Providence, city (1990 pop. 160,728), state capital and seat of Providence co., NE R.I., a port at the head of Providence Bay; founded by Roger Williams 1636, inc. as a city 1832. The largest city in the state and one of the three largest in New England, it is a port of entry and a major trading center. The bay receives the Seekonk and other rivers, opens into Narragansett Bay, and forms an excellent harbor from which oil and coal are shipped. Providence is widely known as a silverware- and jewelry-manufacturing, banking, insurance, and medical center. Textiles, machinery, metal products, electronic equipment, plastic goods, and machine tools are also made, and there are printing and publishing enterprises.
Roger Williams chose this site in 1636 after he was exiled from Massachusetts. He secured title to the land from Narragansett chiefs and named the place in gratitude for "God's merciful providence." The settlement grew as a refuge for religious dissenters. Many of its buildings were burned in King Philip's War (1675–76). Prosperity came in the 18th cent. with foreign commerce, and after the American Revolution, industrial development was rapid. The Brown brothers, John, Nicholas, and Moses, played leading roles in the growth of the town, prospering in foreign trade and fostering the textile and other industries. In 1842, Thomas W. Dorr led a rebellion that collapsed after an abortive assault on the armory there. The city became sole capital of Rhode Island in 1900 (Newport had been joint capital until then). In 1901 the state legislature began to meet in the impressive marble-domed capitol designed by McKim, Mead, and White.
Providence is the seat of the noted Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), some of whose work is related to the city's famous silverware and jewelry industry, and of RISD's museum of art. It is also the site of Brown Univ., Johnson and Wales Univ., the New England Institute of Technology, Providence College, and Rhode Island College. It has several noted libraries, including the John Carter Brown Library of Brown Univ. and the Atheneum (1753), one of the oldest libraries in the United States. Among the city's many historic structures are the old statehouse (where the general assembly met 1762–1900; now a courthouse), the old market building (1773), the Stephen Hopkins House (c.1755), the John Brown House (1786), and the First Baptist Meetinghouse (1775; the congregation was organized in 1638). The city has monuments to Oliver Hazard Perry (1928) and Nathanael Greene (1931). On Prospect Terrace is Leo Friedlander's heroic statue of Roger Williams (1939). Another memorial to the founder is in Roger Williams Park, which contains a museum of natural history and a natural amphitheater. The Capital Center District, where construction began in the early 1980s, and Waterplace Park have contributed to the city's downtown revival. Providence suffered severely in hurricanes in 1938 and 1954; a hurricane barrier was completed in 1966.
See G. F. Kimball, Providence in Colonial Times (1912, repr. 1972); P. Conley and P. Campbell, Providence: A Pictorial History (1983); J. N. Arnold, Vital Record of Providence, Rhode Island (1988).