The State of Rhode Island
AT A GLANCE
Name: Some historians believe that Rhode Island was named by a Dutch navigator who called it Roode Eylandt (“red island”) because of its red clay. Rhode Island may also have been named for the Greek Isle of Rhodes.
Nicknames: Ocean State, Little Rhody
Size: 1,212 sq. mi. (3,142 sq km)
Population: 1,056,298 (2015 est.)
Statehood: Rhode Island became the 13th state on May 29, 1790.
Electoral votes: 4 (2016)
U.S. representatives: 2 (until 2016)
State tree: red maple
State flower: violet
State bird: Rhode Island Red
Highest point: Jerimoth Hill, 812 ft. (247 m)
Rhode Island is one of the New England states. It is located on the Atlantic coast between Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Narragansett basin, which surrounds Narragansett Bay, is a lowland area with carbon deposits that stretch into southeastern Massachusetts. Narragansett Bay extends about 28 miles (45 km) inland from southern Rhode Island. It starts at Providence, where it meets the Blackstone River.
Narragansett Bay has several islands, including Aquidneck, which is the largest and the site of historic Newport; Conanicut Island, home to Jamestown; and Prudence Island. (Aquidneck Island is what the early Europeans named Rhode Island; the mainland became known as Providence Plantations.)
Rhode Island's coastline, which stretches from Point Judith to Watch Hill, has beaches, lagoons, and salt marshes. Inland, the state has many lakes and a rolling, hilly surface. More than half of Rhode Island is covered with forests, yet the state is very urbanized. Providence is the capital of Rhode Island and is also the state's largest city. Other notable cities are Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket, and Newport.
Rhode Island's coast is lined with resorts noted for their swimming and boating facilities. Block Island, located 10 miles (16 km) off the shore of Rhode Island, is also part of the state.
Facts and Firsts
- Rhode Island's official name is the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. It's the smallest state but has the longest name.
- Rhode Island was the first colony to take military action against England in the years before the American Revolution, when colonists sank the English ship Gaspee in Narragansett Bay in 1772. Rhode Island was also the first colony to officially declare itself independent of England on May 4, 1776.
- Rhode Island was the last of the original 13 colonies to become a state.
- Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, is credited with establishing the policies of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of public assembly, which are contained in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
- The oldest schoolhouse in the United States, built in 1716, is located in Portsmouth.
- The Touro Synagogue in Newport, built in 1763, was the first Jewish synagogue in the United States. It is home to the oldest Torah in North America. Newport is also home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which has the oldest grass tennis courts in the United States.
- Bristol holds the record for the longest-running, unbroken series of Independence Day observances in the United States. The town held its first celebration in 1785.
Around 1524, explorer Giovanni da Verrazano first visited the area that is today Rhode Island. In 1614, Dutch explorer Adriaen Block explored the region. Roger Williams, who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, established the first settlement in the area at Providence in 1636. He used land he purchased from Native Americans of the Narragansett tribe.
In 1638, Puritans bought Aquidneck Island from the Narragansetts. There they established a settlement called Pocasset, which was later renamed Portsmouth. Newport was founded in 1639 on the southwest side of the island, and Warwick was settled on the western shore of Narragansett Bay in 1643. The four towns united under a single charter in 1647.
Newport was the commercial center of the colony until the American Revolution. The area generated money through the trade of rum, slaves, and molasses. Narragansett Bay became a notorious haven for smugglers.
During the 1760s, colonists reacted against British laws that restricted trade and imposed taxes on the colonies. In 1772, Patriots protested by burning the British ship Gaspee near Providence.
After the Revolution, Rhode Island experienced bankruptcy and currency difficulties. Shipping, which had contributed greatly to the state's economy, was hard hit by President Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807 and by competition from larger ports such as those at New York and Boston. The decline of shipping sparked the beginning of Rhode Island's industrial era. Samuel Slater built the first successful American cotton-textile mill in Pawtucket in 1790. Waterpower from Rhode Island's rivers led to the rapid development of manufacturing.
As Rhode Island industry grew, mill towns increased in population, and Providence surpassed Newport as the commercial center of the state. Mills and mill owners dominated Rhode Island's political and economic life into the 20th century. English, Irish, and Scottish settlers began arriving in large numbers in the first half of the 19th century. French Canadian immigration began around the time of the Civil War. At the end of the 19th century, many Poles, Italians, and Portuguese moved to Rhode Island.
Rhode Island is the smallest of the 50 states and is densely populated and highly industrialized. Today, Rhode Island is a major center for the manufacture of jewelry.
Electronics, metal, plastic products, textiles, and construction of boats and ships are other important industries. Since the 1970s, however, the state's economy has shifted away from manufacturing and toward the service sector. Nonmanufacturing activities include research in health, medicine, and the ocean environment.
Rhode Island's major fishing ports are located at Galilee and Newport. Rural areas of the state are home to small farms, which grow many products such as turf grass, nursery stock, and grapes for local wineries.
Tourism generates more than a billion dollars in revenue for Rhode Island each year. Newport was the summer capital of high society in the mid-19th century, and today it remains a popular tourist destination.
Other popular destinations for visitors are the Roger Williams Park and Zoo in Providence, Slater's Mill in Pawtucket, Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene's Homestead in Coventry, the Newport mansions, Block Island, and the many beaches and campgrounds in the southern half of the state.
Born in Rhode Island
- George M. Cohan, actor and dramatist
- Sarah DeCosta, athlete
- Nelson Eddy, actor and singer
- Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War general
- Thomas H. Ince, film producer
- Galway Kinnell, poet
- Irving R. Levine, news correspondent
- Ida Lewis, lighthouse keeper
- Matthew C. Perry, naval officer
- Oliver Hazard Perry, naval officer
- King Philip (Metacomet), Native American leader
- Gilbert Stuart, painter
- Sarah Helen Whitman, poet
- John Wilbur, Quaker leader
- Leonard Woodcock, labor leader