Formerly named the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
since its accession to the Union in 1790, voters in the state approved an amendment
in November 2020 to the state constitution
, renaming itself the State of Rhode Island. This change took effect when the results were certified on November 30, 2020.
Rhode Island's official nickname is the "Ocean State", a reference to the large bays and inlets that amount to about 14% of its total area.
Despite its name, most of Rhode Island is on the mainland of the United States. Prior to 2020, the state's official name was State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
, which is derived from the merger of four Colonial settlements. The settlements of Newport
were situated on what is commonly called Aquidneck Island
today but was called Rhode Island
in Colonial times. Providence Plantation
was the name of the colony founded by Roger Williams
in the state's capital of Providence
This was adjoined by the settlement of Warwick
; hence the plural Providence Plantations.
It is unclear how the island came to be named Rhode Island, but two historical events may have been of influence:
- Explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano noted the presence of an island near the mouth of Narragansett Bay in 1524 which he likened to the island of Rhodes off the coast of Greece. Subsequent European explorers were unable to precisely identify the island Verrazzano described, but the colonists who settled the area assumed it was this island.
- Adriaen Block passed by the island during his expeditions in the 1610s, and he described it in a 1625 account of his travels as "an island of reddish appearance," which was "een rodlich Eylande" in 17th-century Dutch, meaning a red or reddish island, supposedly evolving into the designation Rhode Island. Historians have theorized this "reddish appearance" resulted from either red autumn foliage or red clay on portions of the shore.
The earliest documented use of the name "Rhode Island" for Aquidneck was in 1637 by Roger Williams. The name was officially applied to the island in 1644 with these words: "Aquethneck shall be henceforth called the Isle of Rodes or Rhode-Island." The name "Isle of Rodes" is used in a legal document as late as 1646.
Dutch maps as early as 1659 call the island "Red Island" (Roodt Eylant
Attempts to change the name
The first English settlement in Rhode Island was the town of Providence, which the Narragansett
granted to Roger Williams in 1636. At that time, Williams obtained no permission from the English crown, as he believed the English had no legitimate claim on Narragansett and Wampanoag
territory. However, in 1643, he petitioned Charles I of England
to grant Providence and neighboring towns a colonial patent, due to threats of invasion from the colonies of Boston and Plymouth.
He used the name "Providence Plantations" in his petition, plantation
being the English term for a colony
. "Providence Plantations" was therefore the official name of the colony from 1643 to 1663, when a new charter
In 1790, following the American Revolution
, the new state incorporated both "Rhode Island" and "Providence Plantations" becoming known as the "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations".
The word plantation in the state's name became a contested issue during the 20th century and the increased awareness of slavery and its role in early Rhode Island history. The General Assembly voted on June 25, 2009, to hold a general referendum scheduled for November 2010 determining whether "and Providence Plantations" would be dropped from the official name.
Advocates for excising plantation
claimed the word symbolized an alleged legacy of disenfranchisement for many Rhode Islanders, as well as the proliferation of slavery in the colonies and in the post-colonial United States. Advocates for retaining the name argued that plantation
was simply an archaic synonym for colony
and bore no relation to slavery. The referendum election was held on November 2, 2010, and the people voted overwhelmingly (78% to 22%) to retain the entire original name.
2020 referendum to change the name
On June 19, 2020, State Senator Harold Metts
introduced a resolution for another ballot referendum on removing the words "and Providence Plantations" from the state's name, saying, "Whatever the meaning of the term 'plantations' in the context of Rhode Island's history, it carries a horrific connotation when considering the tragic and racist history of our nation."
On June 22, 2020, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo
issued an executive order to remove "Providence Plantations" from a range of official documents and state websites.
On July 16, 2020, amidst the George Floyd protests
and nationwide calls to address systemic racism, the resolution referring the question to the voters was passed by both houses of the Rhode Island General Assembly
. The vote was 69–1 in the House of Representatives
and 35–0 in the Senate
The change was approved by voters 52.8% to 47.2% as part of the 2020 United States elections
, and took effect upon final certification of the election results.
In 1636, Roger Williams
was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony
for his religious views, and he settled at the top of Narragansett Bay on land sold or given to him by Narragansett sachem Canonicus
. He named the site Providence, "having a sense of God's merciful providence unto me in my distress",
and it became a place of religious freedom where all were welcome. In 1638 (after conferring with Williams), Anne Hutchinson
, William Coddington
, John Clarke
, Philip Sherman
, and other religious dissenters settled on Aquidneck Island
(also known as Rhode Island), which was purchased from the local tribes who called it Pocasset. This settlement was called Portsmouth
and was governed by the Portsmouth Compact
. The island's southern part became the separate settlement of Newport
after disagreements among the founders.
purchased lands at Shawomet in 1642 from the Narragansetts, precipitating a dispute with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1644, Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport united for their common independence as the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
, governed by an elected council and "president". Gorton received a separate charter for his settlement in 1648 which he named Warwick
after his patron.
In 1680, Newport was the third largest Anglo-American city. It remained a prosperous population center until the 1770s
The colony was amalgamated into the Dominion of New England
in 1686, as King James II
attempted to enforce royal authority over the autonomous colonies in British North America
, but the colony regained its independence under the Royal Charter after the Glorious Revolution
of 1688. Slaves were introduced in Rhode Island at this time, although there is no record of any law legalizing slave-holding. The colony later prospered under the slave trade, distilling rum to sell in Africa as part of a profitable triangular trade
in slaves and sugar with the Caribbean.
Rhode Island's legislative body passed an act in 1652 abolishing the holding of slaves (the first British colony to do so), but this edict was never enforced and Rhode Island continued to be heavily involved in the slave trade
during the post-revolution era.
In 1774, the slave population of Rhode Island was 6.3% of the total (nearly twice the ratio of other New England
was founded in 1764 as the College in the British Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. It was one of nine Colonial colleges
granted charters before the American Revolution but was the first college in America to accept students regardless of religious affiliation.
Revolutionary to Civil War period: 1770–1860
Providence Revolutionaries burned the HMS Gaspee
in Warwick in protest of British customs laws
Rhode Island's tradition of independence and dissent gave it a prominent role in the American Revolution
. At approximately 2 a.m. on June 10, 1772, a band of Providence residents attacked
the grounded revenue schooner HMS Gaspee
, burning it to the waterline for enforcing unpopular trade regulations
within Narragansett Bay.
Rhode Island was the first of the thirteen colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown on May 4, 1776.
It was also the last of the thirteen colonies to ratify the United States Constitution
on May 29, 1790, and only under threat of heavy trade tariffs from the other former colonies and after assurances were made that a Bill of Rights
would become part of the Constitution.
During the Revolution, the British occupied Newport in December 1776. A combined Franco-American force fought to drive them off Aquidneck Island. Portsmouth was the site of the first African-American military unit, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment
, to fight for the U.S. in the unsuccessful Battle of Rhode Island
of August 29, 1778.
A month earlier, the appearance of a French fleet off Newport caused the British to scuttle some of their own ships in an attempt to block the harbor. The British abandoned Newport in October 1779, concentrating their forces in New York City. An expedition of 5,500 French troops
under Count Rochambeau
arrived in Newport by sea on July 10, 1780.
The celebrated march
to Yorktown, Virginia
, in 1781 ended with the defeat of the British at the Siege of Yorktown
and the Battle of the Chesapeake
Rhode Island was also heavily involved in the Industrial Revolution
, which began in America in 1787 when Thomas Somers
reproduced textile machine plans which he imported from England. He helped to produce the Beverly Cotton Manufactory
, in which Moses Brown
of Providence took an interest. Moses Brown teamed up with Samuel Slater
and helped to create the second cotton mill in America, a water-powered textile mill. The Industrial Revolution
moved large numbers of workers into the cities, creating a permanently landless class who were, therefore, by the law of the time, also voteless. By 1829, 60% of the state's free white males were ineligible to vote. Several attempts were unsuccessfully made to address this problem, and a new state constitution was passed in 1843 allowing landless men to vote if they could pay a $1 poll tax
For the first several decades of statehood, Rhode Island was governed in accordance with the 1663 colonial charter
. Voting rights were restricted to landowners holding at least $134 in property, disenfranchising well over half of the state's male citizens. The charter apportioned legislative seats equally among the state's towns, over-representing rural areas and under-representing the growing industrial centers. Additionally, the charter disallowed landless citizens from filing civil suits without endorsement from a landowner.
Bills were periodically introduced in the legislature to expand suffrage, but they were invariably defeated. In 1841, activists led by Thomas W. Dorr
organized an extralegal convention to draft a state constitution,
arguing the charter government violated the Guarantee Clause
in Article Four, Section Four of the United States Constitution
. In 1842, the charter government and Dorr's supporters held separate elections, and two rival governments claimed sovereignty over the state. Dorr's supporters led an armed rebellion
against the charter government, and Dorr was arrested and imprisoned for treason against the state.
Later that year, the legislature drafted a state constitution, removing property requirements for American-born citizens but keeping them in place for immigrants, and retaining urban under-representation in the legislature.
During the American Civil War
, Rhode Island was the first Union state to send troops in response to President Lincoln
's request for help from the states. Rhode Island furnished 25,236 fighting men, of whom 1,685 died.
On the home front, Rhode Island and the other northern states used their industrial capacity to supply the Union Army with the materials it needed to win the war. The United States Naval Academy
moved to Rhode Island temporarily during the war.
In 1866, Rhode Island abolished racial segregation in the public schools throughout the state.
Interior of The Breakers
, a Newport symbol of the Gilded Age
The 50 years following the Civil War were a time of prosperity and affluence that author William G. McLoughlin calls "Rhode Island's halcyon era." Rhode Island was a center of the Gilded Age
and provided a home or summer home to many of the country's most prominent industrialists. This was a time of growth in textile mills and manufacturing and brought an influx of immigrants to fill those jobs, bringing population growth and urbanization. In Newport
, New York's wealthiest industrialists created a summer haven to socialize and build grand mansions
. Thousands of French-Canadian, Italian, Irish, and Portuguese immigrants arrived to fill jobs in the textile and manufacturing mills in Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsocket.
World War I
During World War I, Rhode Island furnished 28,817 soldiers, of whom 612 died. After the war, the state was hit hard by the Spanish Influenza
In the 1920s and 1930s, rural Rhode Island saw a surge in Ku Klux Klan
membership, largely in reaction to large waves of immigrants
moving to the state. The Klan is believed to be responsible for burning the Watchman Industrial School
, which was a school for African-American children.
Growth in the modern era: 1929–present
Since the Great Depression
, the Rhode Island Democratic Party
has dominated local politics. Rhode Island has comprehensive health insurance for low-income children and a large social safety net
. Many urban areas still have a high rate of children in poverty. Due to an influx of residents from Boston, increasing housing costs have resulted in more homelessness in Rhode Island.
Downtown Providence in 2008
The 350th Anniversary of the founding of Rhode Island was celebrated with a free concert held on the tarmac of the Quonset State Airport on August 31, 1986. Performers included Chuck Berry
, Tommy James
, and headliner Bob Hope
In 2003, a nightclub fire
in West Warwick
claimed 100 lives and resulted in nearly twice as many injured, catching national attention. The fire resulted in criminal sentences.
In March 2010, areas of the state received record flooding due to rising rivers from heavy rain. The first period of rainy weather in mid-March caused localized flooding and, two weeks later, more rain caused more widespread flooding in many towns, especially south of Providence. Rain totals on March 29–30, 2010 exceeded 14 inches (35.5 cm) in many locales, resulting in the inundation of area rivers—especially the Pawtuxet River which runs through central Rhode Island. The overflow of the Pawtuxet River, nearly 11 feet (3 m) above flood stage, submerged a sewage treatment plant and closed a five-mile (8 km) stretch of Interstate 95
. In addition, it flooded two shopping malls, numerous businesses, and many homes in the towns of Warwick, West Warwick, Cranston, and Westerly. Amtrak service was also suspended between New York and Boston during this period. Following the flood, Rhode Island was in a state of emergency for two days. The Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) was called in to help flood victims.
Geography and climate
Topographic map of Rhode Island.
Rhode Island covers an area of 1,214 square miles (3,144 km2
) within the New England region of the Northeastern United States
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 narrow maritime border with New York State between Block Island and Long Island
. The state's mean elevation is 200 feet (61 m). It is only 37 miles (60 km) wide and 48 miles (77 km) long, yet the state has a tidal shoreline on Narragansett Bay
and the Atlantic Ocean of 384 miles (618 km).
Rhode Island is nicknamed the Ocean State and has a number of oceanfront beaches
. It is mostly flat with no real mountains, and the state's highest natural point is Jerimoth Hill
, 812 feet (247 m) above sea level.
The state 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. Rhode Island's forests are part of the Northeastern coastal forests
Narragansett Bay is a major feature of the state's topography. There are more than 30 islands within the bay; the largest is Aquidneck Island
which holds the municipalities of Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth. The second-largest island is Conanicut
, and the third is Prudence
. Block Island
lies about 12 miles (19 km) off the southern coast of the mainland and separates Block Island Sound
and the Atlantic Ocean proper.
A rare type of rock called Cumberlandite
is found only in Rhode Island (specifically, in the town of Cumberland
) and is the state rock. There were initially two known deposits of the mineral, but it is an ore of iron, and one of the deposits was extensively mined for its ferrous content.
Most of Rhode Island has a humid continental climate
, with warm summers and cold winters. The state's southern coastal portions are the broad transition zone into subtropical climates, with hot summers and cool winters with a mix of rain and snow. Block Island
has an oceanic climate
. The highest temperature recorded in Rhode Island was 104 °F (40 °C), recorded on August 2, 1975 in Providence.
The lowest recorded temperature in Rhode Island was −23 °F (−31 °C) on February 5, 1996 in Greene
Monthly average temperatures range from a high of 83 °F (28 °C) to a low of 20 °F (−7 °C).
Gubernatorial election results
Presidential election results
The state legislature is the Rhode Island General Assembly
, consisting of the 75-member House of Representatives
and the 38-member Senate
. The Democratic Party dominates both houses of the bicameral body; the Republican Party's presence is minor in the state government, with Republicans holding a handful of seats in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
of the popular vote by county, 2016 presidential election
Rhode Island's population barely crosses the threshold beyond the minimum of three for additional votes in both the federal House of Representatives
and Electoral College
; it is well represented relative to its population, with the eighth-highest
number of electoral votes and second-highest
number of House Representatives per resident. Based on its area, Rhode Island has the highest density of electoral votes of any state.
Federally, Rhode Island is a reliably Democratic state during presidential elections, usually supporting the Democratic presidential nominee. The state voted for the Republican presidential candidate until 1908
. Since then, it has voted for the Republican nominee for president seven times, and the Democratic nominee 17 times. The last 16 presidential elections in Rhode Island have resulted in the Democratic Party winning the Ocean State's Electoral College votes 12 times. In the 1980 presidential election
, Rhode Island was one of six states to vote against Republican Ronald Reagan
. Reagan was the last Republican to win any of the state's counties in a Presidential election until Donald Trump won Kent County in 2016. In 1988, George H. W. Bush
won over 40% of the state's popular vote, something no Republican has done since.
Rhode Island was the Democrats' leading state in 1988 and 2000, and second-best in 1968, 1996, and 2004. Rhode Island's most one-sided Presidential election result was in 1964, with over 80% of Rhode Island's votes going for Lyndon B. Johnson
. In 2004, Rhode Island gave John Kerry
more than a 20-percentage-point margin of victory (the third-highest of any state), with 59.4% of its vote. All but three of Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns voted for the Democratic candidate. The exceptions were East Greenwich, West Greenwich, and Scituate.
In 2008, Rhode Island gave Barack Obama
a 28-percentage-point margin of victory (the third-highest of any state), with 63% of its vote. All but one of Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns voted for the Democratic candidate (the exception being Scituate).
Legislation and taxes
Rhode Island is one of 21 states that have abolished capital punishment; it was second do so, just after Michigan
, and carried out its last execution in the 1840s. Rhode Island was the second to last state to make prostitution illegal. Until November 2009 Rhode Island law made prostitution legal
provided it took place indoors.
In a 2009 study Rhode Island was listed as the 9th safest state in the country.
In 2011, Rhode Island became the third state in the United States to pass legislation to allow the use of medical marijuana. Additionally, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation that allowed civil unions which Governor Lincoln Chafee
signed into law on July 2, 2011. Rhode Island became the eighth state to fully recognize either same-sex marriage or civil unions.
Same-sex marriage became legal on May 2, 2013, and took effect August 1.
Rhode Island has some of the highest taxes in the country, particularly its property taxes, ranking seventh in local and state taxes, and sixth in real estate taxes.
Rhode Island population density map
According to the 2010 Census, 81.4% of the population was White (76.4% non-Hispanic white
), 5.7% was Black or African American, 0.6% American Indian and Alaska Native, 2.9% Asian, 0.1% Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, 3.3% from two or more races. 12.4% of the total population was of Hispanic
or Latino origin (they may be of any race).
Rhode Island racial breakdown of population
Of the people residing in Rhode Island, 58.7% were born in Rhode Island, 26.6% were born in a different state, 2.0% were born in Puerto Rico, U.S. Island areas or born abroad to American parent(s), and 12.6% were foreign born.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2015, Rhode Island had an estimated population of 1,056,298, which is an increase of 1,125, or 0.10%, from the prior year and an increase of 3,731, or 0.35%, since the year 2010. 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.
in the state make up 12.8% of the population, predominantly Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Guatemalan populations.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census
, 84% of the population aged 5 and older spoke only American English
, while 8.07% spoke Spanish at home, 3.80% Portuguese, 1.96% French, 1.39% Italian and 0.78% speak other languages at home accordingly.
The state's most populous ethnic group, non-Hispanic white, has declined from 96.1% in 1970 to 76.5% in 2011.
In 2011, 40.3% of Rhode Island's children under the age of one belonged to racial or ethnic minority groups, meaning they had at least one parent who was not non-Hispanic white.
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 Americans of Portuguese ancestry, including Portuguese Americans
and Cape Verdean Americans
than any other state in the nation. Additionally, the state also has the highest percentage of Liberian
immigrants, with more than 15,000 residing in the state.
Italian Americans make up a plurality in central and southern Providence County and French-Canadian Americans
form a large part of northern Providence County. Irish Americans have a strong presence in Newport and Kent counties. Americans of English ancestry still have a presence in the state as well, especially in Washington County
, and are often referred to as "Swamp Yankees
." African immigrants, including Cape Verdean Americans
, Liberian Americans
, Nigerian Americans
and Ghanaian Americans
, form significant and growing communities in Rhode Island.
Although Rhode Island has the smallest land area of all 50 states, it has the second highest population density
of any state in the Union, second to that of New Jersey.
Live Births by Race/Ethnicity of Mother
Since 2016, data for births of White Hispanic
origin are not collected, but included in one Hispanic
group; persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.
A Pew survey of Rhode Island residents' religious self-identification showed the following distribution of affiliations: Catholic
1%, Jehovah's Witnesses
1%, and Non-religious
The largest denominations are the Catholic Church
with 456,598 adherents, the Episcopal Church
with 19,377, the American Baptist Churches USA
with 15,220, and the United Methodist Church
with 6,901 adherents.
Rhode Island has the highest proportion of Catholic residents of any state,
mainly due to large Irish, Italian, and French-Canadian immigration in the past; recently, significant Portuguese and various Hispanic communities have also been established in the state. Though it has the highest overall Catholic percentage of any state, none of Rhode Island's individual counties ranks among the 10 most Catholic in the United States, as Catholics are evenly spread throughout the state.
Rhode Island's Jewish community, centered in the Providence area, emerged during a wave of Jewish immigration predominantly from Eastern Europeans shtetls
between 1880 and 1920. The presence of the Touro Synagogue
in Newport, the oldest existing synagogue in the United States, emphasizes that these second-wave immigrants did not create Rhode Island's first Jewish community; a comparatively smaller wave of Spanish and Portuguese Jews
immigrated to Newport during the colonial era.
Cities and towns
Rhode Island is divided into five counties
but it has no county governments. The entire state is divided into municipalities, which handle all local government affairs.
There are 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island. Major population centers today result from historical factors; development took place predominantly along the Blackstone
, and Providence Rivers
with the advent of the water-powered mill. Providence is the base of a large metropolitan area.
The state's 18 largest municipalities ranked by population are
- Providence (180,393)
- Warwick (82,672)
- Cranston (80,387)
- Pawtucket (72,001)
- East Providence (47,600)
- Woonsocket (41,759)
- Coventry (34,933)
- Cumberland (34,927)
- North Providence (32,511)
- South Kingstown (30,788)
- Johnston (29,332)
- West Warwick (28,626)
- North Kingstown (26,160)
- Newport (24,942)
- Westerly (22,567)
- Bristol (22,290)
- Lincoln (21,863)
- Smithfield (21,767)
Some of Rhode Island's cities and towns are further partitioned into villages, in common with many other New England states. Notable villages include Kingston
in the town of South Kingstown, which houses the University of Rhode Island; Wickford
in the town of North Kingstown, the site of an annual international art festival; and Wakefield
where the Town Hall is for the Town of South Kingstown.
The Rhode Island economy had a colonial base in fishing.
The Blackstone River Valley was a major contributor to the American
Industrial Revolution. It was in Pawtucket
that Samuel Slater
set up Slater Mill
using the waterpower of the Blackstone River
to power his cotton mill
. For a while, Rhode Island was one of the leaders in textiles. However, with the Great Depression
, most textile factories relocated to southern U.S. states. The textile industry still constitutes a part of the Rhode Island economy but does not have the same power.
Other important industries in Rhode Island's past included toolmaking, costume jewelry
, and silverware
. An interesting by-product of Rhode Island's industrial history is the number of abandoned factories, many of which are now condominiums, museums, offices, and low-income and elderly housing. Today, much of Rhode Island's economy is based on services, particularly healthcare and education, and still manufacturing to some extent.
The state's nautical history continues in the 21st century in the form of nuclear submarine
Per the 2013 American Communities Survey, Rhode Island has the highest paid elementary school teachers in the country, with an average salary of $75,028 (adjusted to inflation).
Rhode Island's 2000 total gross state production was $46.18 billion (adjusted to inflation), placing it 45th in the nation. Its 2000 per capita
personal income was $41,484 (adjusted to inflation), 16th in the nation. Rhode Island has the lowest level of energy consumption per capita of any state.
Additionally, Rhode Island is rated as the 5th most energy efficient state in the country.
In December 2012, the state's unemployment rate was 10.2%.
This has gradually reduced to 3.5% in November 2019, however, the coronavirus pandemic brought the unemployment rate to a high of 18.1% in April 2020. This has since reduced to 10.5% in September 2020 and is projected to further decrease to 7% in October 2020.
Health services are Rhode Island's largest industry. Second is tourism, supporting 39,000 jobs, with tourism-related sales at $4.56 billion (adjusted to inflation) in the year 2000. The third-largest industry is manufacturing.
Its industrial outputs are submarine construction, shipbuilding, costume jewelry, fabricated metal products, electrical equipment, machinery, and boatbuilding. Rhode Island's agricultural outputs are nursery stock, vegetables, dairy products, and eggs.
Rhode Island's taxes were appreciably higher than neighboring states,
because Rhode Island's income tax was based on 25% of the payer's federal income tax payment.
Former Governor Donald Carcieri claimed the higher tax rate had an inhibitory effect on business growth in the state and called for reductions to increase the competitiveness of the state's business environment. In 2010, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a new state income tax structure that Governor Carcieri signed into law on June 9, 2010.
The income tax overhaul has made Rhode Island competitive with other New England states by lowering its maximum tax rate to 5.99% and reducing the number of tax brackets to three.
The state's first income tax was enacted in 1971.
As of March 2011, Rhode Island's largest employers (excluding employees of municipalities) are:
From 2000 through 2008, RIPTA offered seasonal ferry service linking Providence and Newport (already connected by highway) funded by grant money from the United States Department of Transportation
. Though the service was popular with residents and tourists, RIPTA was unable to continue after the federal funding ended. Service was discontinued as of 2010.
The service resumed in 2016 and has been successful. The privately run Block Island Ferry
links Block Island
with traditional and fast-ferry service, while the Prudence Island Ferry
with Prudence Island
. Private ferry services also link several Rhode Island communities with ports in Connecticut
, and New York.
Rhode Island's primary airport for passenger and cargo transport is T. F. Green Airport
, though Rhode Islanders who wish to travel internationally on direct flights and those who seek a greater availability of flights and destinations often fly through Logan International Airport
Limited access highways
(I-95) runs southwest to northeast across the state, linking Rhode Island with other states along the East Coast
functions as a partial beltway
encircling Providence to the west. I-195
provides a limited-access highway connection from Providence (and Connecticut
and New York via I-95) to Cape Cod. Initially built as the easternmost link in the (now cancelled) extension of I-84
from Hartford, Connecticut
, a portion of U.S. Route 6
(US 6) through northern Rhode Island is limited-access and links I-295 with downtown Providence.
The East Bay Bike Path
stretches from Providence to Bristol along the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay, while the Blackstone River Bikeway
will eventually link Providence and Worcester. In 2011, Rhode Island completed work on a marked on-road bicycle path through Pawtucket and Providence, connecting the East Bay Bike Path
with the Blackstone River Bikeway, completing a 33.5 miles (54 km) bicycle route through the eastern side of the state.
The William C. O'Neill Bike Path
(commonly known as the South County Bike Path) is an 8 mi (13 km) path through South Kingstown and Narragansett. The 19 mi (31 km) Washington Secondary Bike Path
stretches from Cranston to Coventry, and the 2 mi (3.2 km) Ten Mile River Greenway
path runs through East Providence and Pawtucket.
In late 2019, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority
released a draft of the Rhode Island Transit Master Plan, documenting and describing a variety of proposed improvements and additions to be made to the state's public transit network by 2040. Several different proposals were offered and still under consideration as of December 2020,
including implementation of a bus rapid transit
system, express bus routes, expansion of Amtrak and MBTA services throughout the state, and construction of a new light rail
network through downtown Providence.
On May 29, 2014, Governor Lincoln D. Chafee announced that Rhode Island was one of eight states to release a collaborative Action Plan to put 3.3 million zero emission vehicles on the roads by 2025. The goal of the plan is to reduce greenhouse gas
and smog-causing emissions. The Action Plan covers promoting zero-emissions vehicles
and investing in the infrastructure to support them.
In 2014, Rhode Island received grants from the Environmental Protection Agency
in the amount of $2,711,685 to clean up Brownfield sites
in eight locations. The intent of the grants was to provide communities with the funding necessary to assess, clean up, and redevelop contaminated properties, boost local economies, and leverage jobs while protecting public health and the environment.
In 2013, the "Lots of Hope" program was established in the City of Providence to focus on increasing the city's green space and local food production, improve urban neighborhoods, promote healthy lifestyles and improve environmental sustainability. "Lots of Hope", supported by a $100,000 grant, will partner with the City of Providence, the Southside Community Land Trust and the Rhode Island Foundation to convert city-owned vacant lots into productive urban farms.
In 2012, Rhode Island passed bill S2277/H7412, "An act relating to Health and Safety – Environmental Cleanup Objectives for Schools", informally known as the "School Siting Bill." The bill, sponsored by Senator Juan Pichardo
and Representative Scott Slater
and signed into law by the Governor, made Rhode Island the first state in the US to prohibit school construction on Brownfield Sites where there is an ongoing potential for toxic vapors to negatively impact indoor air quality. It also creates a public participation process whenever a city or town considers building a school on any other kind of contaminated site.
Primary and secondary schools
Colleges and universities
Rhode Island has several colleges and universities:
Some Rhode Islanders speak with the distinctive, non-rhotic
, traditional Rhode Island accent
linguists describe as a cross between New York City
and Boston accents
(e.g., "water" sounds like "watuh" [ˈwɔəɾə]).
Many Rhode Islanders distinguish a strong aw
sound [ɔə] (i.e., resist the cot–caught merger
of Boston) much like one might hear in New Jersey or New York City; for example, the word coffee
is pronounced [ˈkʰɔəfi].
Rhode Islanders sometimes refer to drinking fountains
as "bubblers", milkshakes as "cabinets", and overstuffed foot-long sandwiches (of whatever kind) as "grinders".
Food and beverages
Rhode Island, like the rest of New England, has a tradition of clam chowder
. Both the white New England and the red Manhattan varieties are popular, but there is also a unique clear-broth chowder known as Rhode Island Clam Chowder
available in many restaurants. A culinary tradition in Rhode Island is the clam cake
(also known as a clam fritter outside of Rhode Island), a deep fried ball of buttery dough with chopped bits of clam inside. They are sold by the half-dozen or dozen in most seafood restaurants around the state, and the quintessential summer meal in Rhode Island is chowder and clam cakes.
is a large local clam usually used in a chowder. It is also ground and mixed with stuffing or spicy minced sausage, and then baked in its shell to form a stuffie
(squid) is sliced into rings and fried as an appetizer in most Italian restaurants, typically served Sicilian-style with sliced banana peppers and marinara sauce on the side. (In 2014, calamari became the official state appetizer.
) Clams Casino
originated in Rhode Island, 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.
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 sold in almost all Rhode Island supermarkets, as well as its bordering states. Johnnycakes
have been a Rhode Island staple since Colonial times, made with corn meal and water then pan-fried much like pancakes.
Submarine sandwiches are called grinders
throughout Rhode Island, and the Italian grinder, made with cold cuts such as ham, prosciutto
, and Provolone cheese
, is especially popular. Linguiça
is a spicy Portuguese sausage that the state's large Portuguese community often serves with peppers and eats with hearty bread.
Rhode Island state symbols
In popular culture
The Farrelly brothers
and Seth MacFarlane
depict Rhode Island in popular culture, often making comedic parodies
of the state. MacFarlane's television series Family Guy
is based in a fictional Rhode Island city named Quahog, and notable local events and celebrities are regularly lampooned. Peter Griffin
is seen working at the Pawtucket brewery
, and other state locations are mentioned.
Cartoonist Don Bousquet
, a state icon, has made a career out of Rhode Island culture, drawing Rhode Island-themed gags in The Providence Journal
magazine. These cartoons have been reprinted in the Quahog
series of paperbacks (I Brake for Quahogs
, Beware of the Quahog
, and The Quahog Walks Among Us
.) Bousquet has also collaborated with humorist and Providence Journal
columnist Mark Patinkin
on two books: The Rhode Island Dictionary
and The Rhode Island Handbook
star Pauly D filmed part of his spin-off The Pauly D Project
in his hometown of Johnston.
Notable firsts in Rhode Island
The first act of armed rebellion in America against the British Crown was the boarding and burning of the Revenue Schooner Gaspee
in Narragansett Bay on June 10, 1772. The idea of a Continental Congress
was first proposed at a town meeting in Providence on May 17, 1774. Rhode Island elected the first delegates (Stephen Hopkins
and Samuel Ward
) to the Continental Congress on June 15, 1774. The Rhode Island General Assembly created the first standing army in the colonies (1,500 men) on April 22, 1775. On June 15, 1775, the first naval engagement took place in the American Revolution between an American sloop commanded by Capt. Abraham Whipple
and an armed tender of the British Frigate Rose
. The tender was chased aground and captured. Later in June, the General Assembly created the American Navy when it commissioned the sloops Katy
, armed with 24 guns and commanded by Abraham Whipple who was promoted to Commodore. Rhode Island was the first Colony to declare independence from Britain on May 4, 1776.
Slater Mill in Pawtucket was the first commercially successful cotton-spinning mill with a fully mechanized power system in America and was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the US.
The oldest Fourth of July parade in the country is still held annually in Bristol, Rhode Island
. The first Baptist church in America was founded in Providence in 1638. Ann Smith Franklin
of the Newport Mercury
was the first female newspaper editor in America (August 22, 1762). Touro Synagogue
was the first synagogue in America, founded in Newport in 1763.
Pelham Street in Newport was the first in America to be illuminated by gaslight in 1806.
The first strike in the United States in which women participated occurred in Pawtucket in 1824.Watch Hill
has the nation's oldest flying horses carousel
that has been in continuous operation since 1850.
The motion picture machine was patented in Providence on April 23, 1867.
The first lunch wagon in America was introduced in Providence in 1872.
The first nine-hole golf course in America was completed in Newport in 1890.
The first state health laboratory was established in Providence on September 1, 1894.
The Rhode Island State House
was the first building with an all-marble dome to be built in the United States (1895–1901).
The first automobile race on a track was held in Cranston on September 7, 1896.
The first automobile parade was held in Newport on September 7, 1899 on the grounds of Belcourt Castle.
Miscellaneous local culture
Rhode Island is nicknamed "The Ocean State", and the nautical nature of Rhode Island's geography pervades its culture. Newport Harbor, in particular, holds many pleasure boats. In the lobby of T. F. Green
, the state's main airport, is a large life-sized sailboat,
and the state's license plates depict an ocean wave or a sailboat.
Additionally, the large number of beaches in Washington County
lures many Rhode Islanders south for summer vacation.
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 its Providence headquarters.
Rhode Islanders developed a unique style of architecture in the 17th century called the stone-ender
Rhode Island is the only state to still celebrate Victory over Japan Day
which is officially named "Victory Day" but is sometimes referred to as "VJ Day."
It is celebrated on the second Monday in August.
Nibbles Woodaway, more commonly referred to as "The Big Blue Bug
", is a 58-foot-long termite mascot for a Providence extermination business. Since its construction in 1980, it has been featured in several movies and television shows, and has come to be recognized as a cultural landmark by many locals.
In more recent times, the Big Blue Bug has been given a mask to remind locals and visitors to mask-up during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Providence Reds
were a hockey team that played in the Canadian-American Hockey League (CAHL) between 1926 and 1936 and the American Hockey League (AHL) from 1936 to 1977, the last season of which they played as the Rhode Island Reds. The team won the Calder Cup in 1938, 1940, 1949, and 1956. The Reds played at the Rhode Island Auditorium, on North Main Street in Providence, Rhode Island from 1926 through 1972, when the team affiliated with the New York Rangers and moved into the newly built Providence Civic Center. The team name came from the rooster known as the Rhode Island Red. They moved to New York in 1977, then to Connecticut
in 1997, and are now called the Hartford Wolf Pack
The Reds are the oldest continuously operating minor-league hockey franchise in North America, having fielded a team in one form or another since 1926 in the CAHL. It is also the only AHL franchise to have never missed a season. The AHL returned to Providence in 1992 in the form of the Providence Bruins.
1884 Baseball Champion Providence Grays
Before the great expansion of athletic teams all over the country, Providence and Rhode Island in general played a great role in supporting teams. 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 them before the Grays' parent club, the Boston Red Stockings
, recalled him.
Rhode Island is also home to a top semi-professional soccer club, the Rhode Island Reds
, which compete in the National premier soccer league, in the fourth division of U.S. Soccer.
Rhode Island is home to one top level non-minor league team, the Rhode Island Rebellion rugby league
team, a semi-professional rugby league team that competes in the USA Rugby League
, the Top Competition in the United States for the Sport of Rugby League.
The Rebellion play their home games at Classical High School in Providence.
Current professional teams
Current semi-professional teams
Collegiate and amateur sports
The International Tennis Hall of Fame
is in Newport at the Newport Casino, site of the first U.S. National Championships in 1881. The Hall of Fame and Museum were established in 1954 by James Van Alen as "a shrine to the ideals of the game".
Rhode Island is also home to the headquarters of the governing body for youth rugby league in the United States, the American Youth Rugby League Association or AYRLA. The AYRLA has started the first-ever Rugby League youth competition in Providence Middle Schools, a program at the RI Training School, in addition to starting the first High School Competition in the US in Providence Public High School.
The state capitol building
is made of white Georgian marble. On top is the world's fourth largest self-supported marble dome.
It houses the Rhode Island Charter granted by King Charles II
in 1663, the Brown University charter, and other state treasures.
The first fully automated post office in the country is in Providence. There are many historic mansions in the seaside city of Newport, including The Breakers
, Marble House
, and Belcourt Castle
. Also there is the Touro Synagogue
, dedicated on December 2, 1763, considered by locals to be the first synagogue within the United States (see below for information on New York City's claim), and still serving. The synagogue showcases the religious freedoms established by Roger Williams, as well as impressive architecture in a mix of the classic colonial and Sephardic style. The Newport Casino
is a National Historic Landmark
building complex that houses the International Tennis Hall of Fame
and features an active grass-court tennis club.
Scenic Route 1A
(known locally as Ocean Road) is in Narragansett
. "The Towers
" is also in Narragansett featuring a large stone arch. It was once the entrance to a famous Narragansett casino that burned down in 1900. The Towers now serve as an event venue and host the local Chamber of Commerce, which operates a tourist information center.
The Newport Tower
has been hypothesized to be of Viking
origin, although most experts believe it was a Colonial-era windmill.
- Thomas Angell (1618–1694) – co-founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
- Joshua Babcock (1707–1783) – physician, American Revolution general, state Supreme Court justice, and postmaster
- John Clarke (1609–1676) – Baptist minister, co-founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, author of its influential charter, and a leading advocate of religious freedom in America
- William Coddington (1601–1678) – magistrate of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Judge of Portsmouth, Judge of Newport, Governor of Portsmouth and Newport, Deputy Governor of the entire colony, and governor of the colony
- William Ellery (1727–1820) – a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence as a representative of Rhode Island
- Samuel Gorton (1593–1677) – settled Warwick
- Nathanael Greene (1742–1786) – Continental Army officer, considered George Washington's most gifted officer
- Esek Hopkins (1718–1802) – Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War
- Stephen Hopkins (1707–1785) – Governor of Rhode Island, RI Supreme Court justice, Signatory of the Declaration of Independence
- Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643) – early settler of Newport, the catalyst of the Antinomian Controversy
- James Mitchell Varnum (1748–1789) – general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War
- Samuel Ward, Jr. (1756–1832) – American Revolutionary War soldier and delegate to the secessionist Hartford Convention
- H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) – author
- Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) – painter, one of America's foremost portraitists
- Samuel Slater (1768–1835) – industrialist, "father of the industrial revolution"
- Samuel Ward (1725–1776) – Supreme Court Justice, Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and a delegate to the Continental Congress
- Roger Williams (1603–1684) – founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, influential author, considered the first proponent of separation of church and state
- Abraham Whipple (1733–1819) – Continental Navy commander-in-chief
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