Roger Williams--Massachusetts Bay Colony

Williams arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in February of 1631. He arrived just as the minister of the Boston Church, John Wilson, was going to England to get his wife and bring her to America (Morgan 103). Williams was offered the job while he was gone, but declined because the church had not completely separated from the Church of England (Winslow 96).

This was a time when his Separatists ideas came into view. He believed it necessary for "pure saints" to completely withdraw from the Church of England. Others, such as John Winthrop, did not feel this way. Winthrop struggled with his decision to leave England. Finally deciding to do so, he did it with the intention of forming a purer version of the Church of England, set an example to be followed, but never intending for complete separation. Williams, however, apparently felt no attachment to the Church of England and had no struggle with whether or not to leave. Though considered radical by others, it was his belief that "one could not be both in the Church of England and at the same time busily engaged in its undoing" (Gaustad 25). If you were trying to change it, ou could no longer be a part of it. He simply refused to be a part of a church who did not profess complete separation. Others could not agree with this radical idea because how could they profess to separate completely from the Church of England when it was England who controlled the charter to their colony? They also did not want to feel as if they were giving up on the church in England, just trying to show them how it was to be done..

Not finding a pure enough church in Boston, Williams traveled to Salem. The church in Salem also offered him the position of Teacher, which he accepted (Winslow 100). John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was worried of what Williams may be teaching complete separation from the Church of England. Upon discussing his concerns with the church, the church in Salem withdrew their offer. Williams then decided to travel to Plymouth (Morgan 106). Williams moved around a great deal trying to find a place where he and his beliefs would be welcome. For a while it seemed Plymouth might be the place. The Pilgrims seem to have shared his Separatist ideas and even made him assistant to the pastor (Winslow 100). Things did not stay this way for long, however. Williams soon realized the believers in Plymouth were not as separated as he had first thought them to be, so once again, he left and headed back to Salem (Morgan 106-107).

It was at this time that Williams began to get himself into even more trouble. Along with speaking out against the impurity of the church, he also began to publicly speak of other disagreements he had with the government of the colony. "He challenged their right to regulate religious matters, questioned the validity of the Massachusetts Bay charter, and asserted that the appropriation of land from Native Americans was illegal" (Microsoft Encarta). He began his disagreements with the belief that the land occupied by the colony did not really belong to the colony. He felt the land belonged to the Native Americans, and since the king had made no effort to purchase the land form the Indians, legally speaking the land did not belong to the colony (Morgan 107-108). In addition to these arguments, Williams also argued the civil government should be kept separate from the state. He questioned the political order's rights to regulate and enforce laws of the First Table, which are the first four commandments. These commandments deal with having only one God, having no idols, not misusing the Lord's name, and keeping the Sabbath. Williams felt these were commandments directed toward individuals, unlike the Second Table commandments, which if broken would affect more than just the individual. If you steal or murder, someone else is involved. The individual, alone, was affected y either obeying or disobeying the commandments of the First Table, however, not the government. Therefore, the government had no place in trying to enforce or regulate these laws. He said the issues addressed in these commandments were "matters for the individual conscience" (Gaustad 26).

These outspoken beliefs resulted in Williams being called before the General Court. The charges that were brought against him were as follows: "his new and dangerous opinions, in particular his denial of the magistrates' authority in religious matters, and his seditious letters, one in the name of the Salem church attacking the General Court, and the second to the Salem church urging their separation from the other churches of the colony" (Morgan 113). Because of the charges brought against him, Roger Williams found himself banished from the colony in 1635.


Providence, Rhode Island

Impact on America


Roger Williams--His Impact on American Society