Williams, Roger

Williams, Roger the founder of the colony of Rhode Island, was born at Conwyl Cayo, Wales, in 1599. In his youth he went to London, and attracted the attention of Sir Edward Coke by his short-hand notes of sermons and speeches in the Star Chamber, and was sent by him to Sutton's Hospital (now the Charterhouse School) in 1621. On April 30,1624, he entered Jesus' College, Oxford, where he obtained an exhibition. According to some authorities, he was admitted to Pembroke College, Cambridge, Jan. 29, 1623, and matriculated pensioner July 7, 1625, graduating A.B. in January, 1627. He studied Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Dutch, and took orders in the Church of England. He soon, however, became an extreme Puritan, with tendencies towards the views of the Baptists, who were rapidly rising in England at that time. To avoid the persecution then rife in his own country, he immigrated to New England, arriving at Boston Feb. 5, 1631, accompanied- by his wife, Mary. He refused to join the congregation at Boston, because the people would not make public declaration of their repentance for having been in communion with the Church of England. He therefore went to Salem, to become the assistant to pastor Skelton; but the general court remonstrated against his settlement there, on account of his attitude towards the Boston congregation; and, further, that he had declared his opinion that the magistrate might not punish Sabbath-breaking and other religious offenses, as belonging to the first table of the law. His ministry at Salem was brief. Before the close of the summer, persecution drove him to Plymouth, where for two years he was assistant to the pastor, Ralph Smith. At the close of this period he was invited to return to Salem as assistant to Skelton, and, after the latter's death, became pastor. In a short time he had very generally indoctrinated the people with his peculiar views. In the autumn of 1635 the general court banished him from the colonly with orders to depart within six weeks, because he had called in question the authority of magistrates in respect to two things-one relating to the right of the king to appropriate and grant the lands of the Indians without purchase, and the other to the right of the civil power to impose faith and worship. On the first of these questions he had written a paper in which he defended the right of the natives to the soil; but on the interference of the court he put in an explanation, and consented to the burning of the MS. when they were somewhat more leniently disposed towards him. But on-the other question he reiterated and amplified his views; and while oppressed by his opponents, frankly declared his opinion that the magistrate ought not to interfere "even to stop a church from apostasy and heresy," and that the office of civil magistrate "extends only to the bodies and goods and outward estates of man." He was the first to assert fully the doctrine of entire liberty of conscience, the right of every person to worship in what manner he pleased, or to refrain from public worship altogether without interference on the part of the civil magistrate. In reply to the charges against him, and in defense of his views, he published a pamphlet entitled Mr. Cotton's Letter Examined and Answered (printed in 1644). Winter being at hand, the period for his departure was extended until spring; but he persisted in preaching, and the people flocked to hear him. It became generally understood that many had decided to go with him to found a new colony not far distant, and the court decided to send him at once to England, regarding him as a dangerous person in the colony. A small vessel was dispatched to Salem to convey him away; but he was forewarned, and fled before its arrival. Leaving family and friends in midwinter, he was "for fourteen weeks sorely tossed in a bitter season, not knowing what bread or bed did mean." But he had learned the Indian language while at Plymouth, and was kindly received and sheltered by the savages. He selected a site for his new colony on the shores of the Narraganset; and, after purchasing lands on the eastern shore of the Seekonk River, and planting his corn, he learned that he was within the limits of the Plymouth colony. He therefore set out, with five companions, to make new explorations. They proceeded in a canoe to the spot which. Williams fixed upon as his home. He said that he had "made covenant of, peaceable neighborhood with all the sachems and nations round about;" and having, of a sense of God's merciful providence "to them in their distress, called the place Providence, he "desired it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience." Here, he was joined by others who sympathized with his opinions, and even people from England flocked thither in considerable numbers. Roger Williams was the founder, the lawgiver, and the minister of the infant colony, but he did not aim to be its ruler. His purpose was to found a commonwealth in the form of a pure democracy, where the will of the majority should govern, but only in civil affairs, leaving matters of conscience to be settled between the individual and his God. The original constitution, which all were required to sign, was in these words: "We whose names are hereunder, desirous to inhabit the town of Providence, do promise to subject ourselves, in active or passive obedience, to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for the public good of the body, in an orderly way, by the major consent of the present inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together in a town of fellowship, and others whom they shall admit into the same, only in civil things." With this foundation for a civil government, Williams went on to organize the Church in accordance with his own views. Having adopted the belief in baptism of adults by immersion only, he was baptized by Ezekiel Holliman, a layman, in March, 1639; and then he baptized Holliman and about ten others. He soon entertained doubts as to the validity of the proceeding, and early withdrew from the Church thus organized. The colony remained for some years a pure democracy, transacting its business in town-meetings; but the time was coming for a more systematic organization. Accordingly, in 1643, Williams was sent to England to procure a charter. He was treated with marked respect by the Parliament, and a charter incorporating the settlers on Narraganset Bay, with "full power and authority to govern themselves," was granted. Williams returned the following year, and was received in triumph by the inhabitants of Rhode Island. On his voyage to England he had prepared a Key to the Languages of America, including also observations on the manners, habits, laws, and religion of the Indian tribes. This work he published in London; and about the same time The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed in a Conference between Truth and Peace (Lond. 1644; new ed. Providence, 1867). Upon his return to Rhode Island, he refused the office of president of the colony; but when the rights granted by the charter were about to be infringed, he was sent to England again in 1651 to secure a confirmation of the rights of the colony, and was entirely successful. While in England the second time he published The Bloudy Tenent yet More Bloudy, by Cotton's Endeavor to Wash it White in the Blood of the LaMabe, etc. (1652): — The Hireling Ministry None of Christ's; or, A Discourse Touching the Propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ, etc. (eod.): — and Experiments of Spiritual Life and Health and their Preservatives (eod.). He also engaged in teaching languages by the conversational method, and thus became acquainted with John Milton, Oliver Cromwvell, Sir HenryVane, and other persons of eminence. In 1654 he returned to Rhode Island, and was elected president of the colony, which post he held two years and a half. He refused to persecute the Quakers, but met some of their ablest preachers in public debate; and in 1672 published a work in opposition to the sect entitled. George Fox Digged out of his Burrows, or an Offer of Disputation on Fourteen Proposals, made this Last Summer, 1672 (so called), unto G. Fox, then Present in Rhode Island in New England, etc. By his constant friendship with the Indians he was of great service to the other colonies; but they refused to remove their ban, or to admit Rhode Island into their league. He died in 1683, and was buried in his family burying-ground, near the spot where he landed. Memoirs of the life of Roger Williams have been written by James D. Knowles (Boston, 1833), William Grammell (ibid. 1846), and Romeo Elton (Lond. 1852). His works have been reprinted by the Narragansett Club in 6 vols. folio, (Providence, 1866-75). Among the works not already named -is Letters from Rodger Williams to John Winthrop, and John Winthrop, Jr., Govern-or of Connecticut (Boston; 1863). A tract by Roger Williams, recently discovered, is in the John Carter Brown Library at Providence. See also Dexter, As to Roger Williams and his Banishment from the Massachusetts Plantation, with a Few Further Words concerning the Baptists, Quakers, and Religious Liberty (ibid. 1876); and Arnold, History of Rhode Island (vol. 1, 1860).

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