Providence was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, who had left the Massachusetts Bay Colony to seek religious freedom for himself and others. Not long afterwards, he was joined by another party of refugees from Massachusetts, including Anne Hutchinson who later established Portsmouth. Within a few years, four sites were settled. Williams went to England in 1643, and obtained a parliamentary patent that united all four into a single colony with Providence as its principal city.
Williams initially enjoyed excellent relations with the Wampanoag Indian tribe living in the area, but over the years, those relations deteriorated. The culmination of that decline was during King Philip's War, from 1675 to 1676. Providence suffered severe damage during a raid, but the Wampanoags were ultimately defeated. By the mid-18th century, large plantations using black and Wampanoag slaves had developed in Rhode Island, but slavery was abolished within the borders of Rhode Island in 1774.
Providence was never occupied by British troops during the War of Independence. In subsequent years, the city built a reputation as a manufacturing center as well as receiving its city charter, in 1832. The anti-immigration Know-Nothing Party gained control in Providence in 1856, but its influence declined rapidly. The Republican Party assumed political control, which it retained until the 1930s.
During the Civil War, Providence repeatedly demonstrated its support for the Union cause. After President Abraham Lincoln issued his call for volunteers on April 15, 1861, just three days elapsed before the first artillery detachment left Providence to join the fight. The Civil War also was the period when the city developed its first mass transit, consisting of horse-drawn carriages that connected Providence with its suburbs.
Following the war, Providence continued its industrial progress. America's largest steam engine factory was situated in Providence and supplied the mammoth steam engine that powered exhibits at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. After sharing the role of capital with Newport for many years, Providence became the state's sole capital in 1900. Construction of the State House had begun in 1895, but was not completed until 1901.
In 1911, the Fabre Line of Marseilles made Providence the American terminus for its transatlantic steamship routes. Since the line called on ports in Italy, Portugal, and the Azores, immigration from these sources was a particularly strong component of Providence's growth during the following decades.
Rich with history, Providence offers such points of interest as the Roger Williams National Memorial, which commemorates the life of the founder of Rhode Island. The Museum of Natural History is Rhode Island's only natural history museum and is home to the state's only planetarium. The John Brown House Museum is located in a house that was completed in 1788 by Brown, a businessman, patriot, politician, China trade pioneer, and slave trader. Later, the formidable mansion was owned by Marseden Perry, Providence's utility, real estate, and trolley mogul.
Providence also is home to a couple of historic churches. Considered one of the "must see" places in Providence for anyone interested in American architecture is the First Baptist Church in America, which was built in 1775 by numerous shipwrights and carpenters ó out of work after the British closed the Boston port as punishment for the Boston Tea Party. Dedicated in 1816, the First Unitarian Church of Providence contains a bell in the tower that is the largest cast by Paul Revere and son at their foundry in Canton, Massachusetts.
Originally called "Rhode Island College," Brown University is an Ivy League school originally located in Warren, but relocated to Providence in 1771.
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