History Rhode Island
Before it was called Rhode Island, the area that hosted the first of the state’s colonies was known as Aquidneck Island. Two of the most plausible theories on how the name changed to Rhode Island involve Giovanni da Verrazzano who saw the island in the Narragansett Bay and it reminded him of the island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean, and the other theory refers to Adriaen Block’s 1625 account of “an island of reddish (rodlich) appearance”.
The beginning of the colonial era in Rhode Island starts with Roger Williams, a theologian and proponent of religious freedoms, who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was granted land by the Narragansett people and called it Providence. This was in 1636. Two years later, a group of like-minded religious dissidents founded another settlement, this time on Aquidneck Island, and called in Portsmouth. After the purchase of Native American lands in Shawomet, a conflict with the Massachusetts Bay Colony was inevitable. Providence, Newport and Portsmouth united and formed the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in 1644.
Rhode Island was in neutral, if not friendly relations with the Native Americans. This, however, was not the case with other New England colonies, who eventually entered in open and often bloody confrontations with them. Colonial forces destroyed a Narragansett village and the Narragansett later invaded and destroyed several towns in Rhode Island (however, due to decent relations with Rhode Island, they allowed the population to evacuate).
For a short period, the colony was under British rule, but it soon regained independence. During the last decades of the 17th century, Rhode Island started participating in slave trade, selling rum in exchange for sugar and slaves. The state had an extraordinarily large slave population and even the most prominent citizens (such as the Brown family, excluding Moses Brown who was an abolitionist) participated in the trade.
Rhode Island was active and had a prominent role in the American Revolution. It was the first colony to deny allegiance to the Crown. It was the last colony that ratified the US Constitution, because it wanted to be sure the Bill of Rights would be included in the document.
The industrial revolution in Rhode Island started when Moses Brown teamed up with Samuel Slater and created a water-powered cotton mill, the second one in America. With the new jobs opening in factories, a large portion of the population moved to towns and cities. According to the law of the time, a person without land had no right to vote, and in the late 1820s as much as 60% of white males in the state were not able to vote. This problem was not fixed until 1842, when the law was amended by introducing a $1 poll tax for free white males with no land. The racial segregation in schools in Rhode Island ended in 1866.
By the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, Rhode Island had a strong and developing economy. After the World War I, in which the state lost 612 soldiers, the population was stuck by the Spanish influenza epidemic. Between the two world wars, the Ku Klux Klan in Rhode Island was very strong, probably due to a large surge of immigrants in the state and the newly appointed rights and liberties for the African Americans. After the World War II, the Klan’s membership declined significantly.
Rhode Island Geography
Rhode Island lies in the New England region of the Appalachian. It is divided into two different natural regions: Eastern Rhode Island with the Narragansett Bay and its lowlands and western Rhode Island, which is part of the New England Upland.
Rhode Island is not called “The Ocean State” for no reason – bays and inlets make up to 14% of its total area. It also has a great number of beaches on the ocean and many inhabitants of the state have secondary homes or summer houses along the coastline. The state is mostly flat and its highest point is Jerimoth Hill (812ft). Two main geographical regions in the state are the Eastern Rhode Island (the Narragansett Bay with its lowlands) and Western Rhode Island (part of the New England Upland).
The Narragansett Bay is actually an estuary, the biggest one in New England. It is a large natural harbor and an archipelago with over 30 islands. The largest island is Aquidneck Island, followed by Conanicut and Prudence islands.
Rhode Island is quite dedicated in preserving its natural heritage and biodiversity and has many trails specialized in bird watching, coastal area, man-made gardens and, of course, the historic heritage. The state’s tourism relies greatly on beach activities, hunting, biking, hiking, vineyards and spas. The coastal region is ideal for bird watching, while the hunting opportunities include wild turkey, pheasant, white-tailed deer, waterfowl and various small game. Boating is another favorite activity of many Rhode Islanders.
The climate in Rhode Island is humid continental. Winters are chilly to cold and summers are warm, rarely very hot, and rainy.
Rhode Island Population
In 2011, the population of Rhode Island was 1,051,302. As of 2010 Census, the racial makeup in the state was 76.4% non-Hispanic White, 12.4% Hispanic or Latino, 5.7% Black or African American, 2.9% Asian, 0.6% Native American, 0.1% Pacific Islander and 3.3% from two or more races.
The largest ancestry groups in Rhode Island are Italian, Irish, English, Portuguese, French, French Canadian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Chinese and Guatemalan.
Rhode Island has the highest percentage of people of Portuguese ancestry in the United States. It also has a highest number of immigrants from Liberia. There is a large presence of Italian Americans in Providence County, especially the central and southern parts, while French Canadians are largely concentrated in northern parts of Providence County. The Irish are particularly present in Kent and Newport. There are still many Yankees of English ancestry in Rhode Island and they are often colloquially called “Swamp Yankees.”
As for the religion, the largest denomination in Rhode Island is Roman Catholic, followed by Protestant (Episcopal, Baptist and Evangelical). The large number of Catholics is mainly result of the large waves of immigrants from Ireland, Italy and other predominantly Catholic countries in Europe.
Rhode Island has a large Jewish population. Although most of them arrived (or are descendents of those who arrived) in the second immigration wave between the 1880 and the 1920, Jewish community was present and active even before that time, as testified by the presence of Touro Synagogue in Newport, the oldest surviving synagogue in the United States.
The largest (most populated) cities in Rhode Island are Providence, Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket, East Providence, Woonsocket, Coventry, Cumberland and North Providence.
Rhode Island Economy
Rivers, and bodies of water in general, have been very important for the economy of Rhode Island ever since the colonial times. In the past, fishing was one of the most important activities and later, with the Industrial Revolution, the waterpower from rivers was used in mills and factories. The Blackstone River Valley was particularly vital for the development of industrial activities, for example it was there that Samuel Slater built his cotton mill in 1793. For a while, textile industry was the main economy sector in Rhode Island, but many factories and mills had to move to down south during the Great Depression.
Today, textile industry is still present in the state but it no longer has the role it had before the 20th century. Other manufacturing industries in the past included jewelry, tools and silverware. Not many of them are still in business. In fact, Rhode Island is known for its many abandoned factories that have recently been turned into museums, offices, galleries and low-income housing.
The largest industry in Rhode Island today are health services, followed by tourism and tourism-related sales. The third-largest sector in the state economy is manufacturing, especially costume jewelry, electrical equipment, machinery, metal products, shipbuilding and boatbuilding. As for the agriculture, the main outputs are nursery stock, dairy products, eggs and poultry.
The largest employer in Rhode Island is the state government, followed by Lifespan Hospital Group, federal government, Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence and Care New England.
Some of the largest companies located in Rhode Island are CVS Caremark, Textron, Nortek, Hasbro, FM Global and GTECH Corporation.
Rhode Island Government and Legislation
The government of Rhode Island, like in all U.S. states, consists of three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. The state legislature is embodied in the Rhode Island General Assembly, which is composed of the House of Representatives with 75 members and the Senate with 38 members.
Rhode Island is one of the most reliably Democratic states. In 1980, it was one of only six states to have voted against Ronald Reagan, who was Republican.
Rhode Island was the second state to abolish death penalty and today it is one of 15 U.S. states without capital punishment. It was second to last state to prohibit prostitution and, in fact, until 2009 prostitution was legal in the state provided it took place indoors. As of 2011, the use of medical marijuana is legal, and so are civil unions and same-sex marriage.
The state is one of the safest ones in the United States in terms of crime rates. However, this was not always the case. In the period between 1950s and 1990s, Rhode Island was infamous for the organized crime activity in the state, especially the Providence fraction of the Patriarca family.
Education in Rhode Island
Rhode Island has nine universities, one associates college and two special-focus institutions. The Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education operates the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and Community College of Rhode Island. The Naval War College in Newport is operated by the U.S. Navy. The oldest and the most prestigious institution of higher learning in Rhode Island is certainly Brown University, member of the Ivy league and one of the most selective universities in the United States.
Other institutions of higher education in Rhode Island include Bryant University, Johnson and Wales University, New England Institute of Technology, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Williams University and Salve Regina University.
The state has four NCAA Division I schools, competing in different conferences, and it is home to the Brown University Bears, Bryant University Bulldogs, Providence College Friars and University of Rhode Island Rams.
Rhode Island Transportation
Major highways in Rhode Island include I-95, which runs from southwest to northeast and connects Rhode Island with other East Coast states, I-295, which acts partially as a beltway for Providence, I-195, U.S. Route 6, RI-4, RI-10, RI-37, RI-99, RI-146 and RI-403.
There are several bridges across the Narragansett Bay that connect Aquidneck and Conanicut islands to the mainland, the largest ones being Jamestown-Verrazzano Bridge and Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge.
The state also has a number of bicycle routes and paths, such as East Bay Bike Path and Blackstone River Bikeway.
The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority provides bus transport within cities and towns as well as intercity transport. The system currently has 58 routes and includes daytime-only buses constructed to resemble historic trolleys. It also used to offer ferry service between Newport and Providence, but the federal funding of this service ended in 2008 and it was discontinued. However, ferry service is still available through private companies, such as Prudence Island Ferry, Vineyard Fast Ferry and Viking Fleet.
Passenger rail service is provided by Amtrak (Acella Express and Northeast Regional) and MBTA Commuter Rail. The primary airport for both passenger and cargo service is T.F. Green Airport in Warwick. However, residents of Rhode Island usually use Boston’s Logan International Airport, especially for international and direct flights.