Chronicles of America 

The Consolidation of Rhode Island

In the meantime Rhode Island had become a legally incorporated colony. Even before Winthrop sailed for England, Dr. John Clarke had received a favorable reply to his petition for a charter. But a year passed and nothing was done about the matter, probably owing to the arrival of Winthrop and the feeling of uncertainty aroused by the conflicting boundary claims, which involved a stretch of some twenty-five miles of territory between Narragansett Bay and the Pawcatuck River. A third claimant also appeared, the Atherton Company, with its headquarters in Boston, which had purchased lands of the Indians at various points in the area and held them under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. When Clarke heard that Winthrop, in drawing the boundaries for the Connecticut charter of 1662, had included this Narragansett territory, he protested vehemently to the King, saying that Connecticut had "injuriously swallowed up the one-half of our colonie," and demanding a reconsideration. Finally, after the question had been debated in the presence of Clarendon and others, the decision was reached to give Rhode Island the boundaries and charter she desired, but to leave the question of conflicting claims for later settlement. Evidently Winthrop, though not agreeing with Clarke in matters of fact regarding the boundaries, supported Rhode Island's appeal for a charter, for Clarendon said afterwards that the draft which, Clarke presented had in it expressions that were disliked, but that the charter was granted out of regard for Winthrop.

The Rhode Island charter passed the seals July 8, 1663, and was received in the colony four months later with great joy and thanksgiving. It created a common government for all the towns, guaranteeing full liberty "in religious concernments " and freedom from all obligations to conform to the "litturgy, formes, and ceremonyes of the Church of England, or take or subscribe the oathes and articles made and established in that behalfe." This may have been the phrase that Clarendon, who was a High Churchman, objected to when the draft was presented. The form of government was similar in all essential particulars to that of Connecticut.

Rhode Island's enthusiasm in obtaining a charter is not difficult to understand. That amphibious colony, consisting of mainland, islands, and a large body of water, was inhabited by "poor despised peasants," as Governor Brenton described them, "living remote in the woods" and subject to the "envious and subtle contrivances of our neighbour colonies round about us, who are in a combination united together to swallow us up." The colony had not been asked to join the New

England Confederation, and its leaders were convinced that the members of the Confederation were in league to filch away their lands and, by driving them into the sea, to eliminate the colony altogether. Plymouth, seeking a better harbor than that of Plymouth Bay, claimed the eastern mainland as well as the chief islands, Hog, Conanicut, and Aquidneck; Massachusetts claimed Pawtuxet, Warwick, and the Narragansett country generally; while Connecticut wished to push her eastern boundary as far beyond the Pawcatuck River (the present boundary) as she might be able to do. Had each of these colonies made good its claim, there would have been little left of Rhode Island, and we do not wonder that the settlers looked upon themselves as fighting, with their backs to the sea, for their very existence. Hence they welcomed the charter with the joy of one relieved of a great burden, for, though the boundary question remained unsettled, the charter assured the colony of its right to exist under royal protection.

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