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WILLIAMS, Roger, founder of Rhode Island, born in Wales in 1599; died in Rhode Island early in 1683. Little is known of his family or his early life. He seems to have been employed in some capacity by the great lawyer Sir Edward Coke, who placed him at the Charterhouse school in 1621, and afterward at Pembroke college, Cambridge, where he took a degree. He was admitted to orders in the Church of England, but soon became the friend and companion of John Cotton and Thomas Hooker, and adopted the most advanced views of the puritan party, He embarked at Bristol, 1 December, 1630, in and on 5 February, 1631, arrived at Boston. He had then been recently married, but of his wife's earn history very little is known. He was distinguished as an eloquent preacher and ripe scholar, and soon after his arrival in Massachusetts he was invited to the church at Salem, as assistant to the pastor, Mr. Skelton. But rumors of his heretical opinions were already abroad. It was said that. he had declared the ministers at Boston blameworthy for not formally proclaiming their penitence for ever having lived in communion with the Church of England, and that he denied the right of magistrates to inflict punishment for Sabbath-breaking, or "any other offence that was a breach of the first table." In spite of opposition based upon these charges, Mr. Williams was settled, 12 April, 1631, as assistant or teacher in the Salem church. But he found his position there so uncomfortable that before the end of the summer he thought it best to seek shelter under the more tolerant jurisdiction of the Plymouth colony. At Plymouth he was settled in August, 1631, as assistant to the pastor, Ralph Smith. Here he made his first acquaintance with the chiefs of the Wampanoags and Narragansetts, and. being an excellent linguist, soon learned to talk in the language of these Indians. About this time he was first suspected of the "heresy. of Anabaptism." For such an aggressive and vigorous thinker the field of action at Plymouth seemed too narrow, and in 1633 he returned to Salem, followed by several members of the congregation who had become devotedly attached to him. In 1634 he was settled as pastor of the church in Salem. There he soon got into trouble by denying the validity of the charter granted in 1629 by Charles I. to the Company of Massachusetts Bay. He maintained that the land belonged to the Indians, and not to the king of England, who therefore had no right to give it away. The promulgation of this view seemed dangerous to the founders of Massachusetts, who were in many ways incurring the risk of arousing the hostility of the king, and were therefore anxious to avoid offending him on such a point as this. It was likely to be interpreted in England as indicating an intention on the part of the settlers of Massachusetts to throw off their allegiance, and accordingly they hastened to condemn Mr. Williams and his views. This purely political question was complicated with disputes arising from Mr. Williams's advanced opinions on toleration. He maintained that " no human power had the right to intermeddle in matters of conscience: and that neither church nor state, neither bishop nor king, may prescribe the smallest iota of religious faith." For this, he maintained, "man is responsible to God alone." He also denounced the law requiring every man to contribute to the support of the church, and he doubted the right of the colony to administer the so-called " freeman's oath," which was virtually a transfer of allegiance from King Charles to the government of Massachusetts. The ministers, with his friends, Cotton and Hooker at their head, sent a committee to Salem to censure him; but he denied their spiritual jurisdiction, and declared his determination to "remove the yoke of soul-oppression." In July, 1635, he was summoned before the general court at Boston to answer to charges of heresy. In October he was ordered to quit the colony within six weeks, but permission was presently granted for him to remain until spring. It was then reported that many people in Salem, "taken with an apprehension of his godliness," repaired to his house for religious instruction, and that they meditated withdrawing from Massachusetts and founding a colony upon Narragansett bay, in which the principle of religious toleration should be strictly upheld. To prevent this movement, it was decided to send him back to England. He was again summoned to Boston, but refused to obey the summons, whereupon the magistrates sent to Salem a warrant for his arrest. He suspected what was coming, and left his home just before the officers arrived. He made his way through the wilderness to the wigwams of the Pokanokets, who dwelt between Charles river and Mount Hope bay. Their chief, Massasoit, granted him a tract of land on Seekonk river. There, in the spring, he was joined by friends from Salem, and they began to build; but, in order to avoid any complications with the Plymouth colony, they moved to the site of Providence, where they made their first settlement in June, 1636. This territory was granted to Mr. Williams by the Narragansett chiefs, Canonicus and Miantonomoh. His influence over these Indians was great, and it soon enabled him to perform for the infant colonies a service that no other man in New England could have undertaken with any hope of success; he detached the powerful tribe of Narragansetts from the league that the Pequot sachem Sassacus was forming for the purpose of destroying all the English settlements. The effect of Mr. Williams's diplomacy was to leave the Pequots to fight without allies, and the English soon exterminated them. During the Pequot war the magistrates of the colony that had banished him sought his counsel, and he gave it freely. In 1638 he assisted John Clarke and William Coddington in negotiating the purchase of Aquidneck, or Rhode Island, for which the Indians were liberally paid. True to his principle of toleration, while he opposed the opinions: of that restless agitator, Samuel Gorton, he refused to join in the movement for expelling him front Providence. In 1643 he went to England and obtained the charter for the Rhode Island and Providence settlements, dated 14 March, 1644. While in England he published his "Key into the Language of America" (London, 1643), a work of great value on the speech of the New England Indians. He also wrote and published anonymously his famous book "The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience" (London, 1644). In this book the doctrines of religious freedom are ably and attractively presented in the form of a dialogue between Truth and Peace. It was dedicated to the parliament, then waging war against the king, and it attracted general attention from its great literary merit as well as from the nature of the subject. It was answered by Mr. Cotton's book entitled "The Bloody Tenent washed and made White in the Blood of the Lamb" (London, 1647). After a while Mr. Williams published an effective rejoinder entitled "The Bloody Tenent made yet more Bloody by Mr. Cotton's Endeavor to wash it White" (London, 1652). The controversy was conducted on both sides with a candor and courtesy very rare in those times. While in London, in 1644, Mr. Williams also published a reply to Mr. Cotton's statement of the reasons for his banishment. This admirable book, a small quarto of forty-seven pages, entitled "Mr. Cotton's Letter Examined and Answered," is now exceedingly rare. Mr. Williams landed in Boston, 17 September., 1644, with a letter signed by several members of parliament, which was virtually a safe-conduct for his passage through Massachusetts territory. Through his exertions a treaty was made with the Narragansetts, 4 August, 1645, which saved New England from the horrors of an Indian war. In order to obtain the abrogation of the commission of William Coddington as governor of the islands of Rhode Island and Conanicut, Mr. Williams sailed in November, 1651, for England, in company with John Clarke. Through the aid of Sir Henry Vane this mission was successful. While in England, Mr. Williams spent several weeks at Vane's country house in Lincolnshire, and he saw much of Cromwell and Milton. At this time he wrote and published his "Hireling Ministry None of Christ's" (London, 1652), which is an able argument against an established church and the support of the clergy by taxation. In the same year he published "Experiments of Spiritual Life and Health, and their Preservatives." He returned to Providence in 1654 and took part in the reorganization of the colonial government in that year. He was chosen, 12 September, 1654, president of the colony, and held that office until May, 1658. During this time he secured the toleration of the Quakers, who were beginning to come to New England, and on this occasion he was again brought into conflict with the government of Massachusetts. A new charter was granted to Rhode Island, 8 July, 1663, under which Benedict Arnold was first governor and Roger Williams one of the assistants. This charter established such a liberal republican government that the Revolution in 1776 made no change in it, and it was not superseded until 1842. (See DORA, THOMAS WILSON.) Mr. Williams in 1663 was appointed commissioner for settling the eastern boundary, which had long been the subject of dispute with both Plymouth and Massachusetts. For the next fourteen years he was most of the time either a representative or an assistant. In 1672 he was engaged in his famous controversy with the Quakers, of whose doctrines and manners he strongly disapproved, though he steadfastly refused to persecute them. George Fox was then in Newport, and Mr. Williams challenged him to a public discussion of fourteen theological propositions. Fox left the colony before the challenge had been delivered to him, but it was accepted by three Quaker champions, John Stubbs, John Burnet, and William Edmundson. Mr. Williams, though seventy-three years of age, rowed himself in a boat from Providence to Newport, about thirty miles, to nicer his adversaries. The debate was carried on for three days in the Quaker meeting-house, without changing anybody's opinion. Mr. Williams afterward wrote an account of the affair, and maintained his own view, in the book entitled "George Fox digged out of iris Burrowes," a small quarto of 327 pages (Boston, 1676). A copy of this rare book is in Harvard college library. In King Philip's war Mr. Williams accepted a commission as captain of militia, and was active in drilling the train-bands, though his advanced age prevented him from taking the field. His last written document bears the date 16 January, 1683, and relates to the dispute about the Pawtuxet lands. In a letter written, 10 May, 1683, by John Thorndike, of Providence, to the Reverend Samuel Hubbard, he says "The Lord hath arrested by death our ancient and approved friend, Mr. Roger Williams, with divers others here." His death must therefore have occurred between 16 January and 10 May, probably at Providence, inasmuch as that was his home and he was buried there. Mr. Williams was a man of wonderful strength and activity. In private life he was as gentle and kind as he was undaunted and pugnacious in controversy. His opinions and conduct in regard to toleration entitle him to a place among the foremost men of the world in the 17th century, and this is fully recognized in Professor David Masson's great work on Milton, where the history of the rise of modern liberalism is discussed with most profound learning. See James D. Knowles's "Memoir of Williams" (Boston, 1834)" William Gammell's "Life of Roger Williams" (1845)" Romeo Elton's "Life of Roger Williams" (London, 1852)" and Henry Martyn Dexter's "As to Roger Williams" (Boston, 1876). Dr. Dexter has recovered a lost tract by Williams, "Christenings make not Christians"' (London, 1645), which he found in the British museum, and edited for Rider's historical tracts, No. 14, 1881.--A descendant, Betsey, born in Cranston (now a part of Providence), Rhode Island, in 1789 ; died there, 27 November, 1871, inherited a farm of one hundred acres, by direct succession through five generations, from Roger Williams, and, when she died, bequeathed it to the city of Providence to form the public park that now bears his name.
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