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, some of whose work is related to the city's famous silverware and jewelry industry; and of Brown Univ., Johnson and Wales Univ., Providence College, Rhode Island College, and the New England Institute of Technology. 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).
There were 124 households out of which 36.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.8% were married couples living together, 18.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 19.4% were non-families. 18.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.51 and the average family size was 2.81.
In the town the population was spread out with 27.0% under the age of 18, 8.0% from 18 to 24, 24.8% from 25 to 44, 26.4% from 45 to 64, and 13.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 95.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.6 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $33,542, and the median income for a family was $39,375. Males had a median income of $38,750 versus $24,821 for females. The per capita income for the town was $19,382. About 6.5% of families and 10.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.2% of those under age 18 and 15.3% of those age 65 or over.