Geography of Rhode Island - Origin of The Name

Origin of The Name

Despite the name, most of Rhode Island is on the mainland United States. The official name of the state, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, derives from the merger of two settlements. Rhode Island colony was founded near present-day Newport, on what is now commonly called Aquidneck Island, the largest of several islands in Narragansett Bay. Providence Plantations was the name of the colony founded by Roger Williams in the area now known as the City of Providence.

It is unclear how Aquidneck Island came to be known as Rhode Island, although there are two popular theories.

  • The explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, in 1524 noted the presence of an island near the mouth of Narragansett Bay, which he likened to the Greek island of Rhodes. However, subsequent European explorers were unable to precisely identify the island that Verrazzano had named. Nevertheless, the Pilgrims who later colonized the area assumed that Verrazzano's "Rhodes" was Aquidneck.
  • A second theory concerns the fact that Adriaen Block, during his expeditions in the 1610s, passed by Aquidneck, described in a 1625 account of his travels as "an island of reddish appearance" (in 17th-century Dutch, "een rodlich Eylande"). Historians have theorized that this "reddish appearance" resulted from either red autumn foliage or red clay on portions of the shore.

The earliest documented use of the name "Rhode Island" for Aquidneck was in 1637, by Roger Williams. The name was officially applied to the island in 1644 with these words: "Aquethneck shall be henceforth called the Isle of Rodes or Rhode-Island." The name "Isle of Rodes" is found used in a legal document as late as 1646. However, Dutch maps as late as 1659 call the island "Red Island" (Roodt Eylant).

Roger Williams was a theologian forced out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Seeking religious and political tolerance, he and others founded "Providence Plantations" as a free proprietary colony. "Providence" referred to the divine providence and "plantations" referred to an English term for a colony.

"Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" is the longest official name of any state in the Union. On June 25, 2009, the General Assembly voted to allow the people to decide whether to keep the name or drop "Providence Plantations" due to the misperception that the name relates to slavery. The referendum election was held on this subject during the November 2, 2010 elections, and the people overwhelmingly voted (78% to 22%) to keep the original name.

Read more about this topic:  Geography Of Rhode Island

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