From its beginnings, Rhode Island has been distinguished by its support for freedom of conscience and action: Clergyman Roger Williams founded the present state capital, Providence, after being exiled by the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans in 1636. Williams was followed by other religious exiles who founded Pocasset, now Portsmouth, in 1638 and Newport in 1639.
Rhode Island's rebellious, authority-defying nature was further demonstrated by the burnings of the British revenue cutters Liberty and Gaspee prior to the Revolution; by its early declaration of independence from Great Britain in May 1776; by its refusal to participate actively in the War of 1812; and by Dorr's Rebellion of 1842, which protested property requirements for voting.
Rhode Island, smallest of the 50 states, is densely populated and highly industrialized. It is a major center for jewelry manufacturing. Electronics, metal, plastic products, and boat and ship construction are other important industries. Non-manufacturing employment includes research in health, medicine, and the ocean environment. Providence is a wholesale distribution center for New England.
Fishing ports are at Galilee and Newport. Rural areas of the state support small-scale farming, including grapes for local wineries, turf grass, and nursery stock. Tourism generates over a billion dollars a year in revenue.
Newport became famous as the summer capital of high society in the mid-19th century. Touro Synagogue (1763) is the oldest in the U.S. Other points of interest include the Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence, Samuel Slater's Mill in Pawtucket, the General Nathanael Greene Homestead in Coventry, and Block Island.
In January 2013, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The vote to pass the bill was 51 to 19. The State Senate would consider the bill in the spring of 2013. As of early 2013, Rhode Island was the only state in New England where same-sex marriage had not been legalized.
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Selected famous natives and residents:
- Harry Anderson actor;
- George M. Cohan actor and dramatist;
- Eddie Dowling actor and stage producer;
- Nelson Eddy baritone and actor;
- Ann Smith Franklin printer and almanac publisher;
- Charles Gorham silversmith;
- Spalding Gray writer, performance artist;
- Bobby Hackett trumpeter;
- David Hartman TV newscaster;
- Ruth Hussey actress;
- Anne Hutchinson religious leader;
- Thomas H. Ince film producer;
- Wilbur John Quaker leader;
- Van Johnson actor;
- Clarence King first director of the U.S. Geological Survey;
- Galway Kinnell poet;
- Oliver La Farge writer;
- Irving R. Levine news correspondent;
- H. P. Lovecraft author;
- Ida Lewis lighthouse keeper;
- Cormac McCarthy writer;
- John McLaughlin political commentator, broadcaster;
- Dana C. Munro educator and historian;
- Matthew C. Perry naval officer;
- Oliver Hazard Perry naval officer;
- King Philip (Metacomet) Indian leader;
- Anthony Quinn actor;
- Gilbert Stuart painter;
- Sarah Helen (Power) Whitman poet;
- Jemima Wilkinson religious leader;
- Roger Williams clergyman and founder of Rhode Island;
- Leonard Woodcock labor union official;
- James Woods actor.