South Water and Dyer Streets in Providence, Rhode Island

Biggest cities in Rhode Island 150 years ago

Written by:
May 23, 2022
H.R. Page & Co. // Wikimedia Commons

Biggest cities in Rhode Island 150 years ago

After the completion of the 1860 census and the election of President Abraham Lincoln, America imploded. Eleven southern states seceded from the Union in 1861, instigating four bloody years of the Civil War and fundamentally altering the social history of the U.S. The estimates of deaths caused by the Civil War begin around 600,000, but some claim as many as 750,000 individuals died throughout the conflict.

With so many families looking for a new start after combat finally ended and approximately 4 million Black Americans emancipated from slavery, it was time for many Americans to look for a new home to put down roots. The obvious choice for many was to move west, where there was more land to buy, settle, and cultivate. Many traveled by covered wagon, spending months on the dusty trail. Others who could afford better accommodations took a 25-day ride by stagecoach. All of them picked new cities and towns to make their homes, spreading the U.S. population more evenly across different states and territories.

On May 10, 1869, the first transcontinental railroad route across the United States was completed, ushering in a new era of transportation. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, though with the loss of many lives, including those of the many Irish and Chinese immigrants hired to work 12-hour days in the hot western sun. Riding by steam engine, passengers could cross the entire country in four days, enabling waves of Americans and immigrants to quickly occupy land that would otherwise take months to settle.

The years of Civil War reconstruction, coupled with wagon, stagecoach, and railroad passengers finding new lives across the U.S., made the urban development reflected in the 1870 census incredibly interesting. Stacker compiled a list of the biggest cities in Rhode Island from 150 years ago using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. By transcribing Table XXV of the Ninth Census of the U.S., which was previously only available as a PDF, it's easy to explore what the urban landscape looked like less than a decade after the end of the Civil War as America healed and grew.

The largest city in Rhode Island ranked #21 among all cities nationwide in 1870. Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 2 were in Rhode Island. Keep reading to find out more about the historic metropolitan landscape in your home state or check out the data on your own on our site, GitHub, or data.world.

You may also like: Best counties to live in Rhode Island

People standing in front of a general store with painted signs
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#19. Warren, Bristol County

- Total population: 3,008 (#1,480 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,351
--- Female population: 1,654
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 814
Two story wooden building with porch and people in rural town.
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#18. North Smithfield, Providence County

- Total population: 3,052 (#1,431 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,502
--- Female population: 1,550
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 942
Blacksmith shoeing a horse
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Alexander Alland, Sr./Corbis via Getty Images

#17. North Kingstown, Washington County

- Total population: 3,568 (#1,028 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,746
--- Female population: 1,822
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 861
Group of people sitting on porch
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Carleton E. Watkins/Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

#16. Cumberland, Providence County

- Total population: 3,822 (#881 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,829
--- Female population: 2,053
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 980
Group of children pose with their teacher outside schoolhouse
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#15. Scituate, Providence County

- Total population: 3,846 (#868 nationwide)
--- Male population: 1,897
--- Female population: 1,949
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,014
Group of six sitting at outdoor picnic
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Camerique/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#14. Johnston, Providence County

- Total population: 4,192 (#736 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,059
--- Female population: 2,133
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,110
Doctor making medical rounds in horse buggy.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#13. Coventry, Kent County

- Total population: 4,349 (#692 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,052
--- Female population: 2,297
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,088
Large trees shading dirt road on residential street
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Detroit Publishing Company // Library of Congress

#12. South Kingstown, Washington County

- Total population: 4,493 (#651 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,222
--- Female population: 2,271
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,286
Farrier shoeing a horse with blacksmith and two other men standing nearby.
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#11. Burrillville, Providence County

- Total population: 4,674 (#589 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,337
--- Female population: 2,337
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,367
Men on steps of rural General Store
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Underwood Archives // Getty Images

#10. Westerly, Washington County

- Total population: 4,709 (#578 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,353
--- Female population: 2,356
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,270
Waiters and waitresses pose for a group picture
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Bettmann // Getty Images

#9. Cranston, Providence County

- Total population: 4,822 (#559 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,678
--- Female population: 2,144
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,179
Horse and wagon outside general store
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#8. Bristol, Bristol County

- Total population: 5,302 (#472 nationwide)
--- Male population: 2,466
--- Female population: 2,836
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,274
Group of young women out for a trip in a horse drawn Surrey
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Transcendental Graphics // Getty Images

#7. Pawtucket, Providence County

- Total population: 6,619 (#326 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,179
--- Female population: 3,440
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 1,669
Man standing in door of ice cream parlor
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Minnesota Historical Society/Corbis via Getty Images

#6. Lincoln, Providence County

- Total population: 7,889 (#256 nationwide)
--- Male population: 3,803
--- Female population: 4,086
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,151
Postman delivers mail by horsedrawn carriage
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Vintage Images // Getty Images

#5. Warwick, Kent County

- Total population: 10,453 (#172 nationwide)
--- Male population: 5,035
--- Female population: 5,418
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 3,026
Men standing next to horse drawn carriages in front of shops
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American Stock/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#4. Woonsocket, Providence County

- Total population: 11,527 (#143 nationwide)
--- Male population: 5,434
--- Female population: 6,093
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 3,289
Men and women sitting with bicycles in park.
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Chicago History Museum // Getty Images

#3. Newport, Newport County

- Total population: 12,521 (#130 nationwide)
--- Male population: 5,764
--- Female population: 6,757
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 2,984
Woman seated in horse drawn carriage with three people standing
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H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock // Getty Images

#2. North Providence, Providence County

- Total population: 20,495 (#67 nationwide)
--- Male population: 9,952
--- Female population: 10,543
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 5,580
South Water and Dyer Streets in Providence, Rhode Island
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H.R. Page & Co. // Wikimedia Commons

#1. Providence, Providence County

- Total population: 68,904 (#21 nationwide)
--- Male population: 32,535
--- Female population: 36,369
--- Child population, ages 5-18: 16,457

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