Rhode Island Independence Day

On May 4th each year, Rhode Island Independence day is celebrated by Rhode Islanders in honor of the state achieving independence in 1776 from Great Britain. Many celebrations are military themed. Traditions include exhibits of old military supplies, showcasing military drills, military salutes, and an evaluation of the armed forces by Rhode Island’s governor.

Non-military celebrations may feature educational programs, patriotic celebrations, dinners, luncheons, barbeques, and other festivities. If the holiday falls on a weekday, some celebrations are moved to the weekend since most workplaces stay open.

Holiday History

Rhode Island was first settled in 1636 by Roger Williams in the Narragansett Bay. Williams, a Baptist, had been exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his religious ideas. He hoped to establish a place for religious freedom. He called the area Providence, land that had been bought from local tribes. The area became the official Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1642.

The citizens of early Rhode Island greatly valued their independence, whether religious or political. In 1686, King James II combined the colony with other New England colonies to form the Dominion of New England. However, the colonists resented this control, returning to its previous independence after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, a revolt by the colonists. A leader of this revolt, William III, eventually replaced King James II on the throne.

True to form, Rhode Island was the first state to declare independence from England on May 4, 1776 after Providence residents attacked the Gaspee, a British schooner, in response to trade regulations. Part of the reason why this holiday is military themed is due to the state’s role in the Revolutionary war. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was the first African-American unit. Under George Washington’s leadership, the Battle of Chesapeake and the Siege of Yorktown started in Newport. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island ratified the Constitution.

Rhode Island Fun Facts:

  • As the smallest American state, Rhode Island measures 37 miles east to west and 48 miles from the northern border to the south.
  • Rhode Island was the last colony to become an official US state because it was the last to ratify the Constitution. This is because the state was holding out for the addition of the Bill of Rights.
  • The 18th amendment, prohibition, was never ratified by Rhode Island.
  • In 1774, Newport was the home of the first circus performed in the United States.
  • Although he did not do any direct work to pass it, Roger Williams is considered an innovator of the 1st amendment, the right to free speech, after establishing Providence in the name of religious freedom.

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