Rhode Island: Consolidated Chronology of State and County Boundaries

Rhode Island Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

John H. Long, Editor and Historical Compiler; Peggy Tuck Sinko, Associate Editor; Douglas Knox, Book Digitizing Director; Emily Kelley, Research Associate; Laura Rico-Beck, GIS Specialist and Digital Compiler; Peter Siczewicz, ArcIMS Interactive Map Designer; Robert Will, Cartographic Assistant

Copyright The Newberry Library 2009

13 January 1630

[13 January 1629/1630] The Council for New England (chartered to establish colonies between 40 degrees and 48 degrees north latitude) issued a new land patent (the "Old Charter") that granted land title and trading rights, but no powers of government, to New Plymouth Colony for the area east of Narragansett Bay and south of a line from the Pawtucket (now Blackstone) River to the mouth of the Cohasset River. New Plymouth Colony included part of present Rhode Island. (Andrews, 1:295; Paullin, 28, pl. 43A; Swindler, 5:28)


In 1636, Roger Williams secured permission from the Narragansett Indians to establish a community at the head of Narragansett Bay. This community, Providence, was the first European settlement in the area of present Rhode Island. Over the years, other independent settlements were established in the region as a new, unauthorized colony grew spontaneously around Narragansett Bay. (James, 13-32)


Massachusetts, responding to a request from disgruntled Rhode Islanders, extended its jurisdiction over the settlement at Pawtuxet. (Arnold, 1:111)

Nathaniel Woodward and Solomon Saffrey officially demarcated the southern limit of Massachusetts, three miles south of the Charles River, as specified in its 1628/1629 charter, implicitly setting the northern limit of Rhode Island. (Hooker, 16-17; Van Zandt, 66-67)

10 May 1643

SUFFOLK (Mass.) created as one of four original counties in Massachusetts; SUFFOLK included territory in Massachusetts and the northeast corner of present Rhode Island. (Mass. Recs., 2:38)

14 March 1644

[14 March 1643/1644] Roger Williams secured a Parliamentary patent for Rhode Island (called "Providence Plantations") that granted authority for self-government. Boundaries were Massachusetts on the north, New Plymouth on the east, and the Pequot Indian country on the west; western boundary is estimated. (James, 57; Paullin, 28-29, pl. 43, Swindler, 8:360)


Based upon its participation with Connecticut and New Plymouth in the Pequot War (1636-1637), Massachusetts claimed much of the territory formerly controlled by the Pequots, roughly between the Thames and Pawcatuck Rivers at the eastern end of present Connecticut, plus Block Island in present Rhode Island. (Bowen, Disputes, 31)

27 August 1645

Massachusetts claimed to have secured a patent for the whole area of Rhode Island on 10 December 1643, and subsequently tried to enforce its authority in the western and southwestern parts of Rhode Island. This patent was later deemed invalid and possibly fraudulent [not mapped]. (Arnold, 1:118-119)

26 May 1658

The Pawtuxet settlers, who gave their allegiance to Massachusetts in 1642, returned to Rhode Island jurisdiction. (Arnold, 1:267)

18 September 1658

Massachusetts asserted that the Pequot Country (territory it claimed in present eastern Connecticut) extended well east of the Pawcatuck River into present western Rhode Island. Despite Rhode Island's protests, Massachusetts imposed its authority on both sides of the Pawcatuck River for the next several years [not mapped]. (Arnold, 1:277-278)

23 April 1662

King Charles II granted Connecticut a charter as a self-governing corporate colony, with an eastern boundary at Narragansett Bay, overlapping part of the Rhode Island patent. Rhode Island did not concede its claim to territory between the Pawcatuck River and Narragansett Bay (the Narragansett Country), but Connecticut quickly took control of the area. (Bowen, Disputes, 32; Swindler, 2:135-136)

8 July 1663

Rhode Island Colony gained from New Plymouth Colony and SUFFOLK (Mass.) when King Charles II granted Rhode Island a charter as a self-governing corporate colony. It was bounded on the north by Massachusetts; on the east by a north-south line between Massachusetts and Pawtucket Falls, thence down the Seekonk River to Narragansett Bay and along a line three miles inland from the Bay; on the south by the ocean, including Block Island; and on the west by the Pawcatuck River and a line due north to Massachusetts. Connecticut continued to claim and control the Narragansett Country, New Plymouth Colony still included part of present Rhode Island, and SUFFOLK (Mass.) eliminated from Rhode Island. (Bowen, Disputes, 33; Swindler, 8:368)

May 1664

New Plymouth Colony gained from SUFFOLK (Mass.) and Rhode Island Colony when a joint commission from Massachusetts and Plymouth demarcated their mutual boundary ("Old Colony Line"). (Bradford, 427n.)

8 June 1664

New Plymouth Colony protested that Rhode Island's new charter of 8 July 1663 infringed upon Plymouth's territory under its 1629/1630 patent. (Arnold, 1:308)

19 October 1664

Massachusetts, faced with new charters for Connecticut and Rhode Island, gave up its claim to Block Island and to the Pequot Country east of Connecticut's Mystic River. (Arnold, 1:308)

27 February 1665

[27 February 1664/1665] SUFFOLK (Mass.) and New Plymouth Colony gained from Rhode Island Colony when royal commissioners set the provincial boundaries of Massachusetts, New Plymouth, and Rhode Island along the Blackstone River and the east side of Narragansett Bay, pending a conclusive royal decision. (Arnold, 1:315)

8 April 1665

Royal boundary commissioners decided the dispute over the Narragansett County by dismissing Massachusetts's claim and placing the area under royal jurisdiction. The area was named King's Province, and Rhode Island was given temporary administrative authority over it, pending a conclusive royal decision. Connecticut's claim to the area slipped into abeyance but was not abandoned until the boundary settlement of 12 May 1703. (Arnold, 1:315; James, 86-87; Potter, 178, 181)

2 June 1685

BRISTOL (Mass.) created as one of three original counties in New Plymouth Colony; BRISTOL (Mass.) included part of present Rhode Island. (Ply. Laws, ch. 6/p. 19)

17 May 1686

Arrival of its first royal governor inaugurated the Dominion of New England, the new single province that King James II created (8 October 1685) by uniting King's Province (present southwestern Rhode Island), Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. (Farnham, 7:367; Hart, 1:573; N.H. Early Laws, 1:99; Williamson, 1:576)

28 May 1686

The governor of the Dominion of New England proclaimed a provisional government for the King's Province in present southwestern Rhode Island and prohibited both Connecticut and Rhode Island from further attempts to exercise authority in the area. (R.I. Recs., 3:197)

30 December 1686

The governor of the Dominion of New England incorporated Rhode Island into the Dominion of New England, following instructions (13 September 1686) from King James II. (N.H. Early Laws, 1:168; R.I. Recs., 3:210, 220)

18 April 1689

Upon learning of the Glorious Revolution (replacement of King James II by King William III and Queen Mary II) in England, Bostonians imprisoned the royal governor and others, thereby ending the Dominion of New England. Over the next months Rhode Island and the other colonies that had been united to form the Dominion had to resume self-government. (Craven, 224; Morris and Kelly, pl. 11)

1 May 1689

Rhode Island reinstated its former government after the fall of the Dominion of New England, and extended its authority over the former King's Province or Narragansett Country in southwestern Rhode Island. Shortly thereafter Connecticut challenged Rhode Island's authority in that area. (Craven, 225; R.I. Recs., 3:257)

15 March 1690

[15 March 1689/1690] SUFFOLK (Mass.) gained from Connecticut when Massachusetts created the town of Woodstock within present Connecticut; area within present Rhode Island was unchanged. (Bowen, Disputes, 53-58; Bowen, Woodstock, 1:31)

7 October 1691

King William III and Queen Mary II issued a new charter for the province of Massachusetts Bay; Massachusetts Bay absorbed New Plymouth Colony and took over BRISTOL (Mass.). (Mass. Col. Acts, vol. 1, ch. 27 [1692-1693], sec. 1/p. 63; Swindler, 5:80)

12 May 1703

King's Province effectively eliminated when Rhode Island and Connecticut agreed on their mutual boundary substantially along the line established by colonial agents in 1662, described in Rhode Island's 1663 charter, and claimed since then by Rhode Island. Boundary was to run up the Pawcatuck River to the junction with the Ashaway River, thence a straight line to the southwestern corner of the Warwick Purchase, and thence due north to the southern line of Massachusetts. Although not confirmed in London until February 1726/1727, this boundary appears to have become effective almost immediately, and, except for small refinements through surveying, it has not changed since. (Potter, 206-211; R.I. Recs., 3:474, 477-478; Van Zandt, 71)

22 June 1703

Rhode Island Colony created two counties: RHODE ISLAND (now NEWPORT) and PROVIDENCE PLANTATIONS (now PROVIDENCE) to cover all non-county area in Rhode Island Colony. (R.I. Recs., 3:477-478)


The northern boundary of Rhode Island with Massachusetts came into question when the towns of Providence (R.I.) and Mendon (Mass.) complained of the line's uncertain location. Commissioners redefined the boundary in 1711, but it was never surveyed. The effective division between the colonies continued along the present line west of the Pawtucket (now Blackstone) River and down that river south to the Seekonk River. (Arnold, 2:18, 26-27)

16 June 1729


RHODE ISLAND renamed NEWPORT. (R.I. Recs., 4:427)

KINGS (now WASHINGTON) created from PROVIDENCE. (R.I. Recs., 4:427)


Renewal of the boundary dispute between Rhode Island and Massachusetts was sparked by a petition for annexation to Rhode Island by some citizens of the town of Attleborough, Mass., who believed they resided west of the provincial boundary prescribed in Rhode Island's 1663 charter, which was indefinitely set aside by royal commissioners in 1664. Several attempts to settle the issue failed, and in 1733 Rhode Island appealed to the king. (Arnold, 2:99, 101, 113)

10 July 1731

SUFFOLK (Mass.) lost to creation of WORCESTER (Mass.); area within present Rhode Island was unchanged. (Mass. Col. Acts, vol. 2, ch. 8 [1730-1731], sec. 1/p. 584)

28 May 1746

King George II settled the dispute between Rhode Island and Massachusetts in favor of Rhode Island by confirming the judgment of a royal commission that had decided (30 June 1741) on a line substantially the same as that prescribed in Rhode Island's 1663 charter. As a result, Rhode Island gained its present northeast corner (the "Attleborough Gore") and a three-mile wide strip east of Narragansett Bay. The decision was implemented in February 1746/1747. (Arnold, 2:132-134)

17 February 1747

[17 February 1746/1747] BRISTOL created from BRISTOL (Mass.), PROVIDENCE gained from BRISTOL (Mass.) and SUFFOLK (Mass.), and NEWPORT gained from BRISTOL (Mass.) when Rhode Island implemented the 1746 royal settlement of the boundary with Massachusetts. (Arnold, 2:157; R.I. Recs., 5:207-209)

11 June 1750

KENT created from PROVIDENCE. (R.I. Recs., 5:301)

October 1750

Rhode Island surveyors, acting without the cooperation of Massachusetts to demarcate the lines confirmed by the king in 1746, discovered that the 1642 Woodward-Saffrey line, recognized for a century as the southern line of Massachusetts, ran far south of where it should have been according to the original Massachusetts charter. Except for occasional protestations, Rhode Island did not push the issue to a resolution during the colonial period. In 1846 a U.S. Supreme Court ruling left the line unchanged because it had functioned so long as the effective boundary. (Arnold, 2:183, 299 n.; Van Zandt, 67)

4 July 1776

Rhode Island became an independent state. (Declaration of Independence)

29 October 1781

KINGS renamed WASHINGTON. (R.I. Recs., 9:484)

1 March 1862

NEWPORT lost to BRISTOL (Mass.) and PROVIDENCE gained from BRISTOL (Mass.) when Massachusetts and Rhode Island implemented the U. S. Supreme Court settlement (31 December 1861) of their boundary to the Atlantic Ocean. (Bayles, Providence, 1:29; R.I. Acts and Resolves, 1861, ch. 379, sec. 2/p. 4; Ullman, 83-84; Van Zandt, 68)

6 May 1963

WASHINGTON gained Block Island from NEWPORT. (R.I. Acts and Resolves, 1963, ch. 84, sec. 1/p. 300)