Bristol, Rhode Island

Last updated
Town of Bristol
Walley School, Bristol Rhode Island.jpg
(L–R) Walley School (1896), First Baptist Church, and Bristol County Statehouse/Courthouse (1816)
Bristol County Rhode Island incorporated and unincorporated areas Bristol highlighted.svg
Location in Bristol County and the state of Rhode Island
Coordinates: 41°41′3″N71°16′7″W / 41.68417°N 71.26861°W / 41.68417; -71.26861 Coordinates: 41°41′3″N71°16′7″W / 41.68417°N 71.26861°W / 41.68417; -71.26861
CountryUnited States
StateRhode Island
IncorporatedOctober 28, 1681
Annexed from MassachusettsJanuary 27, 1747
  Type Council-Manager
   Town Administrator Steven Contente (R)
  Town Council
  • Nathan T. Calouro (D)
  • Antonio A Teixeira (I)
  • Timothy E Sweeney (D)
  • Aaron Ley (D)
  • Mary A. Parella (R)
  Town ClerkMelissa Cordeiro (D)
  Total20.6 sq mi (53.4 km2)
  Land10.1 sq mi (26.2 km2)
  Water10.5 sq mi (27.2 km2)
0–131 ft (0–40 m)
  Density2,269/sq mi (876.1/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (EST)
  Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP Code
Area code(s) 401
FIPS code44-09280 [1]
GNIS feature ID1220083 [2]
DemonymBristolian [3] ("brihs-TOH-lee-an")

Bristol is a town in Bristol County, Rhode Island, as well as the historic county seat. [4] The town is built on the traditional territories of the Pokanoket Wampanoag. [5] It is a deep-water seaport named after Bristol, England.


The population of Bristol was 22,954 at the 2010 census. Major industries include boat building and related marine industries, manufacturing, and tourism. The town's school system is united with neighboring Warren, Rhode Island. Prominent communities include Luso-Americans (Portuguese-Americans), mostly Azorean, and Italian-Americans.


Early colonization

Before the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, the Pokanokets occupied much of Southern New England, including Plymouth. They had previously suffered from a series of plagues which killed off large segments of their population, and their leader, the Massasoit Osamequin, befriended the early settlers. [6] :10 King Philip's War was a conflict between the Plymouth settlers and the Pokanokets and allied tribes, and it began in the neighboring area of Swansea, Massachusetts. Metacomet made nearby Mount Hope (a corruption of the Pokanoket word Montaup) his base of operations; he died following an ambush by Captain Benjamin Church on August 12, 1676. [6] :11 "Massasoit's Seat" is a rocky ledge on the mountain which was a lookout site for enemy ships on Mount Hope Bay.[ citation needed ]

After the war concluded, four colonists purchased a tract of land known as "Mount Hope Neck and Poppasquash Neck" as part of the Plymouth Colony. Other settlers included John Gorham and Richard Smith. A variant of the Indian name Metacomet is now the name of a main road in Bristol: Metacom Avenue (RI Route 136). [6] :11 Bristol was a town of Massachusetts until the Crown transferred it to the Rhode Island Colony in 1747. [6] :11

Slave trade and the DeWolf family

The DeWolf family was among the earliest settlers of Bristol. Bristol and Rhode Island became a center of slave trading. James DeWolf, a leading slave trader, later became a United States Senator from Rhode Island. Beginning in 1769 and continuing until 1820 (over a decade after the slave trade was outlawed in the Atlantic), the DeWolf family trafficked people out of West Africa, enslaving them and bringing them to work on DeWolf-owned plantations, or selling them to be auctioned at ports in places such as Havana, Cuba and Charleston, South Carolina. In Cuba, sugar and molasses, harvested/created by enslaved Africans, was brought back to Rhode Island to DeWolf-owned distilleries. By the end of 1820, the DeWolf family had trafficked and enslaved over 10,000 African people. James DeWolf died as the second wealthiest person in the United States. [7]

As it did in many northern towns and port cities, slavery built the wealth of Bristol, which processed various materials, such as cotton, created or harvested through the use of slave labor. [7] Quakers from Rhode Island were involved early in the abolition movement, although abolition was a divisive issue among Quakers, resulting in the creation of new Quaker groups. [8]

The history of the DeWolf family, as well as Bristol's and the northern United States' participation in slavery, are covered in the 2008 documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North , in the 2008 companion memoir Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History by Thomas Norman DeWolf, [9] and the 2014 historical study James DeWolf and the Rhode Island Slave Trade by Cynthia Mestad Johnson. [10]

American Revolution

A view of Bristol RI from the harbor.jpg
A view of Bristol RI from the harbor. 1886 engraving.

During the American Revolutionary War, the British Royal Navy bombarded Bristol twice. On October 7, 1775, a group of ships led by Captain Wallace and HMS Rose sailed into town and demanded provisions. When refused, Wallace shelled the town, causing much damage. The attack was stopped when Lieutenant Governor William Bradford rowed out to Rose to negotiate a cease-fire, but then a second attack took place on May 25, 1778. This time, 500 British and Hessian troops marched through the main street (now called Hope Street (RI Route 114)) and burnt 30 barracks and houses, taking some prisoners to Newport.

Other history and current day

Until 1854, Bristol was one of the five state capitals of Rhode Island.

Bristol is home to Roger Williams University, named for Rhode Island founder Roger Williams.

The southerly terminus of the East Bay Bike Path [11] is located at Independence Park on Bristol Harbor. The bike path continues north to India Point Park in Providence, R.I., mostly constructed following an abandoned railroad right of way. Some of the best views of Narragansett Bay can be seen along this corridor. This path is a valued commodity to Bristol; it allows bikers, roller skaters, and walkers to enjoy the area. The construction of the East Bay Bike Path was highly contested by Bristol residents before construction because of the potential of crime, but it has become a welcome asset to the community and the anticipated crime was non-existent.

The Bristol-based boat company Herreshoff built five consecutive America's Cup Defenders between 1893 and 1920. The Colt Estate, now known as Colt State Park, was home to Samuel P. Colt, nephew of the man famous for the arms company, and founder of the United States Rubber Company, later called Uniroyal and the largest rubber company in the nation. Colt State Park lies on manicured gardens abutting the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, and is popular for its views of the waterfront and sunsets.

Bristol is the site of the National Historic Landmark Joseph Reynolds House built in 1700. The Marquis de Lafayette and his staff used the building as headquarters in 1778 during the Battle of Rhode Island. [12]

Fourth of July parade

The front of the 231st Bristol Fourth of July Parade in 2016. 231st Bristol RI 4th of July Parade.jpg
The front of the 231st Bristol Fourth of July Parade in 2016.

Bristol has the oldest continuously celebrated Independence Day festivities in the United States. The first mention of a celebration comes from July 1777, when a British officer noted sounds coming from across Narragansett Bay:

This being the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Rebel Colonies, they ushered in the morning by firing 13 cannons, one for each colony, we suppose. At sunset, the rebel frigates fired another round of 13 guns, each one after the other. As the evening was very still and fine the echo of the guns down the Bay had a grand effect. [13]

The annual official and historic celebrations (Patriotic Exercises) were established in 1785 by Rev. Henry Wight of the First Congregational Church and veteran of the Revolutionary War, and later by Rev. Wight as the Parade, and continue today, organized by the Bristol Fourth of July Committee. [14] The festivities officially start on June 14, Flag Day, beginning a period of outdoor concerts, soapbox car races and a firefighters' muster at Independence Park. The celebration climaxes on July 4 with the oldest annual parade in the United States, "The Military, Civic and Firemen's Parade", an event that draws over 200,000 people from Rhode Island and around the world. These elaborate celebrations give Bristol its nickname, "America's most patriotic town".

Bristol is represented in the parade with hometown groups like the Bristol Train of Artillery and the Bristol County Fifes and Drums. [15]


Bristol is situated on 10.1 square miles (26 km2) of a peninsula (the smaller sub-peninsula on the west is called Poppasquash), with Narragansett Bay on its west and Mount Hope Bay on its east. According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 20.6 square miles (53.4 km2), of which, 10.1 square miles (26.2 km2) of it is land and 10.5 square miles (27.2 km2) of it (50.99%) is water. Bristol's harbor is home to over 800 boat moorings in seven mooring fields.


Climate data for Bristol, Rhode Island
Record high °F (°C)67
Average high °F (°C)38
Average low °F (°C)21
Record low °F (°C)−7
Average precipitation inches (mm)3.66
Average snowfall inches (cm)10
Source: , [16] [17]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census [18] [19]

As of the 2010 census Bristol had a population of 22,954. The ethnic and racial composition of the population was 94.9% non-Hispanic white, 0.8% Black, 0.1% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 0.4% some other race, 1.4% from two or more races and 2.0% Hispanic or Latino of any race. [20]

As of the census [1] of 2000, there were 22,469 people, 8,314 households, and 5,653 families residing in the town. The population density was 2,222.2 people per square mile (858.1/km2). There were 8,705 housing units at an average density of 860.9 per square mile (332.4/km2). The ethnic group makeup of the town was 97.14% White, 1.29% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 0.67% Asian, 0.62% Black, 0.16% Native American, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.33% other ethnic group, and 1.03% from two or more races.


Bristol town vote
by party in presidential elections
Year GOP DEM Others
2016 38.26% 4,08054.11%5,7717.63% 814
2012 36.11% 3,70761.94%6,3591.96% 201
2008 35.39% 3,83463.08%6,8331.53% 166
2004 38.30% 4,00060.10%6,2761.60% 167
2000 32.20% 3,06562.13%5,9145.67% 540
1996 26.15% 2,29362.42%5,47411.44% 1,003
1992 28.00% 2,81849.87%5,01822.13% 2,227
1988 42.51% 3,53857.02%4,7460.47% 39

In the Rhode Island Senate, Bristol is split into three senatorial districts, all Democratic:

At the federal level, Bristol is a part of Rhode Island's 1st congressional district and is currently represented by Democrat David N. Cicilline. In presidential elections, Bristol is a Democratic stronghold, as no Republican presidential nominee has won the town since prior to the 1988 election. [21] [ when? ]

Points of interest and Registered Historic Places

Notable people

See also

Related Research Articles

Rhode Island State of the United States of America

Rhode Island, officially the State of Rhode Island, is a state in the New England region of the United States. It is the smallest U.S. state by area and the seventh-least populous, but it is also the second-most densely populated behind New Jersey. The state takes its name from Rhode Island; however, most of the state is on the mainland. The state has land borders with Connecticut to the west, Massachusetts to the north and east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south via Rhode Island Sound and Block Island Sound. It also shares a small maritime border with New York. Providence is the state capital and most populous city in Rhode Island.

Newport, Rhode Island City in Rhode Island, United States

Newport is a seaside city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island. It is located in Narragansett Bay, approximately 33 miles (53 km) southeast of Providence, 20 miles (32 km) south of Fall River, Massachusetts, 74 miles (119 km) south of Boston, and 180 miles (290 km) northeast of New York City. It is known as a New England summer resort and is famous for its historic mansions and its rich sailing history. It was the location of the first U.S. Open tournaments in both tennis and golf, as well as every challenge to the America's Cup between 1930 and 1983. It is also the home of Salve Regina University and Naval Station Newport, which houses the United States Naval War College, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and an important Navy training center. It was a major 18th-century port city and also contains a high number of buildings from the Colonial era.

Warren, Rhode Island Town in Rhode Island, United States

Warren is a town in Bristol County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 10,611 at the 2010 census.

Narragansett, Rhode Island Town in Rhode Island, United States

Narragansett is a town in Washington County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 15,868 at the 2010 census. However, during the summer months the town's population more than doubles to near 34,000. The town is colloquially known as "Gansett". The town of Narragansett occupies a narrow strip of land running along the eastern bank of the Pettaquamscutt River to the shore of Narragansett Bay. It was separated from South Kingstown in 1888 and incorporated as a town in 1901.

North Kingstown, Rhode Island Town in Rhode Island, United States

North Kingstown is a town in Washington County, Rhode Island, United States, and is part of the Providence metropolitan area. North Kingstown is home to the birthplace of American portraitist Gilbert Stuart, who was born in the village of Saunderstown. Within the town is Quonset Point, location of the former Naval Air Station Quonset Point, known for the invention of the Quonset hut, as well as the historic village of Wickford.

Tiverton, Rhode Island Town in Rhode Island, United States

Tiverton is a town in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States. The population was 15,780 at the 2010 census.

Narragansett Bay Bay in the state of Rhode Island

Narragansett Bay is a bay and estuary on the north side of Rhode Island Sound covering 147 square miles (380 km2), 120.5 square miles (312 km2) of which is in Rhode Island. The bay forms New England's largest estuary, which functions as an expansive natural harbor and includes a small archipelago. Small parts of the bay extend into Massachusetts.

Aquidneck Island Island in Rhode Island, United States

Rhode Island, also known as Aquidneck Island, is an island in Narragansett Bay in the state of Rhode Island, which is named after the island. The total land area is 97.9 km2 (37.8 sq mi), which makes it the largest island in the bay. The 2000 United States Census reported its population as 60,870.

Prudence Island

Prudence Island is the third-largest island in Narragansett Bay in the state of Rhode Island and part of the town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, United States. It is located near the geographical center of the bay. It is defined by the United States Census Bureau as Block Group 3, Census Tract 401.03 of Newport County, Rhode Island. As of the 2010 census, the population was 278 people living on a land area of 14.43 km2.

Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations former British colony in North America

The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was one of the original Thirteen Colonies established on the east coast of America, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. It was founded by Roger Williams. It was an English colony from 1636 until 1707, and then a colony of Great Britain until the American Revolution in 1776, when it became the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.


The Pauquunaukit are an indigenous group in present-day Rhode Island and Massachusetts. As of 2017, the Pokanoket Tribe was not recognized by the federal government, the state of Rhode Island, or by the other federally recognized Wampanoag communities.

John Brown (Rhode Island politician)

John Brown I was an American merchant, enslaver, and statesman from Providence, Rhode Island. Together with his brothers Nicholas, Joseph and Moses, John was instrumental in founding Brown University and moving it to their family's former land in Providence. John Brown laid the cornerstone of the university's oldest building in 1770, and he served as its treasurer for 21 years. Brown was one of the founders of Providence Bank and became its first president in 1791. He was active in the American Revolution, notably as an instigator of the 1772 Gaspee Affair, and he served in both state and national government. At the same time, he was a powerful defender of enslaving Blacks, clashing aggressively—in newspapers, courts and politics—with his brother Moses, who had become an abolitionist.

Mount Hope Bridge

The Mount Hope Bridge is a two-lane suspension bridge spanning the Mount Hope Bay in eastern Rhode Island at one of the narrowest gaps in Narragansett Bay. The bridge connects the Rhode Island towns of Portsmouth and Bristol and is part of Route 114. Its towers are 285 feet tall, the length of the main span is 1,200 feet, and it offers 135 feet of clearance over high water. The total length of the bridge is 6,130 feet. The railing along the bridge is only 35” and since 2016 there is a dedicated coalition advocating for the installation of physical safety/suicide prevention barriers on Mount Hope Bridge.

History of Rhode Island Aspect of history

The history of Rhode Island is an overview of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and the state of Rhode Island from pre-colonial times to the present.

James DeWolf American politician

James DeWolf was a slave trader, a privateer during the War of 1812, and a state and national politician. He served as a state legislator for a total of nearly 25 years, and in the 1820s as a United States senator from Rhode Island for much of a term. Along with the slave trade, DeWolf invested in sugar and coffee plantations in Cuba and became the wealthiest man in his state. By the end of his life, he was said to be the second-richest person in the entire United States. During his lifetime, his name was usually written "James D'Wolf".

Hog Island (Rhode Island)

Hog Island is an American island in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. It lies at the entrance to the harbor of Bristol and is part of the town of Portsmouth. The 60 ft (18 m) tall Hog Island Shoal Lighthouse stands off the south end, warning ships of the dangerous shoals around the island. It has a land area of approximately 0.3 sq mi, making it the fifth-largest island in Narragansett Bay. It is home to a small summer vacation colony, with no regular year-round residents, and there are approximately 100 homes on it.

Russell Warren (architect) American architect

Russell Warren (1783–1860) was an American architect, best known for his work in the Greek Revival style. He practiced in Bristol and Providence.

East Side, Providence, Rhode Island

The East Side is a collection of neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city of Providence, Rhode Island. It officially comprises the neighborhoods of Blackstone, Hope, Mount Hope, College Hill, Wayland, and Fox Point.

Mount Hope (Rhode Island)

Mount Hope is a small hill in Bristol, Rhode Island overlooking the part of Narragansett Bay known as Mount Hope Bay. It is the highest point in Bristol County, RI. The 7000 acres that now make up the Town of Bristol in Rhode Island were called the Mt. Hope Lands. The elevation of Mt. Hope summit is 209 feet, and drops sharply to the bay on its eastern side. Mount Hope was the site of a Wampanoag (Pokanoket) village. It is remembered for its role in King Philip's War.

Linden Place

Linden Place mansion is a Federal-style mansion located in Bristol, Rhode Island. It was built in 1810 by slave trader, merchant, privateer and ship owner General George DeWolf and was designed by architect, Russell Warren. The mansion now operates as a historic house museum.


  1. 1 2 "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau . Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  2. "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  3. MacKay, Scott (October 7, 2013). "Why I'll Never Call Myself a Bristolian". One Square Mile (story series). Rhode Island Public Radio. Archived from the original on 22 August 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  4. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  5. Ahlquist, Steve (26 August 2017). "Po Metacom Camp responds to Brown letter disputing Pokanoket legitimacy". RI Future. Archived from the original on 22 September 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Susan Cirillo; Lombard John Pozzi (1980). Bristol: Three Hundred Years. Providence, Rhode Island: Franklin Graphics. OCLC   6811058.
  7. 1 2 "Synopsis". Traces of the Trade. 2008-06-14. Retrieved 2020-04-29.
  8. Faulkner, Carol (2011). Lucretia Mott's Heresy: Abolition and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN   978-0-8122-0500-8. OCLC   844843687.
  9. DeWolf, Thomas Norman (2008). Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN   9780807072813. OCLC   134989752 . Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  10. Johnson, Cynthia Mestad (2014). James DeWolf and the Rhode Island Slave Trade. Charleston, SC: The History Press. ISBN   9781626194793. OCLC   869920838 . Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  11. Archived May 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  12. Archived July 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  13. Simpson, Richard V. (2002). Bristol: Montaup to Poppasuash (RI). Making of America. Mount Pleasant, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN   0-738523-56-9.
  14. "Annual Fourth of July Celebration | Bristol, Rhode Island". Retrieved 2013-07-01.
  15. Bristol County Fifes and Drums
  16. MSN weather records and averages for Bristol, RI
  17. for snowfall averages
  18. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  19. Snow, Edwin M. (1867). Report upon the Census of Rhode Island 1865. Providence, RI: Providence Press Company.
  20. 2010 general profile of population and housing characteristics of Bristol from the US Census
  21. 1 2 "Previous Election Results". State of Rhode Island Board of Elections. Archived from the original on 21 April 2021. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  22. Bristol Art Museum
  23. Coggeshall Farm Museum

Further reading