Although Massachusetts had been founded by people seeking freedom to practice their religion, its citizens created a colony that was as intolerant of other faiths as England had been of theirs. In 1636, Roger Williams was driven out of Massachusetts because of his views on religious freedom. He founded the first European settlement on Rhode Island and based its government on the principles of political and religious freedom. It was named Providence.
Soon other refugees from Massachusetts moved to the same area. Anne Hutchinson and her followers founded Portsmouth in 1638, while others of the same group established Newport. In 1643, several dissidents from Providence founded Warwick. The four settlements were given a charter by England in 1644, and they merged in 1647. Another charter, known as the Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, was granted by Charles II in 1663.
Rhode Island provided early and active support for independence. Rhode Islanders burned the British ship Liberty in 1769, one of the first acts of open defiance by colonists. Following the war, the strong feelings about individual freedoms made Rhode Island reluctant to ratify the Constitution. Not until the Bill of Rights was added to it did Rhode Island ratify the constitution in 1790, the last of the original 13 colonies to do so.
The charter granted by Charles II continued to govern activity in Rhode Island into the 19th century. It was heavily weighted in favor of the well-to-do and rural populations. As Rhode Island became more urbanized, resentment over the underrepresentation of city dwellers increased. Finally in 1842, Thomas Dorr and a number of followers began an uprising known as Dorr's Rebellion, in an attempt to replace the outdated charter. The rebellion failed, but it provided the impetus for a new constitution in 1843, which extended the voting franchise.