Rhode Island Independence Day

Most of us have heard of America’s Independence Day, (I would hope anyway 😉), but not many have heard of Rhode Island Independence Day.

What even is it?

Not long ago I did an entire post on Baptist involvement in our nation’s fight for Independence. If you missed it, make sure to check it out!

In that post, I mentioned how Rhode Island was actually the first colony to separate from the Crown. This is a little known fact among most Americans today. But it’s true!

Actually, Rhode Island holds a highly impressive lists of “firsts” in the fight for Independence.

First In War

As I mentioned in the post on Baptist involvement in the War for Independence, Rhode Island was a Colony founded by Baptists who were determined that all men should be free. As word of freedom spread, more and more dissenters moved to Rhode Island, creating a Colony that was a firebrand for liberty. The main themes that Rhode Island was built on were tolerance, freedom, and liberty. This was one of the most radical concepts of their time. Absolute religious tolerance was unheard of.

The Colony was so strongly against the tyranny being inflicted upon them by the Crown, that it became nicknamed “Rogue Island”. Her leaders were some of the most outspoken in all of North America in their beliefs that it was time for America to break away from Great Britain.

In 1772, an incident occurred that would reveal to the entire world that Americans, and more specifically Rhode Islanders, would not stand for injustice. The British had been harassing merchant ships coming in and out of Rhode Island for some time. They would collect “dues” from these civilian merchants on behalf of the Crown. In short, they were first class bullies. The merchants had no say in how these British ships conducted their behavior towards them.

At first, attempts were made to appeal to the British government for justice in the ongoing battle between the Merchants and the Royal Navy. But in keeping with their disposition during this time period, the Crown didn’t care that Colonists were being robbed blind, and ignored the requests.

On June 9, 1772, the British ship, Gaspee, chased after a Colonial merchant ship. The captain of the merchant ship refused to be bullied into allowing the British to board his ship. He gathered speed, intent on outrunning them.

During the chase, the Gaspee ran aground and was unable to continue any farther. This left the opportunity for the Patriots to make a statement that would tell the Crown they would not tolerate abuse anymore.

Under cover of night, a group of Colonial men gathered. In eight longboats with muffled oars, they made their way to where the Gaspee had run aground, and captured it. After being sure that all of the crew were safely off the ship, they set fire to it. There were no injuries on either side except for the Captain of the Gaspee being wounded.

This has been stated as being the very first British blood shed during the War for Independence. Rhode Island was once again in the lead as far as their enthusiasm in the war.

Rhode Island’s fervor for freedom would soon prove to be contagious to every one of the other Colonies.

First involved in Congress

Yes, that’s right! In 1774, Rhode Island was the first colony to call for a Continental Congress to be assembled. The hated taxes being imposed were reminding Colonists that it was better to die free than live in slavery to a tyrannical government. Rhode Island led the charge, its Governor vehemently speaking out against the unjust taxes.

Stephen Hopkins, who would later serve in the Continental Congress, said of the taxes,

“. . . Have not the colonies here, at all times when called upon by the crown, raised money for the public service, done it as cheerfully as the Parliament have done on like occasions? Is not this the most easy, the most natural, and most constitutional way of raising money in the colonies? What occasion then to distrust the colonies—what necessity to fall on an invidious and unconstitutional method to compel them to do what they have ever done freely? Are not the people in the colonies as loyal and dutiful subjects as any age or nation ever produced;  and are they not as useful to the kingdom, in this remote quarter of the world, as their fellow-subjects are who dwell in Britain?”

Rhode Island wanted fair and just laws—something not being given them by the Crown. But still, Parliament met their pleas with more injustice. The Sugar act was followed by the Stamp act, and the Stamp act followed by the Declaratory act, which gave Parliament complete rule over the colonies. Then of course came the Townshend acts, and finally the Tea act.

When the Continental Congress was called, Rhode Island willingly sent two delegates. These two delegates would go on to sign the Articles of Association, which was a document informing King George that the Colonies were going to boycott all British made goods unless Parliament repealed the Intolerable acts.

First To Declare Independence

Two months prior to Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence being adopted by the other colonies, Rhode Island became the first Colony to declare itself free and renounce all allegiance to the British Crown. (Can we just take a patriotic moment to celebrate their willingness to fight for freedom?)

Their declaration changed the oaths that government officials took to be solely accountable to the State instead of the Crown, it removed the title of the Crown from all official documents, and it replaced the phrase “God save the King” with “God save the United Colonies”.

“And whereas George the Third King of Britain forgetting his dignity, regardless of the Compact most solemnly entered into ratified & confirmed to the Inhabitants of this Colony by his illustrious Ancestors—and till of late fully recognized by him and entirely departing from the duties and Character of a good king—instead of Protecting is endeavoring to destroy the good people of this Colony, and of all the united Colonies by sending Fleets and Armies to America to confiscate our Property and to spread Fire, Sword and Desolation throughout our Country in order to compel us to submit to the debasing and detestable Tyranny. Whereby we are obliged by necessity and it becomes our highest Duty to use every means with which God and Nature have furnished us, in support of our invaluable rights, & privileges to oppose that Power which is exerted only for our destruction.”

Act of Renunciation

The Rhode Island Legislature voted unanimously to break free from all ties to Great Britain. Signing the document branded them as traitors and would have earned them a noose, if they were caught. Yet still, they counted the price of freedom worth it.

As the legislature adjourned, they said with proud hearts filled with patriotism and love of freedom, God save our United Colonies!

Apart from the above mentioned things, Rhode Island was also the first to form an integrated regiment and form a naval force.

For being so small, they still managed to leave one of the biggest impacts on our nation’s founding.

Later, when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, Stephen Hopkins had to steady his hand while he signed it, due to his increasing health issues. But as he signed it alongside his fellow Rhode Island delegate, he said, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

“My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

Stephen Hopkins

A. M. Watson

Hebrews 13:8

Sources Cited:

Act of Renunciation

Museum of the American Revolution

America In Crimson Red

The Faithful Baptist Witness

From Slaves to Soldiers

Rhode Island Historical Society

New England Historical Society

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