Rhode Island (/ˌroʊd -/ (listen), like road), officially the State of Rhode Island, is a state in the New England region of the Northeastern United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area and the seventh-least populous, with slightly fewer than 1.1 million residents as of 2020,but it is the second-most densely populated after New Jersey. It takes its name from the eponymous island, though most of its land area is on the mainland. Rhode Island borders Connecticut to the west, Massachusetts to the north and east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south via Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound; it also shares a small maritime border with New York. Providence is its capital and most populous city.
Native Americans lived around Narragansett Bay for thousands of years before English settlers began arriving in the early 17th century. Rhode Island was unique among the Thirteen British Colonies for being founded by a refugee, Roger Williams, who 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 subsequently became a destination for religious and political dissenters and social outcasts, earning it the moniker “Rogue’s Island”.
Reflecting its status as a hub of relative tolerance and free thought, 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. After 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 13 states to do so, on May 29, 1790.
It was officially named the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations since the colonial era, but commonly became known as simply “Rhode Island”. In November 2020 the state’s voters approved an amendment to the state constitution formally dropping “and Providence Plantations” from its full name. Its official nickname is the “Ocean State”, a reference to its 400 miles (640 km) of coastline and the large bays and inlets that comprise about 14% of its total area.
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