Rhode Island, USA

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At a little more than 1000 square miles, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the USA. This small size (roughly 48 miles long and 37 miles wide) makes Rhode Island the object of lots of comparisons. For example, California's Yosemite National Park is described in a recent news report as being the same size as Rhode Island.

Despite its small size, it bears the longest official name of any state in the union – State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

The shortened form of its official title, 'Rhode Island', doesn't really do the state justice. It isn't really an island at all. Much of the state is connected to the mainland, but Narragansett Bay does take a big bite into the northeastern corner of the state, and the majority of the state's 35 islands are located there.

Rhode Island is rich in history and contains many wonderful attractions, and because of its small size, most are just a short car ride away.

Some other Rhode Island facts and figures:

  • Size - 1045 square miles

  • Population - 1,048,319, according to the 2000 US Census.

  • State Flower - Violet

  • State Tree - Red Maple

  • State Bird - Rhode Island Red Hen

  • State Fish - The Striped Bass

  • State Shell - The Quahog

  • State Mineral - Bowenite1

  • State Rock - Cumberlandite2

  • State Slogan - The Ocean State

  • State Yacht -Courageous

Some History

Roger Williams founded the first permanent white settlement in Rhode Island at Providence in 1636 on land purchased from the Narragansett Indians. Forced to flee Massachusetts because of persecution, Williams established a policy of religious and political freedom in his new settlement. Other leaders advocating freedom of worship soon established similar communities on either side of Narragansett Bay. These communities united, and in 1663 King Charles II of England granted them a royal charter, providing for a greater degree of self-government than any other colony in the New World and authorizing the continuation of freedom of religion.

The early 1700s was a period of prosperity for Rhode Island. Farming and sea trading became profitable businesses. Providence and Newport were among the busiest ports in the New World. Despite making profits from the slave trade, Rhode Island was the first colony to prohibit the importation of slaves.

At the start of the Revolutionary War, Rhode Islanders were among the first colonists to take action against British rule by attacking British vessels. On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island was the first colony to renounce allegiance to Great Britain and declare independence. Although no major battles took place in the state, Rhode Island regiments participated in every major campaign of the war. Rhode Islanders such as General Nathanael Greene, second-in-command to General George Washington, and Commodore Esek Hopkins, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy, distinguished themselves as military leaders and heroes. The first Black regiment to fight for America made a gallant stand against the British in the Battle of Rhode Island.

Rhode Island's independent spirit was still in evidence at the close of the Revolutionary War. It was the last of the 13 original colonies to ratify the U.S. Constitution, demanding that the Bill of Rights, which guarantees individual liberties, be added.

Following the Revolution, industrial growth began in Rhode Island. In 1793, Samuel Slater's mill in Pawtucket became America's first successful water-powered cotton mill. From this success, the Industrial Revolution in America began. In addition, the founding of the American jewelry industry by Nehemiah and Seril Dodge helped make Providence one of the chief industrial cities of New England by 1824. Jabez Gorham, jeweler and silversmith, was the forerunner of the world renowned Gorham Manufacturing Company.

As industrialization increased, Rhode Island's cities expanded with immigration. New citizens looking for job opportunities came from a score of countries, mainly Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, and French Canada. Over the years, as these workers became assimilated into Rhode Island's industrial structure, a tradition of manufacturing skill and excellence developed that is still an important asset for the state's economy.

The Lay of the Land

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Popular Destinations

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Famous Rhode Islanders

It bears pointing out that what passes for fame in Rhode Island might not be as notable in the rest of the world. In fact, this list of 'famous' Rhode Islanders might better serve you in a pub quiz as a bit of obscure trivia than anything else. However, these are the most famous sons and daughters that little Rhode Island has to offer:

George M Cohan - Singer, dancer, producer, actor, playwright, and composer — the first artist/entertainer to be honored by Congress. In 1936, he received a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition for his patriotic songs "Over There" and "A Grand Old Flag."

Gilbert Stuart - Foremost painter of portraits of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. The state capitol houses the historic painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart which appears on the $1 dollar bill.

Nathanael Greene - Revolutionary War general, second-in-command to George Washington.

Esek Hopkins - First Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy.

Anne Hutchinson - The first woman to establish a town in America - Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

Nap Lajoie - The American League's first batting champion and an inductee in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Oliver Hazard Perry - Hero of the Battle of Lake Erie (1813).

Related BBC Links

If Rhode Island is not your cup of tea, take a browse through the BBC Holiday site for plenty of exciting alternative destinations...

1Bowenite is a close relative of jade and is considered a semi-precious gemstone.2A dark brown or black rock with white markings, it can be found on both sides of Narragansett Bay and is estimated to be 1.5 billion years old.

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