Roger Williams, Founder of Rhode Island, Arrived in Boston
February 5, 1631
is your religion or spiritual belief? In the U.S., we can
take it for granted that people are free to follow any
belief they wish. Elsewhere, this often isn't the case.
During the 17th century, people left England to
escape religious persecution. Many colonists came to
America to be able to freely practice their religions.
Roger Williams was a defender of religious liberty who
arrived in Boston on February 5, 1631.
the ministry in the Church of England, Williams discovered
Puritanism, a reform movement that developed within the
Church of England, during his first parish duty. He
converted. Soon after, he was asked to be minister in the
Massachusetts Bay Colony. Leaving behind the religious
intolerance under England's King Charles I, he and his
wife journeyed across the ocean to join the "American
Experiment" in Boston in 1631. At first, Williams just
wanted to reform the Church of England; soon, he sought
Many of Williams’
parishioners did not agree with his idea to separate from
the Church of England. He then became minister in Salem.
There, his ideas also proved too radical. He went to
Plymouth but again fell into disfavor. Williams insisted
that land must be purchased from the Indians, rather than
taken from them forcefully, in order to claim title to it.
He again went to Salem and was eventually put on trial in
1635 for his views. His sentence was banishment. Williams
then purchased land from the Narragansett Indians and
established the settlement of Providence, Rhode Island.
Williams founded the colony of Rhode Island based
upon principles of complete religious toleration,
separation of church and state, and political democracy
(values that the U.S. would later be founded upon). It
became a refuge for people persecuted for their religious
beliefs. Anabaptists, Quakers, and Jews settled in Rhode
Island. After forming the first Baptist church in
America, Williams left it to seek spirituality in
different ways. He stopped preaching to his friends, the
Indians, when he realized that their form of worship also
fell under his principle of religious freedom. He
declared, "forced worship stinks in God's nostrils."
Williams’ ideas were radical at the time, but can you
imagine living in a place without religious freedom now?