Known as “Little Rhody,” Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams, a former member of the theocracy centered in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Williams had bought land from the Narragansett natives and helped shape a tolerant colony that allowed for freedom of worship for all, including Christian denominations and Native Americans. Providence and Newport were a couple of the most important seaports in the colonies, and Rhode Island was the first to prohibit the slave import.
On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island was the first colony to renounce loyalty to the crown and declare independence. Despite being the first to call for independence, Rhode Island was the last to sign the Constitution because the state was concerned about the assurance of their rights which became finalized by the Bill of Rights. In 1866, racial segregation was abolished in the state. In spite of Rhode Island’s name, the state is part of the mainland and New England. The state’s official name is State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations; Providence Plantations was the name Roger Williams had given to his colony.
Rhode Island is separated into only 5 counties: Bristol, Kent, Newport, Providence, and Washington. They all have county seats; however, the counties have no local government. They merely serve as court administrative and sheriff boundaries, both of which are provided by state government. Many communities still follow the traditional New England town meeting style of local government, which is purely democratic. Until the American Revolution, Washington County was named “The King’s County.”
The state government of Rhode Island has had two constitutions: one based off of the colonial charter it was started upon (1842), and the other created in 1986. Rhode Island asserts the General Assembly as the legislative body for the state. At the bottom of the Rhode Island court system is the traffic courts that allow appeals to go to the district court, then the superior court, and finally the state Supreme Court that consists of four justices and a Chief Justice.