Narragansett Bay

Narragansett Bay, shown in pink
Narragansett Bay, shown in pink

Narragansett Bay is a fjord on the north side of Rhode Island Sound, forming an expansive natural harbor as well as a small archipelago. The three largest islands in the bay are Aquidneck Island, Conanicut Island, and Prudence Island.

It is located mostly within the territory of the State of Rhode Island, although an arm of the fjord, Mount Hope Bay, extends into Massachusetts and is the waterfront for the city of Fall River.

The largest cities in the State of Rhode Island have their waterfronts on the bay. Providence, the state capital and its largest city, sits on the west side of the head of the northern most arm of the bay. Newport is on Aquidneck Island.

Early history

The first recorded by visit by Europeans to the bay was probably in the early 16th century. At the time, the area around the bay was inhabited by two different and distinct groups of natives. The Narragansetts occupied the west side of the bay. The Wampanoag lived on the east side, occupying the land out to Cape Cod.

It is accepted by most historians that first contact by Europeans was made by Giovanni da Verrazano, who entered the bay in his ship La Dauphine in 1524 after visiting New York Bay. Verrazano called the bay "Refugio". The bay has several entrances, however, and the exact route of his voyage and the location where laid anchor is still a subject of dispute among historians, leading to a corresponding uncertainty over which tribe made contact with him (see [1] (, [2] (

In 1614, the bay was later explored and mapped by the Dutch navigator Adriaen Block, after whom nearby Block Island is named.

The first recorded European settlement was in the 1630's. Roger Williams, a dissatisfied member of the Plymouth Colony, moved into the area around the year 1635. He made contact with the Narragansett and set up a trading post on the west side of the bay. At the same time, the Dutch had established a trading post approximately 12 miles to the southwest which was under the authority of New Amsterdam in New York Bay.

In 1643, Williams traveled to England and was granted a charter for the new colony of Rhode Island. He also wrote a dictionary of the Narragansett language, Keys to the Indian Language,which was published in England that same year.

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