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Rhode Island (RI) Fast Facts
Location and Geography: Rhode Island is notable for being the smallest state in the country, located in the New England region directly underneath Massachusetts. Much of Rhode Island’s mass is actually made up of water, although, contrary to its common name, it is not an island but a coastal area.
Counties and Regions: Rhode Island, being small, has only five counties. These do not have provisional governments, and instead the most powerful local governments are those of the cities and towns. The general regions of Rhode Islands could be described as follows:
- Blackstone Valley
- Block Island
- East Bay
- South County
- West Bay
Population: With a little over one million people, Rhode Island does not have one of the highest populations in the country in terms of absolute numbers. Its small land area, however, means that it is ranked second in terms of population density.
Major Cities: Rhode Island’s capital is the city of Providence, one of the oldest cities to be founded in the American Colonies. It is also the state’s most populous city, and the center of a metropolitan area that covers most of Rhode Island and part of the adjoining state of Massachusetts. The number of people living in the metropolitan area of Providence, therefore, surpasses the number of people living in Rhode Island itself.
Story Behind the Name: Rhode Islands’ official name is actually “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” which is the reason why most of the state is actually not an island at all. The island originally called Rhode Island was likely either named after the Greek island of Rhodes or derived from a Dutch phrase meaning “Red Island,” but nobody is quite certain as to the origin.
History and Colonization: The area that would later be known as Rhode Island was home to several Native American tribes before European contact. Most of these remained in the area for some time afterward, as it was not settled as extensively as places like New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania (although European diseases still took their toll on the population).
The first Englishmen to found permanent towns in the area were dissidents from Massachusetts who had been expelled for their religious views. They settled on land that they had bartered from the local natives, and over time, these settlements began to prosper. White settlers on Rhode Island had generally peaceful relations with the Native Americans that lived there, but warfare from surrounding colonies often spilled over and eventually killed or drove most of the natives out.
Rhode Island had fostered a rebellious culture from the beginning, and would become the first of the Thirteen Original Colonies to declare its independence from Great Britain. It would be the last to ratify the U.S. Constitution, however, as its leaders feared that the document would put too many restrictions on the people’s liberty. They ratified the Constitution only after the inclusion of the Bill of Rights, and while under threat of trading restrictions from other states.
In the latter half of the eighteenth century, slavery flourished in Rhode Island much more so than in other parts of New England. Rhode Island’s merchants engaged in a prosperous rum and slave trade with other parts of the world, which encouraged a surprisingly high slave population in the tiny state. Abolitionist sympathies ran high in other segments of the population, however, and slavery was eventually minimized and abolished.
Industrial and manufacturing plants rose to prominence in the nineteenth century, and came to define much of the culture of Rhode Island. Being such a small state, advances in mass transit and the spread of urbanization impacted Rhode Island significantly. Today, it is a densely populated and largely urban or suburban state in which local government plays a major role.