State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
Flag of Rhode Island Seal of Rhode Island
Flag Seal
Nickname(s): The Ocean State
Little Rhody[1]
Motto(s): Hope
Map of USA RI
Official language(s) De jure: None
De facto: English
Demonym Rhode Islander
Capital Providence
Largest cityProvidence
Area  Ranked 50th in the U.S.
 - Total 1,545[2] sq mi
(4,000 km2)
 - Width 37 miles (60 km)
 - Length 48 miles (77 km)
 - % water 32.4
 - Latitude 41° 09' N to 42° 01' N
 - Longitude 71° 07' W to 71° 53' W
Population  Ranked 43rd in the U.S.
 - Total 1,053,209 (2009 est.)[3]
 - Density 1,012.3/sq mi  (390.78/km2)
Ranked 2nd in the U.S.
 - Highest point Jerimoth Hill[4]
812 ft (247 m)
 - Mean 200 ft  (60 m)
 - Lowest point Atlantic Ocean[4]
sea level
Admission to Union  May 29, 1790 (13th)
Governor Lincoln Chafee (I)
Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth H. Roberts (D)
Legislature General Assembly
 - Upper house Senate
 - Lower house House of Representatives
U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D)
U.S. House delegation 1: David Cicilline (D)
2: James Langevin (D) (list)
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5/-4
Abbreviations RI US-RI
Footnotes: * Total area in acres
is approximately 776,957 acres (3,144 km2)

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,[5] more commonly referred to as Rhode Island (/ˌroʊd ˈaɪlɨnd/  (Speaker Icon.svg listen) or /rɵˈdaɪlɨnd/), is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area. Rhode Island is bordered by Connecticut to the west and Massachusetts to the north and east, and it shares a water boundary with New York's Long Island to the southwest.

Rhode Island was the first of the 13 original colonies to declare independence from British rule and the last to ratify the United States Constitution.[6][7]

Rhode Island's official nickname is "The Ocean State", a reference to the state's geography, since Rhode Island has several large bays and inlets that amount to about 30% of its total area. Its land area is 1,045 square miles (2706 km2), but its total area is significantly larger.

Origin of the nameEdit

Despite the name, most of Rhode Island is on the mainland United States. The official name of the state, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, derives from the merger of two colonies. Providence Plantations was the name of the colony founded by Roger Williams in the area now known as the City of Providence. Rhode Island, the other colonial settlement, was founded in the area of present-day Newport, on Aquidneck Island, the largest of several islands in Narragansett Bay.[8]

It is unclear how Aquidneck Island came to be known as Rhode Island. In 1524, the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano noted the presence of an island near the mouth of Narragansett Bay, which he likened to the Greek island of Rhodes. Although it is unclear to which island Verrazzano was referring, the pilgrims who later colonized the area decided to apply the moniker "Rhode Island" to Aquidneck Island. The earliest known use of the name "Rode Island" was in 1637 by Roger Williams. The name was officially applied to the island in 1644 with these words: "Aquethneck shall be henceforth called the Ile of Rods or Rhod-Island." The name "Isle of Rodes" is found used in a legal document as late as 1646.[9][10]

Another popular origin theory is based on the fact that Adriaen Block, during his 1627 expedition, passed by Aquidneck Island, described in a 1625 account of his travels as "an island of reddish appearance" (in 17th-century Dutch, "een rodlich Eylande").[11] Dutch maps from as early as 1659 call the island "Roode Eylant", or Red Island. Historians have theorized that the island was named by the Dutch (possibly by Adriaen Block himself) for either the red autumn foliage or red clay on portions of the shore.[12][13][13]

Verrazzano monument

Verrazzano Monument, Providence, Rhode Island.

Roger Williams, a theologian who was one of the first to advocate freedom of religion, separation of church and state, abolition of slavery, discouragement of abortion, and equal treatment to Native Americans, was forced out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Seeking religious and political tolerance, he and others founded "Providence Plantations" as a free proprietary colony. "Providence" referred to the divine providence and "plantations" referred to an English term for a colony (people leave one place and are "planted" in another). Thus, this name bore no relation to the later Southern and Caribbean Islands slave plantations. Later on, Providence Plantations and Rhode Island were merged to form the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

"Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" is the longest official name of any state in the Union. On June 25, 2009, the General Assembly voted to allow the people to decide whether to keep the name or drop "Providence Plantations" due to the misperception that the name relates to slavery.[14] The referendum election was held on this subject during the November 2, 2010 elections, and the people overwhelmingly voted (78% to 22%) to keep the original name.[15]

Rhode Island's official state nickname is "The Ocean State", a reference to the state's geography (since Rhode Island has several large bays and inlets that amount to about 30% of its total area.)


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Terrain Map of Rhode Island


Map of Rhode Island, showing major cities and roads

Rhode Island covers an area of approximately 1,545 square miles (4,002 km2) and is bordered on the north and east by Massachusetts, on the west by Connecticut, and on the south by Rhode Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. It shares a narrow maritime border with New York State between Block Island and Long Island. The mean elevation of the state is 200 feet (60 m).

Nicknamed the Ocean State, Rhode Island has a number of oceanfront beaches. It is mostly flat with no real mountains, and the state's highest natural point is Jerimoth Hill, 812 feet (247 m) above sea level.[4]

Located within the New England province of the Appalachian Region, Rhode Island has two distinct natural regions. Eastern Rhode Island contains the lowlands of the Narragansett Bay, while Western Rhode Island forms part of the New England Upland. Rhode Island's forests are part of the Northeastern coastal forests ecoregion.[16]

Narragansett Bay is a major feature of the state's topography. Block Island lies approximately 12 miles (19 km) off the southern coast of the mainland. Within the Bay, there are over 30 islands. The largest is Aquidneck Island, shared by the municipalities of Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth. The second-largest island is Conanicut; the third-largest is Prudence.


A rare type of rock called Cumberlandite, found only in Rhode Island (specifically in the town of Cumberland), is the state rock. There were initially two known deposits of the mineral, but since it is an ore of iron, one of the deposits was extensively mined for its ferrous content.


Rhode Island is an example of a cold winter humid continental climate with hot, rainy summers and chilly winters. The highest temperature recorded in Rhode Island was 104 °F (40 °C), recorded on August 2, 1975, in Providence.[17] The lowest recorded temperature in Rhode Island was −25 °F (−31.7 °C), on February 5, 1996, in Greene.[18] Monthly average temperatures range from a high of 83 °F (28 °C) to a low of 20 °F (−7 °C).[19]

Climate data for Rhode Island
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 69
Average high °F (°C) 37
Average low °F (°C) 20
Record low °F (°C) −13
Precipitation inches (mm) 4.37
Source: [20]


Colonial era: 1636–1770Edit

First Baptist Church in America in RI

The congregation founded by Roger Williams in 1638 built this Providence historic church in 1776

Providence, Rhode Island, Original Deed

The original 1636 deed to Providence, signed by Chief Canonicus.

Roger Williams and Narragansetts

Roger Williams and Narragansett Indians

In 1636, Roger Williams, after being banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious views, settled at the tip of Narragansett Bay, on land granted to him by the Narragansett tribe. He called the site Providence and declared it a place of religious freedom. Detractors of the idea of liberty of conscience sometimes referred to it as "Rogue's Island".[21] In 1638, after conferring with Williams, Anne Hutchinson, William Coddington, John Clarke, Philip Sherman, and other religious dissidents settled on Aquidneck Island (then known as Rhode Island), which was purchased from the local natives, who called it Pocasset. The settlement of Portsmouth was governed by the Portsmouth Compact. The southern part of the island became the separate settlement of Newport after disagreements among the founders.

Samuel Gorton purchased the Native American lands at Shawomet in 1642, precipitating a military dispute with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1644, Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport united for their common independence as the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, governed by an elected council and "president". Gorton received a separate charter for his settlement in 1648, which he named Warwick after his patron.[22] These allied colonies were united in the charter of 1663, used as the state constitution until 1842.

Although Rhode Island remained at peace with the Native Americans, the relationship between the other New England colonies and the Native Americans was more strained, and sometimes led to bloodshed, despite attempts by the Rhode Island leadership to broker peace. During King Philip's War (1675–1676), both sides regularly violated Rhode Island's neutrality. The war's largest battle occurred in Rhode Island, when a force of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Plymouth militia under General Josiah Winslow invaded and destroyed the fortified Narragansett Indian village in the Great Swamp in southern Rhode Island, on December 19, 1675.[23] The Narragansett also invaded, and burnt down several of the cities of Rhode Island, including Providence, although they allowed the population to leave first. Also in one of the final actions of the war, troops from Connecticut hunted down and killed "King Philip", as they called the Wampanoag war-leader Metacomet, on Rhode Island's territory.

The colony was amalgamated into the Dominion of New England in 1686, as James II of England attempted to enforce royal authority over the autonomous colonies in British North America. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the colony regained its independence under the Royal Charter. The bedrock of the economy continued to be agriculture, especially dairy farming, and fishing. Lumber and shipbuilding also became major industries. Slaves were introduced at this time, although there is no record of any law relegalising slave-holding. Ironically, the colony later prospered under the slave trade, by distilling rum to sell in Africa as part of a profitable triangular trade in slaves and sugar with the Caribbean.[24]

Rhode Island was the first of the thirteen colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown, on May 4, 1776. It was also the last colony of the thirteen colonies to ratify the United States Constitution on May 29, 1790, once assurances were made that a Bill of Rights would become part of the Constitution.[25] As the home of Brown University, Rhode Island is one of only eight states hosting a colonial college chartered on its territory prior to the American Revolution.

King Philip's Seat

"King Philip's Seat", a Native American meeting place on Mount Hope

Revolution to industrialization: 1770–1860Edit

Greene portrait

Nathanael Greene

Rhode Island's tradition of independence and dissent gave it a prominent role in the American Revolution. In 1772, the first bloodshed of the American Revolution took place in Rhode Island when a band of Providence residents attacked a grounded British ship for enforcing unpopular British trade regulations. This incident would come to be known as the Gaspee Affair. Rhode Island was the first of the original thirteen colonies to declare its independence from Great Britain (May 4, 1776),[26] and the last to ratify the Constitution, doing the latter only after being threatened with having its exports taxed as a foreign nation.

During the Revolution, the British occupied Newport. A combined Franco-American force fought to drive them off of Aquidneck Island. Portsmouth was the site of the first African American military unit, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, to fight for the U.S. in the Battle of Rhode Island August 29, 1778. The arrival of a far superior French fleet forced the British to scuttle their own ships, rather than surrender them to the French.


National Park Service map of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, which commenced in Rhode Island.

The celebrated march of 1781 to Yorktown, Virginia that ended with the defeat of the British at the Siege of Yorktown and the Battle of the Chesapeake began in Newport, Rhode Island under the joint command of General George Washington who led American troops and the Comte de Rochambeau who led French soldiers sent by King Louis XVI. In 2009, it was officially recognized by the National Park Service.

These allied forces spent one year in Providence, Rhode Island, including at Brown University's University Hall, preparing for an opportune moment to begin their decisive march. Several patriots residing in Rhode Island were involved in the American Revolution, including Royal Governor Samuel Ward, Royal Governor and first Brown University Chancellor Stephen Hopkins, the Reverend James Manning, General James Mitchell Varnum, John Brown, Dr. Solomon Drowne, Yale College president Ezra Stiles and first United States Senator from Rhode Island Theodore Foster.

Providence, Rhode Island, 1858

Providence in the mid-19th century.

The Industrial Revolution began in America in 1787 when Thomas Somers reproduced textile machine plans he imported from England. He helped to produce the Beverly Cotton Manufactory, which Moses Brown of Providence took an interest in. Teaming up with Samuel Slater, Moses Brown helped to create the second cotton mill in America, a water-powered textile mill. As the Industrial Revolution moved large numbers of workers into the cities, a permanently landless, and therefore voteless, class developed. By 1829, 60% of the state's free white males were ineligible to vote.

Former Stable at Brenton Point State Park, Newport, Rhode Island 1968

Abandoned mill outside Newport (1968)

Several attempts had been made to address this problem, but none were successful. In 1842, Thomas Dorr drafted a liberal constitution which was passed by popular referendum. However, the conservative sitting governor, Samuel Ward King, opposed the people's wishes, leading to the Dorr Rebellion. Although this was not a success, a modified version of the constitution was passed in November, which allowed any white male to vote if he owned land or could pay a $1 poll tax.

In addition to industrialization, Rhode Island was heavily involved in the slave trade during the post-revolution era. Slavery was extant in the state as early as 1652, and by 1774, the slave population of Rhode Island was 6.3%, nearly twice as high as any other New England colony. In the late 18th century, several Rhode Island merchant families began actively engaging in the triangle slave trade. Notable among these was Rhode Island Senator James De Wolf and his family, as well as brothers John and Nicholas of the Brown family, for whom Brown University is named, although some Browns, particularly Moses, became prominent abolitionists. In the years after the Revolution, Rhode Island merchants controlled between 60% and 90% of the American trade in African slaves.[27][28]

Civil War to Progressive Era: 1860–1929Edit

During the Civil War, Rhode Island was the first Union state to send troops in response to President Lincoln's request for help from the states. Rhode Island furnished 25,236 fighting men, of whom 1,685 died. On the home front, Rhode Island, along with the other northern states, used its industrial capacity to supply the Union Army with the materials it needed to win the war. The United States Naval Academy moved here temporarily during the war.

In 1866, Rhode Island abolished racial segregation in the public schools throughout the state.[29]

Post-war immigration increased the population. From the 1860s to the 1880s, most immigrants were from England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, and Quebec. Toward the end of the century, however, most immigrants were from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.[30] At the turn of the century, Rhode Island had a booming economy, which fed the demand for immigration. In the years leading up to World War I, Rhode Island's constitution remained reactionary, in contrast to the more progressive reforms that were occurring in the rest of the country. The state never ratified the 18th Amendment establishing national prohibition of alcohol.[31]

During World War I, Rhode Island furnished 28,817 troops, of whom 612 died. After the war, the state was hit hard by the Spanish Influenza.[32] In the 1920s and 1930s, rural Rhode Island saw a surge in Ku Klux Klan membership, largely in reaction to the large waves of immigrants moving to the state. The Klan is believed to be responsible for burning the Watchman Industrial School in Scituate, which was a school for African American children.[33]

Growth in the modern era: 1929–presentEdit

In the 20th century, the state continued to grow, though the decline in industry devastated many urban areas. These areas were affected further, as with the rest of the country's urban areas, by construction of Interstate highways through city cores and the suburbanization caused by it and by the GI Bill.

Rhode Island's continued growth and modernization led to the creation of an urban mass transit system and improved health and sanitation programs.

Since the Great Depression, the Rhode Island Democratic Party has dominated local politics. Rhode Island has comprehensive health insurance for low-income children, and a large social safety net. Many urban areas still have a high rate of children in poverty. Due to an influx of residents from Boston, increasing housing costs have resulted in more homeless in Rhode Island.[34]

N3419822 37931820 6163Providence

Providence in the early 21st century.

The Republican Party, virtually non-existent in the state legislature, has successfully nominated state-wide "good government" reform candidates who criticize the state's high taxes and the excesses of the Democratic Party. Former Governor Donald Carcieri of East Greenwich, and former Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci of Providence (who later became an independent political boss, and was convicted on RICO charges) ran as Republican reform candidates.

In recent years former Speaker of the House John Harwood, State Senator John Celona, and State Senate President William Irons were forced to resign amid scandals. In 2003, a nightclub fire in West Warwick claimed one hundred lives and caught national attention. The fire resulted in criminal sentences.[35]

In March 2010, areas of the state received record flooding due to rising rivers from heavy rain. The first period of rainy weather in mid-March caused localized flooding, but just two weeks later, more rain caused more widespread flooding in many towns, especially south of Providence. Rain totals on March 29–30, 2010 exceeded 14 inches in many locales, resulting in the inundation of area rivers—especially the Pawtuxet River which runs through central Rhode Island.

The overflow of the Pawtuxet River, nearly 11 feet (3.4 m) above flood stage, submerged a sewage plant and closed a five mile (8 km) stretch of Interstate 95. In addition, it flooded two shopping malls, numerous businesses, and many homes in Warwick, West Warwick, Cranston, and Westerly;Amtrak service between New York and Boston was also suspended during this period. Following the flood, Rhode Island was in a state of emergency for two days and President Obama came to neighboring Massachusetts to assess the damage; FEMA was also called in to help flood victims.

Law and governmentEdit

Presidential elections results
Year Republican Democratic
2008 35.21% 165,391 63.13% 296,571
2004 38.67% 169,046 59.42% 259,760
2000 31.91% 130,555 60.99% 249,508
1996 26.82% 104,683 59.71% 233,050
1992 29.02% 131,601 47.04% 213,299
1988 43.93% 177,761 55.64% 225,123
1984 51.66% 212,080 48.02% 197,106
1980 37.20% 154,793 47.70% 198,342
1976 44.10% 181,249 55.40% 227,636
1972 53.00% 220,383 46.80% 194,645

The capital of Rhode Island is Providence. The state's current governor is Lincoln Chafee (I), and the lieutenant governor is Elizabeth H. Roberts (D). Its United States Senators are Jack Reed (D) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D). Rhode Island's two United States Congressmen are David Cicilline (D-1) and Jim Langevin (D-2). See congressional districts map.

Rhode Island is one of a few states that does not have an official Governor's residence. See List of Rhode Island Governors.

The state legislature is the Rhode Island General Assembly, consisting of the 75-member House of Representatives and the 38-member Senate. Both houses of the bicameral body are currently dominated by the Democratic Party.

Because Rhode Island's population barely crosses the threshold for additional votes in both the federal House and electoral college, it is well represented relative to its population, with the eighth-highest number of electoral votes and second-highest number of House Representatives per resident. Based on its area, Rhode Island even has the highest density of electoral votes.[36]

Federally, Rhode Island is one of the most reliably Democratic states during presidential elections, regularly giving the Democratic nominees one of their best showings. In the 1980 U.S. Presidential Election, Rhode Island was one of only 6 states to vote against Ronald Reagan. Reagan did carry Rhode Island in his 49-state victory in 1984, but the state was the second weakest of the states Reagan won. Rhode Island was the Democrats' leading state in 1988 and 2000, and second-best in 1996 and 2004. The state was devoted to Republicans until 1908, but has only strayed from the Democrats 7 times in the 24 elections that have followed. In 2004, Rhode Island gave John Kerry more than a 20-percentage-point margin of victory (the third-highest of any state), with 59.4% of its vote. All but three of Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns voted for the Democratic candidate. The only exceptions were East Greenwich, West Greenwich and Scituate.[37] In 2008, Rhode Island gave Barack Obama a 29-percentage-point margin of victory (the third-highest of any state), with 64% of its vote. All of Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns voted for the Democratic candidate, except for Scituate.[38]

Rhode Island has abolished capital punishment, making it one of 15 states that have done so. Rhode Island abolished the death penalty very early, just after Michigan (the first state to abolish it), and carried out its last execution in the 1840s. As of November 2009 Rhode Island is no longer one of two states in which prostitution is legal, provided it took place indoors.[39] In a 2009 study Rhode Island was listed as the 9th safest state in the country.[40]

Rhode Island has some of the highest taxes in the country, particularly its property taxes, ranking seventh in local and state taxes, and sixth in real estate taxes.[41]

Rhode Island is the third state in the United States to pass legislation to allow the use of medical marijuana.

Voter registration and party enrollment as of March 15, 2011[42][43]
Party Active voters Inactive voters Total voters Percentage
  Democratic 124,088 10,729 134,817 19.54%
  Republican 72,033 7,392 79,425 11.51%
  Unaffiliated 430,123 39,953 470,076 68.13%

Template:American politics/party colors/Readjusters/row

Moderate 5,532 101 5,633 0.82%
Total 631,776 58,175 689,951 100%


Historical populations
Census Pop.
1790 68,825
1800 69,122 0.4%
1810 76,931 11.3%
1820 83,059 8.0%
1830 97,199 17.0%
1840 108,830 12.0%
1850 147,545 35.6%
1860 174,620 18.4%
1870 217,353 24.5%
1880 276,531 27.2%
1890 345,506 24.9%
1900 428,556 24.0%
1910 542,610 26.6%
1920 604,397 11.4%
1930 687,497 13.7%
1940 713,346 3.8%
1950 791,896 11.0%
1960 859,488 8.5%
1970 946,725 10.1%
1980 947,154 0%
1990 1,003,464 5.9%
2000 1,048,319 4.5%
2010 1,052,567 0.4%
Demographics of Rhode Island (csv)
By race White Black AIAN Asian NHPI
AIAN is American Indian or Alaskan Native   -   NHPI is Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
2000 (total population) 90.96% 6.45% 1.07% 2.74% 0.19%
2000 (Hispanic only) 7.14% 1.42% 0.18% 0.08% 0.07%
2005 (total population) 90.16% 7.07% 1.09% 3.07% 0.21%
2005 (Hispanic only) 9.12% 1.49% 0.22% 0.08% 0.08%
Growth 2000-2005 (total population) 1.76% 12.52% 4.91% 15.09% 9.93%
Growth 2000-2005 (non-Hispanic only) -0.75% 13.80% 1.03% 15.44% 8.90%
Growth 2000-2005 (Hispanic only) 31.21% 7.98% 24.03% 3.78% 11.64%

The center of population of Rhode Island is located in Providence County, in the city of Cranston.[44] A corridor of population can be seen from the Providence area, stretching northwest following the Blackstone River to Woonsocket, where nineteenth-century mills drove industry and development. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2005, Rhode Island had an estimated population of 1,076,189, which is a decrease of 3,727, or 0.3%, from the prior year and an increase of 27,870, or 2.7%, since the year 2000. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 15,220 people (that is 66,973 births minus 51,753 deaths) and an increase due to net migration of 14,001 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 18,965 people, and migration within the country produced a net decrease of 4,964 people.

Rhode Island population map

Rhode Island Population Density Map

The ten largest ancestry groups in Rhode Island are:
Italy 19.1% Italian
Republic of Ireland 18.4% Irish
England 12.2% English
France 10.9% French
Portugal 8.7% Portuguese
Flag of Acadiana 6.4% French Canadian
Guatemala 4.4% Guatemalan
Puerto Rico 3.6% Puerto Rican
Dominican Republic 3.5% Dominican
People's Republic of China 2.2% Chinese

Hispanics in the state make up 12.7% of the population, predominantly Guatemalan, Puerto Rican, and Dominican populations.[45]

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 8.07% of the population aged 5 and older speaks Spanish at home, while 3.80% speaks Portuguese, 1.96% French, and 1.39% Italian.[46]

6.1% of Rhode Island's population were reported as under 5, 23.6% under 18, and 14.5% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 52% of the population.

Rhode Island has a higher percentage of Americans of Portuguese ancestry, including Portuguese Americans and Cape Verdean Americans than any other state in the nation. Additionally, the state also has the highest percentage of Liberian immigrants, with more than 15,000 residing in the State.[47] Italian Americans make up a plurality in central and southern Providence County and French Canadians form a large part of northern Providence County. Irish Americans have a strong presence in Newport and Kent counties. Yankees of English ancestry still have a presence in the State as well, especially in Washington County, and are often referred to as "Swamp Yankees." African immigrants, including Cape Verdean Americans, Liberian Americans, Nigerian Americans and Ghanaian Americans, form significant and growing communities in Rhode Island. Additionally, although Rhode Island has the smallest total area of all fifty states, it has the second highest population density of any state in the Union, second only to New Jersey.


Grace Church Providence

Grace Church, a historic church at 175 Mathewson Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

The religious affiliations of the people of Rhode Island are:[48]

  • Other Christian – 2.3%
  • Self-identified non-religious – 6%
  • Other religions – 1.9%
  • Jewish – 1.4%
  • Muslim – 1.2%
Touro Synagogue, Newport, RI

Touro Synagogue

The largest single Protestant denominations are the Episcopalians with 26,756 and the Baptists with 20,997 adherents.[49]

The Jewish community of Rhode Island is centered in the Providence area, however, the Touro Synagogue in Newport is the oldest existing synagogue in the United States.

Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Roman Catholics[50] in the nation mainly due to large Irish, Italian, and French Canadian immigration in the past; recently, significant Portuguese and various Hispanic communities have also been established in the state. Though it has the highest overall Catholic percentage of any state, none of Rhode Island's individual counties ranks among the 10 most Catholic in the United States, as Catholics are very evenly spread throughout the state. Additionally, Rhode Island and Utah are the only two states in which a majority of the population are members of a single religious body.

Cities and townsEdit

Newport Rhode Island USA

A historic side street in Newport

There are 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island. Major population centers today result from historical factors—with the advent of the water-powered mill development took place predominantly along the Blackstone, Seekonk, and Providence Rivers.

Ranked by population, the state's 15 largest municipalities are:

  1. Providence (178,042)[51]
  2. Warwick (82,672)[52]
  3. Cranston (80,387)[53]
  4. Pawtucket (71,148)[54]
  5. East Providence (47,034)[55]
  6. Woonsocket (41,186)[56]
  7. Coventry (35,014)[57]
  8. Cumberland (33,506)[57]
  9. North Providence (32,078)[57]
  10. South Kingstown (30,639)[57]
  11. West Warwick (29,191)[57]
  12. Johnston (28,768)[57]
  13. North Kingstown (26,486)[57]
  14. Newport (24,672)[58]
  15. Bristol (22,954)[57]

In common with many other New England states, some Rhode Island cities and towns are further partitioned into villages that reflect historic townships which were later combined for administrative purposes. Notable villages include Kingston, in the town of South Kingstown, which houses the University of Rhode Island, and Wickford, in North Kingstown, the site of an annual international art festival.



Textron's headquarters, in the company of One Financial Plaza and the Rhode Island Hospital Trust building.

The Rhode Island economy had a colonial base in fishing and farming, each of which respectively became shipping and manufacturing upon independence.

The Blackstone River Valley was a major contributor to the American Industrial Revolution". It was in Pawtucket that Samuel Slater set up Slater Mill in 1793,[59] using the waterpower of the Blackstone River to power his cotton mill. For a while, Rhode Island was one of the leaders in textiles. However, with the Great Depression, most textile factories relocated to southern US states. The textile industry still constitutes a part of the Rhode Island economy, but does not have the same power that it once had.

Other important industries in Rhode Island's past included toolmaking, costume jewelry and silverware. An interesting by-product of Rhode Island's industrial history is the amount of abandoned factories—many of them now being used for low-income housing, elderly housing, condominiums, museums, and offices. Today, much of the economy of Rhode Island is based in services, particularly healthcare and education, and still to some extent, manufacturing.[60][61]

File:RI towns Narragansett.png

The headquarters of Citizens Financial Group, the 14th largest bank in the United States, is located in Providence.[62] The Fortune 500 companies CVS Caremark and Textron are based in Woonsocket and Providence, respectively. FM Global, GTECH Corporation, Hasbro, American Power Conversion, Nortek, and Amica Mutual Insurance are all Fortune 1000 companies that are based in Rhode Island.[63]

Rhode Island's 2000 total gross state product was $33 billion, placing it 45th in the nation. Its 2000 per capita personal income was $29,685, 16th in the nation. Rhode Island has the lowest level of energy consumption per capita of any state.[64][65][66] As of Dec. 2010, the state's unemployment rate is 11.5%.[67]

Health services are Rhode Island's largest industry. Second is tourism, supporting 39,000 jobs, with tourism-related sales at $3.26 billion in the year 2000. The third-largest industry is manufacturing.[68] Its industrial outputs are costume jewelry, fabricated metal products, electrical equipment, machinery, shipbuilding and boatbuilding. Rhode Island's agricultural outputs are nursery stock, vegetables, dairy products and eggs.

Rhode Island's taxes were appreciably higher than neighboring states,[41] because Rhode Island's income tax was based on 25% of the payer's federal income tax payment.[69] Governor Carcieri has claimed that the higher tax rate had an inhibitory effect on business growth in the state and called for reductions to increase the competitiveness of the state's business environment. In 2010, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a new state income tax structure that was then signed into law on June 9, 2010, by Governor Carcieri.[70] The income tax overhaul has now made Rhode Island competitive with other New England states by lowering its maximum tax rate to 5.99% and has reduced the number of tax brackets to three.[71] The state's first income tax was first enacted in 1971.[72]


RIPTA Gillig Low Floor 0517

A RIPTA bus at Kennedy Plaza.

Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge

The Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge

The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), which has its hub in downtown Providence manages local bus transit for the state, serving 38 out of 39 Rhode Island communities. RIPTA has 58 bus lines, 2 tourist trolley lines known as LINK, and a seasonal ferry to Newport.[73] The southern terminus of the MBTA commuter rail Providence/Stoughton Line is also in downtown Providence and connects to Boston. Ferry services link Block Island, Prudence Island, and Hog Island to the Rhode Island mainland.

The major airports are T. F. Green Airport in Warwick and Logan International Airport in Boston. A commuter rail brings travelers from T.F. Green Airport to Logan International Airport.

Interstate 95 runs diagonally across the state connecting major population centers, while the auxiliary interstate 295 provides a bypass around Providence. Narragansett Bay has a number of bridge crossings connecting Aquidneck Island and Conanicut Island to the mainland, most notably the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge and the Jamestown-Verrazano Bridge. I-95 is one of the nation's deadliest highways, especially during the summer months. "Between 2004 and 2008, there were 36 fatal accidents on the highway, at a rate of nearly one accident for every mile." [74]




University Hall at Brown University is one of the oldest academic buildings in the United States.


Primary and secondary schoolsEdit

Colleges and universitiesEdit

Rhode Island has several colleges and universities:



Beavertail State Park

Redwood Library Newport

Redwood Library and Athenaeum

Some Rhode Islanders speak with a non-rhotic accent that many compare to a "Brooklyn" or a cross between a New York and Boston accent ("water" becomes "wata"). Many Rhode Islanders distinguish the aw sound [ɔː], as one might hear in New Jersey; e.g., the word coffee is pronounced [ˈkɔːfiː] KAW-fee.[75] This type of accent was brought to the region by early settlers from eastern England in the Puritan migration to New England in the mid-seventeenth century.[76]

Rhode Islanders refer to water fountains as "bubblers," (pronounced bub-lhas.)

Nicknamed "The Ocean State", the nautical nature of Rhode Island's geography pervades its culture. Newport Harbor, in particular, holds many pleasure boats. In the lobby of the state's main airport, T. F. Green, is a large life size sailboat,[77] and the state's license plates depict an ocean wave or a sailboat.[78]

Additionally, the large number of beaches in Washington County lures many Rhode Islanders south for summer vacation.[79]

The state was notorious for organized crime activity from the 1950s into the 1990s when the Patriarca crime family held sway over most of New England from its Providence headquarters. Although the power of organized crime has greatly diminished in Rhode Island over the last 20 years, its residents are still stigmatized by popular perceptions of rampant graft and corruption that have haunted the state for decades.

Rhode Islanders developed a unique style of architecture in the 17th century, called the stone-ender.[80]

Rhode Island is the only state to still celebrate Victory over Japan Day. It is known locally as "VJ Day", or simply "Victory Day".[81]

Food and beveragesEdit

Several foods and dishes are unique to Rhode Island and some are hard to find outside of the state.

Hot wieners, which are sometimes called gaggers, weenies, or New York System wieners, are smaller than a standard hot dog, served covered in a meat sauce, chopped onions, mustard, and celery salt.

Famous to Rhode Island is Snail Salad, which is served at numerous restaurants throughout the state. The dish is normally prepared "family style" with over five pounds of snails mixed in with other ingredients commonly found in seafood dishes.[82]

Grinders are submarine sandwiches, with a popular version being the Italian grinder, which is made with cold cuts (usually ham, prosciutto, capicola, salami, and Provolone cheese).

Linguiça (a spicy Portuguese sausage) and peppers, eaten with hearty bread, is also popular among the state's large Portuguese community.

Pizza strips are prepared in Italian bakeries and sold in most supermarkets and convenience stores, they are rectangular strips of pizza without the cheese and are served cold. "Party pizza" is a box of these pizza strips.

Spinach pies are similar to a calzone but filled with seasoned spinach instead of meat, sauce and cheese. Variations can include black olives or pepperoni with the spinach, or broccoli instead of spinach.

As in colonial times, johnny cakes are made with corn meal and water, then pan-fried much like pancakes.

During fairs and carnivals, Rhode Islanders enjoy dough boys, which are plate-sized disks of deep fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar (or pizza sauce).

Rhode Island zeppolas or zeppolis are different; traditionally eaten on Saint Joseph's Day (widely celebrated across the state), St. Joseph's Day zeppolis are doughnut-like pastries with exposed centers of vanilla pudding or ricotta cream, topped with a cherry.


Waterplace Park in Providence

As in many coastal states, seafood is readily available. Shellfish is extremely popular, with clams being used in multiple ways. The quahog (or quahaug, taken from the Narragansett Indian word "poquauhock"; see A Key into the Language of America by Roger Williams 1643) is a large clam usually used in a chowder. It is also ground and mixed with stuffing (and sometimes spicy minced sausage) and then baked in its shell to form a stuffie. Steamed clams are also a very popular dish.

Calamari (squid) is sliced into rings and fried and is served as an appetizer in most Italian restaurants, typically Sicilian-style, i.e. tossed with sliced banana peppers and with marinara sauce on the side.

Rhode Island, like the rest of New England, has a tradition of clam chowder. While both the white New England variety and the red Manhattan variety are popular, there is also a unique clear chowder, known as Rhode Island Clam Chowder available in many restaurants. According to Good Eats, the addition of tomatoes in place of milk was initially the work of Portuguese immigrants in Rhode Island, as tomato-based stews were already a traditional part of Portuguese cuisine, and milk was costlier than tomatoes. Scornful New Englanders called this modified version "Manhattan-style" clam chowder because, in their view, calling someone a New Yorker was an insult.

Perhaps the most unusual culinary tradition in Rhode Island is the clam cake. The clam cake (also known as a clam fritter outside of Rhode Island) is a deep fried ball of buttery dough with chopped bits of clam inside. They are sold by the half-dozen or dozen in most seafood restaurants around the state. The quintessential summer meal in Rhode Island is chowder and clam cakes.

Many Rhode Islanders drizzle French fries with white vinegar. This is almost unheard of in any other state.

Clams Casino originated in Rhode Island after being invented by Julius Keller, the maitre d' in the original Casino next to the seaside Towers in Narragansett.[83] Clams Casino resemble the beloved stuffed quahog but are generally made with the smaller littleneck or cherrystone clam and are unique in their use of bacon as a topping.

According to a Providence Journal article, the state features both the highest number and highest density of coffee/doughnut shops per capita in the country, with 342 coffee/doughnut shops in the state. At one point, Dunkin' Donuts alone had over 225 locations.[84]

The official state drink of Rhode Island is coffee milk,[85] a beverage created by mixing milk with coffee syrup. This unique syrup was invented in the state and is sold in almost all Rhode Island supermarkets, as well as border states. Although coffee milk contains some caffeine, it is sold in school cafeterias throughout the state. Strawberry milk is also as popular as chocolate milk.

Frozen lemonade, a mixture of ice slush, fresh lemons, and sugar is popular in the summer, especially Del's Frozen Lemonade, a company based in Cranston.

Famous Rhode IslandersEdit

Rhode Island State Symbols
Animate insignia
Bird(s) Rhode Island Red Chicken
Fish Striper Bass
Flower(s) Violet
Tree Red maple

Inanimate insignia
Beverage Coffee milk
Food Rhode Island Greening Apple
Mineral Bowenite
Rock Cumberlandite
Shell Northern Quahog
Slogan(s) Unwind, "Hope"
Soil Narragansett
Song(s) Rhode Island,
Rhode Island, It's for Me
Tartan Rhode Island Tartan

Route marker(s)
Rhode Island 3

State Quarter
2001 RI Proof
Released in 2001

Lists of United States state insignia

Popular cultureEdit


The Farrelly brothers and Seth MacFarlane depict Rhode Island in popular culture, often making comedic parodies of the state. MacFarlane's television series Family Guy is based in a fictional Rhode Island city named Quahog, and notable local events and celebrities are regularly lampooned.

The movie High Society, starring Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra, was set in Newport, Rhode Island.

The film adaptation of The Great Gatsby from 1974 was also filmed in Newport.

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and John F. Kennedy were married at St. Mary's church in Newport, RI. Their reception was held at Hammersmith Farm, the Bouvier summer home in Newport.

Cartoonist Don Bousquet, a state icon, has made a career out of Rhode Island culture, drawing Rhode Island-themed gags in the Providence Journal and Yankee magazine. These cartoons have been reprinted in the Quahog series of paperbacks (I Brake for Quahogs, Beware of the Quahog and The Quahog Walks Among Us.) Bousquet has also collaborated with humorist and Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin on two books: The Rhode Island Dictionary and The Rhode Island Handbook.

Writer David Lafleche has written two books based in the semi-fictitious city of Thundermist: Thundermist 04167 and A Week Without Sunshine. ("Thundermist" is accepted as a secondary name of Woonsocket.)

The 1998 film, Meet Joe Black was filmed at Aldrich Mansion in the Warwick Neck area of Warwick, RI.

Additionally, a new television show, "Body of Proof", is being filmed entirely in Rhode Island.[86] The show is set to premiere on 29 March 2011 [87]

Famous firsts in Rhode IslandEdit

File:N3419822 34808146 7175northernRI.jpg
File:N3419822 34808159 585southeastern.jpg

Rhode Island is famous for being the first in many respects; some of the states most "famous firsts" include enacting the first law prohibiting slavery in North America on May 18, 1652.[88] Slater Mill in Pawtucket was the first commercially successful cotton-spinning mill with a fully mechanized power system in America and was the birth place of the Industrial Revolution in the US.[89] The oldest Fourth of July Parade in the country is still held annually in Bristol, Rhode Island. The first Baptist Church in America was founded in Providence in 1638.[90] Ann Smith Franklin of the Newport Mercury was the first female newspaper editor in America (August 22, 1762). She was the editor of "The Newport Mercury" in Newport, Rhode Island.[88] Touro Synagogue, the first synagogue in America, was founded in Newport in 1763.[88] The first armed act of rebellion in America against the British Crown was the boarding and burning of the Revenue Schooner Gaspee in Narragansett Bay on June 10, 1772. The idea of a Continental Congress was first proposed at a town meeting in Providence on May 17, 1774. Rhode Island elected the first delegates (Stephen Hopkins and Samuel Ward) to the Continental Congress on June 15, 1774. The Rhode Island General Assembly created the first standing army in the colonies (1,500 men) on April 22, 1775. On June 15, 1775, the first naval engagement of the American Revolution occurred between a Colonial Sloop commanded by Capt. Abraham Whipple and an armed tender of the British Frigate Rose. The tender was chased aground and captured. Later in June, the General Assembly created the first American Navy when it commissioned the Sloops Katy and Washington, armed with 24 guns and commanded by Abraham Whipple, who was promoted to Commodore. Rhode Island was the first Colony to declare independence from Britain on May 4, 1776.[88] Pelham Street in Newport was the first in America to be illuminated by gaslight in 1806.[88] The first strike in the United States in which women participated occurred in Pawtucket in 1824.[88] Watch Hill has the nation's oldest carousel that has been in continuous operation since 1850.[88] The motion picture machine (a machine showing animated pictures) was patented in Providence on April 23, 1867.[88] The first lunch wagon in America was introduced in Providence in 1872.[88] The first nine hole golf course in America was completed in Newport in 1890.[88] The first state health laboratory was established in Providence on September 1, 1894[88] The Rhode Island State House was the first building with an all-marble dome to be built in the United States (1895–1901)[88] The first automobile race on a track was held in Cranston on September 7, 1896.[88] The first automobile parade was held in Newport on September 7, 1899, on the grounds of Belcourt Castle.[88] The first NFL night game was held on November 6, 1929, at Providence's Kinsley Park. The Chicago (now Arizona) Cardinals defeated the Providence Steam Roller 16–0. In 1980, Rhode Island became the first and only state to decriminalize prostitution, but prostitution was outlawed again in 2009; see Prostitution in Rhode Island.


McCoy Stadium Pan

McCoy Stadium where the Pawtucket Red Sox play baseball


1884 Baseball Champion Providence Grays


University of Rhode Island's Meade Stadium and Ryan Center

Rhode Island has two professional sports teams; both of which are top-level minor league affiliates for teams in Boston. The Pawtucket Red Sox baseball team, of the Triple-A International League, are an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. They play at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket and have won two league titles, the Governors' Cup, in 1973 and 1984. The other professional minor league team is the Providence Bruins ice hockey team, of the American Hockey League, who are an affiliate of the Boston Bruins. They play in the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence and won the AHL's Calder Cup during the 1998–99 AHL season. Additionally, there is a semi-professional rugby team that is part of the US Rugby League, they are the Rhode Island Rebellion and play at Classical Stadium in Providence. The National Football League's New England Patriots and Major League Soccer's New England Revolution play at Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxborough, Massachusetts, approximately 18 miles (29 km) north of Providence.

There are four NCAA Division I schools. The four teams all compete in four different conferences. The Brown University Bears compete in the Ivy League, the Bryant University Bulldogs compete in the Northeast Conference, the Providence College Friars compete in the Big East Conference and the University of Rhode Island Rams compete in the Atlantic-10 Conference. Three of the schools compete in the FCS division for college football. Brown plays FCS football in the Ivy League and Bryant and Rhode Island play FCS football in the Northeast Conference.

Rhode Island also has a long and storied history for athletics. Prior to the great expansion of athletic teams all over the country Providence and Rhode Island in general played a great role in supporting teams. The Providence Grays won the first World Championship in baseball history in 1884. The team played their home games at the old Messer Street Field in Providence. The Grays played in the National League from 1878 to 1885. They defeated the New York Metropolitans of the American Association in a best of five game series at the Polo Grounds in New York. Providence won three straight games to become the first champions in major league baseball history. Babe Ruth played for the minor league Providence Grays of 1914 and hit his only official minor league home run for that team before being recalled by the Grays parent club, the Boston Red Stockings.

A now defunct professional football team, the Providence Steam Roller won the 1928 NFL title. They played in a 10,000 person stadium called the Cycledrome.[91] A team by a similar name, the Providence Steamrollers, played in the Basketball Association of America; which would become the National Basketball Association.

From 1930 to 1983, America's Cup races were sailed off Newport, and the both extreme-sport X Games and Gravity Games were founded and hosted in the state's capital city.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame is in Newport at the Newport Casino, site of the first U.S. National Championships in 1881. The Hall of Fame and Museum were established in 1954 by James Van Alen as "a shrine to the ideals of the game." The Hall of Fame Museum encompasses over 20,000 square feet (1,900 m2) of tennis history, chronicling tennis excellence from the 12th century to today. The Hall of Fame has 13 grass courts, and is the site of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, the only professional tennis event played on grass courts in the United States. The first members of the Hall of Fame were inducted in 1955, and as of 2008, there are 207 players, contributors, and court tennis players in the Hall of Fame.


Rhode Island State Capitol (north facade)

Rhode Island State House

The Breakers Newport

The Breakers Mansion

Nightingale-Brown House

Nightingale-Brown House

The state capitol building is made of white Georgian marble. On top is the world's fourth largest self-supported marble dome.[92] It houses the Rhode Island Charter granted by King Charles II in 1663, the Brown University charter and other state treasures.

The First Baptist Church in America is the oldest Baptist church in the Americas, founded by Roger Williams in 1638.

The first fully automated post office in the country is located in Providence. There are many historic mansions in the seaside city of Newport, including The Breakers, Marble House and Belcourt Castle. Also located there is the Touro Synagogue, dedicated on December 2, 1763, considered by locals to be the first synagogue within the United States (see below for information on New York City's claim), and still serving. The synagogue showcases the religious freedoms that were established by Roger Williams as well as impressive architecture in a mix of the classic colonial and Sephardic style. The Newport Casino is a National Historic Landmark building complex that presently houses the International Tennis Hall of Fame and features an active grass-court tennis club.

Scenic Route 1A (known locally as Ocean Road) is in Narragansett. "The Towers", a large stone arch, is located in Narragansett. It was once the entrance to a famous Narragansett casino that burned down in 1900. The towers now serve as a tourist information center.

The Newport Tower has been hypothesized to be of Viking origin, although most experts believe it was a Colonial-era windmill.

Founding Families Edit

  • Barton
  • Gould
  • Greene
  • Williams

Prominent Figures in the History of Rhode Island and Providence PlantationsEdit

See alsoEdit


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Primary sourcesEdit

Secondary sourcesEdit

  • Adams, James Truslow. The Founding of New England (1921)
  • Adams, James Truslow. Revolutionary New England, 1691–1776 (1923)
  • Adams, James Truslow. New England in the Republic, 1776–1850 (1926)
  • Andrews, Charles M. The Fathers of New England: A Chronicle of the Puritan Commonwealths (1919). Short survey by leading scholar.
  • Axtell, James, ed. The American People in Colonial New England (1973), new social history
  • Brewer, Daniel Chauncey. Conquest of New England by the Immigrant (1926).
  • Coleman, Peter J. The Transformation of Rhode Island, 1790–1860 (1963)
  • Conforti, Joseph A. Imagining New England: Explorations of Regional Identity from the Pilgrims to the Mid-Twentieth Century (2001)
  • Dennison, George M. The Dorr War: Republicanism on Trial, 1831–1861 (1976)
  • Hall, Donald, ed. Encyclopedia of New England (2005)
  • Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (1998)
  • Lovejoy, David S. Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution, 1760–1776 (1969)
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  • Zimmerman, Joseph F. The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action. (1999)

External linksEdit

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Preceded by
North Carolina
List of U.S. states by date of statehood
Ratified Constitution on May 29, 1790 (13th)
Succeeded by

Coordinates: 41°42′N 71°30′W / 41.7, -71.5

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