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Facts about Exeter

Exeter is a unique and picturesque rural town in Washington County, in southwestern Rhode Island. It is the second largest municipality in Rhode Island in area with 57.6 square miles, and the 32nd largest in population as of the 2000 US Census, with 6,045 residents.
The Narragansett Indians were the earliest inhabitants of this area. In 1657, the eastern end of Exeter was part of the Pettaquamscutt Purchase from the Narragansetts. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, colonists began to establish farms and homesteads, and on 8 March 1742 Exeter was incorporated as a town by the Rhode Island General Assembly. By 1790, there were 2,581 residents
During the early decades of the 1800's, Exeter flourished as farmers grew Indian corn, rye and oats and established dairy farms. Villages grew up around the rivers and streams, providing power for cotton manufacturing, a woolen factory, a clothier's works, a nail factory, a flannel mill, a denim mill, saw mills, and grist mills. Stores, blacksmith shops, taverns, inns, a tannery, schools, a library, a bank and churches were all established. Late in the 19th century, however, the villages began to decline, and the US Census of 1910 shows only 778 residents remaining in Exeter.

At the present time, Exeter is an attractive rural community, with gentle hills and valleys, thick woodlands, much wildlife, clear waterways, and a vibrant, community-oriented population.


The chart below illustrates the rise and fall in population over the past 300 years of Exeter history.