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The Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

The English colony of Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams, a Puritan theologian who withdrew from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636, and was welcomed among the Narragansett Indian tribe. He made friends with their Chief, Canonicus, who gave him land in 1636, which he called Providence Plantation, believing it was God's divine providence that brought him there. He named the islands in the Narragansett Bay after the Christian virtues of Patience, Prudence and Hope.

In 1637, another group of settlers arrived and established a colony in Rhode Island (Aquidneck, at the time). John Porter, Samuel Wilbore, and others settled at Portsmouth (Pocasset, at the time). The following year, they established Newport and in 1642, Samuel Gorton purchased Warwick (formerly called Shawomet Plantation) from the Narragansett Indians.

The Rhode Island Royal Charter was granted on the 8th of July, 1663, by Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland. In it, the Colony of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations was acknowledged as one of the Thirteen Colonies. With this charter, the colonists were free to make their own laws and elect their own governor. It also prevented anyone from being punished for differences in opinion on matters of religion and it called for the safe passage of the people while traveling through other provinces. This charter remained in effect until 1843.

The full document is freely available online. The following is an excerpt:

“...the colony of Providence Plantations, in the Narragansett Bay, in New-England, in America, that they, pursuing, with peaceable and loyal minds, their sober, serious and religious intentions, of godly edifying themselves, and one another, in the holy Christian faith and worship as they were persuaded; together with the gaining over and conversion of the poor ignorant Indian natives, in those parts of America, to the sincere profession and obedience of the same faith and worship, did, not only by the consent and good encouragement of our royal progenitors, transport themselves out of this kingdom of England into America, but also, since their arrival there, after their first settlement amongst other our subjects in those parts, for the avoiding of discord, and those many evils which were likely to ensue upon some of those our subjects not being able to bear, in these remote parties, their different apprehensions in religious concernments, and in pursuance of the aforesaid ends, did once again leave their desirable stations and habitations, and with excessive labor and travel, hazard and charge, did transplant themselves into the midst of the Indian natives, who, as we are informed, are the most potent princes and people of all that country; where, by the good Providence of God, from whom the Plantations have taken their name, upon their labor and industry, they have not only been preserved to admiration, but have increased and prospered, and are seized and possessed, by purchase and consent of the said natives, to their full content, of such lands, islands, rivers, harbors and roads, as are very convenient both for plantations and also for building of ships, supply of pipestaves, and other merchandise; and which lies very commodious, in many respects, for commerce, and to accommodate our southern plantations, and may much advance the trade of this our realm, and greatly enlarge the territories thereof; they having by near neighborhood to and friendly society with the great body of the Narragansett Indians, given them encouragement, of their own accord, to subject themselves, their people and lands, unto us; whereby, as is hoped, there may, in due time, by the blessing of God Upon their endeavors, be laid a sure foundation of happiness to all America…

...In witness whereof, we have caused these our letters to be made patent. Witness our Self at Westminster, the eighth day of July, in the fifteenth year of our reign."

Samuel Wilbur, Jr., was one of the first purchasers and free inhabitants of the Colony of Rhode Island. His father, Samuel Wilbore, was one of original settlers of Rhode Island, as was John Porter.


  • Rhode Island Royal Charter article on Wikipedia

  • (Detail of ) Vervaardigd in ca. 1684. This map of the current New England was published by Nicolaes Visscher II (1649-1702). Visscher copied first a map by Jan Janssonius (1588-1664) from 1651 and added a view of New Amsterdam, the current Manhattan. The map is very accurate: each European town which existed at the time has been represented. (Wikipedia)

  • The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference Between Truth and Peace, by Roger Williams, 1644. (Library of Congress)


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