About Rhode Island Family Life in the Colonial Times

Rhode Island during colonial times was very family oriented. In many cases, everything except Sunday worship was done at home. Children learned from their parents as well as at school, and in many cases, the home was also the place of business.

1 History

Rhode Island, like much of the rest of the colonies, was founded by a group seeking religious freedom. Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, was a Pilgrim and a minister. Because of his preaching against the magistrates of the Plymouth Colony, he was banished. The Plymouth Colony covered what is now the southeast part of Massachusetts. Williams left everything behind him and the natives, the Wampanoags, gave him a tract of land.

2 Time Frame

In 1614, Dutch explorers first reached the area. They named the area Roode Eylandt, which means Red Island. In 1636, the Colony of Rhode Island is founded by Roger Williams at Providence. In 1663, Charles II granted the Charter of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations. In 1708, the population of the state was 7,181. In 1782, the population was 52,347.

3 Types

There were plantations in colonial Rhode Island that raised sheep, cows and produce. Life on the plantations was very luxurious, with the work being done by slave labor. The main plantation house would most likely be in the Georgian Style. In the towns and villages, the houses were varied. There was an abundance of timber available from the forests, so a house could be a simple two-room structure made of wood to a palatial mansion, some of which still exist today.

Colonial Rhode Island was lucky. There was almost unlimited game, fertile land for agriculture and seafood--everything from cod to lobster to clams. On the plantations, there would be separate cook houses, but on the farms in the villages, food would be cooked over an open hearth. Most meals were cooked in one pot, suspended by a hook on a swing arm. The girls of the house would help with the meals. Girls did not go on to higher education or apprenticeships except as seamstresses.

Farming and commerce were the largest occupations in colonial Rhode Island. With so many of the villages being on the ocean, ships set out from colonial Rhode Island to ports up and down the coast of the New World as well as Europe and Africa. Each village would have a barber, blacksmith, cabinet maker, printer, silversmith, ship builder, candle maker and most probably an acater--a person who supplied foods. Today they would be called a caterer. All of the professions took on apprentices, young teenagers who worked just to learn the profession.

The villages established public schools; however, those on the plantations and farms would just as likely get their education at home. The students learned the three Rs, the Bible and science in order to prepare them for college. Girls would learn how to run a house, and if they were lucky enough to live on one of the plantations or belonged to one of the wealthier families in the village, they would learn things like French and needlepoint.

Rhode Island was home to the first Baptist Congregations, founded by Roger Williams himself. Services were held in what was called a meeting house, usually the largest building in the village. There was also a Jewish congregation and a congregation of French Huguenots, also known as Calvinists. Religion played a big part in the family life of colonial Rhode Island. Sunday for the most part was spent in church and was a day of rest for everyone.

4 Geography

Rhode Island is not really an island--not all of it anyway. There are about four islands in Narragansett Bay that are part of Rhode Island. The state is bordered by Connecticut and Massachusetts. The sheltered harbor was perfect for the shipping trade, and the nearness of the two other colonies led to trade with the mainland.

5 Effects

The family was the centerpiece of life in Colonial Rhode Island. Everything they did--from going to church, to school, to choosing a trade--was family oriented.