1603 - 1684
Founder of the First Baptist
church in America, Roger Williams was born
in London and raised in the Episcopal Church,
of which he was made a rector. Becoming dissatisfied
with the ritual and ceremony of his church,
he became a Puritan. He came to America and
preached in Boston and Plymouth, Massachusetts,
where he taught separation of church and state
and complete religious freedom.
ROGER WILLIAMS was born in
London, circa 1603, the son of James and Alice
(Pemberton) Williams. James, the son of Mark
and Agnes (Audley) Williams was a "merchant
Tailor" (an importer and trader) and
probably a man of some importance. His will,
proved 19 November 1621, left, in addition
to bequests to his "loving wife, Alice,"
to his sons, Sydrach, Roger and Robert, and
to his daughter Catherine, money and bread
to the poor in various sections of London.
The will of Alice (Pemberton)
Williams was admitted to probate 26 January
1634. Among other bequests, she left the sum
of Ten Pounds yearly for twenty years to her
son, Roger Williams, "now beyond the
seas." She further provided that if Roger
predeceased her, "what remaineth thereof
unpaid ... shall be paid to his wife and daughter...."
Obviously, by the time of her death, Roger's
mother was aware of the birth in America in
1633 of her grandchild, Mary Williams.
Roger's youth was spent in
the parish of "St. Sepulchre's, without
Newgate, London." While a young man,
he must have been aware of the numerous burnings
at the stake that had taken place at nearby
Smithfield of so-called Puritans or heretics.
This probably influenced his later strong
beliefs in civic and religious liberty.
During his teens, Roger Williams
came to the attention of Sir Edward Coke,
a brilliant lawyer and one-time Chief Justice
of England, through whose influence he was
enrolled at Sutton's Hospital, a part of Charter
House, a school in London. He next entered
Pembroke College at Cambridge University from
which he graduated in 1627. All of the literature
currently available at Pembroke to prospective
students mentions Roger Williams, his part
in the Reformation, and his founding of the
Colony of Rhode Island. At Pembroke, he was
one of eight granted scholarships based on
excellence in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Pembroke
College in Providence, once the women's college
of Brown University, was named after Pembroke
at Cambridge in honor of Roger Williams.
In the years after he left
Cambridge, Roger Williams was Chaplain to
a wealthy family, and on 15 December 1629,
he married MARY BARNARD at the Church of High
Laver, Essex, England. Even at this time,
he became a controversial figure because of
his ideas on freedom of worship. And so, in
1630, ten years after the Pilgrims landed
at Plymouth, Roger thought it expedient to
leave England. He arrived, with Mary, on 5
February 1631 at Boston in the Massachusetts
Bay Colony. Their passage was aboard the ship
He preached first at Salem,
then at Plymouth, then back to Salem, always
at odds with the structured Puritans. When
he was about to be deported back to England,
Roger fled southwest out of the Massachusetts
Bay Colony, was befriended by local Indians
and eventually settled at the headwaters of
what is now Narragansett Bay, after he learned
that his first settlement on the east bank
of the Seekonk River was within the boundaries
of the Plymouth Colony. Roger purchased land
from the Narragansett Chiefs, Canonicus and
Miantonomi and named his settlement Providence
in thanks to God. The original deed remains
in the Archives of the City of Providence.
Roger Williams made two trips
back to England during his lifetime. The first
in June or July 1643 was to obtain a Charter
for his colony to forestall the attempt of
neighboring colonies to take over Providence.
He returned with a Charter for "the Providence
Plantations in Narragansett Bay" which
incorporated Providence, Newport and Portsmouth.
During this voyage, he produced his best-known
literary work -- Key into the Languages of
America , which when published in London in
1643, made him the authority on American Indians.
On his return, Roger Williams
started a trading post at Cocumscussoc (now
North Kingstown) where he traded with the
Indians and was known for his peacemaking
between the neighboring colonists and the
Indians. But again colony affairs interfered,
and in 1651 he sold his trading post and returned
to England with John Clarke (a Newport preacher)
in order to have the Charter confirmed. Because
of family responsibilities, he returned sometime
before 1654. John Clarke finally obtained
the Royal Charter from Charles II on 8 July
1663, thereby averting further trouble with
William Coddington and some colonists at Newport,
who had previously obtained a charter for
a separate colony.
Roger Williams was Governor
of the Colony 1654 through 1658. During the
later years of his life, he saw almost all
of Providence burned during King Philip's
War, 1675-1676. He lived to see Providence
rebuilt. He continued to preach, and the Colony
grew through its acceptance of settlers of
all religious persuasions. The two volumes
of the correspondence of Roger Williams recently
published by the Rhode Island Historical Society,
Glenn W. LaFantasie, Editor, present an excellent
picture of his philosophy and personality.
Unfortunately, there was no known painting
made of him during his lifetime, although
many artists and sculptors have portrayed
him as they envision him.
Roger and Mary (Barnard)
Williams were the parents of six children,
all born in America:
1. MARY, born at Plymouth,
Plymouth Colony, August 1633, died 1684; married
JOHN SAYLES in 1650; six children. John and
Mary Sayles lived on Aquidneck Island and
are buried near Easton's Beach, Middletown,
2. FREEBORN, born at Salem,
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 4 October 1635,
died 10 January 1710; married first THOMAS
HART, died 1671; four children. There were
no children of Freeborn's second marriage
to WALTER CLARKE, a Governor of Newport.
3. PROVIDENCE, born at Providence,
September 1638, died March 1686; never married.
4. MERCY, born at Providence,
15 July 1640, died circa 1705; married first
in 1659 RESOLVED WATERMAN, born July 1638,
died August 1670; five children. Mercy married
second SAMUEL WINSOR, born 1644, died 19 September
1705; three children.
5. DANIEL, born at Providence,
February 1641 "counting years to begin
about ye 25 of March so yt he was borne above
a year & half after Mercy (Carpenter,
Roger Williams), died 14 May 1712; married
7 December 1676 REBECCA (RHODES) POWER, died
1727, widow of Nicholas Power; six children.
6. JOSEPH, born at Providence,
12 December 1643, died 17 August 1724; married
LYDIA OLNEY, born 1645, died 9 September 1724;
Roger Williams died at Providence
between 16 January and 16 April 1683/84, his
wife Mary having predeceased him in 1676.
His descendants have contributed in many ways,
first to the establishment of an independent
Colony, later to the establishment of an independent
state in a united nation. The United States
of America has maintained the reality of separation
of church and state which Roger Williams envisioned,
and ordained in his settlement at Providence.