Smallest state of the USA, located in New England, bordered to the north and east by Massachusetts, to the west by Connecticut, and to the south by the Atlantic Ocean; area 2,707 sq km/1,045 sq mi; population (2010) 1,052,567; capital Providence. Eastern Rhode Island lies on Narragansett Bay, a sound in the Atlantic, and consists of coastal lowlands, estuaries, and islands. The state has 640 km/400 mi of coastline. The northwestern portion of the state, behind the coast, is part of the Eastern New England Upland. The state economy is reliant on the service sector, and tourism is significant. The most important manufactures are electrical equipment and jewellery and silverware. Agricultural products include greenhouse and nursery plants, sweetcorn, and potatoes. Rhode Island Red hens were first bred here in the 19th century. Other major towns and cities in Rhode Island include Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket, Newport, and Woonsocket. Rhode Island was originally home to the Narragansett, Niantic, Nipmuck, Pequot, and Wampanoag American Indian peoples. The Rhode Island colony was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, and was one of the original Thirteen Colonies. Rhode Island ratified the US Constitution in 1790, becoming the 13th state to join the Union.
Physical Sandy beaches and plains line the shores of the Coastal Lowlands, part of the lowlands covering the entire New England coast. There are a number of islands in Narragansett Bay, many of which feature rocky cliffs, as does the coastline along the bay. To the west of the bay there are sandy beaches, ponds, and lagoons.
The eastern New England Upland runs from Maine to Connecticut, covering the northwest of Rhode Island, where it is called the Western Rocky Upland. The hilly land rises from around 60 m/200 ft above sea level in the east to around 245 m/800 ft in the north. Rhode Island's highest point, Jerimoth Hill (248 m/812 ft), is in the northwest near the Connecticut border.
Of the 36 islands in Narragansett Bay, the largest, at 117 sq km/45 sq mi, is called Rhode Island (or by its original Indian name, Aquidneck Island) and the smallest, Despair, is just a collection of rocks in the bay. Block Island, 16 km/10 mi off the coast, is a summer tourist destination and can be reached by ferry year round from Point Judith on the south coast.
Three of Rhode Island's rivers, Providence, Sakonnet, and Seekonk, are actually saltwater inlets of Narragansett Bay that have freshwater rivers flowing into them, including the Woonasquatucket, the Pawtuxet, the Pettaquamscutt, and the Pototowomut. The Blackstone River becomes the Seekonk before it reaches the bay. The Pawcatuck River forms the southern part of the western border with Connecticut. Inland rivers are small and fast, and feature many waterfalls in the uplands. Abundant lakes and reservoirs cover the state, the largest being Watchaug Pond and Worden Pond in the south, and Scituate Reservoir to the west of Providence, which supplies the city and its surrounding communities.
Over 60% of the state is covered with mixed forests of oak, beech, maple, ash, birch, and pine. Rhode Island has a maritime climate, with mild winters and wet summers.
Features Rhode Island's most famous and impressive feature is Narragansett Bay, one of the greatest sailing centres in the world and home of the America's Cup yacht races.
Reflecting the culture of a wealthy elite, Newport has many 19th-century mansions, the summer ‘cottages’ of the wealthiest families in the USA. The best known of these properties are the Breakers (1895), built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II; Marble House (1892); and Château-sur-Mer (1851–52).
Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House is the oldest restored house in Newport, built in 1675. The White Horse Tavern, Newport, was built in 1673 and is the oldest operating tavern in the USA. The Friends Meeting House (1700) and the Touro Synagogue (1763), also in Newport, are both the oldest of their kind in the USA, with the Touro Synagogue housing the oldest Torah in the country.
Pawtucket Village, settled in 1642, is thought to be New England's oldest village. Apponaug Village is a seaport, first settled in 1696. Slatersville is one of the oldest mill villages in New England, with a village green, meeting house, and 17th- and 18th-century houses. Old School House in Portsmouth is the oldest schoolhouse in the USA.
Sites of interest in Providence include Benefit Street's Mile of History on the waterfront; Brown University (1764); the Culinary Archives and Museum; Federal Hill, with historic buildings; Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum; Governor Stephen Hopkins House; the Museum of Rhode Island History; and Providence Athenaeum, one of the oldest libraries in the USA. St Mary's Roman Catholic Church (the first to be built in Rhode Island, in 1828) was the venue for the wedding of John F Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953.
American Indian sites in Rhode Island include the Lost Manissean Indian Exhibit on Block Island; the Sydney L Wright Museum in Jamestown; Philomena Library; Royal Indian Burial Ground in Charlestown, with graves of the Narragansett Indian Tribe; Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum in Arcadia; Canonchet Memorial and Narragansett Indian Monument in Narragansett; and the Hudson, Fuller, St Pierre, and Chace collections of archaeological material, in Providence.
Colonial and Revolutionary sites in Rhode Island include Founder's Brook in Portsmouth, where the Rhode Island settlers from Boston landed in 1638, led by Anne Hutchinson; Roger Williams Landing Place Monument in Providence, which marks the spot where Rhode Island founder Roger Williams first landed in 1636; Settler's Rock on the shore of Cow Cove, Block Island, where the first settlers to colonize Block Island landed in April 1661; Great Swamp Battle Site, where on 19 December 1675 colonials and American Indian allies defeated the Narragansett Indians; Revolutionary Earthworks Battery in Jamestown; Green End Fort in Middletown; Artillery Company of Newport, the oldest military organization in the USA; Fort Adams on Ocean Drive in Newport, with 18th-century defences; Continental Sloop Providence, a reproduction of the first ship commissioned by the Continental Navy, also at Fort Adams; Butts Hill Fort in Portsmouth, the site of Rhode Island's only major American Revolution land conflict on 29 August 1778; and Fort Barton in Tiverton, the staging area for the invasion of Aquidneck Island, which led to the Battle of Rhode Island (1778).
Culture Rhode Island was an important industrial state during the 19th and early 20th century. As well as being a playground to the rich, it has a largely industrial blue-collar immigrant Scots-Irish, Italian, and Eastern European culture. The state has also become notorious for corrupt politics.
Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design (1877) enhance the cultural life in the city of Providence. The David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University has a permanent collection that is particularly rich in contemporary art and works on paper. John Brown House Museum is one of the premier museums in Rhode Island, a palatial mansion in Providence, with a large collection of furniture and decorative objects.
The Newport Art Museum has a permanent collection focused on regional art. The National Museum of American Illustration is located in a mansion in Newport and exhibits artworks from the ‘Golden Age’ of US illustration.
The University of Rhode Island's oceanographic research centre is a highly prestigious institution.
The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra is based in Providence. The Convergence Festival in Providence is a multi-disciplined arts festival including jazz, dance, theatre, film, and visual art. The Newport Concert Series in Newport Harbor hosts many different popular music acts. Other festivals in Rhode Island include the Newport Waterfront Irish Festival; the annual Narragansett Blessing of the Fleet in July; German Autumnfest in Woonsocket; the Annual Bristol Fourth of July Celebration, established in 1785, and the oldest continuous celebration of its kind in the USA; and Navy Days Celebration in East Greenwich, celebrating the region's historic naval and American Revolution heritage.
Seafood and fine dining are major recreational activities in Rhode Island, especially for tourists. Newport hosts the Great Chowder Cook-Off as well as the Taste of Rhode Island festival, and Wickford is home to the International Quahog (clam) Festival. Rhode Island has considerable bed and breakfast accommodation, summer rental homes, and hotels, and tourism plays an active role in the state's leisure activities, from yachting and sailing, to tennis, horse riding, and offshore fishing. The first open golf tournament was held in Rhode Island in 1774, and golf is still a popular sport.
GovernmentRhode Island's state constitution An English royal charter was Rhode Island's constitution from 1663 until its own constitution was adopted in 1842, becoming effective from 2 May 1843. Amendments to the constitution can be proposed by the legislature or by constitutional convention.
Structure of state government The legislature, or General Assembly, consists of a 38-member Senate and a 75-member House of Representatives. Two senators and two representatives are sent to the US Congress and the state has four electoral votes in presidential elections.
Until 1908 Republicans dominated the state, but since the 1930s Great Depression it has been mainly Democrat, supporting Democratic candidates in the US presidential election even during the Republican landslide year of 1980.
The governor is elected for four years and restricted to two consecutive terms. Lincoln Chafee took the governorship as an independent in January 2011, but has held the office as a Democrat since May 2013. The lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state treasurer are also elected by the voters to four-year terms. Other officials are appointed by the governor with the approval of the Senate.
Rhode Island and Connecticut are the only two US states to have no county government (although there are five counties). There are eight city governments and 31 town governments all operating under a charter. Most large cities have the mayor-council form of government, and others use the council-manager type of government. Town meetings, in which voters participate directly in decisions and appointments, are the most common and democratic style of town government in Rhode Island and date from colonial times.
The five Supreme Court justices hold office for life. The trial courts are the superior court, district court, family court, workers' compensation court, and traffic tribunal.
Economy Leading service industries are business and personal services, finance, insurance, and real estate, followed by wholesale and retail. The tourist industry makes an important contribution to the state's economy and employment.
Rhode Island has few large mineral resources, the most important being granite from the southwest and sand and gravel from the Coastal Lowlands. The state's most important manufactures are electrical equipment, jewellery (especially costume jewellery), and silverware. Other industries include computers and electronics, plastics, metal products, surgical instruments, chemicals, and boatbuilding.
Agriculture is limited by the rocky terrain, and less than 10% of Rhode Island is cultivated, with greenhouse and nursery plants, ornamental trees, and shrubs being the main source of income. The state also produces dairy products, potatoes, sweetcorn, hay, and apples. The breed of hen now known as the Rhode Island Red was first created and reared here in the 19th century.
HistoryOriginal inhabitants Rhode Island was originally home to the Narragansett, Niantic, Nipmuck, Pequot, and Wampanoag people. The Narragansett lived in isolation on the islands of Narragansett Bay in fortified longhouses. They were peaceful farmers, cultivating corn, beans, and squash, and, probably because of their remote position, they were not affected by the wave of epidemics that killed many American Indians between 1614 and 1620. They become the dominant tribe in the area. By 1620, they had had contact with Europeans and traded with the Dutch from New York.
Explorers It is thought that the Portuguese navigator Miguel de Cortereal sailed along the Rhode Island coast in 1511. He was followed by the Italian, Giovanni da Verrazzano, who explored the bay for France in 1524. Some people maintain that Verrazzano named Rhode Island after Rhodes in the Mediterranean, while others have it that it was Dutch navigator Adriaen Block who named one of the islands Roodt Eylandt ‘Red Island’ because of its red clay soil.
Settlers The Rhode Island colony was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a minister exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because he called for religious and political freedom. Williams founded Providence on land he bought from two Narragansett chiefs, Canonicus and Miantonomo, initiating a period of mutual trust between the Narragansett and the English – a relationship that had deteriorated after the Wampanoag had sided with the English in the early 1630s.
In 1638, William Coddington, Anne Hutchinson, John Clarke, and others also arrived from Massachusetts in search of religious freedom. They founded the settlement of Pocahasset on Aquidneck Island, which later became Portsmouth. Clarke and Coddington moved south to found Newport in 1639, and Rhode Island settlement at Warwick was founded in 1643. Williams obtained a charter in 1647 from the English government to unite the four colonies for their own protection. The Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was granted by King Charles II of England in 1663.
King Philip's War Roger Williams and chiefs such as Canonicus and Miantonomo sustained an amicable peace, but tension increased as the old chiefs were replaced by younger ones. Metacomet, or King Philip, succeeded Massasoit in 1662 as grand sachem (chief) of the Wampanoag. He saw the settlers as a threat to the livelihood and lands of his people, and thought that their missionaries were undermining the tribe's traditional authorities. He allied with other tribes to plan an uprising, and in 1674 he convinced the Narragansett to join him.
In June 1675, Wampanoag warriors, out of Philip's control, attacked Swansea, Massachusetts, beginning what became known as King Philip's War (1675–76). All through that summer, Philip and his warriors attacked white settlements, killing colonists. The peaceable Narragansett refused to surrender Wampanoag in their villages and join the British against Philip, sparking off a British attack, the Great Swamp Fight, in which the Narragansett lost more than 600 warriors and 20 sachems, leaving 3,000 women, children, and old people without food or shelter. Their fate is unclear. King Philip was killed by the colonists in 1676, but repercussions of his war continued in Maine and New Hampshire until 1678.
Trade and prosperity The 18th century began quietly for the settlers, who exploited the fertile lands of the coast and the islands. Plantations developed and slaves were taken on. Specialities were cheese and fine saddle horses called Narragansett Pacers. Newport thrived on commerce and its merchants transported plantation products to other English colonies and to the West Indies, many of them making good returns on investments in the rum trade and the African slave trade. The importation of slaves to the USA was first prohibited in Rhode Island in 1774.
The American Revolution Laws passed in Britain in the 1760s imposing severe taxes and restricting trade caused unrest in Rhode Island and elsewhere. The colonists took action by burning British revenue-cutters the Liberty and Gaspee at Newport. Rhode Island was also the first territory to declare its independence on 4 May 1776. Rhode Island approved the Articles of Confederation on 29 May 1790 and was the last of the 13 original colonies to ratify the US constitution.
Industrialization In 1790, the US factory system was inaugurated with the first water-powered spinning machines at Slater's Mill in Pawtucket. Along with textile and machine manufacturing, the state became known for silver, jewellery, and other metal work. Workers flooded into the cities from local farming communities, as well as from Canada and Europe.
Rhode Island's laws did not keep pace with the growth of the cities, however, and in 1842 the 1633 voting rules sparked off a rebellion led by a worker called Dorr. Dorr's Rebellion protested against property requirements for voting, and he and his followers tried to form their own government. The rebellion itself failed but did lead to electoral reforms in 1842.
More than 24,000 Rhode Islanders served the Union in the Civil War, the most famous being Major General Ambrose E Burnside, who later served as a governor of Rhode Island and as a US senator.
The 20th century During World War I, Rhode Island's factories and shipyards made chemicals, munitions, and ships for the war effort. Much of Rhode Island's textile industry moved to the South in the 1920s, because labour there was cheaper. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, economic growth slowed down, recovering during the World War II war effort. The Democrats have dominated state government since the 1930s.
By the 1960s, Rhode Island was a highly industrialized, densely populated state, with an increasingly important tourist industry. Tourism remains a major contributor to modern Rhode Island's economy.
The original inhabitants of the area, the Narragansett, have been able to maintain their reservation, organization, and population over the years, and they were federally recognized in 1983. In the late 20th century, the Narragansett tribal rolls listed over 2,400 members, most of whom continue to reside in Rhode Island.
Famous peoplethe arts Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828), painter; George M Cohan (1878–1942), composer; Thomas H Ince (1882–1924), film producer; H P Lovecraft (1890–1937), author; Nelson Eddy (1901–1967), baritone and actor; Galway Kinnell (1927–2014), poet
science Stephen Wilcox (1830–1893), inventor; Clarence King (1842–1901), geologist
society and education Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643) colonial religious leader; Roger Williams (c.1603–1683), founder of the Rhode Island colony; Jemima Wilkinson (1752–1819), religious leader
politics and law King Philip (c.1639–1676), American Indian chief; Oliver Hazard Perry (1785–1819), naval officer; Matthew C Perry (1794–1858), naval officer.
Rhode Island – flag
Watch Hill, Rhode Island
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