Historical Facts of Rhode Island Counties

Rhode Island County records can vary extensively from county to county in either quality and also quantity. Some happen to have been carefully maintained while some have been much abused and mistreated. A certain amount of Rhode Island records have simply vanished. For genealogists performing research in Rhode Island you will find no valuable replace for an on-site search of county courthouse records. For Definitions of all court terms see the Genealogy Encyclopedia

From a genealogical standpoint, most of the valuable information that can be gained from Rhode Island’s county records involves either federal censuses or court records. County courts didn’t exist in the state prior to 1729. Although, two counties, Newport and Providence, came into existence in 1703. Each of today’s Rhode Island counties was in existence by 1750. Bristol County was formed in 1746 or 1747 because the state of Massachusetts ceded five towns to Rhode Island. Most original records only exist on a town by town basis, but several of them have been compiled and published in groups according to county, probably because of the county structures in other states. The superior court county seat holds most modern court records, while earlier records have been relocated to various sources, such as archives and historical societies.

Rhode Island Counties

Although Rhode Island is divided into counties, it does not have any local government at the county level. Instead, local governance is provided by the eight cities and thirty-one towns. Counties in Rhode Island have had no governmental functions since 1846 other than as court administrative and sheriff corrections boundaries which are part of state government. Rhode Island State Government is located in Providence.

The links in the table below link to county and city government offices and is limited to government-maintained websites. If you know of a Rhode Island county that has an official government web site but is not linked, or if the link is in error, please contact us so we may edit our database.

County Date Formed Parent County County Seat
Bristol February 17, 1747 Newport County Bristol
Kent June 11, 1750 Providence County East Greenwich
Newport June 22, 1703 Original County Newport
Providence June 22, 1703 Original County Providence
Washington June 3, 1729 Providence County Wakefield

Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns: Barrington, Bristol, Burrillville, Central Falls, Charlestown, Coventry, Cranston, Cumberland, East Greenwich, East Providence, Exeter, Foster, Glocester, Hopkinton, Jamestown, Johnston, Lincoln, Little Compton, Middletown, Narragansett, New Shoreham, Newport, North Kingstown, North Providence, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, The Town Portsmouth, The City of Providence, Richmond, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton, Warren, Warwick, West Greenwich, West Warwick, Westerly, Woonsocket.


Interactive Map of Rhode Island Counties Formation

(Rhode Island maps made with the use AniMap Plus 3.0 & with the Permission of the Goldbug Company)

Rhode Island Extinct Counties

Rhode Island contains counties that no longer are in existence. They were set up by the state, provincial, or territorial governing administration. Many of these counties were established and disbanded in the 19th century; county boundaries have modified very little since Nineteen hundred in the great majority of states. These counties should be investigated when you are conducting ancestors and family history research. Pay close attention where the courthouse records went to if the county was abolished or merged with some other county.

  • King’s County was created on 22 Jun 1703 from Colonial lands, renamed Washington County in 1781.
  • Providence Plantations was created in 1636 from Colonial lands, renamed Providence County in 1703
  • Rhode Island County was created in 1636 from Colonial lands, renamed Newport County in 1729