Government Records

The Rhode Island Historical Society no longer actively collects manuscripts and records generated by the federal government, the State of Rhode Island, its five counties or the thirty-nine town governments. However, many of these official records came to the Rhode Island Historical Society in the days before effective public archives were established.

Among the most important federal records at the RIHS Library are extensive Custom House records for the ports of Providence and Bristol/Warren and records of the 1798 Direct Tax for five Rhode Island towns. The most important state collection is probably the Rhode Island State Institutions Records, dealing with inmates at the Howard complex from 1885 to 1944. Town records include an extremely important collection of Providence Town Papers covering from 1636 until the city charter was passed in 1832 and substantial collections from the towns of Cranston, Exeter, Foster, and Warwick.

The Library also holds important military collections of original muster rolls and clothing reports in its Revolutionary War Military Records and Civil War Military Records. There are also records relating to the colonial wars, the War of 1812 and peacetime militia units.

In general, federal records relating to Rhode Island can be obtained through the National Archives and Records Administration, generally at their facilities in either Waltham, Massachusetts or Washington, D.C.

The first place to look for official records generated by the State of Rhode Island is the Rhode Island State Archives, 337 Westminster Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02903. Rhode Island court records are stored at theRhode Island Supreme Court Judicial Records Center, 5 Hill Street, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, 02860.

The most comprehensive access to manuscript materials is through a paper card catalog located in our Reading Room.  A complete listing of our manuscript collections and detailed inventories for many of them are available in the Reading Room. Electronic versions of the detailed inventories are also available through the Master List of Finding Aids page. Please contact the Reference Librarian for more details about the manuscript collections for which there is no detailed inventory available on this website.

Additionally, many personal papers of government officials and employees can be found on the list of personal papers. If you are looking for something in particular, please contact the Reference Librarian so we can consult our extensive catalogs at the library.