Five Algonquian-speaking groups of Native Americans inhabited what is now Rhode Island when the first white explorers arrived in the 16th century and early 17th century. The Narragansett occupied most of the region and were the largest and most powerful group, numbering about 5,000. The Wampanoag lived in the area east of Narragansett Bay. The Nipmuc lived in northern Rhode Island and adjacent areas of Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Niantic inhabited southwestern Rhode Island and coastal areas of Connecticut. The Pequot held land along Rhode Island’s western border but lived mostly in what is now Connecticut.
Archaeological sites indicate the native inhabitants lived largely by hunting deer, catching fish and shellfish, and growing corn, beans, and squash. They migrated between inland and coastal areas during the year to take advantage of seasonal resources. The principal social unit was the village, led by a village chief called a sachem. Some sachems apparently held power over larger confederacies made up of several villages, and over some of the smaller, weaker native groups. "Rhode Island" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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