Roger Williams--Providence, Rhode Island



From the Massachusetts Bay area, Williams along with some followers traveled into the Narragansett territory, what is today known as Rhode Island. Here he purchased land from the Indians and founded Providence (Winslow 131). The colony was present for a few years without a charter. Without an official claim to the land, there was a fear that others would not acknowledge their claim. So, in 1643, Williams went to England to obtain a charter (Winslow 180-81). When he arrived in England, he looked up the old acquaintances from when he worked at Masham estate (Winslow 180-81). These powerful Puritans in Parliament remembered Roger Williams. Although they may have disagreed with his radical beliefs, they still helped see to it that he received the charter he had come to get. He secured the charter on March 14, 1644, before heading back to Rhode Island (Winslow 180-81).

Rhode Island was a colony where Williams could at least try to put his beliefs and ideas into practice. Before he ever went to get a charter, he worked on setting up a church portraying his Separatist ideas. In 1638, Roger Williams organized such a church. It was the first Baptist church in North America, and Williams was its minister for the first three months (Spear). The church put into practice the Baptist principle of adult baptism. Infant baptism was left behind. You could not become a member of the church based on someone else's membership--you must make that decisions on your own. All the members of the church were rebaptized (Morgan 116). The church was also separated from government affairs. The government had no power to enforce the laws of the First Table (Gaustad 90). These are the first four commandments that while in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Williams argued were of individual conscience and should not be regulated by the government.

Williams was looking for a church to model the original church of Christ. Just as the churches he had been to in the past did not fit this picture, this church--his church--did not fit the image he had of Christ's original church either. Therefore, a few months after starting the church, Williams left the church (Spear). Williams had spent his life up to this point looking for that one true, pure church. He finally resolved that "no church could attain purity in this world," and eventually withdrew from worship with everyone except his wife (Morgan 116). He believed the only way for a church to be pure is if established like the original church by Jesus Christ, himself. Therefore, he decided his search for a pure church would only be fulfilled by waiting for the Second Coming of Christ (Gaustad 92).

Two of the most important guiding principles for Williams' colony were religious freedom/toleration and separation of church and state. In 1644, Roger Williams wrote "The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution," which discussed and promoted the idea of religious freedom. Williams followed this document in 1652, with "The Bloudy Tenent yet More Bloudy," which discussed the second guiding principle--separation of church and state (Shaw). Williams not only wrote about these ideas, but also put them into practice in his colony of Rhode Island.

Rhode Island became known as a haven for religious groups and individuals banished and persecuted elsewhere because of their religious beliefs. Similar to his childhood, Williams once again found himself surrounded by people with differing beliefs from his own. There were several people who looking for religious freedom and toleration found it in Rhode Island. Various divisions of the Baptist religion were among the first religions in this colony. Jews and Quakers also came here to escape religious persecution. After Roger Williams' death other groups such as the Anglicans and the Congregationalists also sought refuge here (Gaustad 175-76). In addition to groups, individuals, such as Anne Hutchinson, who was also banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, found Rhode Island to be a haven for religious toleration as well (Spear). Although, Williams may not have agreed with the beliefs of these differing religions, he welcomed them into his colony, nonetheless.

He also practiced the separation of church and state as can be seen in the lack of government involvement in the church. As stated earlier, the civil government had no power to enforce the First Table.



Life In England

Massachusetts Bay Colony

Impact on America

Bibliography

Roger Williams--His Impact on American Society