History Podcasts

Original Inhabitants of Rhode Island

Original Inhabitants of Rhode Island

Scientific evidence indicates the presence of Native Americans in the area that is today Rhode Island as long ago as 8,000 years. The major tribes, all part of the Algonkian language group, included:

  • the Narragansett, the largest and most powerful group
  • the Wampanoag, who occupied many islands and the eastern side of Narragansett Bay
  • the Nipmuc, a weak tribe which occupied northern Rhode Island and into neighboring areas
  • the Nitantic, who had by driven out of Connecticut and resided in southwestern Rhode Island
  • the Pequot, who were centered mostly in Connecticut, but extended into western Rhode Island.

See Indian Wars.
See also Native American Cultural Regions map.


Colony Of Rhode Island

"Rhode Island was so called from a fancied resemblance to the ancient Island of Rhodes in the Mediterranean.

Roger Williams, having been banished from Massachusetts, in 1635, visited Ousamequin, the sachem of Pokanoket whose residence was at Mount Hope, near the present town of Bristol. From him he obtained a grant of land in the town of Seekonk, and here made preparations to erect a house but, being informed by the Governor of Plymouth that he was within the limits of that colony, he resolved to move. Accordingly, about the middle of June, 1636, he embarked in a canoe with five others, and proceeded down the Narragansett River to a spot near the mouth of the Moshassuck. This he selected as a place of settlement, which, in grateful remembrance of the mercies of God, he called Providence.

This was within the jurisdiction of the Narragansett Indians. The sachems were Canonicus, and his nephew, Miantinomo. These he visited, and received a verbal cession of land, and two years afterwards, was formally conveyed to him by deed.

In the course of two years, Mr. Williams was joined by a number of friends from Massachusetts, with whom he shared the land he had obtained, reserving to himself only two small fields, which, on his first arrival, he had planted with his own hands.

And here, in this community, was presented the first example the world ever saw of perfect religious toleration&mdasheveryone was permitted to hold such religious opinions, and to worship God after that manner they pleased, without fear and molestation. The honor of this arrangement belongs to Mr. Williams.

He was careful, nevertheless, to provide for the maintenance of the civil peace. All the settlers were required to sign a covenant to submit themselves to all such orders or arrangements as should be made for the public good concerning civil matters. This simple instrument combining the principles of a pure democracy and of unrestricted religious liberty, was the basis of the first government of Rhode Island.

The government of the town being thus placed in the hands of the inhabitants with the legislative, judicial, and executive functions exercised for several years by its citizens, in town meetings. Two deputies were appointed, from time to time, whose duty it was to preserve order, to settle disputes, to call town meetings, to preside over them, and to see that their resolutions were executed.

In 1638, William Coddington and eighteen others, being persecuted in Massachusetts for their religious tenets, followed Mr. Williams to Providence. By his advice, they purchased from Canonicus and Miantinomo, some islands in Narragansett Bay, and began the settlement of Portsmouth, on the northern part of the what was known as Aquetnet island. Soon after, another settlement was commenced, on the southwestern side, by the name of Newport. Both towns were considered as belonging to the same colony, which received the name of Rhode Island Plantation.

In imitation of the form of government which existed for a time among the Jews, the inhabitants elected Mr. Coddington to be their magistrate, with the title of Judge and a few months afterward, they elected three elders to assist him. This form of government continued until March 12th 1640, when they chose Mr. Coddington governor, Mr. Brenton deputy-governor, with a treasurer, secretary and three assistants. No other change in the form of government took place until the charter was obtained.

At the time of the Union of the New England colonies in their confederacy of 1643, the proposal of the Providence and Rhode Island Plantations to join it was refused, on the ground that they had no charter whereupon, the following year, Roger Williams proceeded to England, and obtained from Parliament a free charter of incorporation, by which the two plantations were united under one government. In 1663, a royal charter was granted to them by Charles II. This charter constituted an assembly, consisting of a governor, deputy-governor, and ten assistants, with the representatives from the several towns, all to be chosen by the freemen.

In 1686, Sir Edmund Andros, being made Governor of New England, dissolved the charter of Rhode Island, and appointed a council to assist him in governing the colony. Three years after, William, Prince of Orange, ascended the throne of England, and Andros was seized and imprisoned upon which, the freemen assembled at Newport, and, having resumed their charter, restored all the officers whom Andros had displaced.


Roger Williams&apos Early Life

Roger Williams was born around 1603 in London, England. He studied with the famous jurist Sir Edward Coke before completing his studies at Pembroke College in Cambridge, where he was known for his skill with languages𠅊 skill that would later help him rapidly learn American Indian languages in the colonies. Though he was ordained in the Church of England, his conversion to Puritanism while at Cambridge lead him to feel disillusioned with the church and it’s power in England. He left the country with his wife, Mary Bernard, and set sail for the colonies in December of 1630.

The couple initially settled in Boston, but his controversial views led him to seek out positions first in Salem and then in the separatist colony of Plymouth. Unable to preach because of his anti-establishment views, he began trading English goods for food and furs from the Wampanoag and Narragansett Tribes, soon becoming a friend of Wampanoag Chief Massasoit.

Did you know? Roger Williams founded the first Baptist church in America and edited the first dictionary of Native American languages.


History of Rhode Island’s Five Indigenous Tribes

Learn more about Indigenous culture and arts (both historic and contemporary) at the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter. The museum is operated by the Narragansett Tribe. Photo courtesy of the Tomaquag Museum.

When Europeans first began to explore what is now Rhode Island in the 1500s, there were five indigenous groups living here: the Pequots, the Nipmucs, the Niantics, the Narragansetts, and the Wampanoags.

Among the five, the Pequots—who lived mostly in what is now southeastern Connecticut but also in southwestern Rhode Island—exercised the greatest degree of autonomy and defiance of the settlers. This warlike mentality quickly led to their near-extinction as colonists killed them and even turned friendlier tribes, such as the Narragansetts and the Connecticut Mohegans, against them.

In the 1630s the Pequots killed a pair of British merchants whom they encountered sailing up the Connecticut River on a trading mission. They further raised the ire of the settlers when they killed the respected explorer John Oldham off the coast of Block Island in 1636, an act that led to immediate reprisals in the form of burnings and raids by English troops. The Pequots continued to strike, attacking and murdering several Wethersfield families during the winter of 1636-1637 and unsuccessfully attempting to establish a warring pact with their neighbors, the formidable Narragansett Indians of nearby Aquidneck Island.

These tensions escalated the following spring into the great Pequot War of 1637, during which about 130 European settlers from the Connecticut River towns, along with 70 allied Mohegans, developed a plan to destroy their enemy. Believing it wise to approach from the least likely side, the group attacked from the east, sailing to Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay and marching west with a force of about 400 Narragansetts looking on.

The Pequots were concentrated in a pair of encampments near what is now Norwich, Connecticut, each of these a several-acre enclosure of a few dozen wigwams. The settlers, led by John Mason, struck the largest Pequot community at dawn and killed most of its inhabitants, burning the wigwams and shooting any who attempted to flee. The second Pequot encampment attempted to thwart the invasion but was easily driven to retreat. During the next two months, the remaining members of the severely crippled Pequot league moved west toward New York but were met in a massive swamp, which would later become Fairfield, by Mason and his battalion. Again most of the Indians were killed, with the remaining 180 Pequots taken hostage and brought to Hartford.

The Pequots could not have been conquered without the assistance of the Mohegans and the Narragansetts, with whom the English signed a treaty of friendship in 1637. But peace between the Native Americans and the English would last only a few decades, until King Philip’s War.
The Nipmuc Indians lived principally in central Massachusetts but also occupied some land in Northern Rhode Island. Their fate after King Philip’s War, in which they battled the colonists, is little documented, but it’s believed that most survivors fled west into Canada, and those who stayed behind joined with the few Indian groups that remained friendly to the colonists.

Rhode Island’s Niantics, distinct from but related to the Niantics of southeastern Connecticut, lived in the southern part of mainland Rhode Island, where the sea borders modern-day Westerly and Charlestown. Their leader, Ninigret, managed to prolong their viability by keeping distance from the Native Americans who rebelled against the colonists. Ninigret met on several occasions with colonists, and he even refrained from participating in King Philip’s War. This tribe of Narragansetts (as colonists increasingly came to call all Rhode Island Indians) continued to live on their land through the late 1800s. By that time, their numbers had dwindled, and eventually their final bits of land were taken from them.

Rhode Island’s modern-day Narragansetts are mostly of Niantic descent, but they’re joined by some who descend from the actual Narragansett nation, which was perhaps the largest tribe in Rhode Island during the 17th century. By the time of King Philip’s War, there were 5,000 Narragansetts living throughout Rhode Island. Their larger numbers are explained in part by their not succumbing to the diseases that brought down the more powerful Wampanoags, who lived mostly in southeastern Massachusetts but also in part of eastern Rhode Island. As the Wampanoags declined, the Narragansetts took over their territory on the islands of what is now Narragansett Bay.

It was with Narragansett and Wampanoag leaders that Roger Williams socialized and negotiated a land treaty on his arrival in the 1630s. Canonicus was the sachem, or ruler, of the Narragansetts and would become a close friend of Williams until his death in 1647 Massasoit headed the Wampanoags, and Williams assisted in bringing some degree of peace between these two nations. He also made peace between the Native Americans of Rhode Island and the colonists of Massachusetts, who had arrested and banished Williams in the first place.

By the 1670s, the Narragansetts were led by a descendant of Canonicus named Canonchet. The leader of the Wampanoags, Philip, the son of Massasoit, sought to unify New England’s many Native American groups in an ambitious and perhaps desperate attempt to overthrow the Puritan grip on the region. An Indian who was a Christian convert loyal to the settlers betrayed King Philip’s intentions and was quickly killed by Philip’s men. The settlers escalated the conflict by capturing and killing the people who had killed the informant, and so began King Philip’s War, which would ultimately seal the fate of Native Americans in the northeastern United States.

The war was fought near the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border, where the Wampanoags occupied a fort at Mount Hope, today part of the Rhode Island community of Bristol. After several colonists in the town of Swansea were killed, thousands of colonial troops descended on Mount Hope. The Indians managed to destroy about a dozen colonial settlements and significantly damage another 40 in all, roughly half the English villages in New England during the 1670s were damaged. More than 800 colonists and about 3,000 Native Americans were killed. The Indians lost about 15 percent of their total population, while the colonists lost perhaps 1.5 percent.

In the end, although many colonists were killed, all of the region’s Native Americans were ultimately contained. At the onset of the war, Canonchet and his Narragansetts adopted a neutral stance, but the colonists attacked the Narragansetts preemptively, and Canonchet then led several of the violent raids against the colonists, destroying houses in Providence and Warwick. King Philip spent time in northern New England attempting to unify other tribes into a greater resistance. Canonchet was captured and executed near Stonington, Connecticut, in 1676. Soon after, King Philip was captured and killed near Mount Hope. The last remaining Narragansett royal, Quaiapen, sister of Niantic leader Ninigret, died shortly thereafter in a battle at Warwick. By summer 1676, the Narragansetts had been broken and the Wampanoags decimated Philip’s surviving family members were sold into slavery. The end of King Philip’s War signified the end of the Native American way of life in Rhode Island as it had existed before European settlement.

For travelers seeking to learn more about Rhode Island’s Indigenous culture and arts (historic and contemporary), visit the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter. The museum is operated by the Narragansett Tribe.


A Brief History of Newport

Since its founding by English settlers in 1639, Newport has bustled with diversity. The policy of liberty of conscience and religion embodied in the Newport Town Statutes of 1641 was a result of the religious beliefs of its founders and their frustration over political intervention in their religious life in Boston. This policy was a beacon to settlers with wide-ranging religious beliefs, who came primarily from other colonies at first, and co-existed in the rapidly growing settlement, unaware that their town’s religious diversity was a prototype of the America to come. However, a central paradox in Newport and Rhode Island’s early history was the combination of a commitment to liberty in the religious realm with a willingness to participate in the practice of enslaving other human beings. This contradiction was recognized from the earliest days by many, but it took over 100 years for the abolition movement to gain prominence in the community.

The first English settlers arrived on Aquidneck Island in 1636 following a remarkable woman named Anne Hutchinson. She had been driven out of Boston for her religious beliefs which challenged the very foundations of Puritanism. She and her band of supporters followed the path taken by Roger Williams when he, too, was banished from Massachusetts for religious reasons. After consulting with Williams, her group arranged with the native Americans to settle on Aquidneck Island.

What the English settlers found on their arrival was hardly an empty wilderness. Native people had been in the area for at least 5,000 years, and had established sophisticated land management and fishing practices. Current evidence points to the existence of a large summer settlement in what is now downtown Newport, and the work these native people had done clearing the land was one of the factors that made this area attractive to English settlers.

View from top of Washington Square, or “The Parade.” Oil on canvas, painted by an unidentified Hessian artist, 1818.

Ann Hutchinson’s group settled at the northern end of the island in an area known as Pocasett. In just over a year, however, that settlement split in two. A group lead by William Coddington and Nicholas Easton moved south to form Newport in 1639.

By the time they arrived in Newport, many of these settlers were becoming Baptists and embraced a belief that was central for the Baptists of Europe at the time – the separation of church and state. These early settlers founded their new town on the basis of liberty of conscience and religion and Newport became one of the first secular democracies in the Atlantic world. The founders’ commitment to religious freedom had a profound impact on all aspects of the town’s subsequent history.

Among the religious groups attracted to this haven in a world of threatening intolerance were Quakers and Jews. Their presence, along with their international trade connections, helped transform the town from a small agricultural outpost to one of colonial America’s five leading seaports (along with Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston). Although the Jews came to Newport in the 1650s, their real contribution to the cultural and economic life came in the 1750s. The Quakers also came to Newport in the late 1650s. The Society of Friends flourished and grew, and, by 1700, over half of Newport’s population were members of the Society of Friends.

The Quakers became the most influential of Newport’s numerous early congregations, influencing the political, social and economic life of the town into the 18th century, and their “plain style” of living was reflected in Newport’s architecture, decorative arts and early landscape.

The Quaker’s neighborhood on Easton’s Point was home to some of the most highly skilled craftsman in colonial America. Among the best known of these were the Townsend and Goddard families, who made extraordinarily fine and beautiful furniture.

A Plan of the Town of Newport in Rhode Island. Surveyed by Charles Blaskowitz and published by William Faden, 1777.

Trade and the export of rum, candles, fish, furniture, silver, and other goods were the main engines of economic growth during the 18th century, activities inexorably linked to Newport’s participation in the slave trade and widespread ownership of slaves by families throughout the city.

During this time the waterfront bustled with activity with over 150 separate wharves and hundreds of shops crowded along the harbor between Long Wharf and the southern end of the harbor. As Newport’s trade throughout the Atlantic basin grew, the city became an epicenter in the development of modern American capitalism.

During the 17th century the cornerstones of Newport’s architectural heritage were laid. The buildings that survive from that period – the Old Stone Mill, the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House, and the White Horse Tavern – are part of Newport’s rich, architectural tapestry that today also includes the great “cottages” along Bellevue Avenue. By the 1760s, economic growth spurred a building boom which included hundreds of houses and many of the internationally important landmarks that survive today, such as Trinity Church, the Colony House, Redwood Library, and the Brick Market (now home to the Museum of Newport History).

Newport helped lead the way toward the Revolution and independence. Because the city was such a well-known hot-bed of revolutionary fervor, and because of its long history of disdain for royal and parliamentary efforts to control its trade, the British occupied Newport from 1776 to 1779, and over half of the town’s population fled. The British remained in Newport despite efforts to drive them out by patriot forces in partnership with the French for the first time in the Revolution. Eventually the British did withdraw and the French, under the leadership of Admiral deTiernay and General Rochambeau, began a sojourn in Newport that lasted until 1781 when they left Newport on their historic march with General Washington to Yorktown to assist in the decisive victory there.

The British occupation had done irreparable damage to Newport’s economy. Faced with a bleak future, Newport in the early 19th century was forced to re-invent itself. Newport had been bypassed by industrialization and its landscape became frozen in time. Ironically, this became an asset for the town as it transformed itself into a summer resort and used its picturesque qualities to advantage in attracting summer visitors. In the antebellum period, Newport became a center for an influential group of artists, writers, scientists, educators, architects, theologians, and landscape designers. These men and women reshaped the cultural underpinnings of American life, and included Henry and William James, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Julia Ward Howe, William Ellery Channing, William Barton Rogers (the founder of M.I.T.), Alexander Agassiz, and many more.

Traffic on Bellevue Avenue at Bath Road, looking south. The Travers Block (completed 1871) is visible at center. Photograph by Clarence Stanhope.

Later summer colonists during the Gilded Age included elite familes from South Carolina, the King and Griswold families of New York, and later the Vanderbilts. These families and many more whose presence here helped transform Newport into the Queen of the Resorts, built the mansions for which Newport has become famous, employing architects Richard Morris Hunt, McKim Mead and White, Peabody and Stearns, and others. Several of these mansions have become major tourist attractions.

Newport’s history has always been tied to the sea. During the colonial period the city’s harbor teemed with trading ships. With the arrival of the Summer Colony and the New York Yacht Club, Newport was on its way to becoming a yachting capital. The Yacht Club brought the famed America’s Cup to Newport in the 1930s where it stayed until lost to the Australians in 1983. The fishing industry is still a vital part of Newport’s economy, as is the United States Navy. The US Navy has roots in Newport’s early colonial fleet, and has been a significant presence in Newport since the 1860s. Its major components were Naval War College and the Torpedo Station (now Naval Undersea Warfare Center) both of which were founded immediately after the Civil War. The Navy presence on Aquidneck Island grew and eventually included the Naval Education Training Center and the North Atlantic Destroyer Squadron which had its home port at the Newport Naval base until the 1970s. Despite the loss of the fleet, the Navy is still the largest employer in the area, bringing many industry and service businesses to the area as well.

In the late 19th and 20th centuries various groups such as the Irish, Greeks, Italians, Portuguese, Filipinos, Cambodians, and Hispanics joined groups such as Jews, African Americans, and Native Americans who had been in Newport for some time, enriching the ethnic diversity of the town. African Americans from Virginia and other areas moved to Newport and joined a thriving community that continues to be a vital part of Newport’s history. The Irish came to Newport in the 1820s, drawn here by the work available to them at Fort Adams. Despite laws from 1719 that discriminated against Catholics by denying them the right to become “freemen”, Catholics who immigrated to Aquidneck Island found a relatively tolerant haven from the virulent anti-Catholic and Irish sentiments in Boston and other towns at the time. Many of the Irish families who made Newport home during the early 19th century still live and prosper in Newport, maintaining close links with the land of their ancestors.

Northern Thames Street, 1968. Within approximately ten years, the western section of Thames Street pictured in the photograph was demolished to make way for the Brick Market redevelopment project. Photograph by John T. Hopf.

After World War II, one of the most successful historic preservation movements in the country saved hundreds of structures throughout Newport County. That effort began in the 1840s when George Champlin Mason, writer and editor of the Newport Mercury (a weekly newspaper still published today by the Newport Daily News) fought to save Trinity Church. He helped found the Newport Historical Society, which preserved the Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House in 1884, and later acquired and restored the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House, and the Great Friends Meeting House. Other groups who have taken the preservation movement to heroic levels include the Preservation Society of Newport County, the Newport Restoration Foundation, and several grassroots organizations such as Operation Clapboard.

With the success of the preservation movement, Newport began to recover from the economic downturn that came when the destroyer fleet was pulled out of Newport. The Navy continued, and a new kind of tourism – now refered to as “Heritage Tourism”- began to develop slowly. Visitors to Newport now come to learn about the area’s remarkable history as well as to enjoy the beauty and the hospitality of the City by the Sea. There is, of course, more than mansions for visitors to see in Newport. There are beautifully restored colonial landmarks for visitors to explore along with, fine small museums, such as the Museum of Newport History in the Brick Market which is a perfect place to begin a visit to the area where visitors can get an overview of the city’s history. The Newport Art Museum, the Tennis Hall of Fame, Audrain Automobile Museum, Fort Adams, Redwood Library, Touro Synagogue, Trinity Church, and many other attractions offer the visitors an unrivaled opportunity to explore aspects of this country’s history. Music festivals, such as the Jazz and Folk Festivals and the Newport Music Festival are all major events drawing thousands to Newport every summer.

The stereotype of Newport solely as a playground for the wealthy during and after the Gilded Age is in contrast with local reality. While Newport continues to be home to summer visitors of dazzling wealth, and while some of them have made Newport their year round home, most of the residents of the City by the Sea continue to be middle and working class. Given Newport’s image, it is ironic that the city also has the largest number of low-income housing units in the state of Rhode Island.

Newport’s history is remarkable in many ways, but perhaps the most unique aspect is the fact that so much of its history is still visible on the landscape in an unparalleled concentration of preserved architecture. It continues its commitment to liberty of conscience and religion and Newport’s resilience and creativity in meeting the economic changes that have overtaken it offers strong proof that diversity works in keeping the city alive and vibrant.


Vital record of Rhode Island : 1636-1850 : first series : births, marriages and deaths : a family register for the people

The metadata below describe the original scanning. Follow the "All Files: HTTP" link in the "View the book" box to the left to find XML files that contain more metadata about the original images and the derived formats (OCR results, PDF etc.). See also the What is the directory structure for the texts? FAQ for information about file content and naming conventions.

v. 1. Kent county.- v. 2-3. Providence county.- v. 4. Newport county.- v. 5. Washington county.- v.6. Bristol county.- v. 7. Friends and ministers.- v. 8. Episcopal and Congregational.- v. 9. Seekonk (including East Providence), Pawtucket and Newman Congregational church.- v. 10. Town and church.- v. 11. Church records.- v. 12. Revolutionary rolls and newspapers.- v. 13. Deaths, Providence journal, S to Z. Providence gazette, A to J, 1762-1830.-v. 14. Providence gazette-Deaths, K to Z. Marriages, A, B, C, 1762-1825.- v. 15. Providence gazette-Marriages, D to Z. United States chronicle-Deaths, A to Z.- v. 16. United States chronicle-Marriages American journal, Impartial observer, and Providence journal-Marriages amd deaths Providence semiweekly journal-Marriages.-

(cont.) v. 17. Providence Phenix, Providence patriot, and Columbian Phenix-Marriages-A to R.- v. 18. Providence Phenix, Providence patriot, and Columbian Phenix-Marriages: S to Z deaths: A to M.- v. 19. Providence Phenix, Providence patriot, and Columbian Phenix-Deaths: N to Z Rhode Island American-Marriaages: A to G.- v. 20. Rhode Island American: Marriages: H to Z. Deaths: A and B.- v. 21. Rhode Island American: Deaths: C to S


One Rhode Island Family

I get a lot of questions here about church records. And probably nothing in Rhode Island is more complicated and interesting than church history.

The first thing I think people have trouble realizing is that the church your ancestor belonged to prior to 1850 probably doesn’t exist anymore. And if it does, it is focusing on its mission today and not necessarily devoted to looking up old records, or even in possession of old records. I’ll bet there are some exceptions to that, but then again, I wouldn’t know, I’m embarrassed to say my New England ancestors barely darkened the door of a church between about 1700-1900 so I don’t have much to look for.

Location of the first Sunday School in America. Pawtucket. The history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Volume 2, p. 577

The other thing that’s important to understand is that since many of these churches were, in their time, new and unique, it’s important to do more than race around looking for vital records. It’s important to understand what the church philosophy and principles were. For instance, your ancestor from one part of the state may have found a bride from a completely different area of the state, or into Massachusetts, because marrying within the church was required. Other rules may have impacted your ancestors’ lives: refusal of military service, baptism of infants (or Baptism of adults), or consequences of non-attendance. Knowing the story of the church will tell you something significant about your ancestors’ story.

I am no expert on this, so feel free to add, in the comments, your own favorite sources for church records.

First Congregational Meeting House, Providence. The history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Volume 2, p. 564.

Some published guides to churches

During the Depression, the Work Projects Administration (WPA) put some people to work compiling the locations of old church records as part of The Historical Records Survey. These books will guide you to the LOCATION of church records in the 1930’s. They do not contain the records themselves. In many cases a name and address will be given for a person who was holding the old record volumes (around 1940). Those would be useless today. In some cases, a repository or association is mentioned as holding the records. That might be something you could follow up on.

A view in 1827 of all the Six Principle Baptist Churches in Rhode Island is contained in History of the General or Six Principle Baptists in Europe and America by Richard Knight, p. 254-301, specifically.

Weis, Frederick Lewis. Colonial Clergy of New England. Lancaster, Mass.: Society of the Descendants of the Colonial Clergy, 1936.

Jackson, Henry. An Account of the Churches in Rhode Island (Baptist State Convention) (1853)

First Baptist Meeting House, Providence. The history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Volume 2, p. 564.

Some volumes that contain actual records

Updike, Wilkins. A History of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett, Rhode Island (1907): Volume 1. Volume 2. Volume 3.

Centennial sermon preached before the Beneficent Congregational Church and Society in Providence, R.I. March 19, 1843 : together with the articles of faith, covenant, & c. and a list of members of said church (1845)

Members of the Coventry Church of Christ 1824-1897transcr. by Margery I. Matthews. Rhode Island Roots 27:3 (Sep 2001 – note page displays 2000 in error) p. 93-130.

Arnold, James N. Vital Records of the State of Rhode Island v.7 (opens the pdf link to the Internet Archive download, or, browse book online and download from this page).

  • KINGSTOWN Kings Towne Friends, p. 202
  • MARRIAGES, MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS. p. 330
  • NARRAGANSETT Narragansett friends, p. 131
  • RHODE ISLAND FRIENDS records, p. 1
  • SMITHFIELD Smithfield Friends, p. 160
  • SWANSEE Swansey Friends record p. 277

Central Congregational Church. The history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Volume 2, p. 586.

Arnold, James N. Vital Records of the State of Rhode Island v.8 (opens the pdf link to the Google Books download, or, browse book online and download from this page).

  • BARRINGTON Congregational Church records, p. 69
  • BRISTOL Baptist Church records, p. 515
  • BRISTOL Congregational Church records, p. 239
  • BRISTOL Episcopal Church records, p. 145
  • BRISTOL Methodist Church records, p. 565
  • BRISTOL Dr. Shepard’s record of deaths, 1834-1857, p. 481
  • LITTLE COMPTON Congregational Church records, p. 1
  • MARRIAGES, MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS. p. 1, 270
  • NEWPORT First Congregational Church records, p. 400
  • NEWPORT Second Congregational Church records, p. 439
  • NORTH KINGSTOWN Baptist Church records, p. 598
  • SOUTH KINGSTOWN Baptist Church records, p. 616
  • TIVERTON Baptist Church record, p. 495
  • TIVERTON Congregational Church records, p. 49
  • WAKEFIELD Records of the Church of the Ascension, p. 577
  • WARREN Baptist Church records, p. 521
  • WARREN Episcopal Church records, p. 95
  • WARREN Methodist Church records, p. 559

Arnold, James N. Vital Records of the State of Rhode Island v.10 (opens the pdf link to Family History Books (familysearch.org) for immediate download download).

  • BARRINGTON First Congregational Church records, 1728-1740, p. 231
  • COVENTRY Maple Root Baptist Church record, p. 245
  • CRANSTON Marriages performed by Rev. Otis W. Potter, 1833-1852, p. 299
  • EAST GREENWICH Baptist Church records, p. 291
  • EAST PROVIDENCE Baptist Church records, p. 117
  • EXETER Baptist Church records, p. 399
  • HOPKINTON First Sabbatarian Church to 1785. p. 93
  • MARRIAGES, MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS. p. 299, 305, 310
  • NARRAGANSETT St. Paul’s Church records, 1718-1075, p. 333
  • NEWPORT Trinity Church records, p. 427
  • PAWTUCKET Births, p. 61
  • PAWTUCKET Marriages and intentions p. 1, 43
  • PAWTUCKET Marriages performed by Rev. David Benedict, p. 310
  • PROVIDENCE Congregational Church, west side, records, p. 197
  • PROVIDENCE First Congregational Church records, p. 155
  • PROVIDENCE King Church (now St. John’s) records, p. 135
  • PROVIDENCE Westminster Congregational Church records, p. 185
  • RICHMOND Marriages performed by Edward Perry-Justice of Peace, p. 305
  • SMITHFIELD Second Freewill Baptist Church records, p. 297
  • SOUTH KINGSTOWN Narragansett Baptist Church records, p. 545
  • SOUTH KINGSTOWN Queen’s River Baptist Church records, p. 387
  • WEST GREENWICH West Greenwich and Exeter Union Church, Baptist, p. 279
  • WESTPORT Record of Friend3 Births and Deaths, p. 75
  • WESTPORT Record of Friends Marriages, p. 63
  • WICKFORD First Baptist Church records, p. 553

Arnold, James N. Vital Records of the State of Rhode Island v.11 (opens the pdf link to the Internet Archive download, or, browse book online and download from this page).

  • CROSS MILLS First Baptist Church records, p. 261
  • EAST GREENWICH Baptist Church records, p. 437
  • EAST GREENWICH Methodist-Episcopal Church records, p. 457
  • EAST GREENWICH St. Lake’s Church records, p. 517
  • HOPKINTON Rookville Seventh Day Baptist Church records, p. 373
  • MARRIAGES, MISCELLANEOUS RECORDS. p. 339
  • NEWPORT Sabbatarian Baptist Church records, p. 297
  • NORTH KINGSTOWN Quidnessett Baptist Church records, p. 419
  • NORTH KINGSTOWN Marriages performed by Joshua Babcock, Justice, p, 339
  • RICHMOND First General Baptist Church records, p. 387
  • RICHMOND Second Baptist Church records, p. 239
  • SOUTH KINGSTOWN Second Baptist Church records, p. 265
  • STONINGTON Pawcatuck Congregational Church records, p. 347
  • WESTERLY Christ Church records, p. 1
  • WESTERLY First Baptist Church records, p. 205
  • WESTERLY First Christian Church records, p. 309
  • WESTERLY Grace Church marriages, p, 145
  • WESTERLY Pawcatuck Congregational Church records, p. 347
  • WESTERLY Pawcatuck Sabbatarian Baptist Church records, p. 273

St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Cathedral, Cathedral Square, Providence. The history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Volume 2, p. 616.

Other sources

The Rhode Island Historical Society does have some holdings of church records (not always member data, though) so check their card catalog as well as contacting them with questions. I suspect the same is true for the Newport Historical Society Library.

Of special note at the Rhode Island Historical Society:

  • The New England Yearly Meeting of Friends archive. are at the Rhode Island Historical Society, including:
    • General Six Principle Baptist Archives
    • records of the First Universalist Church of Providence
    • Congdon Street Baptist Church
    • First Congregational Church of Providence
    • archives of the First Baptist Church in America (permission from church historian needed, see web link above).

    Probably the best sources of any new research that might come along on this topic from time to time would be Rhode Island Roots from the Rhode Island Genealogical Society and Rhode Island History from the Rhode Island Historical Society. I enjoy belonging to both those organizations and receiving the subscriptions.

    • To search back issues of Rhode Island Roots see the instructions on the RI Genealogical Society website.
    • You can search Rhode Island History here.
    • A list by noted genealogist Jane Fletcher Fiske found on the Rhode Island section of Rootsweb: Bibliography of Abstracted Church Records.
    • Some Episcopal (Anglican) Church records in Rhode Island are housed at the University of Rhode Island Library.
    • The Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association Notes.Older issues can be found on the association’s web site. The association has a library in Providence with some useful holdings.

    Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association Notes, photo by Diane Boumenot at the Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

    • Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online (RIAMCO) Advanced Search may yield some results. Despite the name, only the search screen is online, the results usually point you to paper archives at various locations in Rhode Island.

    Some other sources of Rhode Island information:

    • The Narragansett Historical Register seems to have articles about a few churches.
    • The Rhode Island Genealogical Register has a few church cemeteries, but a quick perusal shows no church records, which is just as well since this 20 volume periodical is hard to find. Under copyright, so not online, but no longer for sale in print. Available used and in libraries only.
    • Rhode Island: Volume 5 of Bibliographies of New England History shows church materials in just about every town list often an anniversary souvenir booklet, not, usually, materials with member lists. This book (University Press of New England, 1983) could be consulted in large genealogy libraries or at local libraries in Rhode Island.
    • Many of Rhode Island’s town histories will include the history of many of the local churches, for instance, Oliver P. Fuller’s 1875 History of Warwick, Rhode Island.
    • Likewise, the larger statewide histories like Thomas W. Bicknell’s History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations include overviews of various churches and religious bodies (particularly Volume 2, p. 565-637). Volume 1Volume 2. Volume 3. Volume 4:Biographical. Volume 5: Biographical.

    Academy of the Sacred Heart, Elmhurst, Providence. The history of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Volume 2, p. 621.

    Some more recent books cannot be found online but can be found for sale and in genealogy libraries:

    • Bamberg, Cherry Fletcher. Elder John Gorton and the Six Principle Baptist Church of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Greenville, Rhode Island: Rhode Island Genealogical Society (Special Publication No. 6), 2001.
    • For many years Rhode Island has had a large Catholic population. Some Catholic Church records have been transcribed and published in book form. Check out the American French Genealogical Society website (including the book sale and the library catalog) for many of these volumes. The state Catholic Diocese is located at 1 Cathedral Square, Providence.
    • Rhode Island Quakers in American Revolution 1775-1790. Providence Meeting of Friends 1976. With fold-out map.
    • Two books have been released in the new series “Baptists in Early North America” – a volume on Swansea, Massachusetts, by William Brackney and Charles K. Hartman, and a volume on the First Baptist Church in Providence by J. Stanley Lemons. Both contain some early records, some wonderful footnotes, and a complete index.

    I spotted these recently at the New England Historic Genealogical Society Library.


    The original settlers of Block Island in April 1661, whose names appear on a plaque at the north end of the island: ⎯]

    • Thomas Terry*
    • John Clarke
    • William Jud
    • Samuel Dearing*
    • Simon Ray*
    • William Tosh
    • Tourmet Rose*
    • William Barker
    • Daniel Cumball
    • William Cohoone
    • Duncan Mack Williamson
    • John Rathbun*
    • Edward Vorce, Jr.*
    • Tristram Dodge, Sr.
    • Nicholas White
    • William Billings
    • John Acres

    Six of the above men (marked with an asterisk) were also original purchasers of the island. Other original purchasers who settled the island shortly after the above were:


    Rhode Island and the United States

    Rhode Island’s experiences from 1790 to the mid-19th century produced a startling contrast between innovative, adventurous changes in the economy and conservative tendencies in social and political evolution. Daring entrepreneurship and invention transformed Rhode Island’s economy from seaborne commerce to industry, and the state was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Samuel Slater’s mill launched the American textile industry in 1790 with its use of the first power-driven spinning machines in the country. Textiles remained the state’s principal industry until the 1920s. Rhode Island’s many factories came to employ thousands of workers and attracted a flood of immigrants.

    Despite its role in the forefront of the country’s early industrial development, the state clung to its colonial charter, and Rhode Island was left behind politically as democracy developed in the rest of the country. The charter, which was made when the colony consisted primarily of rural landowners, gave disproportionate influence to rural interests as the state became more urbanized only property owners were allowed to vote or hold office, a requirement that all other states had dispensed with by 1840. A majority of free adult males were thus disenfranchised. Because the General Assembly refused to reapportion its seats—in spite of the substantial shifts in population that had occurred over the centuries—or expand the right to vote, suffrage supporters led by Thomas Wilson Dorr called a convention in 1842 that drew up a new constitution (later overwhelmingly approved by referendum), elected Dorr governor, and attempted to establish a new government. The charter government refused to budge, so Dorr and his followers tried to overthrow it by force of arms and attacked the arsenal in Providence. The Dorr Rebellion failed, and the preexisting government stood. Dorr was tried for treason and received a life sentence in 1844, although he was released a year later.

    The episode struck a chord around the country and echoed the revolutionary idea of the people’s right to create their own government. The state was forced to adopt a constitution shortly after the rebellion. Though the new constitution enfranchised African Americans, other provisions discriminated against foreign-born citizens (mainly Irish Roman Catholics) and aggravated ethnic and religious tensions that lasted well into the 20th century. The fear of foreign-born Catholics in particular briefly brought the Know-Nothing party to power in Rhode Island in 1855. The late 1850s saw the rise of the Republican Party, which dominated Rhode Island politics and government almost continuously from the mid-1860s until 1935. While they had not created the constitution of 1842, the Republicans ably used its provisions to retain dominance in the state government long after the Democratic Party had come to represent an actual popular majority.

    By the time of the American Civil War, Rhode Island was an industrial power, able to produce nearly everything that an army needed for equipment, from cannons and rifles to bayonets, riding gear, tents, and uniforms. In addition, more than 24,000 men joined the Federal army, exceeding the state’s quota by 5,000.


    Early History


    Historical Perspective of the Narragansett Indian Tribe

    The Narragansett Indians are the descendants of the aboriginal people of the State of Rhode Island. Archaeological evidence and the oral history of the Narragansett People establish their existence in this region more than 30,000 years ago. This history transcends all written documentaries and is present upon the faces of rock formations and through oral history. The first documented contact with the Indians of Rhode Island took place in 1524 when Giovanni de Verrazano visited Narragansett Bay and described a large Indian population, living by agriculture and hunting, and organized under powerful “kings.”

    The Tribe and its members were considered warriors within the region. The Narragansett customarily offered protection to smaller tribes in the area. Certain Nipmuck bands, the Niantics, Wampanoag, and Manisseans all paid tribute to the Narragansett tribe. These tribes all resided in areas of Rhode Island at the time of the first European settlement around 1635. In 1636, Roger Williams acquired land use rights to Providence from the Narragansett Sachems. The colonists quickly came into contact with both the Narragansett and Niantic Sachems.

    Historically, tribal members had two homes a winter home and a summer home. The winter home would be called a long house in which up to 20 families would live in over the cold winter months. During the summer, the tribe would move to the shore and construct Wigwams or Wetus, temporary shelter made of bark on the outside and woven mats on the inside. They would dig out large canoes from trees which could hold up to forty men.

    King Philip’s War and the Great Swamp Massacre
    In 1675, the Narragansett allied themselves with King Philip and the Wampanoag Sachem, to support the Wampanoag Tribe’s efforts to reclaim land in Massachusetts. In the Great Swamp Massacre, a military force of Puritans from Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, and Connecticut massacred a group of Narragansett, mostly women, children, and elderly men living at an Indian winter camp in the Great Swamp located in present day South Kingstown.

    Following the massacre, many of the remaining Narragansett retreated deep into the forest and swamp lands in the southern area of the State. (Much of this area now makes up today’s Reservation).

    Many who refused to be subjected to the authority of the United Colonies left the area or were hunted down and killed. Some were sold into slavery in the Caribbean, others migrated to upstate New York and many went to Brotherton, Wisconsin.


    “Rogue Island”: The last state to ratify the Constitution

    American newspapers called it “the perverse sister.” “An evil genius.” The “Quintessence of Villainy.” The name “Rogue Island” stuck all the way to 1787, when the Constitutional Convention began and the small state refused to send delegates. Although this press war started because Rhode Island vetoed an act passed by Congress under the Articles of Confederation, it lasted for nearly 10 years.

    On May 29, 1790, “the rogue’s” persistent efforts to defy the national government finally failed, and it became the last state to ratify the Constitution, more than a year after it went into effect.

    Ironically, Rhode Island played a key role in advancing the Constitution it strongly opposed. In 1786, an electoral revolution took place in Rhode Island that swept the populist Country Party into power. Infuriated by the prospect of a national tax, this faction opposed the expansion of the national government and favored an inflationary monetary policy.

    In a single month, the legislature printed 100,000 pounds worth of paper currency. The resulting rampant inflation made Rhode Island—for many Americans—a dark symbol of what ailed the Confederation. Opponents of state-issued paper currency called for a new Constitution that would ban it. At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, no state was more reviled than Rhode Island—the only no-show.

    Between September of 1787 and January of 1790, Rhode Island’s legislature rejected 11 attempts to ratify the Constitution.

    The First Congress met for the first time in March of 1789, and that September the Governor of Rhode Island wrote to Congress, explaining why the people of his state still had “not separated themselves from the principles” of the old Confederation. He explained that they wanted “further checks and securities” limiting federal power, before “they could adopt it.”

    By 1790, Congress was losing patience. The Governor had asked that the United States not treat Rhode Island as a foreign nation. Spurred on by petitions from Rhode Island merchants who became “zealous advocates” for the new Constitution, and feared the consequences of import taxes on their businesses, Congress granted an exemption until January.

    In January, Rhode Island lobbyists persuaded Congress to postpone the deadline again, this time so the state could hold a ratifying convention in March.

    When this convention adjourned without a vote, Congress took action. On May 18, 1790, the Senate passed a bill to prohibit commercial intercourse with Rhode Island.

    In the House, Rhode Island’s lone defender was John Page of Virginia, who compared the bill to the Boston Port Act, an embargo enforced by the British prior to the American Revolution.

    Threatened and divided, Rhode Island finally ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790, by a vote of 34 to 32.

    Still hoping to limit federal power, the state attached a list of 18 human rights and 21 amendments with its ratification, requesting a ban on poll taxes, the draft, the importation of slaves, and curiously, for Congress not to “interfere with any one of the States in the redemption of paper money.”

    One newspaper reported that when Rhode Island joined “the Great American Family,” bells rang across the town of Newport.

    Three months later, in August of 1790, “Rogue Island’s” only representative in Congress arrived—fashionably late.

    The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

    List of site sources >>>


    Watch the video: Native Voices - Social Issues of Rhode Island Tribes (December 2021).