New England Colonies > Rhode Island & Providence Plantations

Rhode Island & Providence Plantations

Background

Rhode Island was founded by refugees from Massachusetts, who went there in search of religious and political freedom. The first settlements were made at Providence by Roger Williams (q.v.) in June 1636, and at Portsmouth on the island of Aquidneck by the Antinomians, William Coddington (1601-1678), John Clarke (1609-1676), and Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), in March-April 1638. Becoming dissatisfied with conditions at Portsmouth, Coddington and Clarke removed a few miles farther south on the 29th of April 1639, and established a settlement at Newport. In a similar manner Warwick was founded in January 1643 by seceders from Providence under the lead of Samuel Gorton. The union of Portsmouth and Newport, March 12, 1640, was followed by the consolidation of all four settlements, May 19, 1647, under a patent of March 14, 1644, issued by the parliamentary board of commissioners for plantations. The particularistic sentiment was still very strong, however, and in 1651 the union split into two confederations, one including the mainland towns, Providence and Warwick; the other, the island towns, Portsmouth and Newport. A reunion was effected in 1654 through the influence of Roger Williams, and a charter was secured from Charles II. on the 8th of July 1663. In the patent of 1644 the entire colony was called Providence Plantations. On the 13th of March 1644 the Portsmouth-Newport General Court changed the name of the island from Aquidneck to the Isle of Rhodes or Rhode Island. The official designation for the province as a whole in the charter of 1663, therefore, was Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The charter was suspended at the beginning of the Andros regime in 1686, but was restored again after the Revolution of 1689. The closing years of the 17th century were characterized by a gradual transition from the agricultural to the commercial stage of civilization. Newport became the centre of an extensive business in piracy, privateering, smuggling, and legitimate trade. Cargoes of rum, manufactured from West Indian sugar and molasses, were exported to Africa and exchanged for slaves to be sold in the southern colonies and the West Indies. The passage of the Sugar Act of April 5, 1764, and the steps taken by the British government to enforce the Navigation Acts seriously affected this trade. The people of Rhode Island played a prominent part in the struggle for independence. On the 9th of June 1772 the “Gaspee,” a British vessel which had been sent over to enforce the acts of trade and navigation, ran aground in Narragansett Bay and was burned to the water's edge by a party of men from Providence. Nathanael Greene, a native of Rhode Island, was made commander of the Rhode Island militia in May 1775, and a major-general in the Continental army in August 1776, and in the latter capacity he served with ability until the close of the war. In the year 1776, General Howe sent a detachment of his army under General Henry Clinton to seize Newport as a base of operations for reducing New England, and the city was occupied by the British on the 8th of December 1776. To capture this British garrison, later increased to 6000 men, the co-operation of about 10,000 men (mostly New England militia) under Major-General John Sullivan, and a French fleet carrying 4000 French regulars under Count D'Estaing, was planned in the summer of 1778. On the 9th of August Sullivan crossed to the north end of the island of Rhode Island, but as the Frenchmen were disembarking on Conanicut Island, Lord Howe arrived with the British fleet. Count D'Estaing hastily re-embarked his troops and sailed out to meet Howe. For two days the hostile fleets manœuvred for positions, and then they were dispersed by a severe storm. On the 20th, D'Estaing returned to the port with his fleet badly crippled, and only to announce that he should sail to Boston to refit. The American officers protested but in vain, and on the 28th they decided to retreat to the north end of the island. The British pursued, and the next day there was a severe engagement in which the Americans were driven from Turkey and Quaker Hills. On the 30th the Americans, learning of the approach of Lord Howe's fleet with 5000 troops under Clinton, decided to abandon the island. The British evacuated Newport the 25th cf October 1779, and the French fleet was stationed here from July 1780 to 1781.

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