Situated between Massachusetts and Connecticut, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the U.S. The state is comprised of Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay, along with a number of counties on the mainland (originally known as the Providence Plantations). The origin of Rhode Island's name is something of a mystery. Some say it stems from the Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano, who first came to the island in 1524 and described it as "about the size of the Island of Rhodes." Another popular theory is that Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, who first charted the land in 1614, named it "Roodt Eylandt," or "Red Island," because of the red clay that lined the shore.
In 1636, Roger Williams and his followers were banished by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay for their religious views. Fleeing west, they established the community of Providence and declared it a haven for religious freedom. Other religious dissidents, such as John Clarke, Anne Hutchinson and William Coddington, followed Williams example and left Massachusetts to form their own towns of Portsmouth and Newport. In 1663, King Charles II granted John Clarke a royal charter, uniting the settlements on Aquidneck Island and the mainland into the "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." Rhode Island was the first of the 13 colonies to declare independence from British rule (in 1776), and the last to ratify the Constitution and become a state (in 1790), eventually only doing so to avoid having its exports taxed as a foreign nation.
Despite its small size, Rhode Island boasts over 400 miles of coastline, thanks to Narragansett Bay and the more than 30 islands that lie within it. Rhode Islanders like to point out that, no matter where you are in the state, you're never more than a 45-minute drive from the beach. Because of this, Rhode Island has adopted the nickname of the "Ocean State."