Roger Williams, Founder of Rhode Island, Arrived in Boston
What 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
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
Ordained to 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 separation completely.
Many of Williams's 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's
ideas were radical at the time, but can you imagine living in a
place without religious freedom now?