2011-05-05 / Editorial

Rhode Island independence – first and last of the colonies

It was 235 years ago this week that Rhode Island declared its independence from Britain.

Rhode Island may have been one of the smallest colonies, but its residents were leaders among those living in the New World.

The colony was founded by religious radicals. Forced to flee from Massachusetts due to persecution, Roger Williams established the first permanent settlement in Providence in 1636.

Others soon followed, attracted by concept of religious and political freedom. They settled around Narragansett Bay. The communities were united when the colony was formed with a charter from King Charles II of England in 1663. The royal charter establishing Rhode Island was the most liberal of the colonies, granting more self-government that any other colony while also permitting religious freedom.

Rhode Island became the first to renounce its allegiance to King George III. On May 4, 1776, the Rhode Island Assembly declared independence. The action was followed two months later by the remaining 12 colonies when they approved the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

The Rhode Island assembly ratified the Declaration of Independence on July 18.

Rhode Islanders were active participants in the Revolutionary War, contributing its share of men, ships and money to the cause.

The British occupied Newport in December 1776. Rhode Islanders were some of the first colonists to rebel against Britain by attacking British ships.

It is ironic that 14 years later Rhode Island was the last state to ratify the constitution of the newly formed federal government. Rhode Island was one of the states that demanded the Bill of Rights, which guarantees individual liberties that we cherish today.

Today, the Independent Man stands atop the dome of the State House in Providence, reminding us of our state’s heritage.

– Jeff McDonough

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