Providence was founded by Roger Williams in 1636, making it one of the oldest cities in the United States.  Williams founded Providence after he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay colony on the basis of his religious views.  Williams founded Providence on the premise of complete religious toleration, making Rhode Island a haven for thoise persecuted for their beleifs in less tolerant parts of New England. Most notable among these were the Quakers from Boston. The land Roger Williams used to found Providence had been the tribal domain of the Narragansett Indians.

In 1680, Providence's days of prosperity began when a wharf was built to facilitate trade. As a key port city port in the 1700's, fortunes were made in shipbuilding, whaling, trade with China and the thriving triangle of trade in Molasses, Rum and Slaves.  Many Newport merchants fled to Providence when their city was occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War, and ended up staying in Providence.  Foremost among them was the Brown family. John Brown, a merchant and shipbuilder, opened trade with China. Joseph, an architect, designed many of the city's finest buildings. Nicholas donated land and money to establish the university that bears the family name. Moses began the American industrial revolution by financing the first water powered spinning mill.

Providence is now the largest city in Rhode Island.  It is the third largest in New England after Boston and Worcester.