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Rhode Island-Massachusetts State Boundary records

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 1994-464-C#00439-C#00444-C#00445

Scope and Contents

This series includes records relating to boundary issues between Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including the work of various boundary commissions formed to address the issue.


  • 1867-1954

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

No special restrictions unless otherwise specified.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is in the public domain unless otherwise specified. We reserve the right to restrict reproduction of materials due to preservation concerns.

Biographical / Historical

This sub-group group brings together records created by various commissions, legislative committees, interstate groups and other bodies formed to address outstanding boundary issues between Rhode Island and Massachusetts from the colonial era to the twentieth century.

Writing in 1974, one author declared that the boundary between Rhode Island and Massachusetts "was in some respects the most remarkable boundary question with which the country has had to deal." (Franklin van Zandt, Boundaries of the United States and Several States (Washington: Department of the Interior, 1975: 66.) The dispute, which lasted some two hundred years, went to the Supreme Court twice (1832-1846 and 1860-1861). Both states filed bills of equity with the Supreme Court in 1852, and after more surveying and negotiation, a decree was issued on December 16, 1861 and a Supreme Court ruling became effective on March 1, 1862. Agreements established by committees in 1711 and 1718 were disputed, and bodies were formed throughout the next centuries to re-visit the question. At times, Rhode Island tried to run lines but could get no agreement on its work from Massachusetts. The disagreement covered the entire area from the Atlantic Ocean to Connecticut.

The conflict initially arose partly from the fact that Rhode Island succeeded in getting a royal charter defining its boundaries from King Charles II in 1663, and Massachusetts could not. In addition, vaguely worded agreements with Native American tribes, inadequate geodetic methodologies of the time, the shifting landscape and displaced markings and monuments over time, the boundaries between Rhode Island its neighbor states may have been a source of contention, investigation, and negotiation from the eighteenth to well into the twentieth century.

Rhode Island's borders were first defined in 1641 and then affirmed by the Royal Charter of 1663. Since then different portions of the line have been re-examined, adjusted and re-affirmed by various bodies.


.72 Cubic Feet (3 volumes (C#00439) and 36 items (1994-464))


A collection of documents spanning nearly 200 years concerned with the boundary between RI and MA. These documents were brought together into bound volumes (C#00439) arranged chronologically by the date of the documents. Type of documents vary greatly. Included are: orders of the King in Council, acts of the General Assemblies of RI and MA, documents from court cases concerning the boundary, Supreme Court Decisions, measurements taken along the boundary, expense accounts of surveyors, appointments of commissioners to investigate the boundary dispute, correspondence.

Additional records (1994-464) include boundary commission reports spanning the colonial period up to the twentieth century.

Rhode Island Digital Archives


No accruals are anticipated at this time.

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Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Rhode Island State Archives Repository

33 Broad Street
Providence RI 02903 USA