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Revised 27 December 2010


Rhode Island was first known to have been visited in 1524 by Giovanni de Verazano of Florentine.  He visited the area later known as Block Island, named for Dutch mariner, Adrian Block, who visited there in 1614  and the site of what is now Newport, on Aguidneck Island.  He was at the time, a privateer in the French Service.

In 1646, a Welshman by the name of Roger Williams brought his followers to Rhode Island and established the first settlement at providence.  He had been banished from Massachusetts because of his religious views.  .  Roger Williams led a group of religious dissenters, who were at odds with the older Massachusetts colony members hard line Puritan theocracy.  He held two beliefs that were deemed unorthodox at that time, 1) that Church membership should not be a requirement for participation in civic life and 2) that New England lands rightfully belonged to their native inhabitants and that they were not the King's to give away.  All land settled by Mr. Williams was purchased from the Indians.  Many Quakers settled in Rhode Island in its early history.   

Roger Williams group founded settlements at the head of Narragansett Bay and called them Providence Plantations.  Williams move to Rhode Island was soon joined by Anne Marbury Hutchinson, John Clarke and William Coddington.  These established a colony at Portsmouth in 1638.  Later, Clark and Coddington moved and settled in the area of Newport.  They had attempted to establish a government based on the Jewish nation, but this failed.  In 1642, a fourth colony was established in Warwick.  

In 1663, Rhode Island was granted a royal charter by King Charles and this new colony, which was founded on principles fair to the Native Americans was interrupted when "King Philip's War" of 1675-66 broke out.  King Philip was a nickname given to Metacomet, a Wampanoag chief, by the British.  He was given the Christian name of Philip by his father.  King Philip joined the Narragansett Indians to fight the English settlers.  They lost the hold on their lands in the Great Swamp Fight of 1675 at Kingston.  

Rhode Island's merchants owned large shipping fleets during the colonial period.  It was a major participant in the notorious "triangular trade" routes.  Ships leaving Newport, Rhode Island would carry cargo of rum and iron to the Gold Cost of Africa where the goods would be traded for African Slaves.  The Slaves and a cargo of spices and gold dust would sail to the West Indies on the "Middle Passage", where they would be sold for Molasses, sugar, salt, rice, white, and British bills of exchange then the boats would return to Newport and the cycle would begin anew.  Upon all revenue from these trades, the English extracted taxes and tariffs.  In 1772, the Colonists burned the Gaspe, a British revenue cutter, in protest to the trade restrictions.  Finally, in 1774, Rhode Island passed laws prohibiting the importation of slaves.  

On 4 May 1776, two months before the Continental Congress was held, Rhode Island had had enough and became the first American colony to declare independence from Great Britain.  In spite of this initial action for independence, Rhode Island was the last colony to ratify the U. S. Constitution because its merchants feared the taxation authority of a strong federal government.  On 29 May, 1790. Rhode Island finally agreed to the governmental concepts and ratified the Constitution to become the 13th state in the new Union of the United States of America.   The primary ethnicity of Rhode Island was Italians, English, Irish, Polish, Russians, Swedes, Germans and Austrians.

Name Date Formed Parent County County Seat
Bristol 1747 Newport Bristol
Kent 1750 Providence, Newport East Greenwich
Newport 1703 Original County Newport
Providence 1703 Original County Providence
Washington 1729 Newport (Formerly Naragannset) West Kingston