Who was the founder of Rhode Island?

Travel Destinations

By Christine Hitt

Rhode Island’s Founder

Rhode Island, one of the thirteen original colonies of the United States of America, has a rich history that dates back to the 17th century. The state is named after its founder, Roger Williams, a Puritan theologian who was banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony due to his religious beliefs. Williams went on to establish the settlement of Providence, which eventually became the capital of Rhode Island.

Early Life and Education

Roger Williams was born in London, England, in 1603, into a family of merchants. He received a strong education, attending Charterhouse School and studying at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he developed an interest in religious philosophy. After completing his studies, Williams became a chaplain to Sir William Masham, a prominent Puritan, and his wife, Lady Masham. It was during this time that Williams began to question some of the Church of England’s doctrines, including its ties to the state.

Arrival in America

In 1630, Williams and his wife, Mary Barnard, immigrated to New England. He received a position as a minister at the Salem church in Massachusetts. However, Williams’ religious and political beliefs were at odds with the Puritan leaders in Massachusetts, who advocated for a strict theocracy. Williams believed in religious freedom, opposed the confiscation of Native American lands, and called for a separation of church and state.

Religious Beliefs and Exile

Williams’ beliefs led to his exile from Massachusetts in 1635. He was forced to flee the colony after he refused to recant his views. Williams initially sought refuge with the Narragansett tribe, but later established a settlement of his own. He also founded a Baptist church, which was the first of its kind in America.

Establishing Providence

In 1636, Williams established the settlement of Providence, named after the divine providence that he believed had guided him to the site. The settlement was based on the principles of religious freedom, tolerance, and democratic governance. Williams welcomed people of all faiths, including Jews and Quakers, and established a system of self-government that allowed for religious and political autonomy.

Relations with Native Americans

Williams’ relationship with the Native Americans was based on mutual respect and cooperation. He learned the Narragansett language and culture and established friendly relations with the tribe. He also advocated for fair treatment of Native Americans and opposed the confiscation of their lands.

Formation of Rhode Island

In 1644, Williams obtained a charter from the English Parliament that established the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, which included the settlements of Providence, Newport, Portsmouth, and Warwick. The charter granted religious freedom, guaranteed the separation of church and state, and provided for democratic governance.

Later Years and Legacy

Williams continued to play an active role in Rhode Island’s affairs until his death in 1683. He served as a representative to the colonial assembly, defended the colony against threats from neighboring colonies, and wrote several influential works on religious and political philosophy. Williams’ legacy is one of religious tolerance, democratic governance, and respect for Native American culture.

Controversies and Criticisms

Williams’ beliefs and actions were controversial, and he faced criticism from both Puritan leaders and Native Americans. Some accused him of being too tolerant of other faiths, while others criticized him for his treatment of the Narragansetts during King Philip’s War in the 1670s.

Commemoration and Honors

Rhode Island has honored Williams with numerous memorials, including a statue in the State House and a park in Providence. His legacy is also celebrated in the names of schools, streets, and businesses throughout the state.

Impact on American History

Roger Williams’ ideas and actions had a significant impact on American history. He championed the principles of religious freedom, separation of church and state, and democratic governance, which influenced the development of the United States. His advocacy for fair treatment of Native Americans and respect for their culture also served as a model for future generations.

Conclusion: The Legacy of Rhode Island’s Founder

Roger Williams was a visionary thinker who established a colony based on principles of religious freedom, tolerance, and democratic governance. His legacy is one of inclusivity, respect for diversity, and commitment to justice. Rhode Island owes its name and much of its character to Williams, who played a significant role in shaping American history.

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Christine Hitt

Christine Hitt, a devoted Hawaii enthusiast from Oahu, has spent 15 years exploring the islands, sharing her deep insights in respected publications such as Los Angeles Times, SFGate, Honolulu, and Hawaii magazines. Her expertise spans cultural nuances, travel advice, and the latest updates, making her an invaluable resource for all Hawaii lovers.

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