Roger Williams founded the Rhode Island Colony , in 1636, one of America’s original thirteen colonies.
The colony was famed for its religious tolerance, as Williams, a Puritan dissenter, built a shelter for those fleeing religious persecution.
Rhode Island also had a strong political independence heritage, with a government that prioritized individual rights and local sovereignty.
The colony was officially named the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations after the Greek island of Rhodes.
The colony was one of the smallest of the thirteen, yet it was critical to the growth of American democracy and religious freedom.
Rhode Island Colony Facts
1. The Rhode Island Colony was Founded in 1636
The Narragansett Indigenous Peoples lived on the territory that became the English colony, giving rise to the name of the contemporary town of Narragansett, Rhode Island.
Around 1622, European settlement began with a trading post at Sowams, now Warren, Rhode Island.
Roger Williams was a Puritan theologian and linguist who established Providence Plantations on property given to him by Narragansett sachem Canonicus in 1636.
2. It was Created with a Policy of Religious Tolerance
Roger Williams was a former Massachusetts colonist and religious exile who had been compelled to depart due to his rebellious religious convictions.
Williams was a staunch supporter of religious liberty and the separation of church and state, which pitted him against the Puritan authorities of the Massachusetts Colony, who had built a theocracy.
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In 1636, he established Providence Plantations as a haven where people may freely worship without fear of persecution. He also instituted a religious tolerance policy that allowed members of different religions to coexist and worship in harmony.
This policy of religious tolerance and freedom became a defining feature of the Rhode Island Colony, serving as a model for religious liberty in the United States.
3. Providence was the colony’s Largest City and Capital
The primary cities in the Rhode Island Colony were Providence, Newport, and Bristol. Providence was the colony’s largest city and capital, as well as the seat of political and economic authority, acting as a significant port and commercial center.
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Newport was a major port and economic city, as well as a cultural and social center, with a lively art, music, and theatrical scene. Bristol was a major center of shipbuilding and fishing during the colonial era, as well as a focus of the slave trade.
4. It was the Thirteenth and Final colony to Ratify the Constitution
Rhode Island was one of the last colonies to ratify the United States Constitution in 1790, and it did not formally renounce allegiance to the British Crown until after the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776.
It was the thirteenth and final colony to ratify the Constitution, on May 29, 1790.
5. It was Opposed to Ratifying the United States Constitution Because it Lacked a Bill of Rights
Rhode Island was initially opposed to ratifying the United States Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights that would safeguard its residents’ individual rights and liberties.
The state was the last of the thirteen original colonies to ratify the Constitution in 1790, doing so only after the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, were adopted.
The Bill of Rights, which was introduced to the Constitution in 1791, provided crucial safeguards for individual rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press, as well as the right to a fair trial and immunity from excessive searches and seizures.
The ratification of the Constitution by Rhode Island signaled the end of the ratification process and the final step in the foundation of the United States as a single, unified nation.
6. It had Several Periodic Territorial Disputes with Neighboring Colonies
The Rhode Island Colony’s borders changed multiple times over its existence. Roger Williams created the settlement in 1636, but its initial limits were unclear.
This resulted in periodic territorial disputes with neighboring colonies, particularly Massachusetts and Connecticut. The lack of precise boundaries and the colonies’ overlapping land claims contributed to these disputes.
These conflicts were not addressed until the colonies agreed to a series of boundary settlements in the late 17th century. Even then, boundaries were not always maintained, and conflicts over property and jurisdiction persisted.
These disagreements had a significant impact on the colony’s history because they required the colony to dedicate resources to defending its territory, and they also hampered the colony’s economic development.
Furthermore, the disputes hampered the formation of a sense of togetherness among the colonies, making it more difficult for them to collaborate to address common challenges.
It’s worth mentioning that Rhode Island was one of the smaller colonies in terms of land size, and boundary conflicts were one of the reasons it had to work so hard to maintain its territory and rights.
7. The Colony was a Hotbed of anti-British Sentiment
Rhode Island was an important player in the American Revolution. The colony was a hotbed of anti-British sentiment, and many of its residents fought in the conflict.
Rhode Island troops participated in a number of pivotal actions, notably the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778.
The colony was also a base for the Continental Army, with Newport serving as an important port and military headquarters. The colony’s economy also aided the war effort, as shipyards in Rhode Island produced and refitted ships for the Continental Navy.
Additionally, Rhode Island merchants provided food and other goods to the Continental Army. Rhode Island was one of the first colonies to declare independence from Great Britain, demonstrating the colony’s strong support for the revolutionary cause.
8. Rum Production was a Significant Industry in the Rhode Island Colony
Rum production was a significant industry in the Rhode Island Colony, particularly during the 18th century. The location of Rhode Island on the coast made it an ideal location for trade and commerce, especially trading in molasses and sugar, the major ingredients used to manufacture rum.
By 1761, the colony had three sugar refineries and 22 distilleries producing enormous amounts of rum. Rum was sold to neighboring colonies as well as the West Indies and Europe. The rum and molasses trade was a significant source of money for the colony and served to sustain its economy.
Furthermore, the rum industry had a tremendous impact on the colony’s society and culture, with many taverns and inns establishing to serve the rum and entertain the sailors and merchants who came to trade in the colony.
9. It was Socially One of the Most Progressive States
The Rhode Island Colony was well-known for its progressive legislation and social initiatives. Witchcraft trials, which were common in other colonies at the time, were prohibited by colonial regulations.
It also abolished debt imprisonment and limited the usage of the death penalty. In contrast, other colonies had stronger laws and heavier punishments for offenses.
On May 18, 1652, the colony established the first anti-slavery law in America. It was not a full abolitionist statute, but it did ban the sale and possession of Native American and African slaves, and it was the first law of its sort in the colonies.
Although the law was not fully implemented, and slavery persisted in Rhode Island, it was a crucial step toward the eventual abolition of slavery in the United States.
It is important to note that Rhode Island’s history with slavery is complicated, and it is not entirely accurate to say that Rhode Island was a leader in the abolition of slavery.
It was a state that had a significant participation in the slave trade, and its economy was dependent on the labor of enslaved Africans, but it also had a relatively small number of enslaved people when compared to other colonies.
10. The Colony had a Long Growing Season Due to it’s Climate
The Rhode Island Colony’s climate is defined as a humid continental climate, with lengthy cold winters and warm summers. Temperatures in the winter normally vary from the mid 20s to the low 30s Fahrenheit, with snowfall on occasion.
Summers are pleasant, with temperatures ranging from the mid-60s to the low-80s Fahrenheit. The area also receives moderate to heavy precipitation throughout the year, with an annual average of about 45 inches.
The colony had four distinct seasons, which aided agriculture, particularly the development of grains, fruits, and vegetables; it also had a long growing season, allowing for repeated harvests. The colony’s maritime location also allowed for fishing and trade with neighboring colonies and countries.