Rhode Island In A League Of Its Own - 5/4/1776

US History |


The eastern coast of the United States, home to the thirteen original colonies. In case you missed primary school, here they are: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, New York, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Rhode Island. The last colony being the one to celebrate, on May 4th of 1776. On that day, Rhode Island became the first North American colony to relinquish their allegiance to the United Kingdom, specifically to King George III. Interestingly enough, it would take Rhode Island 14 years after the fact to affirm the new U.S. American Constitution on May 29, 1790. 

In the 18th century, Rhode Island was the mercantile capital of the transatlantic slave trade. The colonies merchants, who would take human cargo from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean Islands, would sell the slaves who survived the horrendous conditions of the journey to West Indian plantation owners in exchange for molasses. At this point, molasses was almost equivalent to gold to Rhode Islanders, for the distilleries in the colony would convert the molasses into rum. The British Empire soon caught wind of the prized molasses and decided to take matters into their own taxes.

The Sugar Act of 1764, tightened trade rules and raised the taxes on the import of molasses. But Rhode Island’s desire to protect their profitable trade led them to bristle at the British’s attempts to regulate their trade on molasses. The colony then decided to protest British regulation in the late 1760s and early 1770s. In 1772, the British customs boat called Gaspee ported in Rhode Island, and the locals who were deeply angered by continued British regulation boarded the ship, burned it, and nearly killed the captain. But this colonial mercantile strength caused just as much problems for “New” America as it did from the British Empire.

Because of the colonies independent wealth, due to trade coming through Providence and Newport, Rhode Island in turn was the only state that could actually support themselves independently of the proposed federal union in 1787, without any help from British rule. Because of its financial independence, the state was the last to ratify the new Constitution in 1790. They finally ceded because, becoming their own foreign nation, Rhode Island would suffer greater financial implications than if they fell in line with the constitution. And that is how we almost had 49 states in our fair country, instead of 50. 

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