- Occupation: Minister and statesman
- Born: 1603 in London, England
- Died: 1683 in Providence, Rhode Island
- Best known for: Founding the colony of Providence Plantation which became Rhode Island
Roger Williams was born in 1603 in London, England. His father, James, was a merchant tailor. Roger received a quality education first at Charter House school and then at Cambridge University. He was an excellent student known for his gift with languages.
Moving to America
After leaving Cambridge, Roger became a minister. He had become a Puritan while attending Cambridge. The Puritans wanted to reform the Church of England. Rogers views on religion made him unpopular in England. He decided to move to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America in 1631, a year after the colony had first been established.
About the time Roger set sail for America, his views on religion had changed somewhat. He now believed that the Church of England could not be reformed. He wanted to separate from the Church of England. This view was called Separatism.
In addition to Separatism, Roger had some other ideas that were considered radical for his day. He believe that individuals should have total freedom of religion. This was radical in that the Puritans moved to America so that they could practice their own form of religion, but didn't want other forms of religion practiced. Roger also felt that the government should be separate from religion. A very radical idea for the times.
Exile from Massachusetts
Williams' ideas got him into trouble with the church in Massachusetts. He became friends with the local Native Americans and began to speak out against the rights of the English king to own land in the Americas. This talk against the king was the final straw. In 1636, the court of Massachusetts ordered that Williams be exiled from the colony for spreading "new and dangerous opinions."
Williams and several of his followers established the city of Providence in June of 1636. This new settlement was ruled by a majority vote of the citizens. However, the rules and laws only applied to "civil" issues and not to religion. People were allowed freedom of worship and religion. Providence became a popular place for people seeking religious freedom from Massachusetts.
A few years after Williams established Providence, another religious leader from Massachusetts, Anne Hutchinson, established the settlement of Portsmouth not far from Providence. In 1644, Williams travelled to England and secured a charter that united Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport into the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation.
Williams died in Providence, Rhode Island sometime during the winter of 1683.
Interesting Facts about Roger Williams
- Historians are unsure as to the exact birth date of Roger Williams. His birth records were destroyed in the Great Fire of London.
- He married Mary Barnard in 1629. They had six children including three sons and three daughters.
- He spent his first winter in exile living with the local Wampanoag peoples who gave him food and shelter.
- Although Williams did not belong to an organized church, he was a deeply religious Christian.
- Williams' house burnt down along with the city of Providence when Native Americans attacked the city during King Philip's War.
To learn more about Colonial America:
History >> Colonial America >> Biography