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The Colony of Rhode Island Scattered Europeans began to settle the area that would become Rhode Island as early asbut the first permanent settlement was not established until When Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious beliefs, he took refuge among the Narragansett Native American tribe, who occupied the country at the head of Narragansett Bay.
Canonicus, their chief, held the good man in high esteem, and presented him with a large tract of land, which the devout Williams named Providence. A short-lived dispute sent Coddington to the southern tip of Aquidneck Island also purchased from the Narragansettswhere he established Newport in The fourth original town, Warwick, was settled in by Samuel Gorton, another dissident from Portsmouth.
These communities were founded on the principle of absolute freedom of conscience. To settle disputes over land titles and to dispose of town lands, Providence established in a court of arbitration consisting of five disposers, who served as a sort of executive board for the town. In all outward relations she remained isolated from her neighbors, pursuing a course of strictly local independence.
But it was only a was halfhearted effort—each town reserved complete control over its own affairs. A Parliamentary Charter Rhode Island was harassed for years by claims upon its territory by Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Plymouth Colony, seeking a better harbor than that of Plymouth Bay, claimed the eastern mainland and the Hog, Conanicut, and Aquidneck Islands. Connecticut Colony wanted to push her eastern boundary beyond the Pawcatuck River. If each of these colonies made good its claim, there would be little left of the Rhode Island Colony.
But the Rhode Islanders were plucky, and they successfully defended their rights. In spite of external encroachments and internal dissensions, the colony grew in strength and importance, and its trade extended in every direction. Roger Williams secured a patent from the English Parliament in Marchwhich united the four towns into a single colony and confirmed their land claims.
It gave the people the power to govern themselves, but was simply a charter of incorporation—still no land grant. A general meeting was held at Portsmouth consisting of the freemen from Warwick, Portsmouth, and Newport, and Providence. They refused to have a governor, created only a presiding officer with four assistants, constituted a court of trials for the hearing of important criminal and civil causes. No general court was created by law, but a legislative body soon came into existence consisting of six deputies from each town.
Before the Portsmouth meeting adjourned, it adopted a code of laws in which witchcraft trials and imprisonment for debt were forbidden, capital punishment was largely abolished, and divorce was granted for adultery only. Inthe assembly passed a noteworthy law against the holding of Negroes in slavery.
These laws served adequately until the end of the English Civil War. Our poor colony is in civil dissension. Their last meeting [of the assembly] at which I have not been, have fallen into factions. Coddington and Captain Partridge, etc. Easton, etc.
A Royal Charter Dr. John Clarke then traveled to England to ask for a patent from the new king, Charles II, that would safeguard Rhode Island lands from encroachment by speculators and greedy neighbors. It was the most liberal charter to be issued by the mother country during the entire colonial era. It united all the colonies into one, under the name Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. This is still the legal name of the State, which retains its two capitals, Providence and Newport, the Legislature meeting alternately in each. The charter of Charles II suited the people so well that it remained in force until The religious freedom, which prevailed in early Rhode Island, made it a refuge for several persecuted sects.
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Rhode Island Colony