Friday, May 28, 2010

Island Life

Magnet # 253: Map of Rhode Island

Material: Metal

Purchased By: Me

The smallest state in all the Union, Rhode Island, celebrates the anniversary of its statehood tomorrow. The first Europeans to make it to this area were Italians under the command of Giovanni da Verrazzano, who arrived in 1524. But it wasn't until 1636 that Roger Williams, an outspoken minister who had been expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, settled the area with his followers. Williams' opinions that there should be a separation of church and state, freedom of religion, and fair treatment for Native Americans outraged authorities so much that they at last threw him out in January during a harsh winter, despite the fact that he was ill. Williams walked over 100 miles in the snow until he was given shelter by a local Indian tribe. Soon, he was able to start a community in a town he called Providence and allow other religious nonconformists to follow suit nearby. Under Williams' influence, there was peace between the local Indians and his settlers, but conflicts in nearby Connecticut and Rhode Island soon entered the area. Settlers from those colonies attacked and killed the Native Americans living in Rhode Island, while Indians burned down white settlements in the colony. And tensions only grew when the British combined the small colony with its neighbors to form the Dominion of New England. The British rule proved to be particularly unpopular there. Although small, Rhode Island made a habit of standing apart from the other original thirteen colonies even after Roger Williams' time, being the first to separate from the British and the last to join the United States. Yep, it was the thirteenth state and it held out to ensure the creation of a Bill of Rights, a document that has been a great benefit to the citizens of the United States. And when the Civil War broke out, Rhode Island was the first state to send troops to support President Lincoln. And its reputation for being independent and rebellious has followed the state into modern times. Despite its small size, the state has managed to become industrialized and attract some very rich residents, even though it has some of the highest taxes in the nation.

While I know I've traveled through Rhode Island at least once during family trips up North, I really have no recollection of being in the state. That's a shame - there are some fantastic places to be seen in the Ocean State. Most notable are perhaps the mansions of Newport, which are some of the most impressive that are left from the Gilded Age. These are the summer cottages of families like the Vanderbilts and were designed by master architects such as Richard Morris Hunt and Howard Greenly. Of course, labeling these homes "cottages" is akin to calling the Pacific Ocean a lake - these were some of the greatest homes in their very wealthy time. Of course, they paled in comparison to the homes many of these individuals owned on Fifth Avenue in New York City, but while those were later demolished to make use of the prime real estate on which they stood, these are still open to the public. There are quite a few available for tours, and visitors could spend an entire weekend seeing them all - sounds like a good time to me. Of course, the many beaches of the state are also very popular tourist destinations, and many enjoy sailing in the area. One thing's certain - a roadtrip completely around this teeny state wouldn't take long at all, so there's no reason not to give it a try!

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