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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.
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.
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
Professional Sports Teams
Pawtucket Red Sox, AAA (minor league baseball) affiliate of the Boston Red Sox
State motto: Hope
Famous Rhode Islanders
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