Sure, It’s Only 47-1/2 Miles Long, But . . .

Sure, It’s Only 47½ Miles Long, But… Don’t get Rhode Islanders started on the subject of their state. That is, unless you have plenty of time.

By Judson D. Hale

Jul 01 2016

Pachaug Trail – “Welcome to Rhode Island sign” at Beach Pond, Hope Valley, RI

Pachaug Trail – “Welcome to Rhode Island sign” at Beach Pond, Hope Valley, RI

Photo Credit : Wikimedia Commons
Pachaug Trail - "Welcome to Rhode Island sign" at Beach Pond, Hope Valley, RI
Pachaug Trail – “Welcome to Rhode Island sign” at Beach Pond, Hope Valley, RI
Photo Credit : Wikimedia Commons

First of all, you ought to know that its official name isn’t just “Rhode Island.” Rather, it’s “The State of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations.” (A little long for the license plate.) Other names for it have been “The Plantation of the Otherwise Minded” and “Rogues Island.” At one time the greatest slave-trading colony in America, Rhode Island was the first civilized community anywhere in the world that allowed freedom of religion.

Little Rhody, or the Ocean State, is still a “general muster of opionists,” as Cotton Mather described Rhode Island, and as such has just naturally developed a reputation for tolerance. I believe it still has the only fishing cooperative in New England; Brown is the only city university in our region without the “town and gown” problems one encounters in, say, Cambridge and New Haven; and it calmly tolerates, well, crooks in various positions of power…like, for instance, colorful and beloved-by-many former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci, who spent time in jail. Once known as “the working man’s mayor,” Buddy was occasionally seen riding horseback down fancy Blackstone Boulevard in Providence with his spurs pointing forward so, he said, they wouldn’t hurt the horse. And did you know that Rhode Island has the highest proportion of Roman Catholics of any state in the Union?

Of course, it’s small. Only forty-seven and a half miles long and, at most, forty miles wide. Yet it has more people than either Vermont or New Hampshire. If you live in the Rhode Island countryside you can, or so they say, be in the city in seven minutes. And like a person of small stature, Rhode Island absolutely refuses to be overlooked or ignored.

“Do you realize Rhode Island was the first colony to disregard the British stamp act?” a museum curator suddenly asked me a few years ago as we were sifting through some photographs of nineteenth-century Cranston (pronounced “Creeanston”).

“We were also the first to officially renounce allegiance to Great Britain,” he continued, his voice now raised, “and among the first to adopt the Articles of Confederation, and first to fire a cannon at any British naval vessel.”

“Really?” I remember responding, attempting to lift the appearance of my own interest to his very earnest level. “Oh, sure,” he said, “and the first Baptist church is in Providence, the first Jewish synagogue in America is in Newport, and the country’s first cotton mill, started by Samuel Slater, was begun in Pawtucket in 1790, the first lighthouse on the American coast was built at Beavertail, Rhode Island back in 1749, the first spinning jenny in the United States was…” and it was about here I managed to interrupt him was a hearty “By Gorry!” followed by “That’s something!” No telling how long he would have gone on.

But, you know, I was impressed.