Rhode Island History

A Short History of Rhode Island

The island on which Newport is located is also called Rhode Island, and both the state and this island might have been named in honor of the Greek Island of Rhodes, possibly because of the shape of the island. There seems to be no confirmation of this. The island on which Newport is located is also known as Aquidneck. This island was the first to be populated by those who left the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of religious differences.

Maps (9 Kb each) showing where the state and county lines were in 1703, 1729 and 1862.
For one page showing all maps for comparison click here. Maps provided by GoldBug

Providence, was founded in 1636 as a settlement by English clergyman Roger Williams, after he was banished by the Massachusetts Great and General Court. Williams selected the name in gratitude for "God's merciful providence" that the Narragansett have granted him title to the site. Anne Hutchinson was exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638 and brought more settlers who were attracted to the colony by the promise of religious freedom to establish Pocasset, now Portsmouth. William Coddington and others founded Newport in 1639. In 1643 Samuel Gorton founded Shawomet, now Warwick. The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations also gave protection to Quakers in 1657 and to Jews from Holland in 1658.

In 1776 Rhode Island became one of the Thirteen Colonies to renounce its allegiance to Great Britain. After the American Revolution, shipping declined, but Samuel Slater built the first successful U.S. cotton-textile mill at the falls of the Blackstone River, at what later was called Pawtucket, by Samuel Slater and ironmaster David Wilkinson (1790). An abundance of water power led to the rapid development of manufacturing. Rhode Island's political and economic life was dominated by mill-owners until well into the 20th century, when competition from the South resulted in a continuing decline in the state's textile industry. The recent growth of new industries such as electronics has helped to revitalize the economy.

Block Island is an island off southern Rhode Island at the eastern entrance to Long Island Sound. Named for Dutch explorer Adriaen Block who visited the island in 1614. He returned to Amsterdam in October after exploring the New England coast, sailing up the Connecticut River, and mapping the coast of Manhattan. Block Island was first settled in 1661. It became part of Rhode Island in 1663 under the Charter.

In 1786 Rhode Island farmers burned their grain, dumped their milk, and left their apples to rot in the orchards in a farm strike directed against Providence and Newport merchants who refused to accept the paper money that had depreciated to the point of being virtually worthless. The strike had little effect, since 90 percent of Americans raised their own food in their gardens and let their hogs forage in the woods for acorns.

For a more detailed history of Rhode Island, see the State RI General Assembly history pages.


A Brief Rhode Island Timeline

Presidents and Governors from Rhode Island

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