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Friday, June 19, 2015

Roger Williams - The Founder of Freedom of Religion in America

Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, led the way for the United States to become a nation that allowed freedom of religion and was free from the tyranny of religious persecution.

Williams was born in London in 1603. While he was young, he saw numerous burning at the stake of Puritans and heretics which later influenced his freedom of religion views. In 1630, his controversial views became a source of contention, and he escaped to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631.

He preached first in Plymouth then in Salem, but his sermons went against Puritan doctrine. He preached that the king of England had no right to give away Native American land or to force people to hold certain religious beliefs. In the Bloody Tenet of Persecution, Williams argued against doctrines that permitted religious persecution.

The Puritans had decided to banish Williams and send him back to England. But he knew that persecution for his beliefs awaited him there. So he escaped the colony in the middle of one of the coldest winters in Massachusetts. He survived because he was befriended by local Native Americans near Narragansett Bay.


Williams purchased the land from the Narragansett Chiefs and named is settlement Providence in thanks to God. Later his settlement grew to encompass the colony of Rhode Island. To protect the land, he also gained a charter from England.

Providence and Rhode Island’s charters were the first to allow freedom of religion. Because of this, many Jews and Quakers made their way there. Later Williams founded the first Baptist church in North America.

Roger Williams died at Providence in 1684, but his descendants continued to establish Rhode Island as a colony and state that allowed people freedom of worship and religion that became a cornerstone for the United States of America.

2 comments:

  1. Williams was an odd duck all the way around. He be-bopped from one denomination to the next, pretty much honking off everyone along the way. He remained devout - in his own way - yet chartered the only American colony that didn't recognize or honor God in their charter. They say genius and crazy are only a hair apart, and that pretty much sums up Roger Williams. Fascinating man.

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  2. My ancestor Shadrach (also spelled Sydrach) Williams is supposed to be Roger Williams' brother. So when I learned that in the Williams genealogy I started reading up on Roger. Some of what Pegg said, above, was pretty much reported in the biographies at our library. One funny genealogical note - one person in VA. doing the research indicated they couldn't prove that Shadrach was in the colonies at that time but I found a record of him conducting business in Yorktown in one of our local library's record books in the genealogy room! Roger Williams was a man of great conviction and with that comes a certain temperament that is bound to irritate people.

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