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.
For a history of the boundary dispute up to the 1840s, see Report of the Joint Committee Upon the Boundary Line between the States of Rhode-Island and Massachusetts. Made to the the legislature of Rhode Island. Printed in Rhode island Acts, Resolves and Reports. (January 1849).