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Washington County, Rhode Island facts for kids

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Washington County
Former Washington County Courthouse in West Kingston
Former Washington County Courthouse in West Kingston
Map of Rhode Island highlighting Washington County
Location within the U.S. state of Rhode Island
Map of the United States highlighting Rhode Island
Rhode Island's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  Rhode Island
Founded June 3, 1729
Named for George Washington
Seat West Kingston
Largest town South Kingstown
 • Total 563 sq mi (1,460 km2)
 • Land 329 sq mi (850 km2)
 • Water 234 sq mi (610 km2)  41%%
 • Total 129,839
 • Density 230.62/sq mi (89.04/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 2nd

Washington County, known locally as South County, is a county located in the U.S. state of Rhode Island. As of the 2020 census, the population was 129,839. Rhode Island counties have no governmental functions other than as court administrative and sheriff corrections boundaries, which are part of the state government.


Washington County was created from Providence Plantations in 1729 as Kings County. It was renamed Washington County on October 29, 1781, in honor of General and President Washington.

At the earliest stage of colonial settlement, the area was called "The Narragansett Country", named after the Algonquin tribe of the same name and its tributary tribe the (Eastern) Niantics, whose territory it was, and these held power in the area long after the Wampanoags to the east had lost most of their territory to the Plymouth Colony. (The Algonquin Nipmucs may have held a piece of what is today the westernmost part of the town of Hopkinton.)

Early land purchases in the Narragansett Country were effected by Dutch and English settlers after the establishment of Indian trading posts at Fort Neck, today's town of Charlestown by the Dutch, and at "Smith's Castle", Cocumcussoc, now Wickford, in today's North Kingstown, and these were most notably the so-called "Atherton Purchases" North Kingstown, Quidnesset, and of the Boston Neck area of Narragansett; and the somewhat-conflicting "Pettaquamscutt Purchase" of the rest of North and South Kingstown, Narragansett, and parts of Exeter. Subsequent purchases including the "Misquamicut Purchase" brought in area now part of Richmond, Hopkinton and Westerly. A series of conflicts involving the Manisseans on Block Island gave that island to the Massachusetts Bay Colony for a number of years, before being transferred to the Rhode Island Colony under Newport County, and then finally to Washington County in 1959.

Holding claims to "South County" from the beginning of the Colonial period were two sovereign nations, the Netherlands and Great Britain, and no less than four colonies: Connecticut Colony, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, and Rhode Island Colony. Since the Narragansetts had pledged their fealty to King Charles, the area was styled "The King's Province", and was placed under the authority of Rhode Island "until the King's pleasure was further known". In 1664 a royal commission under Charles II stepped in to adjudicate these conflicting land claims over the so-called Narragansett Country. The commission extinguished the claims of Massachusetts, and Rhode Island was granted jurisdiction until the commission finished processing Connecticut's appeals, which were not ended until 1726. Settlements of King's Province were named to reflect the English Restoration, in honor of King Charles II. Modern towns reflecting this history include the two Kingstowns and Charlestown, as well as the villages of Kingston and West Kingston. Washington County had been named "King's County" until the American Revolution, when it was renamed after George Washington.


Downtown Westerly, RI
Historic Downtown Westerly, Rhode Island

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 563 square miles (1,460 km2), of which 329 square miles (850 km2) is land and 234 square miles (610 km2) (41%) is water. It is the largest county in Rhode Island by total area and the smallest county in the US that is a state's largest county. The county's topography ranges from flat along the shoreline to gently rolling hills further inland. The highest point is a large area approximately 560 feet (171 m) in the Exeter neighborhood of Black Plain; the lowest point is sea level along the coast. The northern boundary, west of Davisville, is approximately 41.60°N. The western boundary, north of Westerly, is approximately -71.79°W. It is the least-densely populated county in Rhode Island.

National protected areas


Historical population
Census Pop.
1790 18,323
1800 16,135 −11.9%
1810 14,962 −7.3%
1820 15,687 4.8%
1830 15,411 −1.8%
1840 14,324 −7.1%
1850 16,430 14.7%
1860 18,715 13.9%
1870 20,097 7.4%
1880 22,495 11.9%
1890 23,649 5.1%
1900 24,154 2.1%
1910 24,942 3.3%
1920 24,932 0.0%
1930 29,334 17.7%
1940 32,493 10.8%
1950 48,542 49.4%
1960 59,054 21.7%
1970 83,586 41.5%
1980 93,317 11.6%
1990 110,006 17.9%
2000 123,546 12.3%
2010 126,979 2.8%
2020 129,839 2.3%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2019

As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 126,979 people, 49,177 households, and 32,297 families residing in the county. The population density was 385.7 inhabitants per square mile (148.9/km2). There were 62,206 housing units at an average density of 188.9 per square mile (72.9/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 93.8% white, 1.6% Asian, 1.2% black or African American, 0.9% American Indian, 0.7% from other races, and 1.8% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 2.4% of the population.

The largest ancestry groups were:

  • 27.8% Irish
  • 21.4% Italian
  • 19.9% English
  • 11.4% French
  • 10.8% German
  • 4.9% Portuguese
  • 4.8% Polish
  • 4.3% French Canadian
  • 3.5% Scottish
  • 2.9% Swedish
  • 2.7% American
  • 2.5% Scotch-Irish
  • 1.4% Russian

Of the 49,177 households, 28.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.2% were married couples living together, 9.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 34.3% were non-families, and 26.1% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 2.95. The median age was 42.3 years.

The median income for a household in the county was $70,285 and the median income for a family was $87,999. Males had a median income of $59,598 versus $44,851 for females. The per capita income for the county was $34,737. About 3.4% of families and 7.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.3% of those under age 18 and 5.0% of those age 65 or over.


Map of Washington County Rhode Island With Municipal Labels
Map of Washington County, Rhode Island showing towns, census-designated places, and Narragansett tribal lands


Census-designated places

Other villages

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