Roger Williams

"Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, was born in Wales in 1599. No allusion to his parents has been found in any historical writings. He removed to London, where he obtained employment as a reporter and attracted the attention of the eminent lawyer, Sir Edward Coke, who sent him in 1621 to Button's Hospital (now Charter House), and later to Pembroke College, Cambridge (according to some authorities to the University of Oxford), where he was graduated, B.A., 1627. He studied law, and later theology, and was admitted to orders in the Church of England, assuming charge of a parish.

To escape the tyranny of Bishop William Laud of London, he embarked for America with his wife, Mary, in the ship Lyon, arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, February 5, 1631. He succeeded the Reverend Francis Higginson, as teacher in the church at Salem, Massachusetts, April 12, 1631, but owing to his having been called by the church contrary to the advice of the magistrates, severed his connection "for the sake of peace" in the following August, and was established in Plymouth, Massachusetts, as assistant to the Reverend Ralph Smith, working also among the Indians, whose language he acquired.

He returned to Salem in 1633 as assistant to the Reverend Skelton, whom he succeeded as minister of the church. His publicly stated opinion that "a magistrate ought not to tender an oath to an unregenerated man" led to a trial before the court of Massachusetts in April, 1635, by which he was convicted. This action led to four further accusations, viz.: that the colonists did not hold their land "by patent from the king," but that it was rightly the property of the natives; that it was "not lawful to call a wicked person to swear or to pray, as being actions of God's worship;" nor "to hear any of the ministers of the parish assemblies in England," and finally that the civil magistrates" power extended only "to the bodies, and goods, and outward state of man."

A second trial followed in July, by which, together with his church, he was given time to reconsider his opinions until the next session of the court. Meanwhile a violent controversy had been going on, and at his final trial Williams was sentenced on October 8, 1635, to leave the colony within six weeks, but failed to comply, and in January, 1636, a vessel was sent to Salem under Captain Underhill, who was ordered to seize him and take him back to England. Williams, however, escaped, and after a tedious journey settled first at Seekonk (now Rehoboth) Massachusetts, where he built a cabin on ground obtained from the Indian Massasoit.

In the following June, with five companions, he commenced a settlement on the banks of the Mooshausick River, Rhode Island, naming the place Providence, out of gratitude for his deliverance. Here, having purchased land from the Indians, he formed a colony upon the principle of "entire liberty of conscience," and in 1639 founded the religious organization afterward known as the First Baptist Church of Providence, but with which he soon severed his own connection, believing Baptism unavailing unless administered by an apostle; he continued, however, to preach the Gospel.

Upon the claim of the Massachusetts authorities to the new settlement in Rhode Island, he visited England in 1643, returning the next year with the Charter of Rhode Island, dated, March 14, 1644. He was influential in securing peace between the Narragansetts and Mohegans in 1645; declined the office of deputy-president of the colony, 1649; visited England a second time, 1651-54, and upon his return was made president or Governor of the colony, which position he held until 1658.

He served as an assistant of Governor Benedict Arnold under Rhode Island’s new charter, 1663 (which charter was unchanged until 1842); was a commissioner to settle the eastern boundary question, 1663; and subsequently held various public offices; being commissioned captain of militia in King Philip’s War, although his advanced age prevented his active service on the field.

His extensive bibliography, published almost entirely in London, includes: A Key into the Language of America (1643); Mr. Cotton's Letter, Examined and Answered (1644); The Bloody Tenant of Persecution for Cause of Conscience (1644); Queries of Highest Consideration (1644); The Bloody Tenant yet more Bloody (1652); Hireling Ministry None of Christ's (1652); Experiments of Spiritual Life and Health (1652). and George Fox digg’d out of his Burrowes, being his famous debate with the Quakers, Boston (1676). 
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The precise date of his death, which probably occurred at Providence, is not known, but it must have been early in 1683. His name is perpetuated in Roger Williams Park, Providence, Rhode Island, a part his original estate, which was bequeathed to the city by his direct descendent, Betsey Williams, on condition that the descendants of Roger Williams should be allowed sepulture in the old family burying ground; and a monument of Roger Williams, also a condition of the will, was dedicated, October 16, 1877.

 

— Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States, 1900 (edited)

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