Rhode Island. Did you know it is the smallest state in size in this country? From north to south, it’s just 48 miles; from east to west, it’s only 37 miles. It’s bordered by Massachusetts to the north and east, the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and Connecticut to the west.
Despite its small size, it used to have the longest name of any US state. Its official name was The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, but in 2020, residents voted to shorten it because the word “plantations” reminded people of slavery. Now it’s just called The State of Rhode Island. Can you guess which state now has the longest name? The answer is at the end of this blog.
Rhode Island was the last of the original thirteen colonies to become a state. There are plenty of cool things to learn about this coastal state. For example:
- It’s the costume jewelry capital of the world.
- The first circus in the US took place in 1774 in a city called Newport.
- The city of Portsmouth is home to the oldest schoolhouse in the country, which was built in 1716.
What really happened
- People who lived in what’s now Rhode Island arrived roughly 30,000 years ago. Different Native American tribes, such as the Narragansett, Wampanoag and Niantive, ruled the land thousands of years later.
- The first recorded visit by a European happened in 1524 when Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano arrived. Ninety years later, Dutch explorer Adriaen Block arrived in 1614 and mapped the coastline, including Block Island, which is named after him.
- The first permanent European settlement was established by Roger Williams in 1636. He moved to Rhode Island after being kicked out of Massachusetts for his religious beliefs. Williams called the settlement Providence and declared that it would be a place where people of many different religions could practice freely. Today, Providence is the state capital and Williams is known as the “Father of Rhode Island.”
- In 1652, Rhode Island made the first law that prohibited slavery.
- From 1675 to 1676, the colonists in New England fought a war (called King Philip’s War) against the local Native Americans. The leader of the Native Americans was a Wampanoag chief called King Philip by the settlers of Portsmouth. Eventually, he was killed and very few Native Americans were left living in the colony.
- When England began to tax the American colonies, Rhode Island wanted its independence. In 1772, colonists from Providence were among the first to take military action against England by burning and sinking the British ship called The Gaspee.
- In 1776, it became the first colony to declare independence from Great Britain. But it was the last of the original thirteen colonies to ratify (or sign) the U.S. Constitution in order to join the Union. Rhode Island’s delegates insisted that the Bill of Rights, which guarantees certain freedoms, be added to the Constitution before they’d sign it.
- In 1790, Rhode Island joined the Union and became the 13th state.
- That same year, an English immigrant named Samuel Slater founded this country’s first textile (cotton) mill in Pawtucket and became known as the Father of the American Industrial R (Textiles are woven or knitted cloth that also include lace, yarn, felt and ropes. They are used to make many things ranging from clothing and towels to sheets, table linens and carpets.)
- In 1866, Rhode Island abolished racial segregation throughout the state.
Stuff you should know
- The state has 21 lighthouses.
- Fifty-nine percent of the state is covered in forest.
- Rhode Island has no county government. It’s divided into 39 municipalities each having its own form of government.
- One of the state’s nicknames is “The Ocean State” due to its many ocean-facing beaches.
- There are 30 islands located in Narragansett Bay.
- The state can be divided into two geographic regions: the eastern half of the state is part of the lowlands of Narragansett Bay while the western half of the state is part of the uplands of the New England area.
- After World War I, the state was hit hard by the Spanish Influenza. It lasted from 1918 to 1920 and was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.
- After the Civil War, Rhode Island became a vacation spot for the wealthy, who built many large mansions.
- A reproduction of the original Liberty Bell is in the State House. It was donated by the US Treasury Department in 1950. It even has a crack similar to the original Liberty Bell.
Crazy, funny or just plain weird
- Rhode Islanders say “pawk the caw,” instead of “park the car”. To talk like a native of Rhode Island, pronounce the “er” at the end of a word as an “eh.”
- The world’s largest bug lives in Providence. This giant two-ton termite is 58 feet long and sits on top of the big blue pest control building, waiting to feast on wood chips. The bug even has a name: Nibbles Woodaway.
- In 1904, the nation’s first jail sentence for speeding in an automobile was handed down by Judge Darius Baker in the city of Newport. The driver had to spend five days in jail for driving 15 miles per hour!
Tell me more
- In 2014, Ben Perry, an 18-year-old high school senior from Providence, set the Guinness World Record for marathon cooking – working for 40 hours straight!
- Gilbert Stuart from Rhode Island was the artist behind the George Washington portrait featured on the one-dollar bill.
- The state has more shipwrecks per square mile than any other state.
- Rhode Island’s state motto, “Hope,” is shorter than any other state motto.
- Cumberlandite is an extremely rare rock only found on four acres of land in the state.
Did you figure out which of the 50 states has the longest name? It’s Massachusetts.
If you live in Rhode Island or have ever visited the state, please share an interesting fact, perhaps some trivia, or a story about the area, people or its history. Email it to email@example.com and we’ll post it on Mo’s social media pages along with your first name, age, and state where you live!