15 Things You Might Not Know About Rhode Island
1. Rhode Island isn't the state's full name. It is officially the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. In 2009, the General Assembly voted on whether to keep the original, longer name or shorten it once and for all. They voted to keep it.
2. Over a year before the Boston Tea Party, a group of Rhode Islanders attacked the Gaspée, a British warship sent to enforce customs inspection. When it ran aground while pursuing a packet boat, they looted the ship, shot an officer, and set the vessel on fire! Previous attacks on British ships had gone unpunished. The Gaspée Affair changed all that. The Royal Commission of Inquiry planned to try suspects for treason in England, but was unable to obtain sufficient evidence. The city of Warwick still celebrates this rebellion each year with a Gaspée Days festival and parade.
3. In the time it takes some of us to commute to work, one can drive north to south (48 miles) or east to west (37 miles) across the entire state.
4. Yes, Rhode Island's the smallest state in the U.S. But its population density—an estimated 1,050,292 people—is second only to New Jersey.
5. America's first Baptist church was founded by Roger Williams in Providence in 1638—and it's still there today. Touro Synagogue in Newport is America's oldest synagogue, dating back to 1763.
6. That said, 54 percent of Rhode Islanders are Catholic.
7. In Rhode Island, submarine sandwiches are called "grinders," water fountains are "bubblers," and milkshakes are "cabinets."
8. The state shell, the Northern quahog (pronounced "KO-hog"), isn't just a long-celebrated food. The Wampanoag nation used the shells to make wampum, first worn as jewelry and then traded as stringed currency.
9. The Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport has been checking out books since 1750, making it the oldest U.S. lending library still operating in its original location. It's a membership library, but the annual fee for adults or families is still less than a yearlong Netflix subscription.
10. Rhode Island is one of the few states that doesn't house its governor in an official residence. (The others are California, Arizona, and Massachusetts.)
11. Governor Ambrose Burnside was a Union Army general during the Civil War, the first president of the National Rifle Association, and the inventor of … sideburns. The trend sparked by his unique facial hair was originally called "burnsides," until someone decided that reversing the name better defined the style.
12. Rhode Island runs on coffee milk, the state beverage enjoyed by kids and adults alike.
13. Rhode Island and Connecticut were the only states that didn't ratify the 18th Amendment prohibiting the production, transport, and sale of alcohol in 1919. When Prohibition passed, Rhode Island showed an extreme, shall we say, alcohol tolerance. The state's geography made it easy for rumrunners to ship in alcohol from Canada and the Bahamas—and even easier for law officials to act like they hadn't noticed anything suspicious.
14. That's not the only thing Rhode Island has been open-minded about. When it downgraded street solicitation from a felony to a misdemeanor in 1980, a legal loophole accidentally legalized indoor prostitution. The law wasn't amended until 2009.
15. If a Federal Pell Grant helped you pay for college, you can thank Rhode Island's longest-serving senator, Claiborne Pell. In 1973, he was the primary sponsor of what was then called the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant. He also helped create the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. Now that's a legacy!