Roger Williams--Life in England

Religion was a present and important part of Roger Williams life even in childhood. He was born in England around 1603 to James and Alice Pemberton Williams. Raised during the reign of James I, who promoted the Orthodox Anglican religion, Williams spent the first 2 decades of his life a part of the Church of England. He worshiped locally at St. Sepulchre's Church (Gaustad 5). Even at an early age, Williams was surrounded by people of different religions. The Mother of all Reformed Dutch Churches was very close to his home. There were several French and Dutch refuges who been granted permission to continue worship in their own church. Some of these would most likely have been Williams' playmates. It would not have been difficult to notice these people worshiped differently from the family (Winslow 30). He would later find himself in a similar situation--surrounded by people with varying religious beliefs--while living in the colony of Rhode Island, known for its religious toleration.

When Williams was in his early teens, he was employed by Sir Edward Coke, who was the Chief Justice of the King's Bench. Williams was hired to take notes for Coke during his hearings (Winslow 43). This was an event that would open up several opportunities for Roger Williams. Coke saw to it that Williams was admitted to the Charterhouse School, a grammar school for boys. It was at Charterhouse that Williams was prepared for a life that "enforced quietness and obedience to rigid discipline," where the "tone of life was religious," and the attitude of the scholar was one of receptivity (Winslow 51-55). Williams would later go against all these principles except living a religious life.

On June 29, 1623, he was admitted to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge University, which was known as "strongly Anglican, strictly orthodox and anti-Puritan." Throughout the years he spent here, his ". . .unorthodox views would develop against the current rather than with it, and his convictions possibly grow more muscular in consequence" (Winslow 57). Being in a place where his views did not always coincide with those around him would serve as a preview of years to come. The majority of his adult life would be spent around people with whom he disagreed.

He graduated from Cambridge in 1627, and was ordained in the Church of England in 1628 (Shaw). He then became chaplain to the Masham household in Essex County. It was there that several interesting things happened. He came to know John Winthrop, who he would later be reacquainted with in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and many powerful Puritan leaders in Parliament (Winslow 74). It would be these same Puritan leaders that he would revisit later in life when he wanted to get a charter from the English Parliament for his colony of Rhode Island. It was this time in Essex County, surrounded by so many Puritan leaders that Williams' own Puritan beliefs came to light. He became convinced in the beliefs of separation of church and state and the "pure saints" complete separation from the established church (Winslow 90). While in Essex County, Williams also met his future wife, Mary Barnard. They were married in December of 1629 (Gaustad 19).

1629 was a year of political unrest for Puritans. Charles I was now ruling England, and he showed the Puritans residing there little respect (Gaustad 19). He even went so far as to dismiss Parliament. Several Puritan leaders sided with the people against this autocratic king. Puritans in England, who had not fled earlier, were now looking for a way to escape this persecution. Roger and Mary Williams' escape came through the colonization of the Massachusetts Bay area in America. England was looking for settlers for their New England colonies and so they granted a charter to a group of Puritans. Williams did not go over with the first group of settlers. When he had been married for around a year, he and his wife were on the Lyon sailing for America (Gaustad 20, 22).

Massachusetts Bay Colony

Providence, Rhode Island

Impact on America


Roger Williams--His Influence on American Society