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Portsmouth, Rhode Island facts for kids

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Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Town Hall
Town Hall
Location of Portsmouth in Newport County, Rhode Island
Location of Portsmouth in Newport County, Rhode Island
Country United States
State Rhode Island
County Newport
Established March 7, 1638
 • Total 59.3 sq mi (153.6 km2)
 • Land 23.2 sq mi (60.1 km2)
 • Water 36.1 sq mi (93.5 km2)
203 ft (62 m)
 • Total 17,871
 • Density 770/sq mi (297.4/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP Code
Area code(s) 401
FIPS code 44-57880
GNIS feature ID 1220065

Portsmouth is a town in Newport County, Rhode Island. The population was 17,871 at the 2020 U.S. Census. Portsmouth is the second-oldest municipality in Rhode Island, after Providence; it was one of the four colonies which merged to form the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, the others being Providence, Newport, and Warwick.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 59.3 square miles (154 km2), of which, only 23.2 square miles (60 km2) (39.14%) of it is land and 36.1 square miles (93 km2) (60.86%) of it is water. Most of its land area lies on Aquidneck Island, which it shares with Middletown and Newport. In addition, Portsmouth encompasses some smaller islands, including Prudence Island, Patience Island, Hope Island, and Hog Island.


Portsmouth Compact
Portsmouth Compact memorial at Founder's Brook.

Portsmouth was settled in 1638 by a group of religious dissenters from Massachusetts Bay Colony, including Dr. John Clarke, William Coddington, and Anne Hutchinson. It is named after Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. Roger Williams convinced the settlers that they should go there instead of settling in the Province of New Jersey, where they had first planned on going.

It was founded by the signers of the Portsmouth Compact. Its original Indian name was Pocasset, and it was officially named Portsmouth on May 12, 1639. It became part of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (see Aquidneck Island) and eventually part of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Portsmouth is the site of one of the earliest and most bizarre murder trials. In 1673, Rebecca Cornell, widow of emigrant Thomas Cornell, died in a suspicious house fire. Her son Thomas Jr. was accused, tried, convicted, and hanged for the crime. There was only circumstantial evidence presented against him, and there were a number of other potential suspects, including his wife and a local Indian. It was also possible that Rebecca simply caught fire trying to stay warm near a fireplace. But an alleged visit of the ghost of Rebecca to a testifying relative was admitted as solid evidence in the case. (This was known as Spectral evidence, which was also admissible evidence in the Salem witch trials; the practice was subsequently abandoned.) This case and its history have been chronicled in the book Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell by Elaine Forman Crane.

Portsmouth is the site of an important capture during the American War for Independence. Lieutenant Colonel William Barton of Rhode Island captured British Commander at Rhode Island General Richard Prescott there. It is also the site of Rhode Island's only major battle in that war on Butt's Hill. Nearby Founder's Brook is said to have run red with the blood of fallen British soldiers on August 29, 1778. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was composed mostly of African-American soldiers, and it served in the army of General John Sullivan during the Battle of Rhode Island.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1790 1,560
1800 1,684 7.9%
1810 1,795 6.6%
1820 1,645 −8.4%
1830 1,727 5.0%
1840 1,706 −1.2%
1850 1,833 7.4%
1860 2,048 11.7%
1870 2,003 −2.2%
1880 1,979 −1.2%
1890 1,949 −1.5%
1900 2,105 8.0%
1910 2,681 27.4%
1920 2,590 −3.4%
1930 2,969 14.6%
1940 3,683 24.0%
1950 6,578 78.6%
1960 8,251 25.4%
1970 12,521 51.8%
1980 14,257 13.9%
1990 16,857 18.2%
2000 17,149 1.7%
2010 17,389 1.4%
2020 17,871 2.8%
U.S. Decennial Census

2000 U.S. Census

The 2000 U.S. Census reported that there were 17,149 people, or an increase of 1.7%, residing in the town. There were also 6,758 households, and 4,865 families recorded. The population density was 739.0 people per square mile (285.3/km2). There were 7,386 housing units at an average density of 318.3 per square mile (122.9/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 95.82% White, 1.17% African American, 0.19% Native American, 1.36% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.37% from other races, and 1.05% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.45% of the population.

There were 6,758 households, of which 33.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 61.1% were married couples living together, 8.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.0% were non-families. 23.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.53 and the average family size was 3.00.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 25.2% under the age of 18, 5.0% from 18 to 24, 29.5% from 25 to 44, 26.9% from 45 to 64, and 13.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 96.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.6 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $88,835, and the median income for a family was $108,577. Males had a median income of $46,297 versus $31,745 for females. The per capita income for the town was $46,161. About 2.0% of families and 3.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 2.8% of those under age 18 and 6.4% of those age 65 or over.

2010 U.S. Census

The 2010 U.S. Census reported that there were 17,349 people, or an increase of 1.15%, residing in the town. The racial makeup of the town was 94.57% White, 1.35% African American, 1.58% Asian, 0.21% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 0.04% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 0.40% of some other race, and 1.86% of two or more races.

In the town, 22.98% of the population was under the age of 18 and 16.47% were 65 years of age or older. Females made up 51.03% of the population.

Historic sites


Portsmouth is the headquarters of US Sailing, the national governing body of sailing in the U.S. It is also home to the Newport International Polo Series held at Glen Farm.

Portsmouth High School has very successful football, basketball, baseball and soccer teams. All four are regularly among the top five teams in the state.

Notable people

  • Ade Bethune (died 2002), liturgical artist and Catholic Worker
  • Jeremy Clarke (1605–1652), early settler of Portsmouth, served as second governor of Rhode Island colony
  • Mike Cloud, running back for the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, and New York Giants
  • Thomas Cornell, one of the earliest settlers of Portsmouth and progenitor of Cornell family in America
  • Chris Cosentino, chef and cast member of "The Next Iron Chef"
  • Charlie Day, American actor, screenwriter, producer, comedian, and musician
  • Sarah J. Eddy (1851–1945), American artist, photographer, and suffragist
  • Helen Glover, cast member on Survivor: Thailand and host of the Helen Glover Show on radio
  • Anthony Harkness (1793–1858), businessman and inventor
  • Julia Ward Howe (died 1910), author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"
  • Anne Hutchinson (died 1643), founded colony of Rhode Island in 1638
  • Betty Hutton (died 2007), film actress and singer
  • Patrick Kennedy, U.S. congressman for Rhode Island's First district (1995–2011)
  • Scotty Kilmer, auto mechanic educator followed by millions on Youtube
  • Frances Latham (1610–1677), wife of Governor Jeremy Clarke, early settler of Portsmouth, known as the "mother of governors"
  • Ronald Machtley, U.S. congressman, President of Bryant University
  • Ryan Westmoreland, former baseball player, Boston Red Sox

Images for kids

See also

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