Rhode Island, state in the northeastern United States, in New England, officially the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island became the first of the 13 original colonies to declare its independence from Great Britain. However, it was the last of the 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution of the United States, doing so on May 29, 1790. The smallest state in the Union, it is, after New Jersey, the second most densely populated and one of the most highly industrialized. Its name is a paradox, since most of the state is part of the North American mainland. The name Rhode Island is the official name of the largest island of Narragansett Bay, an estuary that extends through the eastern part of the state. On most maps of the United States, the state appears so small that it is difficult to identify, but its influence is more widely felt than its tiny size would warrant. Providence is Rhode Island’s capital and its largest city.
Settlement of Rhode Island dates from 1636, when Roger Williams founded Providence after he had been banished from Massachusetts because of religious and political conflicts with the Puritans. This background of dissent made the colony tolerant of other religious groups.
Rhode Island prospered initially from the sea. Narragansett Bay, having some of the finest harbors on the Atlantic Seaboard, sheltered merchant vessels, privateers, slave runners, and even pirates. With the decline of high profits from maritime commerce, Rhode Island turned in the 1790s to manufacturing. The development of textile manufacturing, along with that of machinery, metal products, jewelry, and silverware, led to such a concentration of industry and population that Rhode Island has virtually become a city-state. However, there remains much unspoiled beauty in the islands and inlets of Narragansett Bay, in the lagoons and salt marshes of the Atlantic shore, and in the rolling hills of Block Island, about 16 km (about 10 mi) out at sea.
Historians disagree over the source of the name Rhode Island. Some claim that it was first used by the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, when he compared Block Island to the island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean. Others maintained that the name is a corruption of Roodt Eylandt (Red Island), the name applied to Aquidneck Island in 1614 by the Dutch navigator Adriaen Block because of the red clay on the island’s shore. Roger Williams, the English Puritan who founded the Rhode Island colony, was the first to refer to Aquidneck as Rhode Island. The name was incorporated into the official title of the colony in 1663 and, later, of the state. Rhode Island’s official nickname is the Ocean State. The state’s small size led to the emergence of what is now its most common, although unofficial, nickname, Little Rhody.
Rhode Island covers an area of only 4,002 sq km (1,545 sq mi), including 461 sq km (178 sq mi) of inland water and 23 sq km (9 sq mi) of coastal water over which it has jurisdiction. Roughly rectangular in shape, its maximum extent east to west is 64 km (40 mi), while the distance from its northern border to the southern edge of Block Island is 98 km (61 mi). The mean elevation is 60 m (200 ft).
Rhode Island lies wholly within the New England province of the Appalachian Region, or Appalachian Highland, and can be divided into two natural regions. In eastern Rhode Island are the lowlands of the Narragansett Basin, which is a part of New England’s Seaboard Lowland. The west forms part of the New England Upland.
The Narragansett Basin occupies the eastern third of Rhode Island and is a low-lying area of sands and clays. Few points in the basin rise to more than 60 m (200 ft) above sea level. Narragansett Bay and its tributary bays cut deeply into the region. To the east of Narragansett Bay are several low ridges of sedimentary rock that rise above the surrounding lowland. West of the bay the land is more gently rolling and there are many small lakes and ponds. To the extent that there is agriculture in Rhode Island, the Narragansett Basin is the state’s chief farming region.
The New England Upland occupies the western two-thirds of Rhode Island. It is underlain by granite and other resistant crystalline rocks and rises sharply from about 60 m (about 200 ft) at the edge of the Narragansett Basin. Jerimoth Hill, 247 m (812 ft) above sea level and the state’s highest point, is located in this region near the Connecticut state line. The surface of the upland is generally rocky. There are some farms and much woodland.
|B||Rivers and Lakes|
Except for a small area along the border with Connecticut, all of northern Rhode Island is drained by river systems that discharge into Narragansett Bay, while rivers in the south drain directly into the Atlantic Ocean. The largest drainage region that is entirely within the state is that of the Pawtuxet River system. It extends over one-fourth of the state’s land area. Many of the rivers are interrupted by small waterfalls and rapids, which were a valuable source of waterpower for Rhode Island’s earliest industries, and which powered the much more significant textile industry when it developed during the 19th century. The Blackstone River is the longest and most important of the state’s rivers. It crosses from Massachusetts into Rhode Island near Woonsocket and then flows southeast, joining the Seekonk River at Pawtucket. Other rivers are the Woonasquatucket and the Moshassuck, which join shortly before entering the Providence River, and the Pawcatuck, which drains southwestern Rhode Island and forms part of the Connecticut-Rhode Island border.
Rhode Island has no large natural lakes, but there are 383 lakes and ponds that have surface areas of 20 hectares (50 acres) or greater. Extending over 419 hectares (1,036 acres), Worden Pond is the largest natural freshwater body in the state. Among the impoundments, the Scituate Reservoir is largest at 1,470 hectares (3,633 acres). Created by damming the North Branch of the Pawtuxet River, it supplies water to more than one-half the population of Rhode Island.
Rhode Island fronts the Atlantic Ocean for 64 km (40 mi), but Narragansett Bay and numerous inlets result in the state having a tidal shoreline of 618 km (384 mi). Extending inland for 42 km (26 mi) to Providence, Narragansett Bay is the state’s dominant natural feature. Located in the bay are the islands of Rhode (also known as Aquidneck), Conanicut, and Prudence, as well as more than 30 smaller islands. The principal arms of the bay are known as rivers. They include the Seekonk and Providence rivers, which are a continuation of the Blackstone River, and the Sakonnet River, which is located between Rhode Island and the mainland. Long, sandy barrier beaches, backed by shallow lagoons and marshes, border the Atlantic Ocean from the entrance of Narragansett Bay to the state border with Connecticut. The coastline east of the bay is characterized by rocky headlands interspersed with sandy beaches.
Rhode Island has a humid continental climate, but the extremes of winter cold and summer heat usually associated with this type of climate are moderated in Rhode Island by the Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay. At Warwick, near the center of the state, the January mean temperature is -2° C (28° F) and the July mean is 27° C (73° F). Along the northern state line, the January mean temperature is about 1° C (about 2° F) colder than in Warwick in January. Along the ocean coast, the January mean temperature is -1° C (30° F). Warm season temperatures are also influenced by the ocean and bay, so temperatures are usually cooler along the coast than in the interior. The difference tends to be greatest in spring and early summer. Winter temperatures in Rhode Island are usually above -7° C (20° F), but temperatures colder by about 10° C (about 20° F) have been recorded in all locations of the state. Days with temperatures in the mid-30°s C (lower 90°s F) are infrequent.
Rhode Island has a relatively wet climate, with precipitation rather evenly distributed throughout the year. Average annual precipitation for Providence and vicinity is 1,160 mm (46 in). Amounts are slightly less in the southeast and slightly greater in the northwest. Annual snowfall averages 890 mm (35 in), but actual totals in any given year can vary widely. Because of the moderating effects of the bay and ocean, snowfall is generally much less in the southern part of the state than in the interior. In the summer months there are occasional thunderstorms, which tend to be of limited severity. Hail is infrequent. Hurricanes occur with a frequency of about every 10 to 15 years. The most severe hurricane of the 20th century occurred in 1938, resulting in 262 deaths and extensive property damage. High winds often accompany winter storms.
The growing season, or period from the last killing frost in spring to the first killing frost in fall, is 190 days long in the low-lying eastern and southwestern sections and from 140 to 180 days long over the remainder of the state. The first killing frost in fall generally occurs in the first three weeks of October, and the last spring frost near the end of April.
Most of the soils of Rhode Island are classified as typic dystrochrepts. These soils, typically found in areas with cool and rainy climates, are generally acidic, but they can be made productive by the addition of lime and organic fertilizer. The soils of southeastern Rhode Island are generally deep and comparatively free of stone and gravel, making them the best agricultural soils in the state. Soils in the western part of Rhode Island are sandier and stonier in texture. Steep slopes and large boulders deposited by glaciers obstruct agriculture in many locations, particularly in the north and west.
While 58 percent of Rhode Island is forested, only a few areas possess stands of timber suitable for use as lumber, and the chief value of the forests is for recreation. The principal trees are deciduous, and their leaves take on magnificent fall colors for a short period in October. White, black, scarlet, and scrub oaks are among the most common trees, and ash, hickory, elm, sassafras, willow, birch, and American beech are also found. The state tree is the red maple, which is found in wet areas of the state. Coniferous trees in the state include white pine, eastern hemlock, pitch pine, and red cedar.
Common wildflowers include the violet, which is the state flower, and daisies, bloodroots, trilliums, lilies, jack-in-the-pulpits, hepaticas, and the trailing arbutus. Asters, goldenrods, blue gentians, irises, and pimpernels are also found. Flowering dogwoods, rhododendrons, and mountain laurels color many wooded areas in spring, and the red berries of the American holly add a touch of color to the winter scene.
Although white-tailed deer are considered Rhode Island’s only large wild animal, moose and black bear occasionally cross the Connecticut and Massachusetts border in the state. Among the smaller animals native to the state are the raccoon, gray squirrel, woodchuck, and muskrat. Skunks, opossums, mink, coyotes, and red foxes are also numerous, as are salamanders, turtles, and snakes.
About 350 different species of birds have been observed in the state. Many are seasonal residents or transients who visit during their spring and fall migrations along the Atlantic Flyway. Along the coastal areas are various species of ducks, gulls, herons, rail, geese, cormorants, and terns. In some areas, shearwaters, petrels, gannets, and other seabirds have been observed. Common in the inland areas are the red-tailed hawk, osprey, black-capped chickadee, blue jay, bobwhite, ruffed grouse, robin, catbird, and various kinds of warblers. The wild turkey has been successfully reintroduced to the state and is common in the western half. Block Island is frequented by large numbers of migratory birds. The Rhode Island Red breed of chicken was developed at Little Compton in 1854 and is the state bird.
Rhode Island’s marine waters abound in flounder, butterfish, mackerel, tuna, scup, cod, angler, and whiting, all of which are caught commercially. Popular game fish include striped bass, tautog (blackfish), bluefin tuna, and swordfish. Quahogs, which are a large and strongly flavored type of clam, and scallops, oysters, crabs, and lobsters are taken along the coast. Freshwater fish include black bass, yellow perch, white perch, and the brook, rainbow, and brown trout.
Rhode Island’s environmental protection activities are handled by the department of environmental management, which is also responsible for parks, natural resource protection, fish and wildlife, and agricultural programs. Many of the department’s activities are aimed at protecting the remaining open space in the state. For example, the state has a forestry program, a shorelands protection program, and a wetlands management program.
Progress was being made in efforts to reduce pollution; in the period 1995–2000, the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into the environment was reduced by 65 percent.
Rhode Island’s air quality is generally good. Except for four days in which levels of ozone exceeded federal standards, in 1995 all five counties in Rhode Island met federal goals. The state has devoted much effort to regulating the emission of toxic air pollutants from industries.
Rhode Island’s hazardous waste management laws predate those of the federal government and are generally more stringent. Most of Rhode Island’s hazardous waste is shipped to other states for disposal. In 2006 the state had 12 hazardous waste sites on a federal priority list for cleanup because of their severity or proximity to people. Rhode Island has a large state-owned solid waste landfill. The state devotes much effort to such solid waste problems as landfill capacity, resource recovery, and recycling. Of the 39 municipalities, all have a recycling program, nearly all of which require mandatory participation.
Water management is important because of the state’s high concentration of people near its wetlands and shoreline. Pollutants such as those from sewage treatment plants remain a problem in some parts of the state. Improvements are being made, the most significant being a reconstruction of the state’s largest sewage treatment plant, located in Providence. Heavy rains cause combined sewage and stormwater runoff systems in metropolitan Providence to overwhelm treatment facilities, resulting in inadequately treated effluent entering Narragansett Bay. Overall, significant improvements are being made in the quality of both freshwater and saltwater in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island is faced with an increasing number of applications to construct on its remaining wetlands. The state is one of very few to coordinate its wetlands permit program with the “dredge and fill” permit program of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. This coordination helps protect the wetlands from development.
Shipbuilding and commerce became major occupations toward the end of the 17th century. From then until the American Revolution (1775-1783) the colony profited from a prosperous triangular trade in rum, sugar and molasses, and slaves. Following the decline of the triangular trade after the American Revolution, whaling and the manufacture of spermaceti candles from sperm oil, which is from the head and blubber of the sperm whale, became major economic activities. Rhode Island merchants became active in China and other parts of East Asia. However, whaling and commerce gradually declined after 1790, and Rhode Island began to concentrate instead on manufacturing industries.
Rhode Island was one of the first states to industrialize. Because Samuel Slater built the first successful American cotton mill in the state in 1793, Rhode Island is sometimes referred to as the cradle of the American factory system. Several of the major industries of present-day Rhode Island, including metalworking, textile manufacturing, and the manufacture of costume jewelry, date back to before 1800.
Rhode Island had a work force of 577,000 in 2006. Representing 40 percent of the state’s employment, the service industries constituted the largest job sector. The category includes a wide variety of work, ranging from office jobs to auto repair. Retail or wholesale trade employed 20 percent of the job holders; 10 percent work in manufacturing; 13 in federal, state, or local government, including those people in the military; 18 percent in finance, insurance, or real estate; 4 percent in construction; 16 percent in transportation or public utilities; and 1 percent in farming (including agricultural services), forestry, or fishing. Mining employment is insignificant. In 2005, 16 percent of Rhode Island’s workers were members of a labor union. The state has one of the nation’s few unionized work forces that increased in size during the 1990s.
In 2005 there were 850 farms in the state, 42 percent of which earned more than $10,000 annually. Many of the rest were sidelines for operators who also held jobs off the farm. Farmland occupied 24,281 hectares (60,000 acres), or one-tenth of the state’s land area. Cropland accounted for 38 percent of the land on farms, with most of the rest devoted to pasture or wood lots.
Crop sales generated 85 percent of Rhode Island’s total farm income in 2004. More than three-fifths of all farm income came from sales of greenhouse and nursery products. Of the few crops raised in the state, hay, sweet corn, and potatoes are the most valuable. Fruits, particularly apples, are also grown. The principal livestock products are milk and eggs. Rhode Island’s small amount of agricultural land ranks the state near the bottom in comparison to other states in the value of its farm output. Only Alaska produces less.
Fishing has been a significant activity in Rhode Island since the colonial period. In recent years, lobster has been the most important commercial landing, representing one-quarter of the value of the state’s total catch. Other important catches are squid, representing one-fifth of the total catch value, and quahogs, which are a type of clam. Finfishes of commercial importance include mackerel, goosefish, flounder, silver hake, butterfish, herring, scups, and skates. Freshwater fishes caught for recreation include black bass, yellow perch, white perch, and brook, rainbow, and brown trout.
The distribution of manufacturing plants in the state still reflects the early patterns of industrial development. Because of Rhode Island’s early industrialization at a time when industry depended on waterpower, the older industrial areas in Rhode Island lie along the Blackstone, Pawtucket, and Pawtuxet rivers. Woonsocket, Pawtucket, Central Falls, Providence, Cranston, and Warwick are the major manufacturing centers.
The manufacture of jewelry and silverware is one of Rhode Island’s leading industries. The state is an important center for the production of both costume and precious jewelry and is also the home of many of America’s leading silversmiths. Textile manufacturing, for years the state’s leading economic activity, declined in the second half of the 20th century but still contributes substantially to the state’s economy. Much of the fine lace produced in the United States is made in Rhode Island. Many yarns, woolens, worsteds, synthetic fabrics, knitted goods, and other high-quality textiles are also produced. Other industries that contribute substantially to Rhode Island’s economy are those making fabricated metal components, particularly structural metal used in buildings; industries producing electrical equipment, especially that used in lighting and wiring; makers of machinery and parts for other industries; manufacturers of instruments, such as surgical appliances and navigation equipment; manufacturers of plastic goods; printers and publishers; industries forging primary metals such as steel and aluminum; and firms that process food.
All the electricity generated in Rhode Island comes from steam-driven power plants fueled by oil or natural gas. The Narragansett Electric Company is responsible for about four-fifths of the electricity which is produced in the state.
Rhode Island is a popular vacation state, attracting visitors with its sandy beaches, historic sites, and recreational opportunities such as boating and fishing. Tourists are drawn to Block Island and other coastal locations as well as the resort city of Newport, noted for its opulent mansions, some of which are open to the public. Visitors to the state spend $1.4 billion annually.
Prior to the advent of the railroads, Narragansett Bay was Rhode Island’s principal transportation route. However, water transportation is now relatively less important, surpassed first by rail and then by highway links.
Only one freight railway operates in Rhode Island, the regional Providence and Worcester Railroad. Waste and scrap compose most of the tonnage of goods shipped by rail and originating in Rhode Island. The railroad also carries stone, chemicals, and fabricated metals. The state has 164 km (102 mi) of track. The only passenger train service is provided by the Washington-Boston Amtrak link that passes through the state.
In 2005 Rhode Island had 10,446 km (6,491 mi) of roads, of which 114 km (71 mi) were part of the federal interstate highway system. The principal route is Interstate 95, which crosses the state from the southwest to northeast, passing through Providence. Interstate 295 forms a belt around the city.
Theodore Francis Green State Airport, located south of downtown Providence, is one of six state-operated airports. Each year in the mid-1990s more than 1 million passengers boarded or departed aircraft at the airport, making it by far the busiest of the state facilities.
Year-round ferry service is provided between Galilee and Block Island. Additional routes to the island are active in summer months. There is also year-round ferry service between Bristol and Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay.
Providence and East Providence constitute a port at the head of navigation in Narragansett Bay. About three-fourths of the port’s cargo tonnage is inbound petroleum products. Steel, road salt, and lumber are also received. Scrap metal is the principal outbound cargo. The second most important port activity in the bay is the import of automobiles at the former Davisville naval base.
The heavy concentration of retail outlets has migrated from downtown Providence to suburban Warwick, where major malls and other outlets now can be found. Downtown Providence retains its concentration of business offices and firms engaged in the legal profession. Much of the vacated retail space has been renovated or reconstructed to serve the needs of nearby colleges.
|IV||THE PEOPLE OF RHODE ISLAND|
According to the 2000 national census, Rhode Island ranked 43rd among the states, with a total population of 1,048,319. This represented an increase of 4.5 percent over the 1990 census figure of 1,003,464. The average population density of 394 persons per sq km (1,022 per sq mi) in 2006 is the second highest in the United States, behind only New Jersey. Some 91 percent of the people live in urban areas.
According to the 2000 census, whites constitute 85 percent of the people, blacks 4.5 percent, Asians 2.3 percent, Native Americans 0.5, Native Hawaiians and other Pacifid Islanders 0.1 percent, and those of mixed heritage or not reporting race 7.7 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 8.7 percent of the people.
The principal cities of Rhode Island are Providence, Pawtucket, Warwick, Cranston, and Woonsocket, all of which are part of a larger continuous urban area that is defined by the Bureau of the Census as the Providence-Warwick-Pawtucket metropolitan area. This metropolitan area had a total population of 1,612,989 in 2006. Providence, the state capital, is the largest city in Rhode Island and had a total population of 175,255 in 2006. A great mercantile city in the past, Providence is now primarily an industrial and educational center. Warwick, with a population of 85,925, has some textile mills and electronics plants but is mainly a residential suburb of Providence and a retail trade center. Cranston, with a population of 81,479, is a center for textile printing, machinery, machine tools, and fire extinguishers. Pawtucket, with 72,998 residents, is famous as the site of the first successful American cotton mill, built by Samuel Slater, and is still primarily a textile center and a world leader in toy production. Woonsocket, with a population of 43,940, is primarily a textile center. Newport, which is outside the Providence-Pawtucket metropolitan area, had a population of 24,409 and is noted as a summer resort and yachting center.
Early in its history, Rhode Island was a haven for persons who held religious beliefs that were unpopular elsewhere in the colonies. Among the early settlers were Baptists, Quakers, Anglicans, Congregationalists, and Jews. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, many other denominations came to be represented among the people of Rhode Island. Among them were the Methodist, Presbyterian, Unitarian, and Universalist churches. Immigration from Europe and also French Canada in the 19th century resulted in the growth of the Roman Catholic population. By 1910 a majority of the population was Catholic.
The Roman Catholic church still has more members than any other church in Rhode Island, with more than three-fifths of all churchgoers. The next largest religious groups in the state are the Protestant Baptists and Episcopalians and Jewish adherents.
|V||EDUCATION AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS|
The first public school in present-day Rhode Island was established at Newport in 1640. Although it was short-lived, a number of private schools were subsequently opened. Although state laws providing for a statewide public school system were passed in 1800 and repealed in 1803, a public school system was created and maintained in Providence. State legislation enacted in 1828 effectively arranged for statewide public education, with state aid for local schools. In the 1840s the noted educator Henry Barnard conducted a survey of Rhode Island’s public schools and succeeded in obtaining major education reforms. The so-called Barnard school law, which was passed by the state legislature in 1845, instituted a progressive, centralized state school system with statewide standards for instruction.
School attendance is compulsory in Rhode Island for all children from the age of 6 to 16. Parochial and other private schools enroll 16 percent of the state’s children.
In the 2002–2003 school year Rhode Island spent $10,731 on each student’s education, compared to a national average of $9,299. There were 13.4 students for every teacher, giving the state one of the smallest average class sizes in the nation, where the average was 15.9 students per teacher. Of those older than 25 years of age in 2006, 82.4 percent had a high school diploma; the country as a whole averaged 84.1 percent.
The oldest institution of higher education in Rhode Island is Brown University, in Providence. Chartered in 1764 as Rhode Island College, it was the first college to be founded in Rhode Island and the seventh to be established in the United States. Originally located in Warren, it was moved to Providence in 1770 and received its present name in 1804. The Rhode Island School of Design, which is also located in Providence, includes divisions providing instruction in fine arts, architecture, and textiles. In Newport is the U.S. Naval War College, which provides specialized postgraduate instruction for commissioned officers in the armed forces of the United States and its allies.
The state-supported University of Rhode Island was founded in 1892 as Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. Originally established as a land-grant college, the university was also designated as a sea-grant college in 1971. In addition to its main campus in Kingston, the university maintains campuses in Providence and other communities in the state. Rhode Island College, in Providence, is also a state supported institution, as is the Community College of Rhode Island, which has campuses in Providence, Warwick, and Lincoln. Other noted institutions include Johnson & Wales University and Providence College, both in Providence; Roger Williams College, in Bristol; and Salve Regina University, in Newport. In 2004–2005 the state had 3 public and 11 private institutions of higher learning.
Each of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities has at least one public library, for a total of 48 tax-supported systems, and all the institutions of higher learning have at least one library each. There are also about 30 specialized libraries, some open to the public, in the state. Libraries circulate an average of 6.8 books for every resident each year. The Office of Library and Information Services coordinates a wide variety of services and library development. The largest public library in the state is the Providence Public Library, which includes notable special collections on the American Civil War (1861-1865) and slavery, and on printing, whaling, juvenile literature, and Irish culture. The oldest library in the state is the Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, which was founded in 1747. Brown University libraries include the John Hay Library. This library’s collections include the Annmary Brown Memorial Collection, one of the country’s largest and most important accumulation of books printed through the year 1500; the Broadsides Collection, featuring examples of single-sheet imprints from American political and social history, literature, and music; the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays; noted manuscript collections, including those of writers H. P. Lovecraft, Henry David Thoreau, and Émile Zola; and special collections on Italian poet Dante Alighieri and 18th century English Literature. Other major college libraries are located at the University of Rhode Island at Kingston and at the Rhode Island School of Design. The Rhode Island Historical Society Library, which is located in Providence, has extensive materials on the state’s history.
Among the fine art museums in Rhode Island are those maintained by the Rhode Island School of Design, at Providence, and the Newport Art Museum. There are historical museums in the state, including the museums maintained by the Rhode Island Historical Society, at Providence, and by the Newport Historical Society. Rhode Island is also rich in historic sites and structures. The Slater Mill Historic Site, commonly known as Old Slater Mill, in Pawtucket, is a museum of textile history and arts. An outstanding group of buildings, which date from colonial times and later periods, is found in Newport, where the Preservation Society of Newport County aids in restoring and preserving important structures. One of these, a palatial mansion called The Breakers, was built in 1895 as a summer residence for Cornelius Vanderbilt. Other museums in Rhode Island include Brown University’s Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, in Bristol, which contains outstanding anthropological and archaeological collections.
The first newspaper published in Rhode Island was the Rhode Island Gazette, established in 1732 in Newport by James Franklin, a brother of Benjamin Franklin. James Franklin, Jr., founded the famous Newport Mercury in 1758. The oldest daily newspaper in the state is the Providence Journal, which was established in 1829. In 2002 there were 7 daily newspapers in the state. The leading dailies were the Providence Journal, the Pawtucket Times, and the Woonsocket Call.
In 2002 Rhode Island had 9 AM and 20 FM radio stations and 3 television stations. The state’s first radio station, WEAN, in Providence, began broadcasting in 1922, and its first television station, WJAR-TV, also in Providence, began operation in 1949.
|E||Music and Theater|
A variety of musical and theatrical organizations are active in Rhode Island. Among them are the Festival Ballet of Rhode Island, the State Ballet of Rhode Island, and the Chorus of Westerly. The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra performs throughout the state, and the Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra presents annual productions. There are many other active musical groups in the state. The Trinity Repertory Company is the principal theater organization, while The Players is one of numerous amateur theater groups.
|VI||RECREATION AND PLACES OF INTEREST|
An extensive shoreline and mild summer climate contribute to Rhode Island’s renown as a vacation state. Resorts along the coast and offshore islands are major centers for people interested in boating, fishing, swimming, and other water sports. Notable resorts in the state include Block Island, which lies 16 km (10 mi) offshore, and Newport, one of the nations most popular resorts.
Rhode Island is also noted for its numerous places of historic interest, some of which are designated as state historic sites. Among the best-known tourist attractions of historic interest is Touro Synagogue National Historic Site, in Newport. It preserves the oldest synagogue in the United States. Rhode Island’s only national park is Roger Williams National Memorial, in Providence, commemorating the first government to declare religious freedom for all.
There are about 25 state parks, beaches, and management areas in Rhode Island. The largest, Beach Pond State Park, is in the hilly western part of the state and has facilities for swimming, boating, camping, and nature study. Also in the west is Dawley State Park, which has picnicking, hiking, and riding facilities. Diamond Hill State Park, in the northeast, has picnic facilities and wooded terrain. Located in the south is Fishermen’s Memorial State Park, a camping facility along Point Judith Pond, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean.
Burlingame State Park lies on Watchaug Pond in southwestern Rhode Island. The park includes a bird sanctuary, picnic sites and campsites, hiking trails, and facilities for boating, swimming, and fishing.
|B||State Historic Sites|
World War I Memorial State Historic Site, located in Providence, includes a granite shaft 35 m (115 ft) tall that supports a heroic figure representing peace. Noted for its excellent acoustics, Rhode Island’s Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence is the state’s World War II memorial. General Stanton State Historic Site, in Charlestown, is a granite shaft erected in honor of Joseph Stanton, Jr., a prominent soldier in the French and Indian wars and one of the first two U.S. senators from Rhode Island. Also in Charlestown is Indian Burial Ground State Historic Site, an 8-hectare (20-acre) plot that contains the graves of Narragansett Native Americans. Fort Ninigret State Historic Site in Charlestown holds the original outline of a fort supposedly built by Dutch traders before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620. On the boundary between the towns of Exeter and North Kingstown is Queen’s Fort State Historic Site, which includes the ruins of an ancient Native American fort abandoned in 1676. Other state historic sites are Great Swamp Fight State Historic Site in South Kingstown, Jireh Bull Garrison State Historic Site in South Kingstown, and Bell Schoolhouse State Historic Site in Exeter.
|C||Other Places to Visit|
Among the many other places to visit in Rhode Island is the State House in Providence. A beautiful domed building of white marble, it stands on a hill overlooking the city. The First Baptist Church in Providence is the oldest Baptist church in the United States. The city’s Roger Williams Park includes lakes, gardens, rolling wooded hills, and recreation areas. Also within the park are a planetarium, extensive zoo, natural history museum, and aviary. The main United States post office in Providence was the first fully automated post office in the United States. With its 66 carved figures and baroque-style organ, the Crescent Park Carousel, located in East Providence, is one of the finest examples of carousels left in North America. The Green Animals topiary gardens were started by Thomas Brayton in the late 1800s. There are 80 sculptured trees and shrubs, formal flower beds, fruit and vegetable gardens at the Portsmouth gardens.
At Block Island the bluffs rise abruptly to a height of about 60 m (200 ft) above the sea and stretch for nearly 5 km (3 mi) along the southern shore, offering spectacular scenery. The lighthouse has the most powerful beacon on the United States East Coast.
In Newport, long a fashionable summer resort, some of the city’s palatial summer mansions and estates are open to the public. Many of the estates can be seen from Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive. The Breakers, considered the most beautiful summer residence in Newport, was built in 1895 in Italian renaissance style. A 70-room mansion, it is adorned with mosaics and carved stonework, and contains the original furnishings. Among the numerous historic buildings to visit in Newport is the Old Colony House, or Old State House, which was erected in 1739 and housed the general assembly of Rhode Island from 1790 to 1900. The Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House dates from 1675 and is the oldest existing and restored house in Newport.
Also in the city is the Old Stone Tower, a structure once believed to have been built by the Norse. However, excavations carried out on the site in 1948 and 1949 showed that the structure is probably the ruin of a windmill dating from about 1670. Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket, now preserved as a museum, was built in 1793. Visitors there can view demonstrations of early methods of producing textiles. In North Kingstown is the Gilbert Stuart Memorial, built in 1751, which preserves the birthplace of the famous American portrait painter. On the grounds is an 18th-century snuff mill, which is still in operation. The National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame and Tennis Museum, in Newport, houses exhibits relating to the history of lawn tennis in the United States.
Sports contests account for many of Rhode Island’s notable annual events. The Winter Sports Carnival is held at Providence annually during the first week in February. The Newport-Bermuda Yacht Race is held biennially in June. The Invitation Block Island Sound Race of the Watch Hill Yacht Club takes place at Watch Hill each July. Sports events in August include the Atlantic Tuna Tournament, at Block Island, and the Annual International Invitation Tennis Tournament, in Newport. The Rhode Island Open Salt-Water Fishing Derby takes place from August 14 to November 1.
Other annual events in Rhode Island include the statewide observance of Rhode Island Heritage Month in May, the Providence Festival Chorus Concert in the month of June, and the popular Rhode Island Red Chicken Barbecue at Little Compton in July. A folk festival is held in Newport every August. The Heritage Day Pow Wow in Warwick in November features Native American singing, dancing, and arts and crafts. The Antique Auto Tour, from Woonsocket to Westerly, takes place each October.
Rhode Island’s present state constitution went into effect in 1843. Before that time the state was governed under the royal charter issued in 1663 by King Charles II of England. The state constitution now contains more than 50 amendments. Proposed amendments must initially be approved by a majority of the elected membership of both houses. To be adopted, they must then win the approval of a majority of the voters in a general election. Amendments may also be proposed by a constitutional convention.
The chief executive of Rhode Island is the governor, who is elected for a four-year term. Other elected executive officials are the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer, all of whom serve four-year terms. The governor may veto legislation, but the General Assembly may override the veto by a three-fifths vote of those present at the voting. The governor also appoints some of the state’s major administrative officials, generally subject to the approval of the Senate.
The Rhode Island legislature, called the General Assembly, consists of a 38-member Senate and a 75-member House of Representatives. All legislators are elected for two-year terms. Regular sessions of the General Assembly, which convenes annually on the first Tuesday in January, generally conclude sometime between May and early July. Special sessions of unlimited duration may be called by the governor.
The highest court in Rhode Island, the supreme court, is composed of a chief justice and four associate justices. It generally meets in Providence. The appointment of a supreme court judge requires that a judicial nominating committee submit the names of five candidates to the governor. The governor selects one of the five and submits the name to the General Assembly, wherein a majority vote of both houses is required for confirmation and appointment for life. The major trial court in the state judiciary is the superior court. It consists of justices appointed for life by the governor following the procedure used in selecting supreme court justices. Other courts include a family court, district courts, courts of probate, whose functions are often performed by the town councils, and municipal police courts.
There are no independent county governments in Rhode Island. The state is divided into five counties, but the counties serve merely as state judicial districts. The state’s chief units of local government are 31 towns and 8 cities. The towns and cities are contiguous, so that they include all the land of the state within their boundaries. Most towns still have town meetings, an institution dating from colonial times. A town financial meeting is held annually. Most town officials are elected on the state’s regular election day and serve two-year terms. A number of towns have the council-manager form of government. Most of Rhode Island’s cities have the mayor and council form of government.
Rhode Island elects two U.S. senators and two U.S. representatives. It has four electoral votes in presidential elections.
Five Algonquian-speaking groups of Native Americans inhabited what is now Rhode Island when the first white explorers arrived in the 16th century and early 17th century. The Narragansett occupied most of the region and were the largest and most powerful group, numbering about 5,000. The Wampanoag lived in the area east of Narragansett Bay. The Nipmuc lived in northern Rhode Island and adjacent areas of Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Niantic inhabited southwestern Rhode Island and coastal areas of Connecticut. The Pequot held land along Rhode Island’s western border but lived mostly in what is now Connecticut.
Archaeological sites indicate the native inhabitants lived largely by hunting deer, catching fish and shellfish, and growing corn, beans, and squash. They migrated between inland and coastal areas during the year to take advantage of seasonal resources. The principal social unit was the village, led by a village chief called a sachem. Some sachems apparently held power over larger confederacies made up of several villages, and over some of the smaller, weaker native groups.
|B||Exploration and Settlement|
The first European known to have explored the Rhode Island area was the Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano. He sailed into Narragansett Bay in 1524, exploring its coasts and islands and finding large Narragansett and Wampanoag settlements. The Dutch navigator Adriaen Block explored Block Island and the coastal areas of the mainland in 1614, and Dutch fur traders were active in the region. In the next few years, epidemics decimated the Native American people throughout New England; the Wampanoag suffered heavy losses.
In 1635 William Blackstone, an Anglican clergyman, left Boston to seek solitude and settled at the site of Valley Falls, in an area that was then part of the Massachusetts Bay colony. A year later, a Puritan minister, Roger Williams, became the first European to establish an independent, permanent settlement in the Rhode Island region.
Williams had lived in the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies, but came into conflict with the Puritan authorities there. An outspoken advocate of religious freedom, he challenged some of the civil and religious restrictions in the colonies. In January 1636 he was forced to flee Massachusetts to avoid deportation to England. He found refuge among the Wampanoag, whose chief, Massasoit, was his friend. Massasoit gave him a tract of land east of the Seekonk River, and Williams, together with friends from Salem, settled at the site of the present-day Rumford, in East Providence. However, the authorities of the Plymouth Colony had jurisdiction over the area and forced the dissenters to move across the river to land controlled by the Narragansett. The Narragansett sachems, Canonicus and Miantonomi, gave Williams a large grant of land, and he established Providence, Rhode Island’s first permanent white settlement, in 1636.
Williams was highly respected by the Native Americans. Unlike many colonists, he viewed them as fellow human beings, not as savages. He learned their language and dealt fairly and honestly with them, insisting that settlers must compensate the native people rather than seize their lands. In turn, the native groups not only accepted the colonists but encouraged settlement. The Wampanoag and Narragansett were traditional rivals, and each tribe viewed the settlers as potential allies against the other. The settlers also created a buffer against the more aggressive colonies in Massachusetts. When war broke out in 1637 between the Pequot and colonists in Connecticut, the Narragansett aided the settlers, and the Pequot were nearly annihilated. In 1638 Williams and 12 other settlers formed the Proprietors’ Company for Providence Plantations to share the land deeded by the Narragansett.
Also in 1638, a separate group of colonists, led by John Clarke, William Coddington, and Anne Hutchinson, arrived from Massachusetts. Like Williams, the group had been banished from Massachusetts because of political and religious disputes with the Puritan establishment. Hutchinson preached a doctrine of salvation that was considered an attack on the moral and legal codes of the Massachusetts colony and led to her exile. Williams helped the group obtain land from the Narragansett at the northern end of Aquidneck Island, where they founded Pocasset, later renamed Portsmouth. Differences arose between factions headed by Hutchinson and Coddington, and in 1639 Coddington’s supporters moved to the southern part of Aquidneck Island, where they established the settlement of Newport. The next year the two island communities united in a federation and chose Coddington as governor. Aquidneck was renamed Rhode Island in 1644.
A fourth independent settlement, Shawomet, was founded in 1642 by Samuel Gorton, a man of radical religious views. Having quarreled with authorities at Boston and Plymouth, he came to the Rhode Island settlements, but also fell into disputes in Portsmouth, Newport, Providence, and the settlement adjoining Providence called Pawtuxet. Gorton and a group of supporters then bought a tract of land south of Providence, the Shawomet Purchase, from Narragansett chiefs. But Pawtuxet settlers and local Narragansett disputed the sale and appealed to Massachusetts authorities. In 1643 Massachusetts sent troops to seize Gorton and his followers, who were tried for blasphemy and other offenses. Narrowly escaping a death sentence, Gorton and several others were imprisoned for several months, then banished from Massachusetts. Gorton went to England to appeal for protection for his settlement, and obtained a guarantee of protection from a parliamentary commission headed by the earl of Warwick. The grateful Gorton returned in 1648 to the settlement, which he renamed Warwick.
|C||The Settlements Unite|
Massachusetts and Plymouth continued to threaten the Rhode Island settlements, partly because they served as a refuge for religious dissenters from those Puritan colonies. To prevent interference in the settlements’ affairs, in 1644 Williams obtained a charter from Parliament that provided a legal basis for the settlements’ existence. Under the terms of the charter, Providence, Newport, and Portsmouth were incorporated as Providence Plantations. Although Warwick was not included in the charter, freeholders from that settlement joined in the first recorded meeting of the colony’s general assembly, at Portsmouth in May 1647.
In 1651 the affairs of the infant colony were disrupted when Coddington obtained a charter establishing the separate colony of Aquidneck, which included Aquidneck and Conanicut islands. Under the terms of the charter, the conservative and theocratic Coddington was to serve as governor of Aquidneck for life. Williams and John Clarke went immediately to England and succeeded in getting Coddington’s charter revoked in 1652. In 1654 the colony was reunited.
|D||Charter of 1663|
In 1660 the British monarchy was restored after a long civil war, and Charles II took the throne. With a new regime in power, Rhode Islanders were eager to have their independence reaffirmed and petitioned the king for a royal charter. Issued in 1663 through Clarke, the colony’s agent in England, the charter incorporated the mainland and island of Rhode Island as Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. A liberal document, the charter permitted the colonists a large measure of self-government; the governor and many other officials were to be elected by the colonists, not appointed by the king. The charter also guaranteed “full liberty in religious concernments” in the colony, continuing the policy of religious liberty that had prevailed from the outset in the Rhode Island settlements. Throughout the colonial period, members of religious sects, such as Jews and Quakers, who were persecuted in other colonies enjoyed complete freedom of worship in Rhode Island.
The charter of 1663 remained in effect almost continuously until 1843. It was suspended only from 1686 to 1689, when Rhode Island was absorbed into the short-lived Dominion of New England, a colony that incorporated most of New England under the control of royal governor Edmund Andros.
|E||King Philip’s War|
Rhode Islanders’ peaceful relationship with the Native American inhabitants was shattered in 1675, when land disputes between the Wampanoag and the Massachusetts colonies led to King Philip’s War. The uprising was led by the Wampanoag chief Metacomet, known as King Philip, and joined by members of some other tribes.
The colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut retaliated against not only those involved but also the neutral Narragansett, whose lands they wanted to take over. When the Narragansett gave refuge to some fleeing Wampanoag, colonists launched a surprise attack on the tribe’s stronghold in the Great Swamp, near West Kingston, Rhode Island. The fortified village was burned, and about 600 Narragansett were killed, including many women and children. The remaining Narragansett then joined Philip’s forces, devastating Rhode Island’s mainland settlements and other New England towns. While the Rhode Island colony did not officially join the war against the natives, it allowed the other colonies free rein in the territory.
When the war ended in 1676 with Philip’s defeat and death, many Narragansett, Wampanoag, and Nipmuc were executed or sold into slavery, and their lands were taken over by the colonies. Surviving Narragansett merged with the Niantic, who had remained neutral. The war ruined the native tribes of southern New England and ended resistance to further settlements in the area.
|F||Agricultural and Commercial Growth|
When the royal charter was issued in 1663, the white population of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was probably no more than 1,000. By 1700 that had increased to about 7,000, and five new towns had been incorporated: Westerly; New Shoreham, on Block Island; Kings Towne; East Greenwich; and Jamestown, on Conanicut Island. During the 18th century the colony’s population increased substantially, rising to nearly 60,000 by the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775.
Initially, Rhode Islanders farmed and fished, mostly to meet their own needs. By the early 18th century, Rhode Island farmers and planters were producing surplus livestock and crops, sometimes with the use of slave labor. Leading agricultural produce included corn, wool, cheese, and horses, notably the famous crossbreed known as the Narragansett pacer. Agricultural produce, lumber, and fish were shipped mainly to the West Indies, with smaller amounts going to other colonies, England, and southern Europe.
In exchange for their goods, Rhode Island traders received commodities and money they used to purchase manufactured products from England. But mostly they received molasses from the West Indies. This brought them into the so-called triangular trade that developed in the early 18th century between the New England colonies, Africa, and the West Indies. The molasses was made into rum at Newport and other sites. Merchants transported rum to Africa, where it was exchanged for black slaves. The next stop was generally the West Indies, where slaves were in great demand on vast sugar plantations. The slaves were exchanged for molasses, which was brought back to Rhode Island to be made into more rum.
This trade flourished during most of the 18th century, providing much of the wealth that made Newport a leading social and cultural center in the colonies. Newport also served as a major slave trading center until 1774. That year Rhode Island, the leading slave trader among the British colonies, imposed a partial ban on the importation of slaves. A gradual emancipation act was adopted in 1784, which declared that children born to slave mothers after that date were considered free. By 1808, when Congress banned the foreign slave trade, most blacks in the state had achieved free status.
Another important economic activity in colonial Rhode Island was privateering, the practice of commissioning private vessels to attack enemy ships during wartime. Rhode Island’s colonial assembly encouraged privateering against the French during several wars between France and Britain for control of North America, which lasted until 1763. The privateers made high profits from captured ships and spent much of their money in Rhode Island ports.
Beginning in the 1760s, Britain passed a series of laws restricting the sugar and molasses trade. Rhode Islanders, who now depended largely on maritime trade for their prosperity, responded by smuggling such goods past British enforcement ships. In 1772 a British customs ship, the Gaspée, ran aground while chasing a suspected smuggler ship up Narragansett Bay. A group of colonists, led by prominent merchant John Brown and Captain Abraham Whipple, burned the stranded British ship, in one of the most significant violent acts of resistance against Britain before the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775.
Within days after the battles at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, the first of the Revolutionary War, Rhode Island’s General Assembly voted to raise an army to fight the British. On May 4, 1776, the assembly became the first colonial body to renounce its allegiance to King George III. On July 18 it ratified the Declaration of Independence and officially changed the colony’s name to the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Though few land battles occurred in Rhode Island during the war, British troops seized Aquidneck Island and occupied Newport from December 1776 to October 1779. In 1778 the British held off an attack by a combined force of American and French troops. As the American force retreated, the British counterattacked and were defeated in what is known as the Battle of Rhode Island. This campaign was the largest military-naval engagement fought in New England during the war.
After the British withdrew from Newport in 1779, the city hosted a large French army under the Comte de Rochambeau in 1780 and 1781. Rochambeau’s forces marched to Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, helping General George Washington defeat the British in the last major action of the war. The Rhode Islander most important to the Revolutionary War military effort was Nathanael Greene, Washington’s second in command and the leader of American forces in the successful southern campaign that led up to the victory at Yorktown.
After the war there was considerable opposition in Rhode Island to the formation of a strong federal union of the states. Farmers wanted to retain local autonomy and preserve states’ rights, and they favored cheap paper currency to pay their debts. They feared a strong federal government would be controlled by Federalists, who would insist on debts being paid in hard money—that is, currency backed by gold reserves. In addition, the state’s large and influential Quaker community opposed compromises on slavery contained in the Constitution of the United States when it was drafted. Rhode Island did not send delegates to the constitutional convention in 1787, and there was widespread opposition in the state to ratifying the Constitution. Rhode Island was the last of the original 13 states to ratify the Constitution and did so with the narrowest margin, a vote of 34 to 32 on May 29, 1790.
Beginning in the late 18th century, an industrial revolution occurred in Rhode Island. In 1790 Samuel Slater, a recent immigrant from Britain, reproduced machinery in Pawtucket for spinning cotton. With the financial backing of Moses Brown, a Providence businessman, Slater set up the first cotton-spinning plant in the United States. This began what was to become Rhode Island’s most important industry, textiles.
In the decades that followed, the textile industry grew rapidly, spurred by new inventions and by national political and economic developments. After 1799 wars in Europe made it difficult for Americans to obtain manufactured goods from abroad, increasing demand for goods manufactured in the United States. Demand also grew with restrictions on foreign trade under the Embargo Act of 1807 and during the War of 1812 (1812-1815). Merchants were encouraged to transfer their capital from commerce to industry. Several decades later the great expansion of railroad transportation in the eastern United States broadened Rhode Island’s domestic market and gave the state’s manufacturers access to distant coalfields, ending their almost total reliance on waterpower.
Encouraged by these developments, the number of cotton mills in the state increased from about 20 in 1809 to about 135 mills in 1860. Rhode Island’s population more than doubled, from about 75,000 to 175,000, and shifted from rural areas to small villages. Less than one-fourth of Rhode Islanders lived in urban areas in 1809; by 1860, two-thirds were urban dwellers. Drawn by jobs in the cotton mills and other industries, Rhode Island farmers and thousands of foreign immigrants, particularly British and Irish, flocked to the industrial centers.
The growth of the cotton-spinning and weaving industry was the most important economic development in Rhode Island before the Civil War (1861-1865). Other notable industries included cotton printing and dyeing and the manufacture of woolens, jewelry, silverware, and textile machinery.
|J||Dorr’s Rebellion and Constitutional Reform|
Even after the American Revolution, Rhode Islanders chose to retain their cherished royal charter of 1663 as the new state’s basic law. Under the charter regime, the General Assembly decreed that only property-holding males were eligible to vote in Rhode Island. This meant that most industrial workers could not vote. As Providence and other industrial centers grew, a high proportion of Rhode Islanders were disenfranchised—that is, had no vote—and rural towns became greatly overrepresented in the legislature in proportion to their population.
In 1841 a prominent Providence lawyer, Thomas Wilson Dorr, joined a movement called the People’s Party that was working for universal manhood suffrage, legislative reapportionment, and other reforms. Dorr was the principal author of a new constitution that the party drew up at a popularly convened constitutional convention. This so-called People’s Constitution was overwhelmingly ratified by a plebiscite that the People’s Party organized. About the same time, however, the state legislature also called for a constitutional convention, at which a more conservative document, the so-called Freemen’s Constitution, was drawn up. The legally framed Freemen’s Constitution was narrowly defeated by the state’s enfranchised voters. In April 1842 both the People’s Party and the charter government held elections for state officials. In May Dorr, who was elected governor in the People’s Party vote, was inaugurated at Providence, and Samuel Ward King, the winner of the regular election, was sworn in the next day at Newport, giving Rhode Island two rival state governments. When the charter government began to arrest Dorr’s supporters, the reformers resorted to armed force. Dorrites assaulted the Providence arsenal later that month, but couldn’t get their antiquated artillery to fire. Martial law was declared in the state, and many of Dorr’s supporters were arrested, while Dorr fled the state.
Although Dorr’s Rebellion was suppressed, it was obvious that some of the demands of his followers must be met. The state legislature called another constitutional convention in late 1842 and drafted a new constitution, which went into effect in May 1843. That document liberalized voting requirements and provided for some legislative reapportionment. But urban areas remained underrepresented, and the new constitution contained the most anti-immigrant voting requirement in the country, discriminating against the growing population of Irish-Catholic and other foreign-born citizens. Native-born citizens who did not own property were allowed to vote in federal and statewide elections simply by paying a one-dollar “registry tax,” but a foreign-born citizen could only vote if he owned $134 worth of real property. Citizens who did not own property or pay taxes, whether they were foreign- or native-born, could not vote in local elections.
|K||American Civil War|
Rhode Island, although closely linked economically to the cotton growers of the South, voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1860 in an effort to maintain the Union. More than 23,000 Rhode Islanders fought for the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865). They included Ambrose E. Burnside, commander of the state militia, who served briefly as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
|L||Late 19th Century Economic Developments|
In the decades after the Civil War, Rhode Island’s economy continued expanding. Raw cotton was scarce during the war, which encouraged investment in wool manufacturing, which became the most important economic development during the later part of the 19th century. Cotton textile production increased again after the war, but by 1900 wool industries were equally important to the state. Related industries also expanded, such as cloth dyeing and printing and the manufacture of textile machinery. The jewelry and silverware industries also grew significantly, and by 1880 Rhode Island had more jewelry and silverware workers than any other state. In addition, the production of rubber goods became economically significant.
|M||Population Changes and State Politics|
Rhode Island’s population rose to 428,556 by 1900, largely from the flow of French-Canadians and other diverse immigrant groups into the state. The French-Canadians, who were often recruited by agents for the textile mills, settled in communities near the mills. Large waves of Italians, Portuguese, Swedes, and Eastern Europeans, especially Poles and Jews, also migrated to the state, providing a fresh source of labor for the textile mills. Between 1900 and 1910 the state’s population increased by a record 114,054 inhabitants.
By 1900 almost 70 percent of the state’s population was foreign-born or had foreign-born parents. However, business leaders descended from the Yankee pioneers continued to control Rhode Island’s politics through the Republican Party. To ensure Yankee Republicans would continue to rule, the Republican-controlled legislature in 1901 passed the so-called Brayton Law, named after the boss of the Republican state political machine. The Brayton Law insured that even if a Democrat became governor, the state Senate would be able to reject his appointees and substitute its own. The Republicans were certain to maintain control of the Senate because strongly Republican rural areas remained overrepresented even after the legislature was reapportioned in 1909. With the help of the Brayton Law and with the support of the large French-American population, the Republicans continued to dominate the state government, even during Democratic administrations, until the 1930s. Meanwhile, the Irish, the state’s largest ethnic group, gained firm control of the Democratic Party.
|N||World War I to World War II|
After World War I (1914-1918), low wages and lower energy and transportation costs in the South prompted many textile plants to relocate there, and Rhode Island’s cotton industry began to decline. In 1922 wages were drastically reduced, causing a long and bitter strike in some of Rhode Island’s largest mills and creating stronger textile unions. However, the decline in textile manufacturing was relatively slow in the 1920s, which were largely a prosperous decade.
Economic conditions worsened in the 1930s, as the nation entered the period of hard times known as the Great Depression. Rhode Islanders supported the Democratic presidential candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1932, as they had narrowly supported the unsuccessful Democratic candidate, Alfred E. Smith, in 1928. They also elected a Democratic governor, Theodore Francis Green, and in 1935 they gave Democrats control of both houses of the state legislature for the first time since 1854. When the Democratic-controlled General Assembly convened in 1935, it repealed the Brayton Law, ousted the existing Supreme Court justices, and reorganized and streamlined the executive branch of the state government in a coup called the Bloodless Revolution.
The state’s economy recovered slowly during the 1930s. By 1939, employment in nontextile industries returned to the level of 1929, but employment in the textile industry was still about 15 percent below its 1929 level. World War II (1939-1945) gave a temporary lift to the state’s economy. During the war, nontextile employment surpassed textile employment, partly because of a substantial increase in shipbuilding in the state. But the state’s economy still depended mainly on the declining textile industry, and Rhode Island’s unemployment rate remained consistently higher than the national average after the war.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Rhode Island’s textile industry continued to decline. Textile employees decreased from more than 60,000 in 1950 to fewer than 15,000 in the late 1970s. Manufacturing in general declined in importance, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, except for the jewelry industry. Retail and wholesale trade, service industries, education, government, and tourism grew. A severe economic blow came in 1973 when the U.S. Navy, the state’s largest employer, announced that the Newport Naval Base and the Quonset Point Naval Air Station would close, eliminating 4,000 civilian and 17,000 military jobs. Although the conversion of the Quonset base to an industrial park created some new jobs, especially at Quonset’s Electric Boat facility, unemployment remained high through the early 1980s.
Democrats dominated Rhode Island’s politics through most of the period from the 1950s to the mid-1990s. The General Assembly remained overwhelmingly Democratic since reapportionment in the mid-1960s. With two exceptions, Democratic governors held office from 1951 until 1985. After that date, the governor’s office switched between Democrats and Republicans. A series of corruption scandals dominated the state’s politics beginning in the mid-1980s, involving the governor, mayors, and Supreme Court justices, among others. Political and business corruption was so widespread that the U.S. attorney who prosecuted many of the cases, Lincoln Almond, was catapulted into the governor’s office in the 1994 elections. Almond campaigned on a platform of restoring honest and economical government.
By 1986 the state’s economy was again robust and unemployment had fallen to its lowest level in decades. Services and high-technology industries accounted for most of the growth in jobs and income. In the 1980s, real estate values in the Providence area grew faster than those in any other metropolitan area in the United States.
Rhode Island’s economic boom of the mid-1980s was followed by a sharp recession beginning in 1989, during which the state’s credit union system collapsed, property values plummeted, unemployment rose, and thousands of manufacturing jobs were lost, even in the jewelry industry. Hard times caused the state’s population, which for the first time had topped 1 million in the census of 1990, to dip below that mark, even though Hispanic and Southeast Asian communities grew. A gradual economic upturn began in 1993, and major construction projects were launched in downtown Providence, including Waterplace Park, a new luxury hotel, and the urban mall called Providence Place.
Although the Narragansett people had been legally declared extinct by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1880, they incorporated in 1934 and gained federal recognition in 1983. In 1978 a claim filed by the Narragansett to regain ancestral lands in Rhode Island was settled, giving them 728 hectares (1,800 acres) in Charlestown. In the mid-1990s the Narragansett had 2,400 members, most of whom lived in Rhode Island.