Roger Williams

Statue of Roger Williams
Statue of Roger Williams. Public Domain. Attributed to: Bill Price III.


Roger Williams


c. 1603


? March 1683

Early Life:

Roger Williams was born in London, England the son of a merchant tailor. While growing up, there were numerous burnings at the stake of heretics in the nearby village of Smithfield. This probably influenced his view on religious tolerance and was later to become central to his efforts in America. He went to Pembroke College at Cambridge University and graduated in 1627.

After graduation from Cambridge he took a position as a chaplain to a wealthy family and married Mary Barnard in 1629.

Religious Freedom and America:

Roger Williams had controversial view on religious freedom. These views alienated him from the Church of England and he made the decision leave. Roger Williams and his wife Mary arrived in Boston in 1631.

Over the next few years he spent his time in the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a preacher. He spent time in Salem and Plymouth espousing his views from the pulpit. However, his views were also not consistent with the structured views of the Puritans. In 1635, the Puritans had finally had enough of Roger Williams and had decided to deport him from the colony.

Banishment from the Massachusetts Bay Colony:

On October 7, 1635, Roger Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his beliefs in the freedom of religion and the need for separation of Church and State.

He was supposed to return to England but instead fled to the wilderness where he lived amongst the Narragansett Indians.

A New Colony:

Roger Williams developed a peaceful relationship with the local Indians and soon purchased land from them in order to form his own colony and named it Providence. His new colony was founded on the twin principals of religious freedom and separation of church and state.

The colony soon became a haven for Baptists, Quakers, and other religious groups seeking to worship in their own way.

With the growth of his new colony he became concerned that his new colony would be taken over by the nearby colonies. He therefore travelled back to England in an effort to obtain a colonial charter. He was first granted the Charter in 1643. During this time he wrote a Key into the Languages of America which made him the leading expert on the American Indians in the eyes of many. However, in 1651 he felt the need to have the Charter confirmed and travelled to England once again. However, he travelled home before he could obtain the Charter because of family concerns.   The Royal Charter was finally granted in 1663. In the intervening years he acted as the governor of the colony from 1654 to 1658. He also later witnessed the destruction of Providence during King Phillips War, 1675-1676. However, he also was able to see the rebuilding and continued growth of the colony until his death in 1683.

Historical Significance of Roger Williams:

In 1636, Roger Williams founded the colony of Rhode Island on the premise of separation of church and state. This colony was the first to guarantee freedom of worship for all its citizens.

His staunch views on religious freedom heavily influenced the ‘Founding Fathers’ in the next century when they were establishing a new nation..

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Your Citation
Kelly, Martin. "Roger Williams." ThoughtCo, Dec. 31, 2015, Kelly, Martin. (2015, December 31). Roger Williams. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Roger Williams." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 24, 2017).