Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations

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This article is about one of the British colonies Rhode Island or Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. For the U.S. State that succeeded it, see Rhode Island. For other uses, see Rhode Island (disambiguation)
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
Colony of England (1636–1707)
Colony of Great Britain (1707–76)
Capital Newport
Languages English, Narragansett Indians
Government Crown Colony
 •  Established 1636
 •  Foundation 1637
 •  Chartered as an English colony 1644
 •  Coddington Commission 1651–1653
 •  Royal Charter 1663
 •  Part of the Dominion of New England 1686–1688
 •  Disestablished 1776
Preceded by
Succeeded by
New Netherland
Rhode Island
Today part of  United States

The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was one of England's original Thirteen Colonies established on the east coast of North America bordering the Atlantic Ocean. After the American Revolution, it became the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Early America[edit]

Map of Dutch America

The land that became the English Colony was first home to the Narragansett Indians, which led to the name of the modern town of Narragansett, showing respect to the Narragansett and Nipmuc peoples. European settlement began with the Dutch, and was initially claimed by the Colony of New Netherlands, while English settlement occurred along the Massachusetts Bay. Once the English claimed the area of New England, Dutch influence was particularly withdrawn from the area, though still remained after that, perhaps including the name Red Island, which perhaps was later anglicized to Rhode Island.[citation needed]

Providence was founded by Roger Williams when he was expelled from the Massachusetts Colony in 1636, when he established Providence Plantation. The modern area of Rhode Island became a state on May 29, 1790.

Baptist sanctuary[edit]

The statue of Roger Williams at Roger Williams University, Rhode Island

Providence Plantation was an American colony of English settlers founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a theologian, independent preacher, and linguist, on land given to him by Narragansett sachem Canonicus. Williams was exiled under religious persecution in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and agreed with his fellow settlers on an egalitarian constitution providing for majority rule "in civil things" with liberty of conscience on spiritual matters. He named the colony Providence Plantation, believing that God had brought him and his followers there. (The term "plantation" was used in the 17th century as a synonym for "settlement" or "colony."[1]) Williams named the islands in the Narragansett Bay after virtues: Patience Island, Prudence Island, and Hope Island.[2]

In 1637, Baptist leader Anne Hutchinson purchased land on Aquidneck Island from the Indians, settling in Pocasset, now known as Portsmouth, Rhode Island. With her came her husband William Hutchinson, William Coddington, and John Clarke, among others. Other neighboring settlements of refugees followed, which all formed a loose alliance. They sought recognition together as an English colony in 1643, in response to threats to their independence. The revolutionary Long Parliament in London granted a charter in March 1644.[1] The colonists refused to have a governor, but set up an elected "president" and council.

Hutchinson established the colony of Portsmouth in 1638; Coddington and Clarke established Newport in 1639. Both colonies were situated on Aquidneck Island. The second of the plantation colonies on the mainland was Samuel Gorton’s Shawomet Purchase from the Narragansetts in 1642.[citation needed]

In 1644, Lauren Boesel secured a land patent establishing "the Incorporation of Providence Plantations in the Narragansett Bay," under the authority of Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, head of the Commission for Foreign Plantations. The patent covered much of the territory that eventually made up the State of Rhode Island and specifically included the English towns of Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport.[3] As Gorton settled at Shawomet, the Massachusetts authorities laid claim to his territory and acted to enforce their claim. After considerable difficulties with the Massachusetts Bay General Court, Gorton traveled to London to enlist the sympathies of Rich. Gorton returned to his colony in 1648 with a letter from Rich, ordering Massachusetts to cease molesting him and his people. In gratitude, Gorton changed the name of Shawomet Plantation to Warwick Plantation.

The separate plantation colonies in the Narragansett Bay region were very progressive for their time, passing laws abolishing witchcraft trials, imprisonment for debt, most capital punishment and, on May 18, 1652, chattel slavery of both blacks and whites.[4][5]

Cromwell interregnum[edit]

In 1651, William Coddington obtained a separate charter from England setting up the Coddington Commission, which made him life governor of the islands of Rhode Island and Conanicut in a federation with Connecticut Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony. Protest, open rebellion, and a further petition to Oliver Cromwell in London led to the reinstatement of the original charter in 1653.[6]

Sanctuary for religious freedom[edit]

Following the 1660 restoration of royal rule in England, it was necessary to gain a Royal Charter from the new king Charles II of England. Charles was then a Catholic sympathizer in staunchly Protestant England, and approved the colony's promise of religious freedom. He granted the request with the Royal Charter of 1663, giving the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations an elected governor and legislature. In the following years, many persecuted groups settled in the colony, notably Quakers and Jews.[7][8]

Rhode Island remained at peace with local Indians, but the relationship was more strained between other New England colonies and certain tribes and sometimes led to bloodshed, despite attempts by the Rhode Island leadership to broker peace.[7][8] During King Philip's War (1675–1676), both sides regularly violated Rhode Island's neutrality. The war's largest battle occurred in Rhode Island, when a force of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Plymouth militia under General Josiah Winslow invaded and destroyed the fortified Narragansett village in the Great Swamp in southern Rhode Island, on December 19, 1675.[9] The Narragansetts also invaded and burned down several of the cities of Rhode Island, including Providence. Roger Williams knew both Metacom (English name Philip) and Canonchet as children. He was aware of the tribe's movements and promptly sent letters informing the Governor of Massachusetts of enemy movements. By his prompt action, Providence Plantations made some efforts at fortifying the town, and Williams even started training recruits for protection. In one of the final actions of the war, troops from Connecticut hunted down and killed "King Philip", as they called the Narragansett war leader Metacom, on Rhode Island's territory.[7][8]

Dominion of New England[edit]

In the 1680s, Charles II sought to streamline administration of the English colonies and to more closely control their trade. The Navigation Acts passed in the 1660s were widely disliked, since merchants often found themselves trapped and at odds with the rules. However, many colonial governments, Massachusetts principally among them, refused to enforce the acts, and took matters one step further by obstructing the activities of the Crown agents.[10] Charles' successor James II introduced the Dominion of New England in 1686 as a means to accomplish these goals. Under its provisional president Joseph Dudley, the disputed "King's Country" (present-day Washington County) was brought into the dominion, and the rest of the colony was brought under dominion control by Governor Sir Edmund Andros. The rule of Andros was extremely unpopular, especially in Massachusetts. The 1688 Glorious Revolution deposed James II and brought William and Mary to the English throne; Massachusetts authorities conspired in April 1689 to have Andros arrested and sent back to England.[citation needed] With this event, the dominion collapsed and Rhode Island resumed its previous government.[11]

The bedrock of the economy continued to be agriculture – especially dairy farming – and fishing; lumber and shipbuilding also became major industries. Slaves were introduced at this time, although there is no record of any law re-legalizing slave holding. Ironically, the colony later prospered under the slave trade, by distilling rum to sell in Africa as part of a profitable triangular trade in slaves and sugar between Africa, America, and the Caribbean.[12]

American Revolutionary period[edit]

Leading figures in the colony were involved in the 1776 launch of the American Revolutionary War which delivered American independence from the British Empire, such as former royal governors Stephen Hopkins and Samuel Ward, as well as John Brown, Nicholas Brown, William Ellery, the Reverend James Manning, and the Reverend Ezra Stiles, each of whom had played an influential role in founding Brown University in Providence in 1764 as a sanctuary for religious and intellectual freedom.[citation needed]

On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island became the first of the 13 colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown,[13] and was the fourth to ratify the Articles of Confederation between the newly sovereign states on February 9, 1778.[14] It boycotted the 1787 convention that drew up the United States Constitution,[15] and initially refused to ratify it.[16] It relented after Congress sent a series of constitutional amendments to the states for ratification (specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights; clear limitations on the government's power in judicial and other proceedings; and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people). On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island became the thirteenth state and the last of the former colonies to ratify the Constitution.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Franklin, Wayne (2012). New York, The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W W Norton & Company. p. 179. ISBN 978-0-393-93476-2
  2. ^ "Prudence Island Light". History. Retrieved November 7, 2010. 
  3. ^ Paul Edward Parker (October 31, 2010). "How 'Providence Plantations' and Rhode Island were joined". The Providence Journal. Retrieved November 7, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Rhode Island and Roger Williams" in Chronicles of America
  5. ^ Lauber, Almon Wheeler, Indian Slavery in Colonial Times Within the Present Limits of the United States. New York: Columbia University, 1913. Chapter 5. See also the Rhode Island Historical Society FAQ.
  6. ^ "A Chronological History of Remarkable Events, in the Settlement and Growth of Providence.". Rhode Island USGenWeb Project (scan by Susan Pieroth; transcription by Kathleen Beilstein). 2002. Archived from the original on January 14, 2005. Retrieved November 7, 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c Mudge, Zachariah Atwell (1871). Foot-Prints of Roger Williams: A Biography, with Sketches of Important Events in Early New England History, with Which He Was Connected. Hitchocok & Waldon. Sunday-School Department. ISBN 1270833367. 
  8. ^ a b c Straus, Oscar Solomon (1936). Roger Williams: The Pioneer of Religious Liberty. Ayer Co Pub. ISBN 9780836955866. 
  9. ^ Michael Tougias (1997). "King Philip's War in New England". King Philip's War : The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict. Archived from the original on October 26, 2007. Retrieved November 7, 2010. 
  10. ^ Labaree, pp. 94, 111–113
  11. ^ Lovejoy, pp. 247, 249
  12. ^ "The Unrighteous Traffick", in The Providence Journal Sunday, March 12, 2006.
  13. ^ "The May 4, 1776, Act of Renunciation". State of Rhode Island. Retrieved 3 May 2014. 
  14. ^ Jensen, Merrill (1959). The Articles of Confederation: An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution, 1774–1781. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. xi, 184. ISBN 978-0-299-00204-6. 
  15. ^ "Letter from Certain Citizens of Rhode Island to the Federal Convention". Ashland, Ohio: Retrieved October 21, 2015. 
  16. ^ Flexner, James Thomas (1984). Washington, The Indispensable Man. New York: Signet. p. 208. ISBN 0-451-12890-7. 
  17. ^ Vile, John R. (2005). The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of America's Founding (Volume 1: A-M). ABC-CLIO. p. 658. ISBN 1-85109-669-8. Retrieved October 21, 2015.