Being as How Early July is a Good Time for Some Murkan History…
Here’s something a reader sent me about Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island:
Roger Williams was one of the early immigrants to America. Born and educated in England, he was a Puritan who came over with his wife in 1630. He had shown quite a bit of natural inclination to learn languages, and had mastered 6 or so by the time he sailed for America. He quickly got interested in Native Americans, and learned the languages of the ones nearby. He spent much time among them, studying not only their language but their societies, culture, etc. He wrote the first dictionary of Native American languages.
He was against any government religion, and really—without doubt—is responsible more than any other person for the concept of separation of church and state enshrined in our Bill of Rights. His concept was “soul liberty” which held that any force which compelled a person to pay for, adhere to, or otherwise accept any religious belief or practice which conflicted with their own conscience or beliefs was “soul rape.” People have to choose salvation, not be forced to it. This was in the early to mid 1600s, LONG before the notion of religious freedom was popular among Puritans or other settlers. He felt that the best way to prevent religious wars was simply to separate religion from political rule. Not only was he for freedom of religion, he also stood for freedom from religion. He truly was the tip of the spear on these questions.
He also believed that since the “new world” was already occupied when the Europeans arrived, settlers should pay Indians for land, not get it through grants from the King. Later, when he founded Providence, he started it on land that was granted to the settlers by the tribe that owned the area, NOT (at least until later) by charter from anybody in England. As you know, it is popular these days to start every gathering by acknowledging the land as unceded territory. Maybe folks don’t do that in Rhode Island. Settlers there were given some original land, in an act of friendship with Roger Williams, who always campaigned, among the settlers and on trips back to England, for Indians to be considered equal in every way to the settlers. He apparently never “went native” nor did he womanize with the Native women, he simply believed in human rights for all, and he was their friend. When additional land for the new colony was desired, it was purchased, fair and square. This is not completely unique, of course, as the story about $24 worth of beads traded for Manhattan testifies. But this is in direct contrast to Massachusetts, for instance, where the settlers’ claim to the land came from a charter given them by the King of England.
Roger Williams was a preacher, among other things. Before he founded Providence, he was living in Massachusetts but at a certain point had made enough enemies by espousing respect for the Indians, his notions of religious freedom and the separation of church and government, along with his opposition to slavery, that he was arrested with intention to ship him back to England once and for all. He was convicted of heresy for “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions.” During a blizzard he escaped and walked almost 60 miles in deep snow, almost freezing to death, until the Indians found and saved him. He spent the winter in their camp and went on to create a new colony, Providence Plantation (“plantation” meant “settlement” in those days), in what would become Rhode Island, founded on the principles he espoused. Among other firsts, it was the first settler community in America to establish a majority rule democracy. He also co-founded the first Baptist Church (a key concept, an extension of his notion of “soul liberty,” was that baptism should be for consenting adults, not infants, who have no capacity to chose). He spearheaded the first effort to ban slavery from the Colonies, which in 1652 resulted in a law in Providence prohibiting all slavery. Roger Williams died in 1683.
A hundred years later, his views on separation of church and state, and other things, (well, NOT his views on slavery) were incorporated into the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. Rhode Island was the first British colony to renounce allegiance to Britain, but the last colony to ratify the US Constitution, only doing so after the inclusion of the Bill Of Rights.
I find this history fascinating. Roger Williams is one of our founding fathers, long before Washington, Jefferson, and the rest, who he greatly influenced. He had, perhaps, a clearer vision of the American Dream than any of the guys who signed the Declaration of Independence many generations later. And unlike many of those framers of the Constitution, he had collegial relations with Native Americans and was not compromised by slavery. He should be considered a saint by the left, and just like he spent his life fighting for principles we still fight for, we should use his legacy to oppose to establish our side’s claim to the American Dream etc. In many ways, when he was banished from Massachusetts by land-grabbing, hate-mongering proto-Trumpians, he faced a situation similar to progressive forces today. We should be rubbing his legacy in the faces of all the flag-waving haters out there. Apparently Rhode Island does tout him a fair amount. They even have on display the apple tree root that grew through his coffin, presumably feeding on his remains.
Now you know!