The smallest state in land size, it was also the last of the 13 original colonies to ratify the U. S. Constitution. The Native inhabitants to the region were the Wampanoag, Narragansett, Nipmuck, and Niantic tribes. Most of the Native Indians were killed by the spread of the European diseases and warfare with the Europeans colonists.
Based on his religious views, it was Roger Williams of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who left that region to establish religious freedom in Rhode Island. He was granted land at the tip of Narragansett Bay by the Narragansett Indians. Roger Williams had won the respect of his colonial neighbors for his skill in keeping the powerful Narragansetts on friendly terms with local white settlers. Several other disconnected groups also broke with Massachusetts, purchased land and eventually united in the Charter of 1663.
In 1652 Rhode Island passed the first abolition law in the thirteen colonies, banning African slavery, but the law was not enforced. By 1774, the slave population of Rhode Island was 6.3 percent, twice as high as any other New England colony. In the late 18th century, several Rhode Island merchant families were engaging in the triangle slave trade. In the years after the American Revolution, Rhode Island merchants controlled between 60 and 90 percent of the American trade in African slaves.
Rhode Island was the first British colony in America to formally declare its independence, on May 4, 1776. Yet, after the American Revolutionary War, it did not ratify the U. S. Constitution until 1790. During this time, one of the first anti-slavery laws in the new United States was written in Rhode Island, but would take into the early 19th century to make a difference in the Rhode Island involvement in the slave trade.
During the 19th century Rhode Island became one of the most industrialized states in the United States with large numbers of textile factories. The state also had significant machine tool, silverware, and costume jewelry industries. Looking at Rhode Island genealogy, it can be seen that the state became a popular destination for emigration of people from other states and especially foreign-born immigrations seeking jobs.
After the American Civil War, Rhode Island abolished racial segregation throughout the state in 1866. Most of Rhode Island immigrates were from Germany, Ireland, Germany, Sweden and Canadian Quebec from 1860 to 1880s. From 1885 to 1910, most immigrants were now arriving from South and Eastern European countries and the Mediterranean nations like Italy and Greece.
The state’s population has gone from 68,800 in 1790 to 108,800 in 1840 to 217,000 in 1870. In 2009, the small state had a population of 1,053,000. The largest groups are of Italian descent at 19 percent and Irish ancestry is at 19 percent in Rhode Island. A large French-Canadian population are represented at 17 percent.
Those of Hispanic descent, including from Puerto Rico make up 11 percent of the population. Because of the high numbers of Italians, Irish and French-Canadians, those of the Roman Catholic faith equal about 49 percent of the population, significant numbers while looking at Rhode Island genealogy. There is also a good-size Portuguese population in the city of Providence. In recent years, large numbers of immigrants from various African nations, including Liberia and Nigerian live in the state.