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Rhode Island

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Rhode Island

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (commonly known as Rhode Island) is geographically the smallest state in the United States, and the state with the longest official name. Rhode (pronounced "Road") Island is part of the New England region, and was one of the thirteen original American colonies that declared independence against British rule to begin the American Revolution.

The state's common name, Rhode Island, actually refers to the largest island in Narragansett Bay, also known as Aquidneck Island, on which the city of Newport is located. The origin of the name is unclear. Some historians think that Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, upon discovering Block Island, just southwest in the Atlantic Ocean, named it Rhode Island because of its similarity in shape to the Greek island of Rhodes. Later settlers, mistaking which island Verrazzano was referring to, gave the name to Aquidneck Island instead. Other historians believe that the name is derived from Roodt Eylandt, Dutch for "red island," given to the island by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block due to the red clay on the island's shore.

Despite the fact that most of the state is part of the mainland, the name Rhode Island leads some out-of-staters to erroneously believe that the entire state is an island. Nicknamed "The Ocean State," every point in the state is within 30 miles of sea water.


Capital Providence  
Largest City Providence
Governor (2005) Donald Carcieri (R)
- Total
- Land
- Water
- % water

4,005 km² (50th)
2,709 km²
1,296 km²
- Total (2000)
- Density

1,048,319 (43rd)
387.35 /km² (2nd)
Admittance into Union
- Date
- Order

May 29, 1790
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5/-4
41°18'N to 42°1'N
71°8'W to 71°53'W
- Highest
- Mean
- Lowest
50 km
65 km

247 m
60 m
0 m
ISO 3166-2 US-RI
State nickname The Ocean State, Little Rhody


Rhode Island 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 water border with New York. Narragansett Bay is a major feature of the state's topography. Block Island, known for its beaches, 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. Among the other islands in the Bay are Hope, Prudence, and Despair.

Rhode Island is mostly flat with no real mountains. Rhode Island's highest point is Jerimoth Hill, only 812 feet (247 m) above sea level.


In 1614 the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block visited the island that is now called Block Island.

In 1636 Roger Williams, after being banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious views, settled at the tip of Narragansett Bay near the Moshassuck River. He called the site Providence and declared it a place of religious freedom for Baptist settlers. Historically, the land is unique because it was purchased twice, once from the King of England, and once from the Native American tribes which lived on the land.

In 1637 Anne Hutchinson was banished from Massachusetts for expressing her beliefs that people could talk to God by themselves, not necessarily through a minister. She and some others, including William Coddington and John Clarke, founded the town of Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island. In 1639 Coddington left Portsmouth and founded Newport on Aquidneck Island.

In that same year a formal government was established for the island. William Coddington was the first governor and Philip Sherman was the first Secretary. In 1643 Samuel Gorton founded Shawomet, which is now called Warwick.

In 1644 the name of Aquidneck Island was changed to Rhode Island.

On May 18, 1652 Rhode Island passed the first law in North America making slavery illegal.

Charles II of England granted John Clarke a Royal Charter on July 8, 1663 to Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, which effectively united the two colonies into one. (edit: Britain was under the control of the short-lived republic, thus no Royal Charter was granted to Rhode Island, instead the House of Commons was the only governing body available to issue a charter. This is unique to Rhode Island and the only colony to be issued a charter without the consent of the crown.) Rhode Island was the only one of the thirteen colonies that had complete religious freedom. Under the terms of the charter, only landowners could vote. Before the Industrial Revolution, when most people were employed as farmers, this was considered democratic. The royal charter was used as the state constitution until 1842.

In 1664 the seal of the colony was adopted. It pictured an anchor and the word HOPE.

King Philip's War occurred during 1675–1676. King Philip (Metacomet) was the chief of the Wampanoag Indians. The settlers of Portsmouth had purchased their land from his father, Massasoit. King Philip rebelled against the English. The first attacks were around Narrangansett Bay but spread throughout New England.

Rhode Island was the first of the British colonies in America to declare its independence on May 4, 1776. Rhode Island was the last of the original 13 states to ratify the United States Constitution (May 29, 1790) doing so after being threatened of having its exports taxed as a foreign nation.

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.

Several attempts had been made to address this problem, but none passed. 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 collapsed, a modified version of the constitution was passed in November, which allowed any white male to vote that owned land or could pay a $1 poll tax.

Law and Government

The capital of Rhode Island is Providence and its current governor is Donald Carcieri (Republican). Its two U.S. Senators are John "Jack" Reed (Democrat) and Lincoln Chafee (Republican). Its two U.S. Congressmen are Patrick J. Kennedy (Democrat, district one) and Jim Langevin (Democrat, district two).

Rhode Island tends to vote Democratic in presidential elections and has done so consistently from 1988 through 2004. The state supported Republicans until 1908, in 1916–1924, 1952 and 1956, in 1972, and in 1984. In 2004, Rhode Island gave John Kerry a greater than 20 percentage point margin of victory (the third highest of any state) with 59.4% of its vote. All five counties in the state supported the Democratic candidate.


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's agricultural outputs are nursery stock, vegetables, dairy products, and eggs. Its industrial outputs are fashion jewelry, fabricated metal products, electric equipment, machinery, shipbuilding and boatbuilding, and tourism.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2003, Rhode Island's population was estimated at 1,076,164 people.

The racial makeup of the state is:

81.9% White
8.7% Hispanic
4.5% Black
2.3% Asian
0.5% Native American
2.7% Mixed race
The five largest ancestry groups in Rhode Island are: Italian (19%), Irish (18.4%), English (12%), French (10.9%), Portuguese (8.7%).

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 Italian-Americans (concentrated in the city of Providence) and a higher percentage of Americans of Portuguese ancestry (who dominate Bristol county) than any other state in the nation. French Canadians form a large part of Northern Providence county whereas Irish-Americans have strong presence Newport and Kent county. Yankees of English ancestry still have a presence in the state as well, especially in Washington county.


The religious affiliations of the people of Rhode Island are:

Christian – 81%
Roman Catholic – 52%
Protestant – 28%
Episcopal – 8%
Baptist – 6%
Other Protestant – 14%
Other Christian – 1%
Jewish – 2%
Other Religions – 1%
Non-Religious – 16%

Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Catholics in the nation due to large Irish, Italian, French Canadian, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, and Cape Verdean communities in the state.

Historical populations


Important Cities and Towns



Providence is home to a number of schools including Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Providence College.

Rhode Island has several state colleges and universities, the University of Rhode Island, located in Kingston in the southern part of the state and Rhode Island College in Providence.

Colleges and Universities

Gibbs College
Brown University
Bryant University (a business school)
Johnson & Wales University
Naval War College
New England Institute of Technology
Community College of Rhode Island
Providence College
Rhode Island College
Rhode Island School of Design
Roger Williams University
Salve Regina University
University of Rhode Island

Professional Sports Teams

Pawtucket Red Sox, AAA (minor league baseball) affiliate of the Boston Red Sox
Providence Bruins, AHL (minor league hockey) affiliate of the Boston Bruins


State symbols

State motto: Hope
State bird: Rhode Island Red (A hen)
State flower: Violet
State tree: Red Maple
State fish: Striped Bass
State fruit: Rhode Island greening (Apple)
State nicknames: The Ocean State, Little Rhody, The Littlest State
State rock: Cumberlandite
State mineral: Bowenite (a variety of serpentine)
State shell: Quahog
State drink: Coffee Milk

Famous Rhode Islanders

  • Harry Anderson, comedian, born in Newport
  • Ambrose Burnside, general and governor but not a native
  • George M. Cohan, dramatist, born in Providence
  • Nelson Eddy, entertainer, born in Providence
  • Bobby Farrelly, writer, director born in Cumberland
  • Spalding Gray, writer, actor born in Barrington
  • Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War general, second in command to Washington, born in Potowomut, Warwick
  • Bobby Hackett, trumpet player, born in Providence
  • David Hartman, television newscaster, born in Pawtucket
  • Van Johnson, entertainer, born in Newport
  • Napoleon Lajoie, baseball player, born in Woonsocket
  • Davey Lopes, basebal player, born in East Providence
  • H. P. Lovecraft, author, born in Providence
  • Oliver Hazard Perry, naval officer, born in South Kingstown
  • Gilbert Stuart, painter, born in Saunderstown
  • Mena Suvari, actress, born in Newport
  • Meredith Vieira, television personality, born in East Providence
  • Abraham Whipple, prominent naval commander during the American Revolution
  • Roger Williams (theologian), co-founder of colony and early proponent of religious freedom and separation of church and state


The above article in gray is licensed under the
GNU Free Documentation License
It uses material from the
Wikipedia article "Rhode Island"

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