Rhode Island

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: North American Geography

The State of Rhode Island
and Providence Plantations
Flag of Rhode Island State seal of Rhode Island
Flag of Rhode Island Seal of Rhode Island
Nickname(s): The Ocean State, Little Rhody
Motto(s): Hope
Map of the United States with Rhode Island highlighted
Official language(s) None
Capital Providence
Largest city Providence
Area  Ranked 50th
 - Total 1,214* sq mi
(3,144* km²)
 - Width 37 miles (60 km)
 - Length 48 miles (77 km)
 - % water 32.4
 - Latitude 41°18'N to 42°1'N
 - Longitude 71°8'W to 71°53'W
Population  Ranked 43rd
 - Total ( 2000) 1,048,319
 - Density 1,003.2/sq mi 
387.34/km² (2nd)
 - Highest point Jerimoth Hill
812 ft  (247 m)
 - Mean 200 ft  (60 m)
 - Lowest point Atlantic Ocean
0 ft  (0 m)
Admission to Union  May 29, 1790 (13th)
Governor Donald Carcieri (R)
U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D)
Lincoln Chafee (R) (Outgoing)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D) (Senator Elect)
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5/ -4
Abbreviations RI US-RI
Web site www.ri.gov
* Total area in acres is approximately 776,957 acres

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (commonly known as Rhode Island) is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is the smallest state by area, and it is also the state with the longest official name. Rhode (pronounced "Road") Island was the first of the thirteen original American colonies to declare independence from British rule, signaling the start of the American Revolution.

The state's common name, Rhode Island, actually refers only to the largest island in Narragansett Bay, also known as Aquidneck Island. Some historians think the name owes its origins to Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, upon discovering nearby (present-day) Block Island 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, old Dutch for "red island," given to the island by Dutch explorer Adriaen Block due to the red clay on the island's shore.

Despite most of the state being part of the mainland, the name Rhode Island leads some out-of-staters to mistakenly believe that the entire state is an island, sometimes confusing it with Long Island. Rhode Island is nicknamed "Little Rhody" traditionally but the state officially adopted the nickname "The Ocean State".


Bluffs-Block island, Rhode Island
Bluffs-Block island, Rhode Island

Rhode Island covers an area of approximately 1,214  square miles (3,144  km²) and 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. The mean elevation of the state is 200  feet (60  m). Located within the New England province of the Appalachian Region, Rhode Island has two distinct natural regions. Eastern Rhode Island contains the lowlands of the Narragansett Bay, while Western Rhode Island forms part of the New England Upland. Narragansett Bay is a major feature of the state's topography. Block Island 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 and Prudence.

Nicknamed the Ocean State, Rhode Island has the most oceanfront per capita as well as per land area of any United States state, and is home to a number of oceanfront beaches

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


Rhode Island is an example of a warm summer humid continental climate with hot rainy summers and cold snowy winters. The highest temperature recorded in Rhode Island was 105 F (40° C), recorded on August 2, 1975 at Providence. The lowest temperature in Rhode Island, -13 °F (-25 °C), was recorded on February 6, 1996 at Greene. Monthly average temperatures range from a high of 82 °F (28 °C) to a low of 20 °F (-7 °C). Average yearly precipitation for Rhode Island, from 1961 to 1991, is shown on from Oregon State University.


Colonial Era

In 1614, the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block visited the island that is now called Block Island. Native American inhabitants included the Narragansett tribe, occupying most of the area, and the closely related Niantic tribe. Most of the Native Americans were decimated by introduced diseases, intertribal warfare, and the disastrous King Philip's War, but remnants of the Niantic merged into the Narragansett tribe, where they remain on a federally recognized reservation.

In 1636, Roger Williams, after being banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious views, settled at the tip of Narragansett Bay. He called the site Providence and declared it a place of religious freedom. This is the article of agreement Roger Williams and others made, and every person who decided to live in Providence had to sign it: “We, whose names are hereunder written, being desirous to inhabit the town of Providence, do promise to submit ourselves, in active or passive obedience, to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for public good by the body in an orderly way by the major consent of the inhabitance, masters of families, incorporated together into a township, and such others as they shall admit into the same only in civil things.” Rhode Island was a charter colony, Roger Williams received a charter to build the colony.

In 1637, Anne Hutchinson was banished from Massachusetts for criticizing the clergy there. 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.

John Clarke was granted a Charter in 1663 for Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, which effectively united the two colonies into one. 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 original 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.

The relationship between the New Englanders and the Native Americans was at first strained, but did not result in much bloodshed. The largest tribes that lived near Rhode island were the Wampanoag, Pequots, Narragansett, and Nipmuck. One native named Squanto, from the Wampanoag tribe, stayed with the pilgrims and taught them many valuable skills needed to survive in the area. He also helped greatly with the eventual peace between the colonists and the natives.

Roger Williams had won the respect of his colonial neighbors for his skill in keeping the powerful Narragansett on friendly terms with local white settlers. In 1637, the Narragansett were even persuaded to form an alliance with the English in carrying out an attack that nearly extinguished the warlike Pequots. However, this peace did not last long. By 1670 even the friendly tribes who had greeted Williams and the Pilgrims became estranged from the colonists, and smell of war began to cover the New England countryside.

The most important and traumatic event in 17th century Rhode Island was King Philip's War, which occurred during 1675–1676. King Philip (his British nickname, his real name was 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.

Revolution and Industrialization: 1770-1860

Rhode Island's tradition of independence and dissent gave it a prominent role in the American Revolution. In 1772, the first bloodshed of the American Revolution took place in Rhode Island when a band of Providence residents attacked a grounded British ship for enforcing unpopular British trade regulations in the incident which would be come to known as the Gaspee Affair. Keeping with its culture of defiance, Rhode Island was the first of the original thirteen colonies to declare its independence from England ( May 4, 1776,) and the last to ratify the Constitution (which replaced the Articles of Confederation)( May 29, 1790)—doing the latter only after being threatened with 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 he owned land or could pay a US $1 poll tax.

In addition to industrialization, Rhode Island was heavily involved in the slave trade during the post-revolution era. Slavery was extant in RI as early as 1652, and by 1774, the slave population of RI was 6.3%, nearly twice as high as any other New England Colony. In the late Eighteenth century, several Rhode Island merchant families began actively engaging in the triangle slave trade. Notable among these was the Brown family, for whom Brown University is named, although some important Browns became prominent abolitionists. In the years after the Revolution, Rhode Island merchants controlled between 60 and 90% of the American trade in African slaves.

Civil War to Progressive Era: 1860-1929

During the Civil War, Rhode Island was one of the Union states. Rhode Island furnished 25,236 fighting men, of which 1,685 died. On the home front, Rhode Island, along with the other northern states, used its industrial capacity to supply the Union Army with the materials it needed to win the war. Rhode Island's continued growth and modernization led to the creation of an urban mass transit system, and improved health and sanitation programs. After the war, in 1866, Rhode Island abolished racial segregation throughout the state. Post-war immigration increased the population. From the 1860s to the 1880s, most of the immigrants were from England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, and Quebec. Towards the end of the century however, most immigrants were from South and Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean. At the turn of the century, Rhode Island had a booming economy, which fed the demand for immigration. In the years that lead up to World War I, Rhode Island's constitution remained reactionary, in contrast to the more progressive reforms that were occurring in the rest of the country. The state never ratified the 18th Amendment establishing national Prohibition of alcohol. During World War I, Rhode Island furnished 28,817 troops, of whom 612 died. After the war, the state was hit hard by the Spanish Influenza.

Great Depression to Present: 1929-

Since the Great Depression, the Rhode Island Democratic Party has dominated local politics. For years, the Speaker of the House, always a Democrat, has been one of the most powerful figures in government. The Republican Party has been restricted to the rural and suburban parts of the state, and occasional "good government" reform candidates, who criticize the state's high taxes and the excesses of Democratic domination. Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey, Governor Donald Carcieri of East Greenwich, and former Mayor Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci of Providence ran as Republican reform candidates.

Law and government

The capital of Rhode Island is Providence and its current governor is Donald Carcieri (R). Its United States Senators are Jack Reed (D) and Lincoln Chafee (R). In the 2006 election for U.S. Senate on November 7, 2006, Senator Chafee was defeated by Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. Senator-elect Whitehouse will replace Senator Chafee as United States Senator from Rhode Island after the swearing in of the one hundred and tenth United States Congress on January 3, 2007. Rhode Island's two United States Congressmen are Patrick J. Kennedy (D-1) and Jim Langevin (D-2).

The state legislature is the Rhode Island General Assembly, consisting of the 75-member state House of Representatives and the 38-member Senate. Both houses of the bicameral body are currently dominated by the Democratic Party.

Federally, Rhode Island is one of the most reliably Democratic states during presidential elections, regularly giving the Democratic nominees one of their best showings. In 1980, Rhode Island was one of only 6 states to vote against Ronald Reagan. In the 1984 Reagan landslide, Rhode Island provided Walter Mondale with his 3rd best performance. Rhode Island was the Democrats' best state in 1988 and 2000 and 2nd best in 1996 and 2004. The state was devoted to Republicans until 1908, but has only strayed from the Democrats 7 times in the 24 elections that followed. 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 but two of Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns voted for the Democratic candidate. The only exceptions were East and West Greenwich.


Rhode Island is known as the "birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution". It was in Pawtucket, Rhode Island that Samuel Slater set up his first mill in 1790, using the waterpower of the Blackstone River to power his mill. For a while, Rhode Island was one of the leaders in textiles. However, with the Great Depression, most textile factories relocated to the American South. Textiles still constitute a part of the Rhode Island economy, but does not have the same power that it once had. An interesting by-product of the textile industry is the amount of abandoned factories - many of them now are used for low-income or elderly housing or have been converted into offices. In Pawtucket, these abandoned mills are used as housing for artists.

The Fortune 500 companies CVS and Textron are based in Woonsocket, Rhode Island and Providence, Rhode Island respectively. FM Global, Hasbro, American Power Conversion, Nortek, and Amica Mutual Insurance are all Fortune 1000 companies based in Rhode Island. The GTECH Corporation is headquartered in Providence.

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.

Health services are Rhode Islands largest industry. Second is tourism, supporting 39,000 jobs, with tourism related sales at $3.26 billion in the year 2000. The third largest industry is manufacturing. Its industrial outputs are fashion jewelry, fabricated metal products, electric equipment, machinery, shipbuilding and boatbuilding. Rhode Island's agricultural outputs are nursery stock, vegetables, dairy products, and eggs.


Historical populations

1790 68,825
1800 69,122
1810 76,931
1820 83,059
1830 97,199
1840 108,830
1850 147,545
1860 174,620
1870 217,353
1880 276,531
1890 345,506
1900 428,556
1910 542,610
1920 604,397
1930 687,497
1940 713,346
1950 791,896
1960 859,488
1970 946,725
1980 947,154
1990 1,003,464
2000 1,048,319

The centre of population of Rhode Island is located Providence County, in the city of Cranston .

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2005, Rhode Island has an estimated population of 1,076,189, which is a decrease of 3,727, or 0.3%, from the prior year and an increase of 27,870, or 2.7%, since the year 2000. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 15,220 people (that is 66,973 births minus 51,753 deaths) and an increase due to net migration of 14,001 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 18,965 people, and migration within the country produced a net decrease of 4,964 people.

Rhode Island Population Density Map
Rhode Island Population Density Map
Demographics of Rhode Island (csv)
By race White Black AIAN Asian NHPI
AIAN is American Indian or Alaskan Native   -   NHPI is Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
2000 (total population) 90.96% 6.45% 1.07% 2.74% 0.19%
2000 (Hispanic only) 7.14% 1.42% 0.18% 0.08% 0.07%
2005 (total population) 90.16% 7.07% 1.09% 3.07% 0.21%
2005 (Hispanic only) 9.12% 1.49% 0.22% 0.08% 0.08%
Growth 2000-2005 (total population) 1.76% 12.52% 4.91% 15.09% 9.93%
Growth 2000-2005 (non-Hispanic only) -0.75% 13.80% 1.03% 15.44% 8.90%
Growth 2000-2005 (Hispanic only) 31.21% 7.98% 24.03% 3.78% 11.64%

The five largest ancestry groups in Rhode Island are: Italian (19%), Irish (18.4%), French-Canadian (17.3%), English (12%), Portuguese (8.7%).

6.1% of Rhode Island's population were reported as under 5, 23.6% under 18, and 14.5% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 52% of the population.

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


The religious affiliations of the people of Rhode Island are:

  • Christian – 81%
    • Roman Catholic – 56%
    • Protestant – 28%
      • Episcopal – 8%
      • Baptist – 6%
      • Other Protestant – 10%
    • Other Christian – 1%
  • Jewish – 2%
  • Other Religions – 1%
  • Non-Religious – 16%

Rhode Island is home to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence and the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island.

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


Rhode Island has a unique and fascinating culture that distinguishes its people not only from other regions, but also from neighboring New England states.

Rhode Islanders speak with a distinct accent that many compare to a "Brooklyn" or a cross between a New York and Boston accent. The residents of this state also speak with a unique vernacular that many have dubbed "Rhode Islandese" or "Rhode Islander". The letter 'r' is often dropped at the end of a word, ("water" becomes "wata"). The letter 'r' is also added in to the ending of words ("soda" becomes "soder", "idea" becomes "idear"). Utilization of the word "wicked" is also very common among Rhode Islanders, especially young ones, to provide greater emphasis on something (e.g., "That's wicked funny" is a relatively common phrase).

It is a fairly common stereotype that Rhode Islanders are very superstitious, although this has not been scrutinized statistically. However, the belief in vampires, especially in the rural parts of the state, was widespread up until the late 19th century. There are several well-documented cases in which families disenterred deceased relatives, then removed and burned their hearts in the belief that the deceased was a vampire who was responsible for illness and misfortune that the family had been suffering. The most famous of these cases is that of 19-year-old Mercy Brown who died in Exeter, Rhode Island in 1892. It is believed that this widely-reported event inspired much of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula.

The Fox show Family Guy takes place in a fictional town in Rhode Island named Quahog.

The state was notorious for organized crime activity from the 1950s into the 1990s when the Patriarca crime family held sway over most of New England from their Providence headquarters. Although the power of organized crime has greatly diminished in Rhode Island over the last 20 years, its residents are still stigmatized by popular perceptions of rampant graft and corruption that have haunted the state for decades.

Rhode Islanders developed a unique style of architecture in the 17th century, called the stone-ender.


Rhode Island is known for being one of the biggest coffee-drinking states. According to a Providence Journal article, Providence features the highest number of coffee/donut shops per capita in the country, with over 100 Dunkin' Donuts locations in the state alone. It is common belief that more coffee ice cream is sold here per-capita than any other state. The Official State Drink of Rhode Island is coffee milk, a beverage created by mixing milk with coffee syrup. This unique syrup was invented in the state and is bottled and sold in most Rhode Island supermarkets. Frozen lemonade, a mixture of ice-slush, lemons and sugar is also immensely popular in the summer, especially Del's Frozen Lemonade, a company based in Cranston.

 Wein-O-Rama is a popular Cranston restaurant which serves weiners.
Wein-O-Rama is a popular Cranston restaurant which serves weiners.

Several foods and dishes are unique to Rhode Island. " Wieners," which are sometimes called "gaggers" or "weenies" are smaller than a standard hot dog but are covered in a meat sauce, chopped onions, mustard, and celery salt. The most common way the word is spelt on menus is "weiner." Submarine sandwiches are referred to as "grinders" in Rhode Island with a popular version being the Italian grinder, which is made with Italian cold cuts (usually ham, prosciutto, capicola, salami, and Provolone cheese). Chouriço (a spicy Portuguese sausage) and peppers, eaten with hearty bread, is also popular among the state's large Portuguese community. "Dynamites" are most popular in Woonsocket and are similar to a sloppy joe, except served with peppers and onions in a torpedo roll.

The Ocean State's tradition of seafood is one of the most celebrated in the country. Shellfish is extremely popular, with clams being used in multiple ways. The Quahog (whose shell is Rhode Island's state shell) is a large clam which is mixed with stuffing and spicy minced sausage and then baked in the shell to form a "Stuffie." Steamed clams are also a very popular dish. Fried squid, or "calamari," are fried squid rings and are most popular in Italian restaurants.

Rhode Island, like the rest of New England, has a long tradition of clam chowder. While both the White "New England" variety and the Red "Manhattan" variety are popular, Rhode Island makes a clear chowder, affectionately known as "Rhode Island Clam Chowder."

Perhaps the most peculiar culinary tradition in Rhode Island is the "clamcake." The clamcake is a deep fried ball of buttery dough with chopped bits of clam inside of it. They are sold in most seafood restaurants around the state, and usually come by the half-dozen or dozen. The quintessential summer meal in Rhode Island is "chowder and clam cakes."

It is also said that clams casino originated in Rhode Island after being "invented" by Julius Keller, the maitre d' in the original Casino next to the seaside Towers in Narragansett. Clams Casino resemble the beloved stuffed quahog but are generally made with the smaller littleneck or cherrystone clam and are unique in their use of bacon as a topping.

Cities and towns

There are 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island.

The cities are Providence, East Providence, Newport, Warwick, Cranston, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Woonsocket.

The towns are Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Charlestown, Coventry, Cumberland, East Greenwich, Exeter, Foster, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, New Shoreham (Block Island), North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Portsmouth, Richmond, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, West Greenwich, West Warwick, and Westerly.


Primary and secondary schools

Colleges and universities

Rhode Island has several colleges and universities:

  • Brown University
  • Bryant University
  • Gibbs College
  • Johnson & Wales University
  • Naval War College
  • New England Institute of Technology
  • Community College of Rhode Island
  • Providence College
  • Rhode Island College
  • Rhode Island School of Design
  • Roger Williams University
  • Salve Regina University
  • University of Rhode Island
  • Zion Bible Institute

Professional sports teams

  • Pawtucket Red Sox, AAA (minor league baseball) affiliate of the Boston Red Sox
  • Providence Bruins, AHL (minor league hockey) affiliate of the Boston Bruins
  • Newport Gulls, NECBL (New England Collegiate Baseball League)

The Providence Grays won the first World Championship in baseball history in 1884. The team played their home games at the old Messer Street Field in Providence. The Grays played in the National League from 1878 to 1885. They defeated the New York Metropolitans of the American Association in a best of five game series at the Polo Grounds in New York. Providence won three straight games to become the first champions in major league baseball history.

Babe Ruth played for the minor league Providence Grays of 1914 and hit his only official minor league home run for that team before being recalled by the Grays parent club, the Boston Red Stockings.

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