Roger Williams National Memorial

Freedom of religion is one of the founding tenets of our democracy. One of the first advocates of religious freedom was Roger Williams.

Roger Williams immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in 1631. An ordained Episcopal minister, he converted to Puritanism and had plans to reform the Church of England. But instead, he decided to separate from the church.

Williams was dedicated to the idea of religious tolerance and the separation of Church and State. He also believed that the Indians deserved payment for their lands, a controversial concept in the 1600s.

Williams moved from Boston to Plymouth to Salem, seeking a congregation that shared his philosophy. In Salem, he was put on trial for advocating “dangerous views” and banished from the Massachusetts colony.

On land purchased from the Indians, he founded Providence settlement and established the First Baptist Church in America. Providence welcomed and drew people of all faiths, including Quakers, Anabaptists, and Jews. 

The rigid separation of Church and State codified into Rhode Island’s charter was later echoed in the writings of our Founding Fathers, including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

If You Go: 

Take a close look at the statue of Roger Williams in front of Roger Williams University. There are no known images of Rhode Island’s founder, so the sculptor used baseball player Ted Williams’ face instead.

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