The land that became the English colony was first home to the Narragansett Indians, which led to the name of the modern town of Narragansett, Rhode Island. European settlement began around 1622 with a trading post at Sowams, now the town of Warren, Rhode Island.
Roger Williams was a Puritan theologian and linguist who founded Providence Plantations in 1636 on land given to him by Narragansett sachem Canonicus. He was exiled under religious persecution from the Massachusetts Bay Colony; he and his fellow settlers agreed on an egalitarian constitution providing for majority rule "in civil things," with liberty of conscience on spiritual matters. He named the settlement Providence Plantation, believing that God had brought them there. (The term "plantation" was used in the 17th century as a synonym for "settlement" or "colony.") Williams named the islands in the Narragansett Bay after Christian virtues: Patience, Prudence, and Hope Islands.
In 1637, another group of Massachusetts dissenters purchased land from the Indians on Aquidneck Island, which was called Rhode Island at the time, and they established a settlement called Pocasset. The group included William Coddington, John Clarke, and Anne and William Hutchinson, among others. That settlement, however, quickly split into two separate settlements. Samuel Gorton and others remained to establish the settlement of Portsmouth (which formerly was Pocasset) in 1638, while Coddington and Clarke established nearby Newport in 1639. Both settlements were situated on Rhode Island (Aquidneck).
The second plantation settlement on the mainland was Samuel Gorton's Shawomet Purchase from the Narragansetts in 1642. As soon as Gorton settled at Shawomet, however, the Massachusetts Bay authorities laid claim to his territory and acted to enforce their claim. After considerable difficulties with the Massachusetts Bay General Court, Gorton traveled to London to enlist the help of Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, head of the Commission for Foreign Plantations. Gorton returned in 1648 with a letter from Rich, ordering Massachusetts to cease molesting him and his people. In gratitude, he changed the name of Shawomet Plantation to Warwick.