The Port of Providence is the capital of the State of Rhode Island in the United States. The Port of Providence lies on the Providence River at the head of Narragansett Bay in east central Rhode Island. The heart of a large metropolitan area, the Port of Providence is a commercial and industrial center and seaport. In 2000, over 173 thousand people lived in the Port of Providence, and more than 1.5 million lived in the metropolitan area that includes Providence and New Bedford and Fall River in Massachusetts.
One of the oldest cities in the United States, the Port of Providence is the third largest city in New England. It was also an early industrial city. By 1830, it already had manufacturing factories. Today, services are the mainstays of the local economy, with the healthcare, education, finance, and government sectors dominating the job market.
Roger Williams founded the Port of Providence in 1636 while he was driven out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his tolerant religious views. He acquired the land from the indigenous Narragansett peoples and made it a refuge for religious dissenters in early colonial America. The settlement grew slowly at first. British taxes further thwarted development of the agricultural, fishing, and maritime trades that were the base of the local economy.
In the 1830s, when the Port of Providence began to industrialize, the city became known for producing fine jewelry and silverware. The Sugar Act taxed the Port of Providence's distilleries, hurting trade of slaves and rum. The taxes led the settlement to join the rebellious colonies in the American Revolution. In fact, residents of the Port of Providence drew the first blood of the revolution in the 1772 Gaspee Affair.
The Port of Providence was not occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War, although nearby settlements were, keeping the people of Providence vigilant. French troops liberated nearby Newport and marched through the Port of Providence as they joined the war against the British. That march was the beginning of the joint effort led by George Washington that ended with the defeat of General Cornwallis in the Battle of the Chesapeake and the Siege of Yorktown.
After the United States won independence from the British, the Port of Providence economy moved from farming and maritime trade to manufacturing. For a time, the Port of Providence was home to some of the country's biggest manufacturing plants, and its 7614 residents made it the ninth biggest city in the country.
Industry attracted immigrants from Ireland, Sweden, England, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Cape Verde, and French Canada to the Port of Providence. The changing demographics created social conflict, and a string of racially-motivated riots plagued the town during the 1820s. But the city continued to grow and become economically stronger, and it was incorporated as a city in 1831 when the population exceeded 17 thousand.
Many residents of the Port of Providence had ties to the Southern cotton industry, and the city was split during the American Civil War over the issue of slavery. However, many residents joined the Union forces, and the Port of Providence's manufacturers contributed greatly to the Union fight.
After the war, the Port of Providence thrived. Immigrants continued to come to the city, and additional lands were annexed. By 1865, the population was over 54 thousand. Jewish immigrants were joined by immigrants from Portugal, Italy, Poland, and Lithuania. By 1900, more than 175 thousand people called the Port of Providence home.
By the 1920s, the Port of Providence's fortunes began to decline. Many factories, particularly textiles, closed. However, the jewelry-making industry grew and employed many workers. Several hospitals opened as well.
The Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s was a blow to the Port of Providence, and the New England Hurricane of 1938 brought severe damage to the city. While World War II brought some economic relief, the local economy continued to decline after the war. Population continued to shrink, and the Port of Providence gained a reputation as a base for organized crime.
From the mid-1970s until the early 1980s, huge investments stimulated a slow economic recovery. The population stabilized, and major changes were made. The city's rivers that had been paved over were uncovered, sections of the railroad were moved underground, and the waterfront was improved with new parks and river walks. New buildings appeared downtown, including the 130 thousand square meter Providence Place Mall.
The modern Port of Providence has a service-based economy, although it still contains a number of important manufacturers. There are seven colleges and universities in the city and eight hospitals. Despite the improvements, the Port of Providence has one of the highest poverty rates of US cities, with almost a third of the people living below the poverty line.
The Port of Providence is New England's second biggest deep-water seaport, handling cargoes like heavy machinery, petroleum, cement, chemicals, and scrap metal.