The state of Rhode Island is located on the East Coast of the United States of America. It was one of the original 13 states and is one of the six New England states. With an area of 1,212 square miles (3,139 square kilometres), it is the smallest state in the Union and is only about 48 miles (77 Kilometres) long and 37 miles (60 Kilometres) wide. It is, however, one of the most densely populated states in the nation. The extreme compactness of area, large population, and economic activity have tied Rhode Island closely to its neighbours--Connecticut on the west and Massachusetts on the north and east. The Rhode Island Sound on the south is the basis of the state's fishing industry. The capital is Providence.
Rhode Island's first permanent European settlement was made in 1636 by the dissident minister Roger Williams and his followers, who had been banished from Massachusetts. Williams, who was friendly and dealt fairly with the Narraganset and Wampanoag Indians in the vicinity, based his settlement on the principle of religious toleration and freedom of conscience; this attracted other nonconformists and shaped the colony's views. By 1647 a confederacy of four towns was established, although a royal charter was not granted until 1663. In what are widely regarded as the first overt revolutionary deeds, the Rhode Islanders destroyed the British revenue sloop Liberty at Newport in 1769 and burned the revenue schooner Gaspee near Namquit (now Gaspee) Point in 1772. Rhode Island ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1790, only after the Bill of Rights was incorporated. Samuel Slater's cotton-textile mill built at Pawtucket in 1793 initiated the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Agitation for the adoption of a liberal state constitution led to the unsuccessful Dorr Rebellion against the state government in 1842.
Eastern Rhode Island constitutes the Narragansett, or Seaboard, Lowland, while the New England Upland, part of the Appalachian Highlands, occupies the western two-thirds of the state, culminating in the highest point, Jerimoth Hill, 812 feet (247 metres), near the community of North Foster. The lowlands are characterized by numerous islands, sandy beaches, and salt marshes. The uplands consist mainly of glacial till. Rhode Island's principal rivers include the Blackstone and the Pawtuxet, which drain into Narragansett Bay, and the Pawcatuck, which drains into Block Island Sound.
The state has a moist continental climate characterized by short summers with an average July temperature of 71º F (22º C) and longer, cold winters with an average January temperature of 29º F (-2º C). The average annual precipitation of 42 inches (1,067 mm) is evenly distributed year-round, with an average snowfall of 39 inches (990 mm). The state is subject to periodic storms.
Potatoes, corn (maize), and apples are grown on the coastal lowlands, but most of the other glacial, rocky land can be used only for pasture, dairying, and poultry raising. Nursery and greenhouse crops account for about one-third of the state's commercial farming. Fishing, for both shellfish and finfish, is important.
Mining and quarrying is limited to granite, limestone, and sand and gravel for construction material.
Manufacturing and services (including tourism) dominate the economy. Jewelry and silverware, textiles and clothing, machinery, and electronics wares are the principal products. The U.S. Navy maintains a base at Newport, a major local employer. Biomedical research facilities also are important.
Narragansett Bay has many excellent harbours. The state is well served by railroads, highways, and airports.
Rhode Island has numerous historical sites, including the Old State House (1762) in Providence, and there are some notable historical museums. Religious monuments include the Friends Meeting House (1699) and the Touro Synagogue (1763), both located in Newport.
Providence has the state's largest concentration of institutions of higher learning, including Brown University (1764) and Rhode Island College (1854). Notable libraries include Newport's Redwood Library (1747), Providence's Athenaeum (1753) and the John Carter Brown Library.