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Town of Bristol
(L–R) Walley School (1896), First Baptist Church, and Bristol County Statehouse/Courthouse (1816)
(L–R) Walley School (1896), First Baptist Church, and Bristol County Statehouse/Courthouse (1816)
Location in Bristol County and the state of Rhode Island
Location in Bristol County and the state of Rhode Island
Country United States
State Rhode Island
County Bristol
Settled 1680
Incorporated October 28, 1681
Annexed from Massachusetts January 27, 1747
 • Type Council-Manager
 • Total 20.6 sq mi (53.4 km2)
 • Land 10.1 sq mi (26.2 km2)
 • Water 10.5 sq mi (27.2 km2)
0–131 ft (0–40 m)
 • Total 22,493
 • Density 2,224/sq mi (858.5/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP Code
Area code(s) 401
FIPS code 44-09280
GNIS feature ID 1220083
Demonym Bristolian ("brihs-TOH-lee-an")

Bristol is a town in Bristol County, Rhode Island, US as well as the historic county seat. The town is built on the traditional territories of the Pokanoket Wampanoag. It is a deep water seaport named after Bristol, England.

The population of Bristol was 22,493 at the 2020 census. Major industries include boat building and related marine industries, manufacturing, and tourism. The town's school system is united with that of the neighboring town of Warren. Prominent communities include Portuguese-Americans, mostly Azoreans, and Italian-Americans.


Before the Pilgrims arrived in 1620, the Wampanoags occupied much of New England, including Plymouth, Cape Cod, and Narragansett Bay. The Wampanoags had previously suffered from a series of plagues which killed off large segments of their population, and Wampanoag leader Massasoit befriended the early settlers. King Phillip's War was a conflict between the Plymouth settlers and the Wampanoags, and it began in the neighboring area of Swansea, Massachusetts. Metacomet made nearby Mount Hope (Montaup) his base of operations; he died following an ambush by Captain Benjamin Church on August 12, 1676. "King Philip's Chair" is a rocky ledge on the mountain which was a lookout site for enemy ships on Mount Hope Bay.

After the war concluded, four colonists purchased a tract of land known as "Mount Hope Neck and Poppasquash Neck" as part of the Plymouth Colony. Other settlers included John Gorham and Richard Smith. A variant of the Indian name Metacomet is now the name of a main road in Bristol: Metacom Avenue (RI Route 136). Bristol was a town of Massachusetts until the Crown transferred it to the Rhode Island Colony in 1747.

The DeWolf family was among the earliest settlers of Bristol. Bristol and Rhode Island became a center of slave trading. James DeWolf, a leading slave trader, later become a United States Senator from Rhode Island. Quakers from Rhode Island were involved early in the abolition movement.

A view of Bristol RI from the harbor
A view of Bristol RI from the harbor. 1886 engraving.

During the American Revolutionary War, the British Navy bombarded Bristol twice. On October 7, 1775, a group of ships led by Captain Wallace and the HMS Rose sailed into town and demanded provisions. When refused, Wallace shelled the town, causing much damage. The attack was stopped when Lieutenant Governor William Bradford rowed out to the Rose to negotiate a cease-fire, but then a second attack took place on May 25, 1778. This time, 500 British and Hessian troops marched through the main street (now called Hope Street (RI Route 114)) and burnt 30 barracks and houses, taking some prisoners to Newport.

Until 1854, Bristol was one of the five state capitals of Rhode Island.

Bristol is home to Roger Williams University, named for Rhode Island founder Roger Williams.

The southerly terminus of the East Bay Bike Path is located at Independence Park on Bristol Harbor. The bike path continues north to East Providence, R.I., constructed on an old abandoned railway. Some of the best views of Narragansett Bay can be seen along this corridor. This path is a valued commodity to Bristol; it allows bikers, roller skaters, and walkers to enjoy the area. The construction of the East Bay Bike Path was highly contested by Bristol residents before construction because of the potential of crime, but it has become a welcome asset to the community and the anticipated crime was non-existent.

The Bristol-based boat company Herreshoff built five consecutive America's Cup Defenders between 1893 and 1920. The Colt Estate, now known as Colt State Park, was home to Samuel P. Colt, nephew of the man famous for the arms company, and founder of the United States Rubber Company, later called Uniroyal and the largest rubber company in the nation. Colt State Park lies on manicured gardens abutting the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, and is popular for its views of the waterfront and sunsets.

Bristol is the site of the National Historic Landmark Joseph Reynolds House built in 1700. The Marquis de Lafayette and his staff used the building as headquarters in 1778 during the Battle of Rhode Island.

Fourth of July parade

231st Bristol RI 4th of July Parade
Start of the 231st Bristol Fourth of July Parade in 2016.

Bristol has the oldest continuously celebrated Independence Day festivities in the United States. The first mention of a celebration comes from July 1777, when a British officer noted sounds coming from across Narragansett Bay:

This being the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Rebel Colonies, they ushered in the morning by firing 13 cannons, one for each colony, we suppose. At sunset, the rebel frigates fired another round of 13 guns, each one after the other. As the evening was very still and fine the echo of the guns down the Bay had a grand effect.

The annual official and historic celebrations (Patriotic Exercises) were established in 1785 by Rev. Henry Wight of the First Congregational Church and veteran of the Revolutionary War, and later by Rev. Wight as the Parade, and continue today, organized by the Bristol Fourth of July Committee. The festivities officially start on June 14, Flag Day, beginning a period of outdoor concerts, soap-box races and a firefighters' muster at Independence Park. The celebration climaxes on July 4 with the oldest annual parade in the United States, "The Military, Civic and Firemen's Parade", an event that draws over 200,000 people from Rhode Island and around the world. These elaborate celebrations give Bristol its nickname, "America's most patriotic town". In 2009, a Tea Party group was briefly banned from future participation when they were accused of handing out political literature, including the Declaration of Independence, from a float in violation of parade rules. Also in 2009, Bristol ranked No. 9 on Newsmax magazine's list of the "Top 25 Most Uniquely American Cities and Towns", a piece written by current CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg. In determining his ranking, Greenberg cited Bristol's Independence Day celebration.

The summer celebrations usually conclude at Independence Park, on Labor Day Sunday, with an open air free concert featuring the Rhode Island Philharmonic and a spectacular fireworks display.


Bristol is situated on 10.1 square miles (26 km2) of a peninsula (the smaller sub-peninsula on the west is called Poppasquash), with Narragansett Bay on its west and Mount Hope Bay on its east. According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 20.6 square miles (53.4 km2), of which, 10.1 square miles (26.2 km2) of it is land and 10.5 square miles (27.2 km2) of it (50.99%) is water. Bristol's harbor is home to over 800 boat moorings in seven mooring fields.


Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1748 1,069 —    
1755 1,080 +1.0%
1774 1,209 +11.9%
1776 1,067 −11.7%
1782 1,032 −3.3%
1790 1,406 +36.2%
1800 1,678 +19.3%
1810 2,698 +60.8%
1820 3,197 +18.5%
1830 3,084 −3.5%
1840 3,490 +13.2%
1850 4,616 +32.3%
1860 5,271 +14.2%
1870 5,302 +0.6%
1880 6,028 +13.7%
1890 5,478 −9.1%
1900 6,901 +26.0%
1910 8,565 +24.1%
1920 11,375 +32.8%
1930 11,953 +5.1%
1940 11,159 −6.6%
1950 12,320 +10.4%
1960 14,570 +18.3%
1970 17,860 +22.6%
1980 20,128 +12.7%
1990 21,625 +7.4%
2000 22,469 +3.9%
2010 22,954 +2.2%
2020 22,493 −2.0%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the 2010 census Bristol had a population of 22,954. The ethnic and racial composition of the population was 94.9% non-Hispanic white, 0.8% Black, 0.1% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 0.4% some other race, 1.4% from two or more races and 2.0% Hispanic or Latino of any race.

As of the census of 2000, there were 22,469 people, 8,314 households, and 5,653 families residing in the town. The population density was 2,222.2 people per square mile (858.1/km2). There were 8,705 housing units at an average density of 860.9 per square mile (332.4/km2). The ethnic group makeup of the town was 97.14% White, 1.29% Hispanic or Latino (of any race), 0.67% Asian, 0.62% Black, 0.16% Native American, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.33% other ethnic group, and 1.03% from two or more races.

Points of interest and Registered Historic Places

Notable people

  • William Thomas "Billy" Andrade, golfer with the PGA Tour; born in Bristol
  • Ethel Barrymore Colt, silent film and stage actress; member of the influential Barrymore family
  • Benjamin Bourne, US congressman and federal judge; born in Bristol
  • William Bradford (1729–1808), physician, lawyer, and President pro tempore of the US Senate; lived and died in Bristol
  • Jonathan Russell Bullock, federal and Rhode Island Supreme Court judge; born in Bristol
  • Ambrose Burnside, railroad executive, US senator, 30th governor of Rhode Island, and Union Army general; lived and died in Bristol
  • Sean Callery, Emmy-winning composer, raised in Bristol
  • Mary Cantwell, journalist, magazine editor, author and member of The New York Times editorial board; grew up in Bristol
  • Mary H. Gray Clarke (born 1835), correspondent
  • Samuel P. Colt, entrepreneur, child labor advocate, and Rhode Island state representative; lived in Bristol
  • Mark Anthony DeWolf (1726–1793) was the fourth child of Charles DeWolf, the only one who returned to America. He became the patriarch of the Bristol branch of the DeWolf family; he was a merchant and slave trader.
  • James DeWolf (1764–1837), son of Mark Anthony DeWolf. He was one of the richest men of his time, making the majority of his fortune in the slave trade.
  • General George W. DeWolf (1778–1844), a grandson of Mark Anthony DeWolf. He was a slave trader and the original owner of Linden Place
  • Jonathan DeFelice, president of Saint Anselm College; lived in Bristol
  • Rebecca Donovan, novelist
  • Nancy Dubuc, businesswoman
  • Ramon Guiteras, surgeon and urologist, born and buried in Bristol
  • Nathanael Herreshoff, naval architect and mechanical engineer, designed several undefeated America's Cup winners; born in Bristol
  • Gilbert C. Hoover, USN admiral involved in the nuclear bomb project
  • Edward L. Leahy, US senator and federal judge; born in Bristol
  • Ira Magaziner, senior adviser for policy development to the Clinton administration; Chairman of the Clinton Foundation Policy Board; lives in Bristol
  • Pat McGee, musician (Pat McGee Band)
  • Alyssa Merkle-Deschenes, National Director of Biomedical Engineering at CREF/ Steward Healthcare, former New England Patriots cheerleader
  • Norman Rene, theater and film director; born in Bristol
  • John Saffin, merchant and author (A Brief and Candid Answer to Samuel Sewall's The Selling of Joseph, 1700); lived in Bristol
  • Chris Santos, executive chef and owner of the Stanton Social and Beauty & Essex, judge on Chopped (Food Network TV), born in Bristol
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