Brief History

RHODE ISLAND (The Beginning)
Rhode Island was granted a Royal Charter in 1663 by Charles II of England. It guaranteed complete religious freedom to the petitioners John Clarke, Benjamin Arnold, William Brenton, William Codington, Nicholas Easton, William Boulston, John Porter, John Smith, Samuel Gorton, John Weeks, Roger Williams, Thomas Olney, Gregory Dexter, John Cogshall, Joseph Clarke, Randall Holden, John Greene, John Roome, Samuel Wildbore, William Field, James Barker, Richard Tew, Thomas Harris, and William Dyer. These men occupied the Island of Rhode and the colony of Providence Plantations. The smallest state in the union now has the longest name: Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations. Specifically, King Charles granted the Charter for the edification of the Christian faith and the conversion of the “poor, ignorant, Indian natives.”


  • Smallest of the 50 states with an area of 1,231 square miles cut almost in two by 28-mile long Narragansett Bay.
  • The historic Rhode Island is called Aquidneck Island which is the local Indian dialect for peace.
  • Was the pioneer industrial state which has given way in the past half century to extensive tourism.
  • Eastern region is lowlands and western region is comprised of upland with about 20 hills exceeding 590 feet above sea level.
  • Glaciation has affected the whole state leaving rich outwashes of South County, disarranged drainage on hardpan and a patchwork of swamps and ponds. About 70,000 acres of the State is classified as having hydric soils. The deep well-drained podzal soils of Kent and Washington County have contributed significantly to their agricultural economy.
  • The 400 miles of coast, 32 saltponds and large numbers of freshwater ponds, streams and rivers provide many opportunities for recreation and commercial fishing.
  • About 90% of the State’s forest land is privately owned and, except for some hardwood varieties, has little economic value. About 2/3 of the State is forested.
  • Five thousand miles of intrastate roads serve the 990,000 people who live in the State.
  • The State is governed by a General Assembly comprised of 50 senators and 100 representatives from 39 cities and towns. The governor is elected every four years. The two houses have been controlled by one party since 1920.
  • There are 5 counties, but no county government. The counties serve only as judicial districts.


  • Statehood: May 29, 1790 –  On this day,  Rhode Island became the 13th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, thereby becoming the last of the original founding colonies to enter the Union.
  • Nickname: Ocean State or Little Rhody
  • Bird: Rhode Island Red (Chicken)
  • Flower: Violet
  • Tree: Swamp or Red Maple
  • Motto: Hope
  • Symbol: Anchor
  • Song: Rhode Island

2007 Census of Agriculture – RI Highlights

  • The number of RI farms was 1,219, up 42 percent from 2002.
  • Land in farms totaled 67,819, up 11 percent from 2002.
  • Market value of production totaled $65.9 million, up 19 percent from 2002.
  • Direct market sales totaled $6.292 million, up from $3.697 million in 2002. 249 farms (20 percent) reported direct market sales.
  • Organic value of sales totaled $1.2 million, up from $270,000 in 2002.
  • Agritourism income totaled $689,000 on 43 farms, up from $23,000 and six (6) farms in 2002.
  • Total value of farmland and building was $1,141,263,000.00. This averages out to $16,828.00 per acre – the highest in the nation.

Demographics of RI’s principal farm operators:

  • 49 percent reported a primary occupation other than farming, compared to 48 percent in 2002.
  • 24 percent are women, a seven (7) percent increase from 2002.
  • Average age is 56.3 years, compared to 54.3 years in 2002.

For details, go to this website:



Indians taught Roger Williams agricultural techniques. He established a farm on Prudence Island where he raised corn, tobacco, cattle and a herd of hogs.

Anne Hutchinson established farms on Aquidneck Island and pastured sheep and cattle on Conanicut Island (Jamestown).


Western Rhode Island raised horses as a major exportable commodity to the West Indies.


Indians under the leadership of King Philip drove out the British and destroyed their farms. Rhode Island had a Quaker Governor and did not organize any resistance to the Indian attacks.

South County and Aquidneck Island survived and prosperous farms raised sheep, cattle, horses, and hogs.


Newport claimed to have exported 100,000 pounds of wool and eventually had 200 ships in foreign trade and twice as many in coastal trade.


Potatoes, imported from Ireland, were now being grown and sold in Rhode Island. Tobacco was traded as early as 1727 and James Brown supplied Martinique with supplies from Providence.

Almost all New England communities had dairy farms with 4 to 8 cows per farm. However, South County was the only true dairy section of New England. Large estates there milked upwards of 100 cows. The quality of their product was the best in the country. If cheese was of top quality, it would invariably be called Rhode Island cheese. The value of the product was due to the very rich pastures of South County and the labor of milking and caring for the large herds was done mostly by slaves.

South County was also noted for the production of very fine horses. A highly valued horse of this era was the Narragansett Pacer. The superior breed was in such demand in the West Indies that one plantation owner, Robert Hazard, shipped 100 head a year to the islands. Their smooth gait made them a favorite with the ladies also. This breed died out after the Revolutionary War and, except for one foal born in 1985, there is not a trace of this breed left.

Farmland acquisition – Starting in 1658 a group of merchants developed huge estate plantations on the western side of Narragansett Bay. One estate was re- ported to be nine miles long and three miles wide. The rich pasturage, hardwood forests, and large dairy operations made Rhode Island a prosperous agricultural colony.


And then came the Revolution. (Watch for more Rhode Island Agricultural History.)

Source: The Long Deep Furrow