A mere 48 miles long by 37 miles wide, RHODE ISLAND is the smallest state in the Union, yet it had a disproportionately large influence on national life: in 1652 it enacted the first law against slavery in North America, and just over ten years later it was the first to guarantee religious freedom – in the eighteenth century it also saw the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America. Today, Rhode Island is a prime tourist destination, boasting nearly four dozen National Historic Landmarks and four hundred miles of spectacular coastline.
More than thirty tiny islands make up the state, including Hope, Despair and the bay’s largest, Rhode Island (also known by its Native American name “Aquidneck”), which gives the state its name. Narragansett Bay has long been a determining factor in Rhode Island’s economic development and strategic military importance, as the Ocean State developed through sea trade, whaling and smuggling before shifting to manufacturing in the nineteenth century. Today, the state’s principal destinations are its two original ports: the colonial college town of Providence, and well-heeled Newport, home to extravagant mansions that once belonged to America’s most prominent families, and still a major yachting centre.