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The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, one of the thirteen original colonies, is in extent of territory (land area, 1054 square miles), the smallest state in the American union. It includes the Island of Rhode Island, Block Island, and the lands adjacent to Narragansett Bay, bounded on the north and east by Massachusetts, on the south by the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west by Connecticut.
The population, according to the United States Census of 1910, numbers 542,674. Providence, the capital, situated at head of Narragansett Bay, and having a population of 224,326, is the industrial centre of an extremely wealthy and densely populated district.
Rhode Island has long since ranked as chiefly a manufacturing state, although the agricultural interest in certain sections are still considerable. The agriculture in Rhode Island has not kept pace with manufacturers is illustrated by instances of rural population. Two country towns have fewer inhabitants than in 1748; two others, but a few more than at that date; one town, less than in 1782; two, less than in 1790, and another, less than in 1830. Coal exists and has been mined, but it is of graphitic nature. Granite of high grade is extensively quarried. The value of stone quarried in 1902 was $734,623; the value of all other minerals produced, $39,998. The power supplied by the rivers gave early impetus to manufacturing are general, including cotton, woolen, and rubber goods, jewelry, silverware, machinery and tools. In 1905 there were 1617 manufacturing establishments with a total capitalization of $215,901,375; employing 97,318 workers with a payroll of $43,112,637, and an output of the value of $202,109,583. The total assets of banks and trust companies in June, 1909, were $252,612,122. The bonded State debt,1 Jan., 1910, was $4,800,000 with a sinking fund of $654,999. The direct foreign commerce is small, imports in 1908 being $1,499,116 and exports $21,281. The population of Rhode Island in 1708 was 7181. In 1774 it had increased to 59,707, subsequently decreasing until in 1782 it was 52,391. Thereafter until 1840 the average annual increase was 973; and from 1840 to 1860, 3289.
During the latter period and for several years afterward came a heavy immigration from Ireland, followed by a large influx from Canada. For the last twenty-five years, the increase from European countries, especially Italy, has been great. According to the State census of 1095, the number of foreign-born in Rhode Island is as follows; born in Canada, 38,500; in Ireland, 32,629; In England, 24,431; In Italy, 18,014; In Sweden, 7201; In Scotland, 5649; in Portugal, 5293; In Russia, 4505; in Germany, 4463; in Poland, 4104. This classification does not distinguish the Jews, who are rapidly increasing, and who in 1905 numbered 14,570.
It is probable that Verrazano, sailing under the French flag, visited Rhode Island waters in 1524. A Dutch navigator, Adrian Block, in 1614 explored Narragansett Bay and gave to Block Island the name it bears. The sentence of banishment of Roger Williams from Plymouth Colony was passed in 1635, and in the following year he settled on the site of Providence, acquiring land by purchase from the Indians. One cause of Williams's banishment was his protest against the interference of civil authorities in religious matters. In November, 1637, William Coddington was notified to leave Massachusetts. With the help of Williams, he settled on the site of Portsmouth, in the northerly part of the island of Rhode Island, which was then call Aquidneck. Disagreements arising at Portsmouth, Coddington, with a minority of his townsmen, in 1639 moved southward on the island and began the settlement of Newport. Samuel Gorton, another refugee from Massachusetts, in 1638 came first to Portsmouth, and later to Providence, creating discord at both places by denying all power in the magistrates. Gorton finally, in 1643, purchased from the Indians a tract of land in what is now the town of Warwick, and settled there. The four towns, Providence, Warwick, Portsmouth, and Newport, lying in a broken line about thirty miles in length, for many years constituted the municipal divisions of the colony. In 1644 Roger Williams secured from the English Parliament the first charter, which was accepted by an assembly of delegates from the four towns; and a bill of rights, and a brief code of laws declaring the government to be "held by the common consent of all the free inhabitants", were enacted thereunder. In 1663 was granted the charter of Charles II, the most liberal of all the colonial charters. It ordained that no person should be in any way molested on account of religion; and created the General Assembly, with power to enact all laws necessary for the government of the colony, such laws being not repugnant to but agreeable as near as might be to the laws of England, "considering the nature and constitution of the place and people there"
The separate existence of the little colony was long precarious. Coddington in 1651 secured for himself a commission as governor of the islands of Rhode Island and Conanicut, but his authority was vigorously assailed, and his commission finally revoked. The Puritans in Massachusetts were no friends of the people of Rhode Island, and portions of the meagre territory were claimed by Massachusetts and Connecticut. Rhode Island, like the other colonies was threatened both in England and in America by those who favoured direct control by the English Government. Under the regime of Andros, Colonial Governor at Boston, the charter government was suspended for two years; and had the recommendations of the English commissioner, Lord Bellemont, been adopted, the charter government would have been abolished. In 1710 the colony first issued "bills of credit", paper money, which continued increasing in volume and with great depreciation in value, until after the close of the Revolution, causing and inciting bitter partisan and sectional strife, and at times leading to the verge of civil war. The advocates of this currency defended it on the ground of necessity, lack of specie, and the demand for some medium to pay the expenses of successive wars. In 1787 the State owed £150,047, English money, on interest-bearing notes, which in 1789 the Assembly voted to retire by paying them in paper money then passing at the ratio of twelve to one. By the early part of the eighteenth century the people were extensively engaged in ship-building, and it is said that in the wars in America between Great Britain and France, Rhode Island fitted out more ships for service than any other colony.
The extraordinary measure of self-government granted to the colonists by the charter fostered in them a spirit of loyalty toward the mother country, substantially and energetically manifested on every occasion; but which, nevertheless, when the danger from the foreign foe was no longer imminent, was supplanted by a feeling of jealous apprehension of the encroachments on that the colonists had now learned to regard as their natural rights. Rhode Island heartily joined the other colonies in making the Revolution her cause. In 1768 the Assembly ratified the Massachusetts remonstrance against the British principle of taxation, in spite of Lord Hillsborough's advice to treat it with "the contempt it deserves". The first overt act of the Revolution, the scuttling of the revenue sloop "Liberty", took place in Newport harbour, 19 July, 1769; followed three years later by the burning of the British ship of war "Gaspee" at Providence. A strong loyalist party in the colony for social and commercial reasons was anxious to avoid an open breach with the mother country, but the enthusiasm with which the news of Lexington was received showed that the majority of the people welcomed the impending struggle. on 4 May, 1776, the Rhode Island Assembly by formal act renounced its allegiance to Great Britain, and in the following July voted its approval of the Declaration of Independence. The colony bore its burden, too, of the actual conflict. From 1776 until 1779, the British occupied Newport as their headquarters, ruining the commerce of the town and wasting the neighbouring country. The evident strategic importance of the possession of Newport by the British, and the possibility of the place's becoming the centre of a protracted and disastrous war, created great alarm not only in the colony but throughout New England. Two attempts were made to dislodge the enemy, the second with the co-operation of the French fleet, but both failed. The levies of men and money were promptly met by the people of the colony in spite of the widespread privation and actual suffering. At last the British headquarters were shifted to the south, and the French allies Newport until the end of the war.
The same consideration, the instinct for local self-government, which prompted Rhode Island to resist the mother country, made her slow to join with the other colonies in establishing a strong centralized government. "We have not seen our way clear to do it consistent with our idea of the principles upon which we are all embarked together", wrote the Assemble to the President of Congress. The proposed federal organization seemed scarcely less objectionable than the former British rule. Rhode Island took no part in the Convention of 1787, and long refused even to submit the question of the adoption of the Constitution to a state convention. Eight times the motion to submit was lost in the Assemble, and it was only when it became evident that the other states did not regard Rhode Island's condition single independence as an "eligible" one, and where quite ready to act in support of their opinion even to the extent of parcelling her territory among themselves, that the Constitution was submitted to a convention and adopted by a majority of two votes, 29 May, 1790. Admitted to the Union, Rhode Island did not follow the example of most of the other states in framing a constitution adapted to the new national life, but continued under the old charter. This fact underlies here political history for the next fifty years. The charter of Charles II, though suitable to its time, was bound to become oppressive. First, it fixed the representation of the several towns without providing for a readjustment to accord with the relative changes therein. Hence, the natural and social forces, necessarily operating in the course of two hundred years to enlarge some communities and to reduce others, failed to find a corresponding political expression. Again, the charter had conferred the franchise upon the "freemen" of the towns, leaving to the Assemble the task of defining the term. From early colonial days the qualification had fluctuated until in 1798 it was fixed at the ownership of real estate to the value of $134, or of $7 annual rental (the eldest sons of freeholders being also eligible). Agitation for a constitution began as soon as Rhode Island had entered the Union, and continued for many years with little result. It came to a head ultimately in 1841 in the Dorr Rebellion, the name given to that movement whereby a large part in the state, under the leadership of Thomas W. Dorr of Providence, proceeded to frame a constitution, independently of the existing government and to elect officers thereunder. The movement was readily put down by the authorities after some display of force, and Dorr was obliged to flee the state. Returning later, he was indicted for treason, convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for life. He was pardoned and set at liberty within a year. His work was not a failure, however, for in 1842 a constitution was adopted incorporating his proposed reforms. A personal property qualification was instituted, practically equivalent to the real estate qualification; and neither was required, except in voting upon an proposition to impose a tax or to expend money, or for the election of the City Council of Providence. The personal property qualification was not available, to foreign-born citizens, and this discrimination persisted until 1888, when it was abolished by constitutional amendment. Each town and city was entitled to one member in the Senate; and the membership of the Lower House, limited to seventy-two, was apportioned among the towns and cities on the basis of population, with the proviso that now town or city should have more than one-sixth of the total membership. In 1909, an amendment was adopted increasing the membership of the Lower House to one hundred, apportioned as before among the towns and cities on the basis of population, with the proviso that no town or city should have more than one-fourth of the total membership. It is significant that under this amendment the City of Providence has twenty-five representatives whereas its population warrants forty-one. In the same year, the veto power was for the first time bestowed upon the governor. Notwithstanding these approaches toward a republican form of government, there is a strong demand for a thorough revision of the Constitution. According to an opinion of the Supreme Court a constitutional convention is out of the question, inasmuch as the Constitution itself contains no provision therefor (In re The Constitutional Convention, IIV R. I., 469), and the only hope of reform seems to be in the slow and difficult process of amendment.
The earliest settlers in this state were criticized by their enemies for lack of religion. Cotton Mather described them as a "colluvies" of everything but Roman Catholics and real Christians. In Providence Roger Williams was made pastor of the first church, the beginning of the present First Baptist Church. In 1739 there were thirty-three churches in the colony; twelve Baptist, ten Quaker, six Congregational or Presbyterian, and five Episcopalian. It is said that in 1680 there was not one Catholic in the colony, and for a long period their number must have been small. In 1828 there were probably less than 1000 Catholics in the state. In that year Bishop Fenwick of Boston assigned Rev. Robert Woodley to a "parish" which included all of Rhode Island and territory to the east in Massachusetts. A church was built in Pawtucket in 1829. Father Woodley in 1828 acquired in Newport a lot and building which was used for a church and school. In 1830 Rev. John Corry was assigned to Taunton and Providence, and built a church in Taunton in that year. The first Catholic church in Providence was built in 1837 on the site of the present cathedral. At that time Father Corry was placed in charge of Providence alone. From 1844 to 1846 the mission of Rev. James Fitton included Woonsocket, Pawtucket, Crompton and Newport, a series of districts extending the length of the state. In 1846, Newport was made a parish by itself. Woonsocket received a pastor at about the same time; Pawtucket in 1847; Warren in 1851; Pascoag in 1851; East Greenwich in 1853; Georgiaville in 1855. These parishes were not confined to the limits of the towns or villages named, but included the surrounding territory. In 1844 the Diocese of Hartford was created, including Rhode Island and Connecticut, with the episcopal residence at Providence. At this time there were only six priests in the two states. In 1872 the diocese of Hartford was divided and the Diocese of Providence created, including all Rhode Island, and in Massachusetts, the counties of Bristol, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket, also the towns of Mattapoisset, Marion, and Wareham in the County of Plymouth. In 1904 the Diocese of Fall River was created, leaving the Diocese of Providence coextensive with the state. After 1840, and especially following the famine in Ireland, the Irish increased with great rapidity and long formed the bulk of the Catholic population. The growth of cotton manufactures after the Civil War drew great numbers of Canadian Catholics. In more recent years Italians have settled in Rhode Island in great numbers, and many Polish Catholics. Included in the Catholic population are approximately 65,000 Canadians and French, 40,000 Italians, 10,000 Portuguese,8000 Poles, and 1000 Armenians and Syrians. According to a special government report on the census of religious bodies of the United States, 76.5 per cent, of the population of the City of Providence are Catholics. There are 199 priests in the diocese, including about 47 Canadian and French priests, 8 Italian, and 5 Polish priests. Thirty parishes support parochial schools. Under Catholic auspices are two orphan asylums, one infant asylum, two hospitals, one home for the aged poor, one industrial school, one house for working boys, and two houses for working girls.
The State census of 1905 gives the following statistics of religious denominations:
Value of property owned by certain denominations is stated as follows: Protestant Episcopal, $1,957,518; Congregational, $1,417,089; Baptist, $1,124,348; Methodist Episcopal, $624,900; Unitarian $280,000; Universalist, $259,000; Free Baptist, $242,000.
Provision was made for a public school in New port in 1640. State supervision of public schools was not inaugurated until 1828. The number of pupils enrolled in public schools in 1907 was 74,065, and the number of teachers employed, 2198. The State maintains an agricultural college, a normal school, a school for the deaf, a home and school for dependent children not criminal or vicious, and makes provision for teaching the blind. Schools are supported mainly by the towns wherein they are located. The state appropriates annually $120,000 to be used only for teachers salaries, and to be divided among the towns and cities in proportion to school population, but no town may receive its allotment without appropriating at least an equal amount for the same purpose. Another appropriation is paid to towns maintaining graded high schools. This appropriation in 1910 was $26,500. The total amount expended on public schools in 1907, exclusive of permanent improvements, was $1,800,325, the number of school buildings was 528; and the valuation of school property, $6,550,172. The number of parochial school pupils in 1907 was 16,254; the total attendance of Catholic parochial schools and academies in 1910 was 17,440. These schools cost about $1,500,000, and their annual maintenance about $150,000. The average monthly expense per pupil in the public schools in 1907 was stated as $3.14. Allowing ten months for the school year, on the basis of that cost, the 16,254 parochial school pupils, if attending the public school, would have cost the State and towns $510,375. Providence is the seat of Brown University, a Baptist institution founded in 1764. The corporation consists of a Board of Trustees and a Board of Fellow. A majority of the trustees must be Baptists and the rest of the trustees must be chosen from three other prescribed Protestant denominations. A majority of the fellows including the president, must be Baptists; "the rest indifferently of any or all denominations". It is provided that the places of professors, tutors and all officers, the president alone excepted, shall be free and open to all denominations of Protestants. The total enrollment of the university for the academic year 1909-10 was 967, including the graduate department and the Women's College.
In 1657 the Assembly denied the demand of the commissioners of the United Colonies that Quakers should be banished from Rhode Island, and later passed a law that military service should not be exacted from those whose religious belief forbade the bearing of arms. The Charter of 1663 guaranteed freedom of conscience, and the colonial laws prohibited compulsory support of any form of worship. In 1663, Charles II wrote to the Assembly declaring that all men of civil conversation, obedient to magistrates though of differing judgments, might be admitted as freemen, with liberty to choose and be chosen to office, civil and military. In this communication it was voted that all those who should take an oath of allegiance to Charles II and were of competent estate, should be admitted as freemen; but none should vote or hold office until admitted by vote of the assembly. In the volume of laws printed in 1719, appeared a provision that all men professing Christianity, obedient to magistrates, and of civil conversation, though of differing judgments in religious matters, Roman Catholics alone excepted should have liberty to choose and be chosen to offices both civil and military. The date of the original enactment of this exception is not known. It was repealed in 1783. The State Constitution of 1842 guarantees freedom of conscience, and provides that no man's civil capacity shall be increased or diminished on account of his religious belief.
The Sunday law of Rhode Island, following the original English statute (Charles II, e. VII, sect. 1) differs from the law of most other states in that it forbids simply the exercise of one's ordinary calling upon the Lord's day; excepting of course works of charity and necessity. Hence a release given on Sunday has been held good (Allen v. Gardiner, VII, R.I. 22); and probably any contracts not in pursuance of one's ordinary calling would be sustained though made on Sunday. A characteristic exception exists in favour of Jews and Sabbatarians, who are permitted with certain restrictions, to pursue their ordinary calling on the first day of the week. Fishing and fowling, except on one's own property, and all games, sports, plays, and recreations on Sunday are forbidden. The penalty for the first violation of the statute is $5, and $10 for subsequent violations. Service of civil process on Sunday is void.
Witnesses are sworn with the simple formality of raising the right hand; or they make affirmation upon peril of the penalty for perjury. Judges assemblymen, and all State officers, civil and military, must take an oath of office. The substance of the oath is to support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of this State, and faithfully and impartially to discharge the duties of the office. The judges of the Supreme and Superior Courts also swear to administer justice without respect of persons, and to do equal right to the poor and to the rich. Lawyers, auditors and almost every city and town official take an oath office. Blasphemy is punished by imprisonment not exceeding two months or fine not exceeding $200; profane cursing swearing by fine not exceeding $5. New State and municipal governments are generally inaugurated with prayer.
There is no statute or reported decision regarding evidence of statements made under the seal of confession. Should a question arise concerning this, it would have to be decided on precedent and on grounds of public policy. The sole statutory privilege is that accorded to communications between husband and wife; although the common law privilege of offers of compromise and settlement and of communications between attorney and client are recognized. Physicians may be compelled to disclose statements made to them by patients regarding physical condition.
In 1869 an act was passed enabling the bishop of the Diocese of Hartford, with the vicar-general, the pastor and two lay members of any Catholic congregation in this State, to incorporate, and to hold the Church property of such congregation, by filing with the secretary of State an agreement to incorporate. This act was amended upon the creation of the Diocese of Providence. The property of all the organized and self-sustaining Catholic parishes is held by corporations so formed. The system furnishes a convenient means of continuing the ownership of the property of the respective parishes. In 1900 the bishop of the Diocese of Providence and his successors were created a corporation sole with power to hold property for the religious and charitable purposes of the Roman Catholic Church. Since 1883 there has existed an act enabling Episcopalian parishes to incorporate. Special charters are freely granted when desired. There is a general law allowing libraries, lyceums and societies for religious charitable, literary, scientific, artistic, musical or social purposes to incorporate by filing an agreement stating the names of the promoters and the object of the corporation, and by paying a nominal charge. Such corporations may hold property up to $100,000 in value.
By general law, buildings for religious worship, and the land on which they stand, not exceeding one acre, so far as such land and buildings are occupied and used exclusively for religious or educational purposes, are exempt from taxation. The exemption does not apply to pastors' houses. The buildings and personal property of any corporation used for schools, academies, or seminaries of learning, and of any incorporated public charity, and the land, not exceeding one acre, on which such buildings stand, are exempt. School property is exempt only so far as it is used exclusively for educational purposes. Property used exclusively for burial purposes, hospitals, public libraries, and property used for the aid of the poor, are exempt.
Marriage between grandparent and grandchild, or uncle and niece, and between persons more closely related by blood, is void; as is marriage with a step-parent, with the child or grandchild or one's husband or wife, with the husband or wife of one's child or grandchild, and with the parent or grandparent of one's wife or husband. The statute contains no express requirement regarding the age of the parties contracting marriage, but it is a defence to an indictment for bigamy that the prior marriage was contracted when the man was under fourteen years of age, and the woman under twelve. Marriages among Jews are valid in law if they are valid under the Jewish religion. Marriages may be performed by licensed clergymen and by the judges of the Supreme and Superior Courts. Before marriage, parties must obtain a licence by personal application from the town clerk, or city clerk, or registrar; and a non-resident woman must obtain such licence at least five days previous to the marriage. The licence must be presented to the clergyman or judge officiating, who must make return of the marriage. Two witnesses are required to the marriage ceremony. Failure to observe the licence regulations will not invalidate the marriage provided either of the contracting parties supposes they have been complied with; but the noncompliance is punished by fine or imprisonment. Causes for divorce include adultery, extreme cruelty, wilful desertion for five years, or for a shorter time in the discretion of the Court, continued drunkenness, excessive use of opium, morphine, or chloral, neglect of husband to provide necessaries for this wife, and an other gross misbehaviour and wickedness repugnant to the marriage covenant. If the parties have been separated for ten years, the Court may in its discretion decree a divorce. Under the law of Rhode Island marriage is regarded as a status, pertaining to the citizen, which the State may regulate or alter. Hence a Court having jurisdiction over one of the parties to a marriage as a bona fide domiciled citizen of the State, may dissolve the marriage although the other party is beyond the jurisdiction; and such dissolution will be recognized by other states by virtue of the comity provision of the Federal Constitution (Ditson vs. Ditson, IV R.I. 87).
A Constitutional amendment prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquor was adopted in 1886, and repealed in 1889. At present Rhode Island is a local option state, the question of licence or no-licence being submitted annually to the voters of the several cities and towns. The licensing boards may in their discretion refuse any application. The number of licences in any town may not exceed the proportion of one licence to each 500 inhabitants. The owners of the greater part of the land within two hundred feet of any location may bar its licence. No licence can be granted for a location within two hundred feet, measured on the street, of any public or parochial school. Maximum and minimum licence fees are fixed by statute, and the exact sum is determined by the licensing boards. For retail licences the minimum fee is $300, and the maximum, $1000.
In the City of Cranston are located the "State institutions", so-called, including the State prison, the county jail, the State workhouse, a reform school for girls, and another for boys. The probation system is extensively employed, and in the case of juvenile offenders especially, the State makes every effort to prevent their becoming hardened criminals. Probation officers have the power of bail over persons committed to them. In proper cases, probation officers may provide for the maintenance of girls and women apart from their families. Capital punishment does not exist in the State except in cases where a life convict commits murder.
Wills disposing of personal property may be made by persons eighteen years of age or over; wills disposing of real estate, by persons twenty-one years of age or over. Probate clerks are required to notify corporations and voluntary associations of all gifts made to them by will. If a gift for charity is made by will to a corporation and the acceptance thereof would be ultra vires, the corporation may at once receive the gift, and may retain it on condition of securing the consent of the legislature within one year. It has been held that a legacy for Masses should be paid in full even if the estate were insufficient to pay general pecuniary legacies in full, on the ground that the gift for Masses is for services to be rendered and is not gratuitous, furthermore that a gift for Masses is legal and is not void as being a superstitious use (Sherman v. Baker, XX R.I., 446, 613).
Cemeteries are regulated to the extent that town councils may prevent their location in thickly populated districts, and for the protection of health may pass ordinances regarding burials and the use of the grounds. Desecration of graves is punished. Towns may receive land for burial purposes, and town councils may hold funds for the perpetual care of burial lots. Cemeteries are generally owned by corporations specially chartered, by churches and families.
Field, State of R.I. and Providence Plantations (Boston, 1902); Arnold, Hist. of R.I. (New York, 1860); Staples, Annals of Providence (Providence, 1843); Dowling, Hist. of the Catholic Church in New England (Boston, 1899); R.I. Colonial Records.
APA citation. (1912). Rhode Island. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13020a.htm
MLA citation. "Rhode Island." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13020a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Sally Nutini. Dedicated to Elsie Palmisano.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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