Childhood & Early Life
Roger Williams was born in 1603 in London, England, to, James Williams and Alice Williams
He took up an apprenticeship under a famous English jurist who financed his education at ‘Charterhouse School’. Much to his father’s disapproval, he was pious from a very young age and took his holy orders at the ‘Church of England’ while still a student.
In 1627, he graduated from ‘Pembroke College, Cambridge’ with a ‘Bachelor of Arts’ degree in 1627 and became a Puritan during his time in college. Thereafter, he served as a chaplain to politician, Sir William Masham.
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By 1629, Roger Williams had learnt that the New World was welcoming many Puritan immigrants. By December 1630, he had become a Separatist, and he and his wife boarded a ship to the New World.
In early 1631, he was offered a post in the Boston church but he turned it down because his beliefs of individual freedom in religious matters, separation of church and state, and separatism did not align with the Boston church’s beliefs.
He was then given an offer to teach at the Salem church, which also favoured Separatism, but on protests of the Boston leaders, the offer was rescinded.
By September 1631, he relocated to Plymouth to become a minister’s assistant. There, he befriended the Narragansett Indians and questioned the colonial charters of illegitimately taking lands from the Native people. His strong opinions caused a rift between him and the church.
In 1632, he publicly criticised King James’ charters in a tract calling out his blatant lies and false claims to the Native people’s lands.
In September 1633, he went back to Salem to assist Rev. Samuel Skelton. In December, while on trial for his controversial tract, he openly chided King James for proclaiming that ‘unoccupied’ land in the New World was free for the taking, and not paying the Native Indians for their lands.
In 1634, he was appointed as the ‘acting pastor’ of Salem church. In 1635, the court sentenced him to be banished from the colonies on the conviction of heresy and sedition, but it was delayed due to the oncoming winter and his ill-health. He continued to preach to his loyal followers in the privacy of his house.
In January 1636 , he fled from Salem, walking 55 miles in a blizzard, where the Native people, Wampanoags, sheltered him. In spring, he and his followers met the Narragansett Indians who sold them their land on which was established the colony of ‘Providence Plantations’ that became a refuge for dissenters.
In 1637, he assisted Dr. John Clarke, a Baptist minister, in purchasing another piece of land from the Narragansetts and founded the colony at Rhode Island.
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In 1638, he was baptised by Ezekiel Holliman and co-founded the ‘First Baptist Church’ in America with Dr. John Clarke. He was interested in the Baptists and their causes, but did not have strong affiliations with any church.
During the Pequot War of 1636-38, he assisted his former persecutors, the Massachusetts Bay colonists, and even got them the alliance of the Narragansett Indians against the Pequot tribe.
In 1639, he briefly became an ‘Anabaptist’, but soon became a ‘Seeker’ and a believer in ‘Calvinist theology’.
By 1640, Providence had become the first settlement to have religious liberty, separation of church and state, and democracy by majority.
In 1643, the erstwhile Massachusetts Bay colonies tried to eliminate the heretic settlements of Narragansett Bay by joint military force, which forced Williams to secure a colonial charter from England.
In 1644, fighting all opposition, he succeeded in securing the charter for ‘Providence Plantations’ and went back to New England.
In 1647, after much negotiation, he united the four towns of Narragansett Bay to form the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations that soon became a refuge for people who were persecuted for their religious beliefs.
In 1651, on a disagreement with Roger Williams, one of Rhode Island co-founders, William Coddington, got a charter making him ‘Governor for life’ of two islands. His opponents in the colonies forced Williams to travel to England at a great personal cost get the charter revoked.
In 1652, Roger Williams supported the passage of the law to prevent slavery in Providence Plantations.
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In 1654, he returned from England with the revoked Coddington charter and was promptly elected President of the colony, a post that he held for the rest of his life.
From 1675–76, during King Philip's War, the ageing Williams witnessed the burning of his own house along with the rest of Providence.
In 1643, Roger published his first book ‘A Key into the Language of America’, which was an instant bestseller. It gave the English an insight into the culture and daily life of Native Americans and is widely regarded as the first dictionary of any Native American language.
In July 1644, he published his most famous and sensational book ‘The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution’ and is regarded as the best books for the ‘Liberty of conscience’ cause.
In 1652, he published ‘The Bloody Tenent yet more Bloudy’ in response to Massachusetts Bay Colony theologian, John Cotton’s 1647 book ‘Bloudy Tenent, Washed’.
A mysterious 234-page book written by him is housed in the ‘John Carter Brown Library’ of ‘Brown University’ and is known as ‘Roger Williams Mystery Book’.
Family & Personal Life
In 1629, Roger Williams married a noted Puritan preacher’s daughter, Mary Bernard, in England.
All his six children: Mary, Freeborn, Providence, Mercy, Daniel, and Joseph, were born in America
He is believed to have died between January 27 and March 15, 1683, and was buried on his property in Providence.