The Civil War in Rhode IslandIn February 1784 the Rhode Island Legislature passed a compromise measure for gradual emancipation of slaves within Rhode Island. All children of slaves born after March 1 were to be "apprentices," the girls to become free at 18, the boys at 21. By 1840, the census reported only five negro slaves in Rhode Island but Rhode Island manufactured numerous textiles using cotton from the southern slave states and continued to deal in slave trading.
Rhode Island became a hotbed for abolitionists in the years just prior to the war and when the war came eighteen units were formed for the Union. Rhode Island furnished 25,236 fighting men, of which 1,685 died. For all their rhetoric, this represents 6.7% of their men killed as compared to South Carolina's 28.5% killed in the war.
After the war, in 1866, Rhode Island abolished racial segregation throughout the state, but racial tensions simmered just below the surface. While thousands of immigrants were welcomed from England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Quebec, Southern and Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean, negroes were not welcome. Ku Klux Klan membership surged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries largely among the native-born white population. The Klan is believed to be responsible for burning the Watchman Industrial School in Scituate, Rhode Island, which was a school for negro children.