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Washington County, Rhode Island

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Washington County, Rhode Island

Washington County, Rhode Island
Former Washington County Courthouse, village of West Kingston, South Kingstown, Rhode Island
Map of Rhode Island highlighting Washington County
Location in the state of Rhode Island
Map of the United States highlighting Rhode Island
Rhode Island's location in the U.S.
Founded 1729
Seat Wakefield (South Kingstown)
Largest Town South Kingstown
 • Total 563 sq mi (1,458 km2)
 • Land 333 sq mi (862 km2)
 • Water 230 sq mi (596 km2), 40.87%
 • (2010) 126,979
 • Density 382/sq mi (147.3/km²)
Congressional district 2nd
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5/-4

Washington County, known colloquially as South County, is a county located in the U.S. state of Rhode Island. As of the 2010 census, the population was 126,979.[1]

Rhode Island counties, including Washington County, have no governmental functions (other than as court administrative and sheriff corrections boundaries which are part of state government).[2]


Washington County was created from Providence Plantations in 1729 as Kings County. It was renamed Washington County on October 29, 1781 in honor of General and President Washington.

At the earliest stage of colonial settlement, the area was called "The Narragansett Country", named after the Algonquin tribe of the same name and its tributary tribe the (Eastern) Niantics, whose territory it was, and these held power in the area long after the Wampanoags to the east had lost most of their territory to the Plymouth Colony. (The Algonquin Nipmucs may have held a piece of what is today the westernmost part of the township of Hopkinton.)

Early land purchases in the Narragansett Country were effected by Dutch & English settlers after the establishment of Indian trading posts at Fort Neck, today's township of Charlestown, by the Dutch, and at "Smith's Castle", Cocumcussoc, now Wickford, in today's North Kingstown township, and these were most notably the so-called "Atherton Purchases" of today's "North Kingstown" & Quidnesset, and of the "Boston Neck" area of today's township of Narragansett; and the somewhat-conflicting "Pettaquamscutt Purchase" of the rest of today's North & South Kingstown & Narragansett, and parts of today's Exeter, whereas subsequent purchases including the Misquamicut Purchase brought in today's townships of Richmond, Hopkinton & Westerly-Charlestown. A series of conflicts involving the Niantic's offshore sub-tribe the Manisseans on Block Island gave that island to the Bay Colony for a number of years, then to the Rhode Island Colony under Newport County, and then to Washington County in 1959.

Holding claims to "South County" from the beginning of the Colonial period were two sovereign nations, the Netherlands & Great Britain; and no less than four colonies; The Hartford-Connecticut Colony, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, and the Rhode Island Colony, and these continued until such time as the two British colonies, Connecticut & Rhode Island, were held to be the final disputants, and since the Narragansetts had pledged their fealty to King Charles, their country was hereafter placed under His Majesty's care, and at that time styled "The King's Province", and was in the interim placed under the authority of Rhode Island "until the King's pleasure was further known". In 1664 a royal commission under Charles II stepped in to adjudicate these conflicting land claims over the so-called Narragansett Country. The commission extinguished the claims of Massachusetts, and Rhode Island was granted jurisdiction until the commission finished processing Connecticut's appeals, which were not ended until 1726. Settlements of King's Province were named to reflect the English Restoration (like Charleston County, South Carolina), because King Charles II of England also finalized Rhode Island's charter.

It is from this time that the decidedly Royalist name of "Kingstown" was used as a third name for most of the area, if not all of it, and why we retain the name in the present townships of "North Kingstown", and "South Kingstown", and why these names survived our Revolution, as these are an indication of our gratefulness to the Charles I & Charles II: the first who granted Rhode Island its over-generous & unique Charter, and the second who legitimized local land title claims by assigning "The King's Province" to Rhode Island's care.

The case of the "King's Province" was finally & permanently decided by His Majesty's Commissioners in Rhode Island's favor, and so "The King's Province" became "The King's County", and this last sobriquet lasted until after the American Revolution, at which time it seemed most appropriate for Rhode Island's oldest sovereign territory & most recent county to assume the name of a frequent & beloved visitor at a number of Narragansett Planter homes, the new Republic's General & now President Washington.


Historic Downtown Westerly, Rhode Island

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 563 square miles (1,458 km²), of which 333 square miles (862 km²) is land and 230 square miles (596 km²) (40.87%) is water.[3] The county's topography ranges from flat along the shoreline to gently rolling hills further inland. The highest point is a large area approximately 560 feet (171 m) in the Exeter neighborhood of Black Plain;[4] the lowest point is sea level along the coast.

Washington County is the largest county in area in Rhode Island, and the smallest county in the US that is a state's largest county.

National protected areas


As of the census[6] of 2000, there were 123,546 people, 46,907 households, and 32,037 families residing in the county. The population density was 371 people per square mile (143/km²). There were 56,816 housing units at an average density of 171 per square mile (66/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 94.82% White, 0.92% Black or African American, 0.93% Native American, 1.50% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.46% from other races, and 1.35% from two or more races. 1.44% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 19.2% were of Italian, 18.5% Irish, 14.7% English, 6.7% French and 5.8% German ancestry according to Census 2000. 92.8% spoke English, 1.8% Spanish and 1.6% Italian as their first language.

There were 46,907 households out of which 31.80% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.50% were married couples living together, 9.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.70% were non-families. 24.10% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.20% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.01.

In the county, the population was spread out with 23.40% under the age of 18, 11.20% from 18 to 24, 28.30% from 25 to 44, 24.40% from 45 to 64, and 12.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 94.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.30 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $53,103, and the median income for a family was $64,112. Males had a median income of $43,956 versus $30,659 for females. The per capita income for the county was $25,530. About 4.20% of families and 7.30% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.40% of those under age 18 and 5.60% of those age 65 or over.

Cities, towns, and villages*

Map of Washington County, Rhode Island showing towns, census-designated places, and Narragansett tribal lands

*Some villages are census-designated places, but Rhode Island villages have no legal existence apart from the towns in which they are located. Note that this is not a complete list of villages in Washington County; only widely-recognized villages are on this list.

See also


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved November 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ National Associations of Counties listing for Washington County, Rhode Island
  3. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990".  
  4. ^
  5. ^ "U.S. Decennial Census". Retrieved November 22, 2013. 
  6. ^ "American FactFinder".  

External links

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