Rhode Island, state in the northeastern United States, in New England, officially the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island became the first of the 13 original colonies to declare its independence from Great Britain. However, it was the last of the 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution of the United States, doing so on May 29, 1790. The smallest state in the Union, it is, after New Jersey, the second most densely populated and one of the most highly industrialized. Its name is a paradox, since most of the state is part of the North American mainland. The name Rhode Island is the official name of the largest island of Narragansett Bay, an estuary that extends through the eastern part of the state. On most maps of the United States, the state appears so small that it is difficult to identify, but its influence is more widely felt than its tiny size would warrant. Providence is Rhode Island’s capital and its largest city.
Settlement of Rhode Island dates from 1636, when Roger Williams founded Providence after he had been banished from Massachusetts because of religious and political conflicts with the Puritans. This background of dissent made the colony tolerant of other religious groups. Rhode Island prospered initially from the sea. Narragansett Bay, having some of the finest harbors on the Atlantic Seaboard, sheltered merchant vessels, privateers, slave runners, and even pirates. With the decline of high profits from maritime commerce, Rhode Island turned in the 1790s to manufacturing.
The development of textile manufacturing, along with that of machinery, metal products, jewelry, and silverware, led to such a concentration of industry and population that Rhode Island has virtually become a city-state. However, there remains much unspoiled beauty in the islands and inlets of Narragansett Bay, in the lagoons and salt marshes of the Atlantic shore, and in the rolling hills of Block Island, about 16 km (about 10 mi) out at sea.
Historians disagree over the source of the name Rhode Island. Some claim that it was first used by the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, when he compared Block Island to the island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean. Others maintained that the name is a corruption of Roodt Eylandt (Red Island), the name applied to Aquidneck Island in 1614 by the Dutch navigator Adriaen Block because of the red clay on the island’s shore. Roger Williams, the English Puritan who founded the Rhode Island colony, was the first to refer to Aquidneck as Rhode Island. The name was incorporated into the official title of the colony in 1663 and, later, of the state. Rhode Island’s official nickname is the Ocean State. The state’s small size led to the emergence of what is now its most common, although unofficial, nickname, Little Rhody. "Rhode Island" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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