxation
      The major resources of Rhode Island have traditionally been human: technical skills, enterprise and ingenuity, intellectual creativity, knowledge, and muscles. This heritage enabled Rhode Island's economy to shift heavily to the service sector when industry waned. By the late 1990s health services had become the state's largest private employer.

      Rhode Island has a sales tax that exempts food and prescription drugs. In 1971, after initial resistance to the idea, the state adopted a personal income tax. Lotteries were used widely in colonial times and after the Revolution to raise capital for civic improvements; they were prohibited later but were reestablished in 1974. A significant share of the state's income derives from taxes on casino gambling at Newport and Lincoln.

      Local communities are handicapped by limitations on property taxes as a major source of revenue. The state's capacity to raise taxes, however, has permitted it to play a significant role in establishing acceptable standards of support for municipal services. State funds subsidize teachers' pay, provide grants for school construction, protect public health, support the needy, aid dependents, and offer incentives for achieving specified goals in these areas.

Transportation
       Amtrak serves the state's passenger rail needs; in addition to local in-state service, a high-speed route between Boston and Washington, D.C., stops at Providence. Conrail and the Providence and Worcester Railroad provide freight service; a freight rail improvement project completed in 2006 added to and upgraded existing tracks. A commuter rail line from Providence to Boston was inaugurated in 1998.

      The state's main air terminal is T.F. Green International Airport in Warwick. In the 1980s the airport itself was substantially enlarged and the terminal renovated, and passenger traffic increased significantly after that. State airports at Smithfield, Newport, Westerly, Block Island, and Quonset also serve general aviation.

      The state's main highway, Interstate 95, passes through Providence and southern Rhode Island from northeast to southwest; another major route, Interstate 195, runs southeastward from Providence into southern Massachusetts. Two smaller highways, U.S. Routes 6 and 44, traverse the northern part of the state from east to west.

      The Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation operates port facilities for ocean-borne commerce at Providence and farther south at Quonset Point/Davisville. The port of Providence, at the head of Narragansett Bay, handles petroleum, automobiles, scrap iron, lumber, and steel. The facility at the site of the former Quonset Point Naval Air Station is part of a large industrial park with rail and air connections.

Government and society
  Atop the state capitol in Providence is the statue of “The Independent Man,” a symbol of so much that is characteristic of Rhode Island. Roger Williams (Williams, Roger) wrote that he had founded Providence as a place of refuge for “those distressed for cause of conscience,” and the principle of absolute religious freedom has been an abiding article of Rhode Island's political philosophy.

Constitutional framework
      Roger Williams secured the first charter for Rhode Island in 1644, and John Clarke obtained the royal charter of 1663. The latter charter served as the frame of government until the Dorr Rebellion in 1842 (a crisis that occurred when advocates of expanded suffrage tried to overthrow the state government, resulting in the declaration of martial law) forced the writing of a constitution that year. That frequently amended document was finally replaced in 1986.

      All of Rhode Island's charters and constitutions have vested most of the governmental power in the legislature and have left the governor comparatively weak. The state legislature, the General Assembly, is bicameral; members of both houses are elected to two-year terms. The Senate has 38 members and the House of Representatives has 75 (reduced from 50 and 100, respectively, by a 1994 constitutional amendment; both houses are subject to further changes based on reapportionment after each national decennial census). The governor has a veto and the power to name department heads. Another amendment, in 1994, gave the governor the power to nominate justices of the courts (with the consent of the General Assembly); formerly, they had been selected by the legislature. This change was instituted after two consecutive chief justices of the state Supreme Court were accused of corruption and resigned under the threat of impeachment.

      The governor's position was strengthened by another amendment, adopted in 1992, that doubled term lengths for all the general officers—governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, general treasurer, and attorney general—to four years, although these officers may serve only two terms. In 2004 voters approved an amendment to require the separation of powers, which also ended the practice of allowing legislators to serve on executive-branch boards and commissions. Together with new, stricter campaign-contribution laws and ethics rules, the amendment enlarged the powers of the governor while reining in those of the General Assembly.

      The state has a Supreme Court, which also can give advisory opinions if requested; superior courts; a district court system; and municipal and probate courts, the latter often identical with the town council in the smaller communities. There is also a family court, which handles both juvenile and domestic cases. Since the 1930s judges have had tenure.

      Rhode Island has no government system at the county level, although five counties exist as geographic divisions. Instead, each of the state's 39 municipalities has its own local government. Most cities in Rhode Island operate with a mayor-council form of government, but East Providence and Newport have city managers, with mayors chosen from among the councilmen to act as the ceremonial heads of the local government. Town councils govern most of the towns, but in some cases operations are conducted by a town manager.

      Jails exist in cities and towns throughout the state, but most persons awaiting trial or sentenced to prison are sent to the state Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) at Cranston. The ACI runs a work-release program and other services for the rehabilitation of prisoners. Rhode Island has a strong police force that operates throughout the state.

Health and welfare
      The state maintains elaborate facilities to care for the sick and indigent of all ages. Rhode Island has a national reputation for moving clients out of institutions and into group homes. A system of outpatient care and of referral for mental health patients is available.

      Biomedical research has been important since the establishment in 1975 of the medical school at Brown University (in Providence), which operates a full biological science program. More than 350 laboratories support university research at hospital centres. The University of Rhode Island's biomedical research laboratory is a central facility used by researchers from colleges and universities throughout the state.

Education
 A Board of Regents is responsible for all public education, from elementary schools through the state-operated colleges and the university. It is divided into the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education. A number of private preparatory schools, both sectarian and nonsectarian, send graduates to many of the major colleges and universities, especially in the East.

      Rhode Island has a strong reputation in higher education. Brown University, founded in 1764 as the College of Rhode Island, is part of the Ivy League. It is noted for its library facilities, especially the John Carter Brown Library, an independent research facility of early Americana. The Rhode Island School of Design (founded 1877), in Providence, is widely known, primarily for its training in the visual and graphic arts. The University of Rhode Island (Rhode Island, University of), in Kingston, is a land-grant (land-grant college) institution dating from 1888. Roman Catholic colleges include Providence College (1917) in Providence and Salve Regina University (1934) in Newport. Rhode Island College (1854) is a four-year public liberal arts college in Providence. Other institutions include Bryant University (Smithfield; 1863), Johnson and Wales University (Providence; 1914), the New England Institute of Technology (Warwick; 1940), Roger Williams University (Bristol; 1948), and the Community College of Rhode Island (1960), which has campuses throughout the state.

Cultural life

Cultural institutions
 Library facilities are plentiful throughout the state. The Redwood Library and Athenaeum, in Newport, and the Providence Athenaeum, both proprietary libraries housed in architecturally important buildings, have roots dating to the mid-18th century. The public libraries of Providence and Westerly contain important holdings, the former having special collections on whaling, printing, slavery, and Irish literature. The library of the Rhode Island Historical Society, in Providence, has more than one million manuscripts and is especially strong in its holdings of the state's genealogical records.

      The Rhode Island Historical Society operates the John Brown House Museum, a merchant's mansion in Providence; built in 1786, the house is furnished with masterpieces of the Newport school of cabinetmakers and with other 18th-century antiques. The Museum of Work and Culture, in Woonsocket, also run by the society, is an interactive museum illustrating daily life in 19th-century Rhode Island mill towns. The Rhode Island School of Design Museum has notable collections, including early Rhode Island furniture and silver. Significant architectural sites in Providence include the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America (1775); the Governor Stephen Hopkins House (1708); and the Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum (1863). Roger Williams National Memorial (Providence), Slater Mill Historic Site (Pawtucket), and the South County Museum (Narragansett), a living history museum, offer specialized insights into other aspects of the state's past.

      Preservation societies in both Providence (1956) and Newport (1945) restore and preserve surviving historic homes, while the state Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission is a major centre for research and publications. The Providence Preservation Society was responsible for the creation of the College Hill Historic District, the first such district in the state, and for the salvation of historic Benefit Street. Providence has dozens of designated historic districts, including nearly the entire downtown area. The Preservation Society of Newport County operates as museums several mansions that were formerly the summer homes of wealthy residents, including the Breakers, built by financier and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt. Newport's extraordinary and varied cultural heritage is exemplified in the Newport Historical Society Museum, with its fine collections; Touro Synagogue National Historic Site (1763), the oldest synagogue in the country and a magnificent example of colonial architecture; Newport Colony House (1739); Hunter House; and the restored colonial homes of the Point section.

      The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, Opera Providence, the Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra, the Chorus of Westerly, and numerous smaller groups and organizations are among the state's musical resources. The renowned Newport Jazz Festival has been staging annual outdoor performances since 1954 (although it moved temporarily to New York City in the 1970s); the festival is held at Fort Adams, as is an annual folk music festival. In addition, the city has the Newport Music Festival, an annual chamber music series, as well as several series featuring renowned soloists. Many of the restored houses in Newport are the settings for these performances. The State Ballet of Rhode Island (1960) performs throughout the state. The Trinity Repertory Company (1964), with its own home in Providence, is renowned for producing works by new playwrights as well as for staging novel productions of classic works.

Sports and recreation
      Tourism is one of Rhode Island's leading economic activities. Notable historical sites of the colonial and Industrial Revolution eras abound on the mainland. The natural attractions of Block Island include public beaches, a large nature reserve, and freshwater ponds. Newport is the primary attraction for visitors, with its culture and the “summer cottages”—in reality, palatial seaside mansions—of wealthy Gilded Age families.

      Many recreational activities are centred on the water. From 1930 to 1983 the waters off Newport were the site of the yacht races for the America's Cup. Professional yachting remains a major sport, and Newport likes to call itself the “yachting capital of the world.” Sportfishing is also highly popular, although stocks of some fish—notably bluefin tuna—have been diminishing.

      The International Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum (1954) is housed in the Newport Casino building. The Newport Casino was built in 1880 as a clubhouse (the name derives from casina, an Italian term for a summerhouse, rather than any association with gambling) and was the site of the national championships of the U.S. National Lawn Tennis Association (later the U.S. Tennis Association) from 1881 to 1915 before the association moved to Forest Hills (Queens) in New York City. Newport was also the site of the first championships of the U.S. Golf Association, in 1895.

Media and publishing
      The Providence Journal (daily), founded in 1829, is the oldest continuously published major daily newspaper in the United States. Newport, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket have daily papers, and a number of other towns publish weekly newspapers. Other papers of note are Providence Business News (weekly) and Providence en Español, a Spanish-language news weekly.

History (Rhode Island)

Precolonial period
      Native Americans were present in southern New England by about 9500 BC. When European explorers and settlers arrived in the early 16th century, they found several Algonquian (Algonquian languages)-speaking peoples inhabiting the region. The Wampanoag dominated the east side of Narragansett Bay, but their numbers were severely reduced by an unknown epidemic that ravaged the Native Americans of Cape Cod (Cod, Cape) and elsewhere in Massachusetts in 1616–19. On the west side of the bay, the Narragansett, nearly 5,000 strong, ruled about two-thirds of what is now Rhode Island state; in the 1620s they actually expanded their realm at the expense of weaker groups, such as the Wampanoag, to take Aquidneck ( Rhode Island) and parts of present-day Providence, Lincoln, Cumberland, and Smithfield. In the northwest corner of Rhode Island were the Nipmuc, while along the southern coast were the Niantic. The Pequot, pressing eastward from Connecticut, defeated the Narragansett for control of parts of present-day Richmond and Charlestown in a battle in 1632. However, the next year smallpox struck the Pequot, reducing their numbers from 16,000 to about 3,000. Then, in 1637, the Puritans (Puritanism) of Massachusetts Bay Colony and Connecticut, accompanied by allies such as the Narragansett, attacked and nearly annihilated the Pequot in the first of many interethnic wars in New England.

Colonial period
 The Narragansett welcomed Roger Williams (Williams, Roger), a refugee from Massachusetts Bay Colony, and sold him the land to found Providence in 1636. Williams, a pioneer of religious liberty, believed in the separation of church and state and had been banished from Massachusetts for his beliefs. His settlement was the first place in America where government ruled “only in civil things,” and it attracted other dissenters. Williams helped Anne Hutchinson (Hutchinson, Anne) and her followers, likewise exiled from Massachusetts, to purchase Aquidneck (later Rhode) Island, where they founded Pocasset ( Portsmouth) in 1638. These early settlements were unstable and full of intensely religious individualists. In 1639 William Coddington (Coddington, William) and eight other prominent families left Portsmouth to found Newport on the southern end of Aquidneck Island. Providence experienced two secessions within its first five years, including one which led to the establishment of Shawomet ( Warwick) in 1643 by Samuel Gorton. These internal struggles were made worse by a century-long effort by the neighbouring colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Connecticut to dismember and extend their authority over Rhode Island. These surrounding colonies denounced Rhode Island as “Rogues' Island” and tried to extinguish it by purchase, invasion, royal commission, fiat, fraud, and intimidation. At different times Plymouth claimed Aquidneck Island; Connecticut claimed most of Rhode Island south of present-day Warwick; Massachusetts claimed the Cranston-Warwick area; and various fraudulent land syndicates, supported by Massachusetts and Connecticut, claimed all the land once owned by the Narragansett.

      In 1643 the neighbouring colonies formed a military alliance called the United Colonies of New England (or the New England Confederation), pointedly excluding Rhode Island's towns and denying the validity of the purchases that Williams had made from Native Americans. As a result, Williams rushed to England and in 1644 secured a parliamentary charter for his colony that sought to join the communities of Providence, Newport, Warwick, and Portsmouth under one patent to become one colony, called Providence Plantations. However, Coddington blocked the merger until 1647, when a loose confederacy was established; he refused to accept even this form of government and secured a patent in 1651 that made him governor for life over the islands of Conanicut and Aquidneck, which included the settlements of Portsmouth and Newport. Williams and John Clarke (the latter representing island opponents to Coddington) traveled to England and had Coddington's commission rescinded. Williams returned to the colony, and Clarke remained in England as its agent. After the restoration of the monarchy (1660) in Britain following the Commonwealth (United Kingdom) period, the charter for Rhode Island was considered invalid, and Clarke obtained a second charter in 1663, which guaranteed the “lively experiment” of Rhode Island. The charter was retained until 1842, when it was replaced by a state constitution.

      The existence of Rhode Island was severely threatened by King Philip's War (1675–76). Although the colony was not an official party to the conflict, it suffered greatly. An army from the United Colonies invaded Rhode Island in December 1675 and attacked the Narragansett in the Great Swamp Fight. In retaliation, the Narragansett destroyed all white settlements in Rhode Island on the western side of the bay, including Providence, which they burned in March 1676. Most of the settlers fled to Aquidneck Island. In the end, Native American power was destroyed, and nearly all of the colony was opened to settlement. Connecticut claimed most of the southern part of the colony by right of conquest for having defeated the Narragansett.

      In the 1680s King James II attempted to consolidate all of England's colonies in New England with New York and New Jersey under a single governor, and Rhode Island was reduced to a county of the Dominion of New England (1686–89). James demanded the colonies' royal charters be surrendered, but, like Connecticut, Rhode Island hid its charter and reasserted its separate existence when James II was overthrown in 1689. The intervention of the crown into local matters marked the beginning of Rhode Island's growing entanglement in larger imperial affairs. From 1689 to 1763 England and France fought a series of imperial wars in North America and drew Rhode Island into all of them.

 Rhode Island's engagement in seagoing commerce during that period was of great significance. It drew the colony out of its isolation and transformed its economy. Rhode Island's climate of religious freedom opened the door to oceanic commerce: Quakers and Jews were attracted by the colony's religious tolerance; since international trade in the colonial era was often conducted through families or coreligionists, the Quakers and Jews created Rhode Island's first transatlantic networks. Newport became the principal town of Rhode Island until the American Revolution and the fifth largest town in British colonial America. Providence began catching up to Newport by the mid-18th century. Oceanic commerce led Rhode Island into the slave trade, and its ships became the main American carriers of slaves. Over the course of the 18th century, Rhode Island merchants built a substantial trade network outside of the British imperial regulations. England greatly expanded its North American territory with the Treaty of Paris (Paris, Treaty of) of 1763, after which it cracked down on trade and attempted to solidify its hold over its empire. Rhode Island's colonial experience made it especially sensitive to efforts to restrict liberties.

      The Sugar Act of 1764, which was meant to end the trade in smuggling sugar and molasses in the colonies, threatened Rhode Island commerce. Most of the colony's trade in sugar was illegal; Rhode Island responded to this act with an official remonstrance admitting the illegality of most of the trade and stating that strict enforcement would wreck the colony's economy. Rhode Island continued its unsanctioned commerce, and Britain sought to suppress it and raise revenues. As a result, the colony engaged in a series of violent acts of defiance. These culminated in the Gaspee (Gaspee, Burning of the) incident in 1772. The British customs vessel Gaspee ran aground off Namquit (now Gaspee) Point while pursuing a smuggler. A large group of citizens from Providence boarded and burned the ship. Despite the fact that hundreds knew of or were involved in the attack, an official British inquiry could not locate any accomplices or perpetrators, and all escaped punishment. When the British government sought to punish Massachusetts after the Boston Tea Party (1773), Rhode Island sent aid to the state. When the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in Massachusetts in April 1775, Rhode Island immediately dispatched its militia in support.

Revolution (American Revolution) and independence
 Rhode Island was among the first and most enthusiastic colonies to resist British rule, having been the first to call for a continental congress in 1774 and the first, in 1776, to eliminate an oath of allegiance to the British crown that had been required of colonial officials. Once the Revolution began in earnest, the state suffered considerably. The British occupied Newport for more than three years (1776–79), bombarded Bristol, and foraged for food and firewood extensively in the southern part of the state. Half the people of Newport fled during the occupation, and the British army burned nearly 500 buildings for firewood. In 1778 a combined Franco-American operation (the first of its kind) was mounted in an unsuccessful attempt to dislodge the British. Notable in the Battle of Rhode Island was the distinguished performance of a battalion of African Americans, the first black regiment to fight in America. In October 1779 the British withdrew in order to redeploy their forces in the South, and in July 1780 some 6,000 French troops landed at Newport to join forces with Gen. George Washington (Washington, George). Gen. Nathanael Greene (Greene, Nathanael) of Rhode Island commanded the American forces that defeated British efforts in Georgia and the Carolinas in 1780–81, forcing Lord Cornwallis (Cornwallis, Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess and 2nd Earl, Viscount Brome, Baron Cornwallis of Eye) to retreat to Yorktown, Va.

      Rhode Island was satisfied with the first U.S. constitution—the Articles of Confederation (Confederation, Articles of)—because it created a weak central government, which gave Rhode Island much independence. Rhode Island blocked efforts to strengthen the Articles of Confederation and refused even to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Once the Constitution (Constitution of the United States of America) was written, Rhode Island repeatedly defeated attempts to ratify it. It was the last of the original 13 states to do so (May 1790), more than a year after the Constitution had gone into effect. Once Rhode Island was in the union, however, its fortunes were increasingly tied to those of the country as a whole.

Rhode Island and the United States
      Rhode Island's experiences from 1790 to the mid-19th century produced a startling contrast between innovative, adventurous changes in the economy and conservative tendencies in social and political evolution. Daring entrepreneurship and invention transformed Rhode Island's economy from seaborne commerce to industry, and the state was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Samuel Slater (Slater, Samuel)'s mill launched the American textile industry in 1790 with its use of the first power-driven spinning machines in the country. Textiles remained the state's principal industry until the 1920s. Rhode Island's many factories came to employ thousands of workers and attracted a flood of immigrants.

      Despite its role in the forefront of the country's early industrial development, the state clung to its colonial charter, and Rhode Island was left behind politically as democracy developed in the rest of the country. The charter, which was made when the colony consisted primarily of rural landowners, gave disproportionate influence to rural interests as the state became more urbanized; only property owners were allowed to vote or hold office, a requirement that all other states had dispensed with by 1840. A majority of free adult males were thus disenfranchised. Because the General Assembly refused to reapportion its seats—in spite of the substantial shifts in population that had occurred over the centuries—or expand the right to vote, suffrage supporters led by Thomas Wilson Dorr (Dorr, Thomas Wilson) called a convention in 1842 that drew up a new constitution (later overwhelmingly approved by referendum), elected Dorr governor, and attempted to establish a new government. The charter government refused to budge, so Dorr and his followers tried to overthrow it by force of arms and attacked the arsenal in Providence. The Dorr Rebellion failed, and the preexisting government stood. Dorr was tried for treason and received a life sentence in 1844, although he was released a year later.

      The episode struck a chord around the country and echoed the revolutionary idea of the people's right to create their own government. The state was forced to adopt a constitution shortly after the rebellion. Though the new constitution enfranchised African Americans, other provisions discriminated against foreign-born citizens (mainly Irish Roman Catholics) and aggravated ethnic and religious tensions that lasted well into the 20th century. The fear of foreign-born Catholics in particular briefly brought the Know-Nothing (Know-Nothing party) party to power in Rhode Island in 1855. The late 1850s saw the rise of the Republican Party, which dominated Rhode Island politics and government almost continuously from the mid-1860s until 1935. While they had not created the constitution of 1842, the Republicans ably used its provisions to retain dominance in the state government long after the Democratic Party had come to represent an actual popular majority.

      By the time of the American Civil War, Rhode Island was an industrial power, able to produce nearly everything that an army needed for equipment, from cannons and rifles to bayonets, riding gear, tents, and uniforms. In addition, more than 24,000 men joined the Federal army, exceeding the state's quota by 5,000.

      While textiles remained the state's primary industry, a host of other industries emerged in the metal trades, including machine-tool and textile-machine manufacturers. By the 1890s the Providence area alone had more than 1,500 factories. When the automobile industry was in its infancy, Rhode Island had dozens of auto and truck makers. Some of the state's nationally known manufacturers included Gorham (silver manufacturing), Brown & Sharpe (precision machine tools), Nicholson File Co., American Screw Company, U.S. Rubber, Davol Rubber, and J&P Coats (then called the Spool Cotton Thread Company).

The 20th century and beyond
      As the rest of Rhode Island's population grew and expanded its use of land for settlement and the development of industry, the state's remaining Native Americans waned in influence and number. By 1884 the Narragansett (Narraganset) were “detribalized” when the state purchased their remaining communal land. However, they continued their traditions and maintained a group registry, and in 1934 they incorporated and reorganized their internal government to include an elected chief and council. A suit to reclaim their land—based on a 1790 law that prohibited the sale of Indian land without federal approval—was settled out of court in 1978 for about 1,800 acres (730 hectares). A petition for tribal status was recognized in 1983, but the effort to gain reservation status was refused in 1985. In the 1990s the Narragansett, seeing the enormous success of the neighbouring Pequot and Mohegan with their gambling casinos (casino) in Connecticut, mounted a drive to establish a casino in Rhode Island. In 2006 the state's voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the casino to be built.

      Rhode Island's maximum impact on the country, in both political and economic terms, occurred in the period from the 1890s to about 1912. Its industrial power waned in the 20th century as the textile industry began moving to the South. This process accelerated through the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s. World War II temporarily reversed the decline, but the exodus of manufacturing resumed with a vengeance in the late 1940s and '50s.

      During Nelson W. Aldrich (Aldrich, Nelson W.)'s tenure in the U.S. Senate (1881–1911), Rhode Island had more influence in the Senate than at any other time. As well as serving on the Senate Finance Committee and as chairman of the National Monetary Commission, Aldrich was well connected personally and in business. He wielded substantial power in the government, for which he was dubbed the “General Manager of the United States Senate.” He was a leading figure in the Republican Party's state political machine.

      Rhode Island's system of statewide representation allowed Republicans to retain control of the government even though Democratic (Democratic Party) voters outnumbered Republicans in the state. Under this system, each town had one seat in the state senate regardless of its population. Thus, in 1920 the 20 smallest towns—with a total population of 41,660 people—had 20 votes in the state senate to Providence's one vote. Relentless pressure for change and the impact of the Great Depression finally enabled the Democrats to take over in 1935, in what was termed the Bloodless Revolution. Having attained the general offices of the state as well as a majority in the General Assembly (narrowly, in the Senate), the Democrats were able to replace the mechanisms and commissions that had kept the Republican Party in power for decades with personnel and institutions of their own.

      The state became solidly Democratic until the 1970s. Thereafter Republicans occasionally won congressional seats and some general offices, such as that of governor, but the General Assembly continued to be dominated by Democratic legislators; many seats simply went uncontested by Republicans. There were no Republicans elected to the U.S. Senate from Rhode Island between 1930 and 1976 (when John Chafee was elected) or to the U.S. House of Representatives between 1938 and 1980, and Providence had no Republican mayor between 1938 and 1974. Chafee served until his death in office in 1999, when Lincoln Chafee (also a Republican) was appointed to fill his father's seat; he was elected to one additional term.

      Because the Republican Party had been so closely tied to business interests during its long domination, the Democrats reacted by creating a climate that was much less friendly to business after 1935. This hindered efforts at economic planning in Rhode Island in the 1940s and '50s. Substantial recovery started in the 1960s, only to suffer a sharp setback in the early '70s, when the bulk of the U.S. Navy (United States Navy, The)'s operations in the state were reassigned elsewhere. The number of active-duty personnel stationed in Rhode Island fell drastically, and more than 16,000 civilian jobs vanished. More than 30,000 people associated with the navy eventually left Rhode Island, giving the state a net loss of population during the 1970s. The state's economy grew moderately again in the 1980s, only to suffer another blow when the Cold War ended and many defense-related industries closed down. Manufacturing jobs declined by another third between 1987 and 1997. However, the general prosperity of the region and the country were able to buoy the state's economy through the end of the century.

      The ingenuity and enterprise that carried Rhode Island to oceanic commerce in the 18th century and to industry in the 19th century were tested in the early 21st century in the service of securing a sound economy and steady economic growth. The state reformed many of its laws and procedures that were unfriendly to business, extended various incentives for new enterprises, and reformed many of the political institutions and corrupt practices that had tarnished the state's image. While Rhode Island's economic growth in the early 21st century was not generally as robust as that of its neighbours Massachusetts and Connecticut, the state enticed several companies in the financial and biotechnology sectors to build plants there. A number of large corporations have their headquarters in Rhode Island.

J. Stanley Lemons

Additional Reading
Federal Writers' Project, Rhode Island, Rhode Island: A Guide to the Smallest State (1937, reissued 1976), is still a useful source for information about some aspects of the state. Marion I. Wright and Robert J. Sullivan, The Rhode Island Atlas (1982), includes extensive detail on the state's geography, place-names, people, economy, and transportation. DeLorme Mapping Company, Connecticut, Rhode Island Atlas & Gazetteer, 2nd ed. (2001), focuses on topography.William G. McLoughlin, Rhode Island (1978, reissued 1986), is an ably written popular interpretation of the state's history. George H. Kellner and J. Stanley Lemons, Rhode Island: The Ocean State (2004), provides a lively treatment of the state's history since 1636. Patrick T. Conley, An Album of Rhode Island History, 1636–1986 (1986), is also useful. Sydney V. James, Colonial Rhode Island: A History (1975), traces the evolution of Rhode Island in the colonial era. Jay Coughtry, The Notorious Triangle: Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade, 1700–1807 (1981), demonstrates Rhode Island's domination of the slave trade. Peter J. Coleman, The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790–1860 (1963, reprinted 1985), presents the shift from commerce to manufacturing across the state. Roger Parks (ed.), Rhode Island: A Bibliography of Its History (1983), is an invaluable reference.J. Stanley Lemons

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Universalium. 2010.

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