Colony Of Rhode Island

A Brief History


Early Settlement


1. Roger Williams Banished from Massachusetts - 1631-1636 


Early History


"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—everyone 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.


— A History of the United States, by Charles A. Goodrich, 1857 (edited)


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