Rhode Island, You Should Have Been First



by Karen Topakian

My home state of Rhode Island is once again in the news. It’s the last holdout of the six New England states to legalize same sex marriage. Rhode Island proudly stands first in many historical events that formed this country and its bedrock philosophies of freedom and liberty, why couldn’t it have done so now? For example,

Roger Williams, the founder of the first colony in Rhode Island in 1636, based his Providence settlement on his strong beliefs in religious liberty, specifically in the separation of Church and State. A unique model for government in the 17th century. And an unwelcome concept in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which exiled him. Rhode Island became a haven and refuge for people seeking religious freedom. He adhered to his beliefs in religious freedom along with other revolutionary ideas that influenced Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. 

On May 18, 1652, Rhode Island took first place in North American history by making slavery illegal.

On June 9, 1772, two Rhode Islanders, Abraham Whipple and John Brown committed the first act of bloodshed against the British government’s onerous taxation and trade policies when it attacked, boarded, looted and burned down the British revenue schooner, the Gaspee. A year and a half before the more widely known and celebrated Boston Tea Party. 

On May 4, 1776, the Rhode Island legislature became the first colony to declare its independence from Great Britain.

For a state founded on the basis of religious freedom and independence, why are we now in last place amongst our New England neighbors?


  1. Sad to hear about your home state, but nice to read about the Gaspee. What a wonderful trick the Hannah did to ground the Gaspee. Not something we learned in school out here on the west coast.

    Someday, perhaps soon, RI will join it’s sister states (and let’s overturn Prop 8 here in California!)

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