Rhode Island History Timeline

By | May 12, 2022

The original inhabitants of the Rhode Island area (Narragansett, Niantic and Wampanoag Indians) would have perished from diseases brought to the land by European explorers in the 17th century and from the brutality of colonial expansion through their ancestral homelands.

In that regard, a Dutch explorer, Adrien Block, visited the island (now called Block Island) in 1614, and by 1625, the Dutch West India Company had established a trading post on the island in Narragansett Bay and was actively trading with the Indians.

In 1635 William Blackstone (or Blackstone) from Boston became the first permanent European settler here. In 1636 Roger Williams, expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his worship, settled at the tip of Narragansett Bay. He called the providence of the site and declared it a place of religious freedom.

Ann Hutchinson (a religious dissident) was also exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638. She and other religious exiles subsequently brought additional settlers to this harsh new land.

For decades the colonists fought onward, and in 1663, King Charles II issued a long-desired charter for all of Rhode Island and Providence. United as one, a certain degree of self-government was achieved and religious freedoms were promoted.

In the 1700s, farming and maritime trade were profitable businesses in Rhode Island. From Newport and Providence, large shipping fleets traded rum distilled from molasses for African slaves. They then traded their cargo in the West Indies for additional molasses and sugar, thus perpetuating the slave trade.

However, in 1774 the Rhode Island political leader, Stephen Hopkins , introduced a bill that banned the importation of slaves into the colony, and this became the first anti-slavery laws passed in the colonies.

The British saw an opportunity to tax the newfound wealth of their America’s colonies, and Rhode Island was no exception. Ultimately the tariffs and strict rules imposed by England reached a boiling point, and Rhode Island was the first to declare its independence.

The American Revolutionary War was fought on many fronts and the Battle of Rhode Island – an effort to remove British ships from Narragansett Bay – although mostly unsuccessful for the colonial army, was, according to some historical writers, the motivation for the eventual abandonment of Newport by the British.

At the end of the war, and as the 13th state to ratify the US constitution, Rhode Island was moving fast into the future. Samuel Slater, ” Father of the American Industrial Revolution ” built the nation’s first textile mill in Pawtucket, and during the 19th century the state became a vital manufacturing powerhouse.

As the plight of black slaves in the southern states turned into a moot point, that moral dispute between northern and southern states peaked, and in 1861, the American Civil War began.

Rhode Island joined the Union cause and over 25,000 of its men joined the fight. In addition, Rhode Island, as well as other northern states, used its manufacturing capacity to supply the Union army.

That bloody civil war finally ended in 1865, and in the years that followed, Rhode Island’s economy was the country’s manufacturing center for files, machine tools, jewelry and precious metal industries, rubber goods, steam engines, and much, much more.

During World War I (1917-1918)the state continued to prosper right up to the Great Depression of the 1930s, and at the end, it was World War II that ignited the state’s 20th century economic engine.

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the US (in land size), but played a gigantic role in the creation of America, especially in its colonial history and industrial revolution.

Closely associated with the sea, this is a favorite summer vacation spot for boaters, fishermen and history buffs. In fact, there is so much history here that Rhode Island has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of historical attractions.

Rhode Island, Ocean State is also known for Newport’s magnificent mansions, and as an international sailing venue.

Rhode Island timeline

1500s – 1600s

  • (1524) Giovanni de Verrazano explored Narragansett Bay and coastline
  • (1614) A Dutch merchant, Adrien Block, discovered the island now named for him
  • (1625) Dutch established temporary trading post on Dutch Isle, traded with local Indians
  • (1635) William Blackstone first Rhode Island settler
  • (1636) Roger Williams founded providence on land received from the Indians
  • (1637) Anne Hutchison founded Portsmouth after being expelled from Massachusetts for heresy
  • (1639) National First Baptist Church founded
  • (1643) Roger Williams granted Parliamentary Patent for Providence, Portsmouth, Newport Colony, affirmed supportive land claims of settlers
  • (1647) Rhode Island united with Providence formed a single government
  • (1652) Colony plagued by local Indian wars
  • (1663) King Charles II granted charter for Rhode Island, Providence Plantations
  • (1675 – 1676) King Philip’s War between Narragansetts Indians and colonists; several thousand Indians died, six hundred colonists died, much property damage
  • (1676) Wampanoag Indian chief, King Philip, executed; King Philip’s War is over
  • (1686) King James II suspended charter, ordered Rhode Island to submit to Dominion of New England
  • (1689) William of Orange became King, Rhode Island resumed government under 1663 charter

1700s

  • (1724) Property rights qualifications established for voters
  • (1726 – 1727) Border conflicts with Connecticut; decided in 1727
  • (1746 – 1757) Settlement with Massachusetts led to the annexation of the Eastern Bay Cities and Port of Bristol
  • (1769) British Liberty sloop torched in Newport Harbor in protest of British taxes
  • (1772) British income schooner, Gaspee, torched in Warwick
  • (1774) Connecticut, Rhode Island banned further importation of slaves
  • (1776) Rhode Island first American colony to declare indendence from Great Britain
  • (1776) Stephen Hopkins, Chief Justice & Governor of Rhode Island signed the Declaration of Independence
  • (1777 – 1778) British forces occupied Newport; colonial forces fled to Bristol
  • (1778) Battle of Rhode Island partial victory, but failed to drive out the British
  • (1779) British forces evacuated Rhode Island
  • (1780 – 1781) French troops occupied Newport
  • (1783) Catholics got the same rights as Protestants
  • (1784) Emancipation Act passed; provided for the gradual abolition of slavery
  • (1786) Farmers hit sellers who refused to accept paper money
  • (1790) Rhode Island became National 13th State; Samuel Slater founded the first textile factory in the United States.

1800s

  • (1812) Rhode Island refused to participate in the War of 1812
  • (1824) Weaver women from Pawtucket amazed
  • (1842) Dorr Rebellion led to constitutional reform
  • (1843) State Constitution passed
  • (1847) State first train ran
  • (1861 – 1865), 25.236 The Islanders fought in the Civil War; 1,685 died
  • (1866) Racial segregation abolished
  • (1867) President Rutherford Hayes tested new telephone, call from Rocky Point to Providence, distance 8 miles
  • (1884) Naval War College opened
  • (1895) Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Newport Mansion, completed

1900s

  • (1930) America’s Cup Yacht Race pinned Newport
  • (1935) “Bloodless Revolution” – Democrats replaced Republican dominance in the House and Senate
  • (1936) Rhode Island celebrated 300th anniversary
  • (1938) Hurricane killed about 600, damaged significant
  • (1954) Hurricane Hymn hit, 19 killed, 3,800 houses lost, over $90,000,000 in damages
  • (1955) Severe flooding caused property losses
  • (1968) State’s first enclosed, atmospheric controlled mall opened
  • (1969) Newport Bridge opened between Jamestown and Newport
  • (1976) Rhode Island hosted the Square Rigged Vessels Regatta
  • (1978) Blizzard 78 worst snowstorms in history, 21 lives lost
  • (1980) Claudine Schneider first woman elected to Congress
  • (1989) World Prodigy, 500ft tanker, spilled a million gallons of fuel near Newport
  • (1996) Jerk towing barge caught fire, millions of gallons of fuel spilled under South Kingstown

2000s

  • (2003) West Warwick Nightclub Fire 100 Die
  • (2009) Prostitution, Outlaw
  • (2010) Downpours caused flooding caused thousands of houses, property damage over $200 million
  • (2011) State Senate approved a bill allowing civil unions for gay couples
  • (2011) Hurricane Irene knocked down trees, power lines, suffered 500,000 without power

Rhode Island History