Facts About Rhode Island - The Smallest State in America By Land Area
Facts About Rhode Island - The Smallest State in America By Land Area

What is the smallest state in America?

Rhode Island, officially The State of Rhode Island, constituent state of the United States of America. It was one of the original 13 states and is one of the six New England states.

Rhode Island, officially the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, is not an island. It is the smallest of the 50 US states by area and situated on the East Coast of the United States in the New England Region. Compared, it is just about twice the size of the city of Phoenix in Arizona.

It is the smallest state in the union—only about 48 miles (77 km) long and 37 miles (60 km) wide—but is, however, one of the most densely populated states. The extreme compactness of area, proportionally large population, and economic activity have tied it closely to its neighboring states.

Native Americans lived around Narragansett Bay for thousands of years before English settlers began arriving in the early 17th century. Rhode Island unique among the Thirteen British Colonies for being founded by a refugee, Roger Williams, who had fled religious persecution from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to establish a haven for religious liberty; he founded Providence in 1636 on land purchased from local tribes, creating the first settlement in North America with an explicitly secular government. The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations would subsequently become a destination for religious and political dissenters and social outcasts, earning it the moniker of "Rogue's Island".

Reflecting its status as a hub of relative tolerance and freethought, Rhode Island was the first colony to call for a Continental Congress in 1774 and the first to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown on May 4, 1776. Following the American Revolution, during which it was heavily occupied and contested, Rhode Island became the fourth state to ratify the Articles of Confederation, on February 9, 1778. Favoring a weaker central government, it boycotted the 1787 convention that drafted the United States Constitution, which it initially refused to ratify; it was the last of the original thirteen states to do so, on May 29, 1790.

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Where is Rhode Island on the Map?

10 Facts About Rhode Island - The Smallest State in America
Location map of Rhode Island in the US.

Rhode Island is bounded to the north and east by Massachusetts, to the south by Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound of the Atlantic Ocean, and to the west by Connecticut.

In addition, Rhode Island’s intimate connection to the sea—including more than 400 miles (640 km) of coastline—is the basis of its nickname, the Ocean State. The capital is Providence.

It shares a short maritime border with New York State between Block Island, RI and Long Island, NY. Narragansett Bay, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, extends deep into the southeastern portion of Rhode Island.

10 Facts About Rhode Island - The Smallest State in America
General Map of Rhode Island, United States

Rhode Island Geography

Rhode Island consists of five counties, four major islands, and one estuary (Narragansett Bay).

The five counties are (ordered by their population (in 2019)) Providence County (637,000), Kent County (164,300), Washington County (125,500), Newport County (82,000), and Bristol County (48,500).

The geography of Rhode Island consists of two principal regions: the southern and eastern Coastal Lowlands and the Eastern New England Upland (ENEU), also known as the Eastern Highlands, in the northwest.

More than half of the state is covered with forests.


The Ocean State's four main islands are Aquidneck Island, officially Rhode Island, which is the largest island of Narragansett Bay and belongs to Newport County. About 60,000 people live on Aquidneck. The largest town on the island is Newport, the rest of the population is divided between the communities of Middletown and Portsmouth.

Conanicut is the second-largest island in Narragansett Bay; the Newport Bridge connects Conanicut with Aquidneck Island and Newport.

The third-largest island in Narragansett Bay is Prudence, which features some summer colonies. Block Island lies about 16 km south of the coast of the mainland.


Major rivers are the Pawcatuck River, which flows into the Little Narragansett Bay, its source is Worden Pond. The Wood River is a major tributary of the Pawcatuck River. The North Branch Pawtuxet River feeds the Scituate Reservoir. The Blackstone River was once the most polluted in the country. The Sakonnet River is an estuary or tidal strait which runs north to south, east of Aquidneck Island.


Rhode Island is home to more than 200 inland ponds and lakes of varying sizes, most of them human-made. The largest inland body of water is the Scituate Reservoir fed by precipitation and several streams; it is the primary drinking water supply for the city of Providence and surrounding towns.

History of Rhode Island

Photo: Coolkidfacts
Photo: Coolkidfacts
The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was created in the 17th century. English colonists first settled on present-day Aquidneck Island (Rhode Island) in the 1630s.

Nearly one and a half century later, in 1776, the colony declared independence from the British Crown as the first of the thirteen original American colonies. However, it was the last to sign the Constitution, so it became the 13th constituent US state.

The colony of Rhode Island began in 1636 when clergyman Roger Williams was exiled from Massachusetts Bay. The Puritansdisagreed with Williams's religious views. He named his new settlement "Providence," claiming providence had brought him there. Williams was followed by other religious exiles who founded Pocasset, now Portsmouth, in 1638 and Newport in 1639. This religious plurality extended beyond the Christian faiths. Touro Synagogue (founded in 1763) is the oldest synagogue in the U.S.

Rhode Island grew despite setbacks in King Philip's War. Providence was attacked twice during the fighting. King Philip himself (Metacomet) was killed near modern-day Bristol.

Rhode Island prides itself on an open, independent attitude. Brown University, founded in 1764, was the first American college to accept students of all religions. Rhode Island saw the burning of the Gaspee and it declared independence two months before the colonies at large, in May 1776. Despite this, Rhode Island also has a complicated history with slavery; Rhode Island was the first state to outlaw slavery, but weak enforcement meant that Rhode Island was the largest slaveholding state in New England. Newport saw major growth as part of the Triangular Trade.

 Photo: The Odyssey Online
Photo: The Odyssey Online

The state was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. The first textile mill of the Industrial Revolution, Samuel Slater's Mill, is in Rhode Island. The industrialization of the region led to growing class disputes. Traditionally, only property owners could vote, meaning that the working class had no influence in government. In the Ocean State, labor activists created their own rival government to the state legislature. In 1842 this culminated in Dorr's Rebellion. As a result of the rebellion, voting rights were eventually extended to non-property owners with a $1 poll tax.

After the Civil War, the country at large hurtled toward its largest period of industrialization. The Gilded Age produced a wealthy class of industrialists unprecedented in American history. Many of these wealthy families made Rhode Island their summer destination of choice; millionaires from across the Northeastbuilt extravagant estates in Newport. This was buoyed by a booming industrial sector and an increase in tourism businesses.

After World War II, the once-major city of Providence hit a massive slump, with implications for the state at large. Its population decreased by nearly a third, it was rundown, and there were major issues with organized crime. Since the 1970s, Providence has refurbished many of its cultural sites; this has coincided with a larger blossoming of Rhode Island tourism heading into the 2000s. Rhode Island now has a strong arts community, a notable LGBT community, and it is again a popular tourist destination.

In the 20th century, Rhode Island experienced the painful transition from a heavily industrialized to a service economy. With the exception of the World War II era, the process of deindustrialization occurred steadily beginning early in the century. Rhode Island’s economy is now based primarily on government, health services, business services, education, and tourism, according to Britannica.

Agriculture and related services, forestry, and fisheries account for just a tiny fraction of Rhode Island’s annual income. Agriculture has been in a steady decline since the end of the 18th century, and the amount of the state’s land area is under cultivation is now negligible. The Rhode Island Red chicken, bred for its egg-laying, is the official state bird and a symbol of the state, but egg production is not a notable factor in the state’s economy. Nursery products and turf farming accounted for most of the state’s agricultural output.

Interesting Facts About Rhode Island

1. Rhode Island is the smallest state in size in the United States. It covers an area of 1,214 square miles. Its distances North to South are 48 miles and East to West 37 miles. Rhode Island was the last of the original thirteen colonies to become a state.

2. During colonial times many of Rhode Island’s mammals were hunted almost to extinction in the state. But some of those animals have made a comeback. Black bears, beavers, and fishers (a type of weasel) have all returned to the land. Other common mammals are minks, raccoons, and river otters.

Photo:  Henry L. Ferguson Museum
Photo: Henry L. Ferguson Museum

3. The US Open began in Newport, Rhode Island at what is now The International Tennis Hall of Fame. Although that tournament has moved to New York, Newport still holds a tournament in July where you can see tennis greats play of grass from very close for a much smaller cost than the Open.

4. The oldest synagogue in the United States, Tuoro Synagogue, is in Newport. Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams when he was expelled from Massachusetts because of his religious beliefs. He started the state to provide religious freedom for all.

5. Jazz may be a style of music most associated with Harlem and New Orleans, but the country's oldest annual jazz festival actually takes place in Newport. The introduction of a jazz festival to upper-class white Newport in 1954 was met with some skepticism and some issues (complaints from local residents and discrimination against black musicians). Unrest and concerns about the crowds led to the festival moving to New York in the 1970s. After Rhode Island began embracing tourism in the 1980s, the Newport Jazz Festival returned to roost. Today it is one of the country's most significant jazz events.

Photo: JamBase
Photo: JamBase

6. One of Rhode Island’s most recognized icons is a 58-foot long Eastern Subterranean Termite called The Big Blue Bug, or “Nibbles Woodaway” which looms over 95 south. He welcomes people into the capital city of Providence, often dressed in seasonal garb. Right now, he is wearing a mask.

7. Rhode Island’s capital building has the fourth-largest self-supported marble dome in the world. Ours is gold coated and supports a statue of “The Independent Man.”

8. The state shell is a Quahog, a hard-shelled clam native to the east coast. When you drive by Rhode Island’s shallow coastal waters, you will likely see people clamming for them.

9. Portsmouth, Rhode Island was founded by Anne Hutchinson in 1640. Hutchinson was the first American woman to establish a town.

Photo: Biography
Photo: Biography

Hutchinson and many of her supporters established the settlement of Portsmouth with encouragement from Providence Plantations founder Roger Williams in what became the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. After her husband's death a few years later, threats of Massachusetts taking over Rhode Island compelled Hutchinson to move totally outside the reach of Boston into the lands of the Dutch. Five of her older surviving children remained in New England or in England, while she settled with her younger children near an ancient landmark, Split Rock, in what later became The Bronx in New York City. Tensions were high at the time with the Siwanoy Indian tribe. In August 1643, Hutchinson, six of her children, and other household members were killed by Siwanoys during Kieft's War. The only survivor was her nine-year-old daughter Susanna, who was taken captive.

Hutchinson is a key figure in the history of religious freedom in England's American colonies and the history of women in ministry, challenging the authority of the ministers. She is honored by Massachusetts with a State House monument calling her a "courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration". She has been called "the most famous—or infamous—English woman in colonial American history".

10. Rhode Island’s state motto, “Hope,” is the shortest among the fifty U.S. states. The official state motto of Rhode Island is simply "Hope." The state motto appears on the arms of the state, which appear on the great seal and state flag of Rhode Island. The use of the word "Hope" was probably inspired by the biblical phrase "hope we have as an anchor of the soul.", according to the state symbol USA.

Photo:  American Craft Beer
Photo: American Craft Beer

Race and Ethnic groups of Rhode Island

The ethnic groups of Rhode Island consist of Caucasian 72.0%, Hispanic or Latino 15.9%, African American 8.4%, Asian 3.6%, and Native American 1.1%. [4]

The busiest airport in the state is Providence/Warwick Theodore Francis Green State Airport (IATA code: PVD).

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