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Rhode Island though the smallest state in the union, has the longest official name: State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Founded by Roger Williams on Narragansset Bay land offered up generously by sachem(chief) Canonicus on the banks of the eponymous Providence river, the first settlement becomes the Providence Plantations. The name later extends to the entire mainland portion of the state.

Although Roger Williams was fleeing religious persecution and intolerance from what he considered a corrupt and apostate Church of England, he shows his own biases very quickly by first denying the right of suffrage to unmarried men and then limiting it to land owners.

Meanwhile, William Coddington, John Clark and a small following from Massachusetts buy Aquidneck Island from the Narragansetts, establish the settlements of Newport and Portsmouth (which were later united) and renamed it Rhode Island. It is unclear if the shape of the island reminded the settlers of the island of Rhodes, Greece or if the name may been bestowed by Dutch navigator Adriaen Block who visited the island in 1614, who may have named it Roode after the Dutch word for "red".

In 1643, Roger Williams travels to England to secure a charter for the colony which he receives under the rubric Incorporation of Providence Plantations in the Narragansett Bay in New England. This charter included the Aquidneck Island towns plus the new town of Warwick but in 1648 William Coddington seeks and receives a separate charter for Portsmouth and Newport that falls apart under the weight of bitter quarrels and all towns revert to the original 1643 charter.

After the Restoration however, the charter is rendered invalid and Roger Williams is forced to secure a new charter from Charles II for "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" which confirmed the privileges granted by the first, made a land grant, and provided that no one be molested "for any difference in opinion in matters of religion" hence laying out the foundation for the separation of church and state in the colonies and then the United States.


Sources:
History of the United States of America, by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter IV, pp. 115-117 Transcribed by Kathy Leigh from Kathy Leigh, Webmaster, Colonial America, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/topic/colonial/book/chap5_4.html, 6/1/2004
Word IQ, http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Rhode_Island, 6/1/2004
Chrisell Colvin Cronin, Chief Canonicus Page,
Word IQ, http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Roger_Williams_(theologian), 6/1/2004
Hall of North and South Americans, http://www.famousamericans.net/williamcoddington/, 6/1/2004