Turning Points

Native Stories


Major Tribes

includes Narragansetts, Wam­panoags, Nipmucks

On the Move

Migratory nature of early peoples who hunted, gathered and farmed and sought shelter in caves and portable wigwams and longhouse villages

The first environ­mentalists

Native people’s respect for and preservation of natural resources portends contemporary environmentalism

Walls, Paths and Placenames

Today’s RI still uses hundres of place names rooted in native language and culture. Many of today’s street and highways are derived from Native American trails. Native wall building and other traditions endure

Colonial Times


Refugee Village

In 1636 banished Roger Williams established Providence known for religious freedom

The Second Act

Portsmouth, Newport and Warwick are settled

Recognitions & Assembly

British legal recognitions of RI and its charter in 1643, 1663, and 1694 and 1647 is first General Assembly

King Phillip’s War

Metacomet-led Indians attack RI mainland settlements. Portsmouth and Newport escape destruction

Steady leadership

Samuel Cranston ably rules RI for 29 years as dutiful member of British Empire. Major potential power wielded by Newport merchants.


RI boundaries with CT and MA are set

Rise of Newport

Newport merchant class grabs political power. Political parties organize (Ward vs. Hopkins)



Taxation without Representation

England tightens trade and raises taxes . RI reacts with violence against British custom ships.

Two Fronts

Supporting Washington’s army and defending the Bay and homeland


RI renounces allegiance to King on May 4, 1776 and forms its own Navy in 1775.

Battle of RI

Colonists unsuccessfully attack British at Newport in 1778. RI regiments fight at Yorktown and other key battles

Revolution at home

Farmers take General Assembly from merchants and create worthless money and fiscal crisis.

Trade in Transition

John Brown opens trade with China/India.
Slave trade is abolished.

The Second Revolution


Last in Peace

After holding out, RI is last colony to ratify US Constitution in 1790 and became a “state”

American Industrial Revolution

is born at Slater Mill in Pawtucket. Samuel Slater builds mill on British model

Capital Investment

China trade profits provide investment capital for mill development. Intial mills are wood, later are stone

Water power

Economic activity shifts to interior rivers that can power mills. Mill valleys are populated with farm families and English and Irish immigrants without town voting rights.

Providence Hub Rebellion

Providence surpasses Newport in economic power as center of transportation, finance and the emerging industrialized society.

The Dorr Rebellion

Rural RI retains political power and suppresses voting rights of immigrant mill workers. Thomas Wilson Dorr leads rebellion.

War and Unrest



Nativist sentiments championed by press promote discrimination against growing Irish/ immigrant mill workers. Mill owners threatened by civil strife affecting cotton imports from South

The Civil Warfront

More interested in preserving the union than freeing slaves, RI joins fight with 26,000 soldiers in 15 regiments including a decorated Black regiment.

Powering The War Machine

Industrialized RI produces hugh quantities of war supplies including muskets, cannons, and uniforms

The Gilded Age



RI industrialization explodes with unpresidented production of cotton, wool and metals in late 19th C. Urban areas bulge with onslaught of immigrant workers

Big Issues

With names like Knight (Fruit of the Loom), Berkshire Fine Spinning, Brown & Sharpe, Corliss and Gorham, RI breeds massive companies that encourage laborers to organize in order to be heard.


Led by Anthony, Brayton, Aldrich and others, republications control politics in Washington and at home – splitting immigrant loyalties and alienating Irish Catholics. Temperance, suffrage, engage women in the political process.

Gilded Age Newport “City by the Sea”

Popularity grows as a resort for the wealthy.

Cultural Pluralism

Immigrant groups struggle to adapt and participate. Blacks work for equality. Natives struggle with “de-tribalization”

Boom, Bust and War



Booming economy in 1900’s attracts additional waves of immigrants to urban RI — most from Southern and Eastern Europe


RI plays its part in time of patriotism and industrial production


Depression spawns an arrary of public works and social programs


Nearly 100,000 serve while the home front roars with unprecedented production


As late as 1840, 60% of Rhode Islanders without the requisite land holdings could not vote in state elections

Political Rollercoaster

After decades of Republican control, Democrats representing disenfranchised immigrants take control of General Assembly in a Bloodless Revolution

Changing Landscape

Physical and social landscape are transformed by public building, road boom, and city beautiful movement.

Modern Times


Moving on Moving Out

Jobs decline as economy shifts from wartime to peacetime. Industrial exodus exacerbated by labor unrest, and energy costs, and decaying infrastructure

Naval Retreat

Beginning in 1970, Quonset Pt/Davisville closure and Newport fleet withdrawal create economic upheaval.

Urban Struggle

People and business flee urban areas leaving behind poverty, blight, crime, disinvestment and a federal war on poverty.


Starting in 1950, Providence population shifts to rapidly growing suburbs. By 1970’s, retailing follows

Unintended Consequences

Efforts to save Newport Mansions combined with festivals and sailing competitions spur the development of $2 billion tourism industry. Efforts to stop shoreland oil refineries spark environmental activism that encourages public waterfront access.

False Starts

State unsuccessfully tries to woo new smokestack industries and Bay oil refineries

RI Renaissance


Providence Revitalized

Public/private partnerships spur a downtown renaissance centered on riverfront development

Tourist Mecca

Development of the new airport, convention center and Newport infrastructure boost tourism to record heights

21st Century

New economies, opportunities and challenges characterize the coming of a new century and millennium