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RHODE ISLAND. A North Atlantic State of the United States, belonging to the New England group, and situated between latitudes 41° 18′ and 42° 3′ N. and between longitudes 71° 8′ and 71° 53′ W. It is bounded on the north and east by Massachusetts, on the south by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west by Connecticut. Rhode Island is the smallest in area of the United States. It has an extreme length from north to south of 48 miles, and an extreme width from east to west of 36 miles. Its area is 1250 square miles, of which 1053 square miles, or 673,920 acres, are land surface.

Topography. The greater part of the State belongs to the eastern Appalachian belt known in the Southern States as the Piedmont Plain. It is rough and hilly, though the general elevation is not great, being less than 600 feet throughout the State, with the exception of a few monadnocks. The highest point is Durfee Hill, near Gloucester, in the northwestern part; its altitude is 805 feet. The western part of the coast-line is bordered by lagoons and marshes, while the eastern part of the State is separated from the main portion by Narragansett Bay, a large, irregular, and branching inlet extending 28 miles inland, with a breadth of from 12 to 3 miles. It incloses a number of islands, the largest of which are Aquidneck or Rhode Island, Conanicut, and Prudence Island. Aquidneck, containing the town of Newport, is a beautiful island, 15 miles long and 3 miles wide. It is lined with bold cliffs and line beaches, and is known as the ‘Eden of America.’ Nine miles off the coast lies Block Island, a sandy reef inclosing a salt lagoon. The rivers of the State are small. The three largest are the Blackstone and the Pawtuxet in the north, flowing into the upper part of Narragansett Bay, and the Paweatuck in the south, flowing into the Atlantic Ocean on the Connecticut boundary. All of these are rapid streams, with a number of falls supplying considerable water-power. Like all glaciated areas, the State is studded with numerous small lakes.

NIE 1905 Rhode Island.jpg


County Map
 County Seat.   Area in 

1890. 1900.

Bristol C 3  Bristol  25 11,428 13,144
Kent B 3  East Greenwich  169 26,754 29 976
Newport C 3  Newport 117 28,552 32,599
Providence B 2  Providence 411  255,123    328,683  
Washington  B 4  Kingston 331 23,649 24,154

Climate and Soil. The climate is mild and equable compared with that of the rest of New England. It is influenced chiefly by winds coming from the Gulf Stream. The cold winds striking the eastern coast of New England are almost unfelt here. The mean temperature for January is 36° and for July 76°. The average relative humidity ranges between 80 and 95 per cent. throughout the year. The average rainfall is about 45 inches, ranging in localities from 40 inches in the north to nearly 50 on the coast. The soils are in general coarse, stony, and not well adapted for agriculture, and there is very little alluvial land.

Geology and Mineral Resources. Archæan rocks, chiefly the Montalban gneisses, form the surface of the western half of the State to within three miles of Narragansett Bay. The Narragansett Basin, including the bottom of the bay, its islands and both shores, together with a region running northeast into Massachusetts, forms an interesting patch of Carboniferous deposits. It seems to have been a shallow trough undergoing a continual subsidence as the coal beds and intervening strata were laid down, until the whole deposit attained a thickness of several thousand feet. The basin has since been subjected to folding movements, in which process the strata were crushed and faulted, and the coal converted into graphitic anthracite, and locally almost or wholly into pure graphite. These anthracite beds form the principal mineral deposits of the State, but access to large portions of them is difficult, owing to the proximity of the bay. Along a part of the western edge of the Carboniferous area runs a dike of magnetite iron ore containing considerable deposits, while limestone and granite are the most important of the other mineral resources.

Fisheries. The fisheries employed in 1898 about 1700 persons. The value of the product for that year was $955,058, to which the oyster catch contributed more than $500,000. Next to oysters the most important fish are scups and squeteagues.

Agriculture. In Rhode Island the number of acres included in farms decreased 17.8 per cent. between 1850 and 1900, the acreage in the latter year being 455,602, or 67.6 per cent. of the total land surface. The number of farms meanwhile remained almost the same, so that the average size decreased from 103 acres in 1850 to 33 in 1900. The improved land in 1900 (41.1 per cent. of the farm acreage) was only a little over one-half as great as the improved area in 1850. In the census year 1900 the most important cereal, corn, represented only 8149 acres, and the next in rank, oats, only 1530 acres. Hay and forage form by far the most important crop, amounting in 1899 to 69,776 acres; but this was a decrease from 94,111 in 1889. Potatoes are relatively important, representing, in 1899, 5817 acres. Sweet corn and other vegetables are grown for the local markets. Much attention is given to the growing of apples, peaches, and pears. The number of peach trees increased over four-fold between 1890 and 1900. Considerably over half the fruit trees are in Providence County. Cranberries, strawberries, and other small fruits are grown.

Stock-Raising. Significant increase was made in the number of horses in the last half of the nineteenth century, but there was a very great decrease in the number of dairy cows, sheep, and swine. The following table shows the number of domestic animals on farms:

1900 1890

Dairy cows  23,660   23,943 
Other cattle  12,374  10,834
Horses  11,390   9,864
Mules and asses  43  51 
Sheep   6,629  11,400
Swine  11,508  12,055

In 1899 the value of dairy products was $1,923,707. Of this amount 89.2 per cent. was realized from sales, mainly of milk. In the decade of 1890-1900 there was a decrease of 49.4 per cent. in the quantity of butter produced on farms, and an increase of 21.8 per cent. in the quantity of milk.

Manufactures. Since 1870 over 22 per cent. of the total population have been engaged as wage-earners in this line of industry. The number in 1900 was 96,528, of whom 26,984 were women, and 5036 children under sixteen years of age. The total value of products increased 29.2 per cent. from 1890 to 1900, being in the latter year $184,074,378. The shallow depth of the water at the port of Providence has prevented the development of ocean traffic and thus has withheld from the State a great advantage. The raw materials of manufacture are transported long distances, and the centralization of the railroads has in a measure deprived the State of the advantages of competitive rates. Rhode Island has become well known for the superiority of certain of its products. The State has ranked second in cotton manufacture from the beginning of the industry, as estimated by the number of spindles employed. The spinning of cotton by the factory system began in 1790 at Pawtucket, and it was here that cotton was first spun by water power in the United States. As early as 1815 there were 140,000 spindles within a radius of 30 miles of Providence. Since 1890 a very slight decrease has taken place in the number of spindles, the number in 1900 being 1,920,522.

The manufacture of wool in the State by the factory process began in 1804; here the first power loom used in the manufacture of woolens in the United States was installed in 1814. Between 1890 and 1900 the production of worsted goods increased enormously, and the State ranks second in this branch of the woolen industry. But the value of other kinds of woolen goods has greatly decreased. The dyeing and finishing of textiles are industries which have increased enormously since 1890, as has also been the case with the silk and silk goods industry. Next in importance to the textiles are jewelry and silverware. The State ranks first in each of these and second in the reducing and refining of gold and silver not from the ore. These industries are almost wholly concentrated in Providence. They began here prior to the Revolution, but the prominence of the city in this respect dates from about 1894, when improved machinery was applied. All three of these industries made large gains in the decade 1890-1900. The foundry and machine-shop industry mainly turns out engines and boilers, for which the State has an established reputation. The manufacture of rubber boots and shoes (not included in the appended table) amounted in 1900 to $8,034,417 in value, and the manufacture of electrical apparatus reached $5,113,292 in the same year.

The following table shows the relative importance of most of the leading industries:

INDUSTRIES  Year  Number of
Value of products,
including custom
 work and repairing 

Total for selected industries for State 
1900 614  66,381  $116,440,265 
1890 514  60,084  90,433,113 
Increase, 1890 to 1900 ...... 100  6,297  26,007,152 
Per cent. of increase ...... 19.5  10.5  28.8
Per cent. of total of all industries in State 
1900 14.7  68.8  63.3
1890 15.2  74.1  63.5

Foundry and machine shop products
1900 149  8,799  $13,269,086 
1890 101  6,876  10,170,286 
Gold and silver, reducing and refining,
 not from the ore
1900 10  70  3,484,454 
1890 10  70  1,419,653 
1900 214  4,877  13,320,620 
1890 179  4,092  8,011,067 
Liquors, malt
1900 296  1,880,171 
1890 82  436,846 
Rubber and elastic goods
1900 1,039  2,518,268 
1890 438  629,000 
1900 1,540  3,834,408 
1890 969  2,509,869 
1900 218  49,760  78,133,258 
1890 213  47,557  68,355,207 
Cotton goods
 (including cotton small-wares)
1900 87  24,032  26,435,675 
1890 94  24,576  27,310,499 
Dyeing and finishing textiles
1900 24  5,942  8,484,878 
1890 22  3,619  4,743,561 
Hosiery and knit goods
1900 15  1,594  2,713,850 
1890 16  1,504  2,516,664 
1900 131  515,643 
1890 10  132  1,350,792 
Silk and silk goods
1900 455  1,311,333 
1890 186  229,062 
Woolen goods
1900 26  2,710  5,330,550 
1890 40  5,912  9,884,945 
Worsted goods
1900 51  14,896  33,341,329 
1890 28  11,628  22,319,684 

Transportation and Commerce. The railroad mileage increased from 108 in 1860 to 217 miles in 1890 and decreased to 209 in 1900. All the important lines are under the control of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. The value of foreign imports at the port of Providence for the year ending June 30, 1901, was $1,146,511. The exports are altogether insignificant. Of greater importance is the coastwise traffic, there being a considerable trade with the important North Atlantic ports. Newport and Bristol and Warren are also customs districts, but the trade of both is small.

Banks. The first bank of Rhode Island was the Providence Bank, founded in 1791. The early banking history of the State, however, centres around the Providence Institution for Savings, which dates from 1819. It has been the tendency during the past few years for the national banks and savings institutions either to liquidate or become trust companies. The report of the Comptroller of the Currency for the year ending June 30, 1902, gives the following statistics:

State Saving

Number 36 3 24

Capital  $12,305,000  $395,000  .............
Surplus    3,788,000 .............  $3,338,000
Cash, etc.     1,523,000 92,000  [1]2,343,000
Loans   27,472,000  1,003,000   31,789,000
Deposits   19,154,000 735,000   71,900,000

Government. The State Constitution was adopted in 1842, replacing the original charter granted by King Charles II. An amendment proposed in the General Assembly must receive the votes of a majority of all the members elected to each House at two consecutively elected Assemblies, and then be approved by three-fifths of the electors present and voting in the town and ward meetings.

Since 1888 a residence and home in the State for two years and in the town or city for six months preceding an election have been required for voting, with a small additional property qualification for those voting for the city council of any city or upon any proposition to impose a tax or for the expenditure of money in any town or city. The capital of Rhode Island is Providence.

Legislative. According to the amendment of 1900, the General Assembly meets on the first Tuesday of January in each year at Providence. Each town or city has one representative in the Senate, and one or more in the House of Representatives, but no town or city can have more than one-sixth of the 72 members to which the House is limited, and no town or city can be divided for purposes of representation. Senators and Representatives are paid according to time of actual attendance, with a maximum limit of 60 days, plus mileage. The House impeaches and the Senate tries all cases of impeachment.

Executive. The Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Secretary, Attorney-General, and Treasurer are annually elected at the same time and place as are Senators and Representatives, namely, at the town, ward, and district meetings, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November. They hold office one year. The Lieutenant-Governor succeeds to the Governorship in case of a vacancy, and in case of further vacancy the position is filled by appointment by the General Assembly acting in grand committee. The pardoning power is exercised by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Judicial. The judicial power is vested in one Supreme Court and such inferior courts as the General Assembly may establish, the powers of the several courts being prescribed by law. Judges of the Supreme Court are elected by the General Assembly in grand committee, and their term of office continues until their positions are declared vacant by a resolution of the General Assembly.

Finances. The paper money system, which was prevalent throughout all the oolonies, kept Rhode Island's finances in a continual state of disorder. The Revolution left the State with a large debt and heavy taxes, and this condition of affairs was not remedied until Rhode Island joined the Union. In 1789 the Revolutionary debt was repudiated by the passage of the compulsory tender act compelling creditors to accept paper money at an arbitrary rate. On January 1, 1902, the balance on hand in the treasury amounted to $158,272.71. The total receipts during the year were $1,490,621.90 and the expenditures $1,537,502.41. There was a balance on hand of $111,392.26 on January 1, 1903. The total debt was $2,998,000. From this sum, however, there should be deducted a sinking fund of $444,451.50.

Militia. In 1900 there were 95,737 men of militia age. The militia in 1901 numbered 1413.

Population. The population increased from 68,825 in 1790 to 147,545 in 1850, 345,506 in 1890, and 428,556 in 1900. As to population, the State stood 34th in rank in 1900. There were in that year 407 inhabitants to the square mile, which figure exceeded that for any other State. There was a foreign-born population (1900) of 134,519, Ireland, Canada, and England being chiefly represented. The percentage of city population is very large. In 1900 Providence had a population of 175,597; Pawtucket, 39,231; Woonsocket, 28,204; Newport, 22,034; and Central Falls, 18,167.

The State sends two members to the National House of Representatives.

Religion. The principal Protestant denominations are the Baptist, with one-third of the total Protestant church membership, and the Protestant Episcopalians, with about one-fifth. The Roman Catholics have about one-fourth of the population.

Education. The public school system was established in 1828 and was greatly improved under the administration of Henry Barnard (q.v.). The proportion of illiteracy, due in large part to the numbers of foreigners, is greater than in any other of the North Atlantic States—8.4 per cent. in 1900. In 1900-01 the school population (5-15 inclusive) of the State was 85,084, of whom 69,067 were enrolled in schools. Of the 1960 teachers employed in the public schools in 1900-01 the male teachers constituted only 9.1 per cent. The average monthly salaries of male and female teachers in the same year were $115.32 and $51.14 respectively. The school fund is insignificant. The State has only one normal school. It is situated at Providence. The State maintains a college of agriculture and mechanic arts. For Brown University, see article.

Charitable and Penal Institutions. There are a State hospital at Providence and a soldiers' home at Bristol. There are two insane hospitals, one at Providence and the other at the State farm, Cranston. Other State institutions located at the State farm are the almshouse, workhouse, reformatory, and penitentiary. In 1901 the State appropriated $259,000 for the maintenance of the State institutions and $136,891 for construction.

History. The stories of Norse exploration within the present limits of the State rest upon slight foundation. True history begins when Roger Williams (q.v.) was banished from Massachusetts Bay, and settled with a few companions, at ‘Providence Plantations,’ on land purchased from the Narraganset Indians, probably in June, 1636. Already, however, William Blackstone, who had fled from the tyranny of the ‘lords brethren’ in Massachusetts, as he had left England to escape the ‘lords bishops,’ had settled near Pawtucket River. In March, 1638, a band of Antinomians banished from Massachusetts Bay, under the leadership of William Coddington and John Clark, made a settlement at Pocasset (Portsmouth), on Aquidneck Island (Rhode Island). The next year a secession from this settlement founded Newport, but in 1640 these two towns were united under William Coddington as Governor. In 1643 Samuel Gorton (q.v.) founded Warwick upon the mainland. At Providence the government was at first a pure democracy, “ignoring any power in the body politic to interfere with those matters which alone concern man and his maker.” Each of these settlements was at first independent. In 1642 it was determined to seek a patent from England, and the next year Roger Williams went to England for this purpose. Through the influence of the Earl of Warwick, Parliament granted (1644) a charter uniting the settlements as the “Incorporation of Providence Plantations in the Narragansett Bay in New England.”

The towns, at first, from jealousy and exaggerated ideas of individual importance, refused to enter into the confederation, but finally through fear of revolutions within, and of Massachusetts without, the union was formed in 1647. This jealousy lasted well into the nineteenth century and explains much of the peculiar conduct of the colony and of the State. Complete religious toleration was granted together with the largest measure of political freedom. William Coddington sought to bring the Island into relations with the United Colonies of New England, while President. In 1650 he went to England, and in 1651 secured a grant of the islands within the colony. Williams was able to have this grant vacated in 1652, but not until 1654 were the settlements again united. In 1663 the charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was secured, and this served as a constitution until 1843. During the war waged on charters by James II., the charter of Rhode Island was abrogated by Sir Edmund Andros (q.v.), 1686-89, but on his deposition the old government was quietly renewed under it, though a property qualification for suffrage was added in 1724.

Relations with the other New England colonies were unpleasant. The colony suffered severely in the war with King Philip (q.v.), though opposed to the policy which caused it. Connecticut and Massachusetts claimed practically all of the territory included in the charter limits. The Connecticut boundary, after much wrangling, was finally settled in 1727, and the Massachusetts boundary was confirmed in 1746-47, but was not finally settled until 1862. Both of these colonies looked on Rhode Island as a nest of heretics and a refuge for the disaffected. The colony was shut out from the United Colonies of New England, and in every way made to feel her slight influence. Nevertheless the growth of the colony in population and wealth was steady, and many of the inhabitants turned to the sea for a livelihood. In the colonial wars Rhode Island privateers inflicted much damage, and some of her citizens were accused of piracy. In 1775 an army of observation was organized for the defense of the colony, and two of the thirteen ships ordered by Congress were built here. Rhode Island renounced allegiance to Great Britain on May 4, 1776, and united with the other colonies for defense. During the Revolution Newport was held (1776-79) by British troops, and in 1780 the French fleet was stationed there. The famous soldier of Rhode Island was General Nathanael Greene (q.v.). After the Revolution the State blocked every attempt to give increased power to Congress. This was partly due to the prevalent exaggerated individualism and partly to the desire to retain the right to levy import duties and to force her paper money into circulation. Much paper money had been issued early in the century and in 1786 another era of inflation began. The paper issued on land mortgages depreciated, but many attempts were made to make it a legal tender. A debtor might deposit with a judge of the court the sum owed and upon notice to the creditor the debt was legally satisfied. The notices began, “Know Ye,” and hence the epithet applied in derision to residents of the State. The country or paper money party was in complete control, and a test act requiring all to regard the paper as equal to specie was passed.

The State refused to send delegates to the convention which drew up the Federal Constitution, and when that instrument was submitted for approval it was overwhelmingly rejected by the town meetings. Many attempts to call a convention to consider the Constitution failed, and it was not until threats of coercion had been made that the instrument was ratified, May 29, 1790. Though the commercial and manufacturing interests of the State grew rapidly, the power still lay in the country districts, as the basis of representation had not been changed since the granting of the charter, except to admit new towns. Dissatisfaction finally culminated in Dorr's Rebellion in 1841. (See Dorr, Thomas Wilson.) A new State constitution was adopted as a result in 1842, which has been frequently amended since. The property qualification for suffrage was not abolished until 1888, and election by a plurality has been allowed since 1893. Previously the election of Governor and State officers was often thrown into the Legislature. Until 1900 the Legislature met in Newport in April to canvass the vote and adjourned to Providence in January to transact business. Now all sessions are held in Providence. A prohibitory amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1886, but was repealed in 1889. During the Civil War the State furnished more than her quota of troops. In national politics the State has been erratic. From 1792 to 1800 she gave her vote to the Federalist electors, but in 1804 was Democratic. In 1808 and 1812 the Federalists again secured control, but in 1816 and 1820 the State was once more Democratic. Rhode Island supported the tariff wing of the Democracy in 1824, but in 1828 was National Republican (the name originally borne by the Whig Party) and in 1832 Whig, only to be Democratic again in 1836. From 1840 to 1848 the Whig candidates received her votes, and in 1852 the State went back to Democracy. Since 1856, however, the State has been Republican in national elections:


Providence had no chief executive from its organization until the union under the patent in 1647.

Portsmouth (Pocasset)
William Coddington Judge 1638-39
William Hutchinson 1639-40
William Coddington Judge 1639-40
Portsmouth and Newport
William Coddington Governor 1640-47
Presidents of Colony Under Patent
John Coggeshall 1647-48
William Coddington 1648-49
John Smith 1649-50
Nicholas Easton 1650-51
The Division 1651-54
Providence and Warwick
John Smith President 1651-53
Gregory Dexter 1653-54
Aquidneck (Portsmouth and Newport)
John Sanford President 1653-54
The Reunion; Presidents
Nicholas Easton 1654
Roger Williams 1654-57
Benedict Arnold 1657-60
William Brenton 1660-62
Benedict Arnold 1662-63
Benedict Arnold 1663-66
William Brenton 1666-69
Benedict Arnold 1669-72
Nicholas Easton 1672-74
William Coddington 1674-76
Walter Clarke 1676-77
Benedict Arnold 1677-78
William Coddington 1678
John Cranston 1678-80
Peleg Sanford 1680-83
William Coddington, Jr. 1683-85
Henry Bull 1685-86
Walter Clarke 1686
Charter suspended by Governor Andros 1686-89
Henry Bull 1690
John Easton 1690-95
Caleb Carr 1695
Walter Clarke 1696-98
Samuel Cranston 1698-1727
Joseph Jenckes 1727-32
William Wanton 1732-33
John Wanton 1733-40
Richard Ward 1740-43
William Greene 1743-45
Gideon Wanton 1745-46
William Greene 1746-47
Gideon Wanton 1747-48
William Greene 1748-55
Stephen Hopkins 1755-57
William Greene 1757-58
Stephen Hopkins 1758-62
Samuel Ward 1762-63
Stephen Hopkins 1763-65
Samuel Ward 1765-67
Stephen Hopkins 1767-68
Josias Lyndon 1768-69
Joseph Wanton 1769-75
State Governors Under the Charter
Nicholas Cooke 1775-78
William Greene, Jr. 1778-86
John Collins 1786-90
Arthur Fenner Federalist-Republican 1790-1805
Paul Mumford (acting) 1805
Henry Smith 1805-06
Isaac Wilbour 1806-07
James Fenner 1807-11
William Jones 1811-17
Nehemiah R. Knight  Democratic-Republican  1817-21
William C. Gibbs 1821-24
James Fenner Whig 1824-31
Lemuel H. Arnold 1831-33
John B. Francis 1833-38
William Sprague 1838-39
Samuel W. King 1839-43
Governors Under the Constitution
James Fenner Whig 1843-45
Charles Jackson 1845-46
Byron Diman 1846-47
Elisha Harris 1847-49
Henry B. Anthony 1849-51
Philip Allen  Democratic-Free Soil  1851-53
Francis M. Dimond (acting) 1853-54
William W. Hoppin American 1854-57
Elisha Dyer Republican 1857-59
Thomas G. Turner 1859-60
William Sprague 1860-63
William C. Cozzens 1863
James Y. Smith 1863-66
Ambrose E. Burnside 1866-69
Seth Padelford 1869-73
Henry Howard 1873-75
Henry Lippitt 1875-77
Charles C. Van Zandt 1877-80
Alfred H. Littlefield 1880-83
Augustus O. Bourn 1883-85
George P. Wetmore 1885-87
John W. Davis Democrat 1887-88
Royal C. Taft Republican 1888-89
Herbert W. Ladd 1889-90
John W. Davis Democrat 1890-91
Herbert W. Ladd Republican 1891-92
D. Russell Brown 1892-95
Charles W. Lippitt 1895-97
Elisha Dyer 1897-1900
William Gregory 1900-01
Charles Dean Kimball 1901-03
Lucius F. C. Garvin Democrat 1903—

Bibliography. Richman, Rhode Island: Its Making and Meaning (New York, 1902); Field, (ed.), State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations at the End of the Century (Boston, 1903); Arnold, History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (New York, 1859-60; 4th ed., Providence, 1894); Greene, Short History of Rhode Island (Providence, 1877); Bartlett (ed.), Letters of Roger Williams (Providence, 1882); Rhode Island Historical Society, Collections (9 vols., ib., 1827-97); Proceedings (21 vols., ib., 1872-92); Publications; Rhode Island Historical Tracts, 1st series (20 vols., ib., 1877-84).

  1. Including amount due from banks and bankers.