Providence Plantation was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a theologian, independent preacher, and linguist on land gifted by the Narragansett sachem Canonicus. Roger Williams, fleeing from religious persecution in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, agreed with his fellow settlers on an egalitarian constitution providing for majority rule "in civil things" and liberty of conscience. Roger Williams named the colony Providence Plantation, in recognition of agriculture as the basis of its economy and believing that God had brought him and his followers there. Williams named the other islands in the Narragansett Bay after virtues: Patience Island, Prudence Island and Hope Island.
In 1637, the Baptist leader Anne Hutchinson purchased land on Aquidneck Island from the Native Americans, settling in Pocasset, now known as Portsmouth, Rhode Island. With her came her husband, William Coddington and John Clarke, among others. Other neighboring settlements of refugees followed, which all formed a loose alliance. However, 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. The colonists refused to have a governor, but set up an elected "president" and council.
The colony was very progressive for its time, and passing laws abolishing witchcraft trials, imprisonment for debt, most capital punishment, and on March 18, 1652, chattel slavery of both blacks and whites. Most religious groups were welcomed, with only some restrictions on Catholicism.
In 1651, William Coddington obtained a separate charter from England setting up the so-called Coddington Commission, which made Coddington life governor of the islands of Rhode Island and Connecticut in a federation with Connecticut Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony. Protest, open rebellion and a further petition to Oliver Cromwell in London, led in 1653 to the reinstatement of the original charter.
After the English revolutionary government was overturned in 1660, 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 in 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.
The colony was amalgamated into the Dominion of New England in 1686, as James II of England attempted to enforce royal authority over the autonomous colonies in British North America. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the colony regained its independence under the Royal Charter. 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 relegalizing 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 with the Caribbean.
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 colony of the thirteen colonies to ratify the United States Constitution on May 29, 1790 once assurances that a Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution.
- ↑ "Rhode Island and Roger Williams" in Chronicles of America
- ↑ Lauber, Almon Wheeler, Indian Slavery in Colonial Times Within the Present Limits of the United States. New York: Columbia University, 1913. Chapter 5. HTML version accessed from [Dinsmore Documentation] See also the Rhode Island Historical Society FAQ.
- ↑ A Chronological History of Remarkable Events, in the Settlement and Growth of Providence. Rhode Island 1844 accessed at The USGenWeb Project
- ↑ "The Unrighteous Traffick", in The Providence Journal Sunday, March 12, 2006.
- ↑ "Rhode Island Ratification of the U.S. Constitution"}
- State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
- Touro Synagogue
- Roger Williams
- List of colonial governors of Rhode Island
- Dominion of New England