Rhode Island Newspaper History
Rhode Island is often referred to as “a lively experiment”—small in size but rich in both political and social history. Nowhere is this better reflected than in its newspapers. In 2019, RIHS and PPL partnered to form the Rhode Island Digital Newspaper Project with a goal to make the RIHS microfilm collection freely and digitally available to all. They applied for and received a $250,000 NDNP grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress to digitize historic newspapers and make them accessible via the Chronicling America website. The project is now in its 2nd grant cycle, which will end in 2023.
The RIHS has been collecting and preserving Rhode Island newspapers since its inception in 1822. The RIHS began microfilming RI newspapers for preservation in the 1950s, an effort which was bolstered in the 1980s by a grant from the U.S. Newspaper Project (USNP) to collect and microfilm as many RI newspapers as could be found in the state.
PPL brings its Digital Lab and technical skills to the scanning and processing of the microfilm reels. Digital images are posted to Chronicling America and preservation copies of the master microfilm reels are deposited with the Library of Congress.
The first newspaper printed in the colony was the Rhode-Island Gazette, which ran from September 27, 1732 until May 24, 1733. It was established in Newport by James Franklin, Sr., the older brother of Benjamin Franklin, who had come from Boston to Rhode Island to set up the first printing house in the colony in 1727. This kickstarted a rich, statewide history of newspaper publishing. Titles included the Providence Gazette and Country Journal (est. 1762), the Providence Phoenix (est. 1802 as a tool of the Democratic-Republican Party of President Thomas Jefferson), along with many local dailies including the Newport Daily News (1846), the Pawtucket Times (1886), Woonsocket’s Evening Call (1892), and many more.
About the Partners
The Rhode Island Historical Society (RIHS), the state’s oldest and only state-wide historical organization, is dedicated to honoring, interpreting, and sharing Rhode Island’s past to enrich the present and inspire the future. Founded in 1822, the RIHS is an advocate for history as a means to develop empathy and 21st-century skills, using its historical materials and knowledge to explore topics of timeless relevance and public interest. As a Smithsonian Affiliate, it is dedicated to providing high-quality, accessible public programming and educational opportunities for all Rhode Islanders through its four sites: the John Brown House Museum, the Museum of Work & Culture, the Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center, and the Aldrich House.
Providence Public Library (PPL) is Rhode Island’s largest public library, and PPL’s online repository, ProvLibDigital, currently holds approximately 25,000 items. Founded in 1875 and governed by a Board of Trustees, PPL is a non-profit organization providing free public library services statewide and beyond. The Library’s mission is to inspire Rhode Islanders to be lifelong learners by engaging their curiosity and offering access to extraordinary experiences, resources, and ideas.