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Roger Williams

Roger Williams statue by Franklin Simmons
Born December 21, 1603(1603-12-21)
London, England
Died April 18, 1683 (aged 79)
Providence, Rhode Island
Occupation minister, author, preacher
Religion Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Seeker
Spouse(s) Mary Barnard
Children 6

Roger Williams (December 21, 1603 – April 18, 1683) was an American Protestant theologian, and the first American proponent of religious toleration and the separation of church and state, In 1636 , he set up the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, which provided a refuge for religious minorities. Williams started the First Baptist Church in America; he soon quit it exclaiming, "God is too large to be housed under one roof." He was a student of Indian languages and an advocate for fair dealings with Native Americans.



Early life

Williams was born into the Church of England in London, England, around 1603. He became a Puritan at age 12, against his father's liking. His father, James Williams (1562–1620), was a merchant in Smithfield, England. His mother was Alice Pemberton (1564–1634).

As a teenager Williams apprenticed with Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634), the famous jurist, and under Coke's patronage, Williams was educated at Charterhouse and also at Pembroke College, Cambridge (B.A., 1627).[1] He seemed to have had a gift for languages, and early acquired familiarity with Latin, Greek, Dutch, and French. He gave John Milton lessons in Dutch in exchange for lessons in Hebrew.[2]

After graduating from Cambridge, Williams became chaplain to a rich family. He married Mary Barnard (1609–76) on December 15, 1629 at the Church of High Laver, Essex, England. They had six children, all born in America. Their children are Mary, Freeborn, Providence, Mercy, Daniel and Joseph.

Some time before the end of 1630, Williams decided that he could not labor in England under Archbishop William Laud's rigorous (and High church) administration, and adopted a position of dissent. He turned aside offers of preferment in the university and in the Establishment of the Church, and instead resolved to seek in New England the liberty of conscience denied him at home.

Life in America

Part of a series of articles on
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Historical Background
Protestantism · Puritanism · Anabaptism

General · Strict · Reformed

Doctrinal distinctives
Priesthood of all believers · Individual soul liberty · Ordinances · Separation of church and state · Sola scriptura · Congregationalism · Offices · Confessions

Pivotal figures
John Smyth · Thomas Helwys · Roger Williams · John Bunyan · Shubal Stearns · Andrew Fuller · Charles Spurgeon · D. N. Jackson

Baptist Conventions and Unions

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In 1630, Roger and Mary Williams set sail for Boston on the Lyon. Arriving on February 5, 1631, he was almost immediately invited to replace the pastor, who was returning to England. Finding that it was "an unseparated church," Williams decided not to take the job, instead giving voice to the separatist views he had likely formed in England and became a philosophiser. Williams asserted that the magistrate may not punish any sort of "breach of the first table [of the Ten Commandments]," such as idolatry, Sabbath-breaking, false worship, and blasphemy, and that every individual should be free to follow his own convictions in religious matters.

The first idea—that the magistrate should not punish religious infractions—meant that the civil authority should not be the same as the ecclesiastical authority. The second idea—that people should have freedom of opinion on religious matters—he called "soul-liberty." It is one of the foundations for the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Williams' use of the phrase "wall of separation" in describing his preferred relationship between religion and other matters is credited as the first use of that phrase, and Thomas Jefferson's source in later writing of the wall of separation between church and state in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802.[3]

The Salem church, which through interaction with the Plymouth colonists had also adopted Separatist sentiments, invited Williams to become its teacher. His settlement was prevented by a remonstrance addressed to Governor Endicott by six of the Boston leaders. The Plymouth colony then received him gladly, where he remained for about two years. According to Governor Bradford, "his teachings were well approved."

Life at Salem, Exile

Roger Williams House (or "The Witch House") in Salem c. 1910

Toward the close of his ministry at Plymouth, Williams' views began to place him in conflict with other members of the colony. The people of Plymouth quickly became frustrated with his use of sermons to expound his personal opinions, such as those concerning Native Americans, and he left to go back to Salem.

In the summer of 1633, Williams arrived in Salem and became unofficial assistant to Pastor Skelton. In August, 1634 (Skelton having died), he became acting pastor and entered almost immediately into controversies with the Massachusetts authorities that in a few months resulted in his exile by law from Salem after being brought before the Salem Court for spreading "diverse, new, and dangerous opinions" that questioned the Church. The law exiling Williams was not repealed until 1936 when Bill 488 was passed by the Massachusetts House.

He was formally set apart as pastor of the church about May, 1635, against the earnest protests of the Massachusetts authorities. An outline of the issues raised by Williams and uncompromisingly pressed includes the following:

  1. He regarded the Church of England as apostate, and any kind of fellowship with it as grievous sin. He accordingly renounced communion not only with this church but with all who would not join with him in repudiating it.
  2. He denounced the charter of the Massachusetts Company because it falsely represented the king of England as a Christian, and assumed that he had the right to give to his own subjects the land of the natives. He disapproved of "the unchristian oaths swallowed down" by the colonists "at their coming forth from Old England, especially in the superstitious Laud's time and domineering." He drew up a letter addressed to the King expressing his dissatisfaction with the charter and sought to secure for it the endorsement of prominent colonists. In this letter he is said to have charged King James I with blasphemy for calling Europe "Christendom" and to have applied to the reigning king some of the most opprobrious epithets in the Apocalypse.
  3. Equally disquieting was Williams's opposition to the "citizens' oath," which magistrates sought to force upon the colonists in order to be assured of their loyalty. Williams maintained that it was Christ's sole prerogative to have his office established by oath, and that unregenerate men ought not in any case to be invited to perform any religious act. In opposing the oath Williams gained so much popular support that the measure had to be abandoned.
  4. In a dispute between the Massachusetts Bay court and the Salem colony regarding the possession of a piece of land (Marblehead) claimed by the latter, the court offered to accede to the claims of Salem on condition that the Salem church make amends for its insolent conduct in installing Williams as pastor in defiance of the court and ministers. This demand involved the removal of the pastor. Williams regarded this proposal as an outrageous attempt at bribery and had the Salem church send to the other Massachusetts churches a denunciation of the proceeding and demand that the churches exclude the magistrates from membership. This act was sharply resented by magistrates and churches, and such pressure was brought to bear upon the Salem church as led a majority to consent to the removal of their pastor. He never entered the chapel again, but held religious services in his own house with his faithful adherents.

Settlement at Providence

Having secured land from the natives (see Canonicus), he established a settlement with twelve "loving friends" (several settlers had joined him from Massachusetts since the beginning of spring). Williams' settlement was based on a principle of equality. It was provided that "such others as the major part of us shall admit into the same fellowship of vote with us" from time to time should become members of their commonwealth. Obedience to the majority was promised by all, but "only in civil things." In 1640, another agreement was signed by thirty-nine freemen, expressing their determination "still to hold forth liberty of conscience." Thus a government unique in its day was created—a government expressly providing for religious liberty and a separation between civil and ecclesiastical authority (church and state).

The colony was named Providence Plantation, due to Williams's belief that God had sustained him and his followers and brought them to this place. When he acquired the other islands in the Narragansett Bay, Williams named them after other virtues: Patience Island, Prudence Island and Hope Island.[4]

In 1637, some followers of Anne Hutchinson visited Williams to seek his guidance in moving away from Massachusetts. Like Williams, this group was in trouble with the Puritan theocrats. He advised them to purchase land on Aquidneck Island from the Native Americans. They settled in a place called Pocasset, which is now the town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Among them were Anne Hutchinsons's husband William, William Coddington and John Clarke.

In 1643, Williams was sent to England by his fellow citizens to secure a charter for the colony. The Puritans were then in power in England, and through the offices of Sir Henry Vane a democratic charter was obtained. While in England, Williams also had his A Key Into the Language of America (1643) published about his time amongst the Native Americans in New England. In 1644 his The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience was published about religious liberty.

In 1647, the colony on Rhode Island was united with Providence under a single government, and liberty of conscience was again proclaimed. The area became a safe haven for people who were persecuted for their beliefs—Baptists, Quakers, Jews, and others went there to follow their consciences in peace and safety. On May 18, 1652, Rhode Island passed the first law in North America making slavery illegal.[5][6]

Disagreement arose between the mainland towns of Providence and Warwick on the one side and the towns of Aquidneck Island on the other. There was also disagreement (on the island) between the followers of John Clarke and William Coddington. Coddington went to England and, in 1651, had secured from the council of state a commission to rule the islands of Rhode Island and Conanicut. This arrangement left Providence and Warwick to themselves. Coddington's scheme was strongly disapproved by Williams and Clarke and their followers, especially as it seemed to involve a federation of Coddington's domain with Massachusetts and Connecticut and a consequent threat to liberty of conscience, not only on the islands, but also in Providence and Warwick, which would be left unprotected.

Many of the opponents of Coddington were, by this time, Baptists. Later, in the same year, Williams and Clarke went to England on behalf of their friends to secure from Oliver Cromwell's government the annulment of Coddington's charter and the recognition of the colony as a republic, dependent only on England. They succeeded, and Williams soon returned to Providence. To the end of his life, he continued to take a deep interest in public affairs.

Relations with the Baptists

First Baptist Church in America. Williams co-founded the congregation in 1638

In 1638, several Massachusetts credobaptist Christians who had found themselves subject to persecution removed to Providence (see pedobaptism). Most of these had probably been under Williams' influence while he was in Massachusetts, while some may have been influenced by English antipedobaptists before they left England.

John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, and John Murton were co-founders of the Baptist faith in Britain, and produced a rich literature in advocacy of liberty of conscience. Williams could have hardly avoided learning something of the Calvinistic antipedobaptist party that arose in support of this denomination.

However, Williams did not adopt antipedobaptist views before his banishment from Massachusetts, for antipedobaptism was not an accusation laid out by his opponents. Winthrop attributes Williams's "Anabaptist" views to the influence of Katherine Scott, a sister of Anne Hutchinson, the Antinomian who may have impressed upon Williams the importance of believers' baptism.

About March 1639, Williams was baptized by Holliman and immediately proceeded to baptize Holliman and eleven others. Thus was constituted a church which still survives as the First Baptist Church in America. At about the same time, John Clarke, Williams’ compatriot in the cause of religious freedom in the New World, established a Baptist church in Newport, Rhode Island. "There is much debate over the centuries as to whether the Providence or Newport church deserved the place of 'first').[7] Therefore, both Roger Williams and John Clarke are variously credited as being the founder of the Baptist faith in America.[8]

It should be noted that Roger Williams was only briefly a part of the Baptist faith. Williams remained with the little church in Providence only a few months. He became convinced that the ordinances having been lost in the apostasy could not be validly restored without a special divine commission, making the following statement upon his departure from the sect:

There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking.[9] (Picturesque America, p. 502.)

He assumed the attitude of a "Seeker" or "Come-outer," always deeply religious and active in the propagation of Christian truth, yet not feeling satisfied that any body of Christians had all of the marks of the true Church. He continued on friendly terms with the Baptists, being in agreement with them in their rejection of infant baptism as in most other matters.

Williams's religious and ecclesiastical attitude is well expressed in the following sentences (1643):[10]

The two first principles and foundations of true religion, or worship of the true God in Christ, are repentance from dead works and faith toward God, before the doctrines of baptism baptism or washing and the laying on of hands, which continue the ordinances and practises of worship; the want of which I conceive is the bane of millions of souls in England and all other nations professing to be Christian nations, who are brought by public authority to baptism and fellowship with God in ordinances of worship, before the saving work of repentance and a true turning to God.

Church and state

Williams's version of the separation of church and state was based on his doctrine of the "Two Tables of the Decalogue," according to which the state should concern itself only with those commandments dealing with relations between human beings, not those relating to honoring God. Drawing on a variety of Anabaptist, Lutheran, and Separatist sources, and especially on the Calvinist conception of the sovereignty of God, Williams's doctrine was unique, holding that civil government could not enforce the first table of the Decalogue, that is the first four commandments. Williams separated not only church and state but also God and government, and by doing so contributed to making religion irrelevant in the public sphere, a position that would be strongly disputed throughout American history.[11]

Williams's arguments for the separation of church and state were based on Puritan thought taken to logical conclusions that few other Puritans followed. His Calvinist emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of God led Williams to a position of utter contempt for any manner of coerced faith, while his emphasis on the universal and mystical nature of the church meant that no arrangement between the physical church and the state made any metaphysical sense. Similarly his eschatology, in which the fortunes of the elect reside in God's cataclysmic intervention in history, makes irrelevant any idea of the church functioning in harmony with the state for the glory of God.[12]


Williams' final resting place in Prospect Terrace Park
The "Roger Williams Root" in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society

Williams died in early 1683 and was buried on his own property. Some time later in the nineteenth century his remains were moved to the tomb of a descendant in the North Burial Ground. Finally, in 1936, they were placed within a bronze container and put into the base of a monument on Prospect Terrace Park in Providence. When his remains were discovered for reburial, they were under an apple tree. The roots of the tree had grown into the spot where Williams's skull rested and followed the path of his decomposing bones and grew roughly in the shape of his skeleton. Only a small amount of bone was found to be reburied. The "Williams Root" is now part of the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society, where it is mounted on a board in the basement of the John Brown House Museum.[13][14]


Williams's career as an author began with A Key into the Language of America (London, 1643), written during his first voyage to England. His next publication was Mr. Cotton's Letter lately Printed, Examined and Answered (London, 1644; reprinted, with Cotton's letter, which it answered, in Publications of the Narragansett Club, vol. ii.).

The Bloody Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience soon followed (London, 1644). This is his most famous work, and was the ablest statement and defense of the principle of absolute liberty of conscience that had appeared in any language. It is in the form of a dialogue between Truth and Peace, and well illustrates the vigor of his style.[15]

During the same year an anonymous pamphlet appeared in London which has been commonly ascribed to Williams, entitled: Queries of Highest Consideration Proposed to Mr. Tho. Goodwin, Mr. Phillip Nye, Mr. Wil. Bridges, Mr. Jer. Burroughs, Mr. Sidr. Simpson, all Independents, etc. These Independents were members of the Westminster Assembly and their Apologetical Narration, in which they plead for toleration, fell very far short of Williams's doctrine of liberty of conscience.

In 1652, during his second visit to England, Williams published The Bloody Tenent yet more Bloody: by Mr. Cotton's Endeavor to wash it white in the Blood of the Lamb; of whose precious Blood, spilt in the Bloud of his Servants; and of the Blood of Millions spilt in former and later Wars for Conscience sake, that most Bloody Tenent of Persecution for cause of Conscience, upon, a second Tryal is found more apparently and more notoriously guilty, etc. (London, 1652). This work traverses anew much of the ground covered by the Bloody Tenent; but it has the advantage of being written in answer to Cotton's elaborate defense of New England persecution, A Reply to Mr. Williams his Examination (Publications of the Narragansett Club, vol. ii.).

Other works by Williams are:

  • The Hireling Ministry None of Christ's’’ (London, 1652)
  • Experiments of Spiritual Life and Health, and their Preservatives (London, 1652; reprinted Providence, 1863)
  • George Fox Digged out of his Burrowes (Boston, 1676).

A volume of his letters is included in the Narragansett Club edition of Williams's Works (7 vols., Providence, 1866–74), and a volume was edited by J. R. Bartlett (1882).

Indian language and culture

William was a pioneer student of American Indian languages, as demonstrated in his A Key into the Language of America (1643).[16] His book, written while Williams was attempting to secure a patent for land outside the domain of Massachusetts Bay colonial authorities, emphasizes Native Americans' similarities to English society. Williams's depiction of Narragansett virtues of punctuality, modesty, mercantilism, and, most importantly, land ownership was crafted in such a way to appeal to revolutionary England's sensibilities and alter attitudes.[17]

Williams found in the Indians a society in which church and state were separate but in which human relationships were fostered, democracy in substance if not in form did not produce a corrupt society, material wealth was distributed equitably but the pursuit of wealth was not primary, and a broad religious toleration had preserved harmony in civil society. All of these insights buttressed and broadened his own social theory and served as catalyst in his controversy with New England theocracy. These views prove Williams' reputation as a perceptive and sympathetic friend of the Indian.[18] Unlike John Winthrop, who was willing to use coercion to convert the Indians to Christianity, Williams sought assimilation and conversion while respecting respected a person's freedom of conscience and rejecting the close linkage of church and state.[19]

Tributes and memorials

Moore (1963) traces the 'negative' approach of the orthodox Puritan writers (Bradford, Winthrop, Morton, Cotton Mather, Hutchinson, Winsor, and Dexter), the 'romantic' approach (George Bancroft, Vernon Parrington, Ernst, and Brockunier) and the 'realistic' approach (Backus, H. Richard Niebuhr, Roland Bainton, and Hudson), and regards the work of Mauro Calamandrei, who was followed by Perry Miller and Ola Winslow, as crucial. The realistic writers created a synthesis of the earlier interpretations.

Williams has been considered an American hero ever since the Puritans of his own day stopped dominating historical interpretations. His defense of Native Americans, accusations that Puritans had reproduced the evils of the Anglican Church, and denial that the king had authority to grant charters for colonies put him at the center of nearly every political debate during his life. By the time of American independence, however, he was considered a defender of religious freedom and has continued to be praised by generations of historians who have often altered their interpretation of his period as a whole. Historians have been able to appropriate Williams because he was unusual, prolific, and vague.[20]

Famous descendants

Famous descendants of Roger Williams include:

See also

Further reading

  • Brockunier, Samuel. The Irrepressible Democrat, Roger Williams, (1940), popular biography
  • Burrage, Henry S. "Why Was Roger Williams Banished?" American Journal of Theology 5 (January 1901): 1-17. online
  • Byrd, James P., Jr. The Challenges of Roger Williams: Religious Liberty, Violent Persecution, and the Bible (2002). 286 pp.
  • Davis. Jack L. "Roger Williams among the Narragansett Indians," New England Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Dec., 1970), pp. 593–604 in JSTOR
  • Field, Jonathan Beecher. "A Key for the Gate: Roger Williams, Parliament, and Providence," New England Quarterly 2007 80(3): 353-382
  • Goodman, Nan. "Banishment, Jurisdiction, and Identity in Seventeenth-Century New England: The Case of Roger Williams," Early American Studies, An Interdisciplinary Journal Spring 2009, Vol. 7 Issue 1, pp 109–39.
  • Gaustad, Edwin, S. Roger Williams (2005). 140 pp. short scholarly biography stressing religion
  • Gaustad, Edwin, S., ed., Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1991.
  • Hall, Timothy L. Separating Church and State: Roger Williams and Religious Liberty (1998). 206 pp.
  • Miller, Perry, Roger Williams, A Contribution to the American Tradition, (1953). much debated study; Miller argues Williams contributed nothing to American institutions and was in fact a threat to every aspect of the establishment.
  • Morgan, Edmund S. Roger Williams: the church and the state‎ (1967) 170 pages; short biography by leading scholar
  • Neff, Jimmy D. "Roger Williams: Pious Puritan and Strict Separationist," Journal of Church and State 1996 38(3): 529-546 in EBSCO
  • Phillips, Stephen. "Roger Williams and the Two Tables of the Law," Journal af Church and State 1996 38(3): 547-568 in EBSCO
  • Skaggs, Donald. Roger Williams' Dream for America, (1993). 240 pp.
  • Stanley, Alison. "'To Speak With Other Tongues': Linguistics, Colonialism and Identity in 17th Century New England," Comparative American Studies March 2009, Vol. 7 Issue 1, p1, 17p
  • Winslow, Ola Elizabeth, Master Roger Williams, A Biography. (1957) standard biography
  • Wood, Timothy L. "Kingdom Expectations: The Native American in the Puritan Missiology of John Winthrop and Roger Williams," Fides et Historia 2000 32(1): 39-49


  • Carlino, Anthony O. "Roger Williams and his Place in History: The Background and the Last Quarter Century," Rhode Island History 2000 58(2): 34-71, historiography
  • Irwin, Raymond D. "A Man for all Eras: The Changing Historical Image of Roger Williams, 1630-1993," Fides Et Historia 1994 26(3): 6-23, historiography
  • Morgan, Edmund S. " Miller's Williams," New England Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Dec., 1965), pp. 513–523 in JSTOR
  • Moore, Leroy, Jr. "Roger Williams and the Historians," Church History 1963 32(4): 432-451 in JSTOR
  • Peace, Nancy E. "Roger Williams: A Historiographical Essay," Rhode Island History 1976 35(4): 103-113,

Primary sources

  • William, Roger. The Complete Writings of Roger Williams (7 vol; 1963)
  • William, Roger. The Correspondence of Roger Williams. Vol. 1: 1629-1653. Vol. 2: 1654-1682 ed. by Glenn W. LaFantasie. (1988) 867 pp.


  • Settle, Mary Lee, I, Roger Williams: A Novel, W. W. Norton & Company, Reprint edition (2002).


  1. ^ Williams, Roger in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ Robert H. Pfeiffer, "The Teaching of Hebrew in Colonial America". The Jewish Quarterly Review, (April 1955), pp. 363–73, accessed through JSTOR.
  3. ^ Feldman, Noah (2005). Divided by God. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pg. 24
  4. ^ "Prudence History". Lighthouse. 
  5. ^ Lauber, Almon Wheeler, Indian Slavery in Colonial Times Within the Present Limits of the United States. New York: Columbia University, 1913. Chapter 5. HTML version accessed from [Dinsmore Documentation].
  6. ^ The Rhode Island Historical Society FAQ.
  7. ^ Baptists in North America: an historical perspective. Blackwell Publishing, 2006, p. 23. ISBN 1405118652.
  8. ^ "Newport Notables". Redwood Library.. 
  9. ^ The Christian observatory, Volume 1 By Alexander Wilson M'Clure, p. 188.
  10. ^ Rhode Island Historical Society Collections, Volume 1 (Rhode Island: 1827), p. 118.
  11. ^ Phillips (1996)
  12. ^ Neff (1996)
  13. ^ "Report of the Council". Proceedings (Boston: American Antiquarian Society): 19. 1855-04-25. Retrieved 2009-02-13. 
  14. ^ "Tree Root That Ate Roger Williams". Providence, Rhode Island: Roadside America. 
  15. ^ James Emanuel Ernst, Roger Williams, New England Firebrand (Macmillan Co., Rhode Island, 1932), pg. 246 [1]
  16. ^ Stanley (2009)
  17. ^ Field (2007)
  18. ^ Davis (1970)
  19. ^ Wood (2000)
  20. ^ Irwin (1994)
  21. ^


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility.
God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state...

Roger Williams (1603-12-211684-04-01) was an Anglo-American clergyman, a pioneering advocate for freedom of conscience in religious matters, and the separation of church and state. He was a founder of the Rhode Island colony.



  • There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking.
    • Statement of rejection of formal sectarian organizations and claims, as quoted in Picturesque America (1874) by William Cullen Bryant p. 502.
The natives are very exact and punctual in the bounds of their lands... notwithstanding a sinful opinion amongst many, that christians have right to heathen's land.
  • Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility. No man shall be required to worship or maintain a worship against his will.
    • As quoted in The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom (1991) edited by Albert J. Menendez and Edd Doerr

A Key into the Language of America (1643)

Extensive selections from A Key into the Language of America : Or an Help to the Language of the Natives, in that part of America, called New England. Together with brief Observations of the Customs, Manners, and Worships, &c. of the aforesaid Natives, in Peace and War, in Life and Death online
  • I present you with a Key : I have not heard of the like yet framed, since it pleased God to bring that mighty continent of America to light. Others of my countrymen have often, and excellently, and lately, written of the country, and none that I know beyond the goodness and worth of it.
    This Key respects the native language of it, and happily may unlock some rarities concerning the natives themselves, not yet discovered.
    • Preface
  • The natives are very exact and punctual in the bounds of their lands, belonging to this or that prince or people, even to a river, brook, &c. And I have known them make bargain and sale amongst themselves for a small piece or quantity of ground ; notwithstanding a sinful opinion amongst many, that christians have right to heathen's land.
    • Ch. 16 "Of the Earth and the Fruits thereof."
God needeth not the help of a material sword of steel to assist the sword of the Spirit in the affairs of conscience.
  • I was persuaded and am, that God's way is first to turn a soul from its idols, both of heart, worship, and conversation, before it is capable of worship to the true and living God... the two first principles and foundations of true religion, or worship of the true God in Christ, are repentance from dead works, and faith towards God, before the doctrine of baptism or washing, and the laying on of hands, which contain the ordinances and practices of worship; the want of which I conceive is the bane of millions of souls in England and all other nations professing to be Christian nations, who are brought by public authority to baptism and fellowship with God in ordinances of worship, before the saving work of repentance and a true turning to God.
    • Ch. 21 "Of their Religion"

The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience (1644)

"A Plea for Religious Liberty" an excerpt from The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience (1644)
  • Men's consciences ought in no sort to be violated, urged, or constrained. And whenever men have attempted any thing by this violent course, whether openly or by secret means, the issue has been pernicious, and the cause of great and wonderful innovations in the principallest and mightiest kingdoms and countries...
    • "Address to Parliament"
  • All civil states with their officers of justice in their respective constitutions and administrations are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual or Christian state and worship.
  • It is the will and command of God that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries; and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only (in soul matters) able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God's Spirit, the Word of God.
  • God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and of the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.
  • A civil sword (as woeful experience in all ages has proved) is so far from bringing or helping forward an opposite in religion to repentance that magistrates sin grievously against the work of God and blood of souls by such proceedings... Religion cannot be true which needs such instruments of violence to uphold it so.
The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience, is most evidently and lamentably contrary to the doctrine of Christ Jesus the Prince of Peace.
  • God needeth not the help of a material sword of steel to assist the sword of the Spirit in the affairs of conscience.
  • The God of Peace, the God of Truth will shortly seal this truth, and confirm this witness, and make it evident to the whole world, that the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience, is most evidently and lamentably contrary to the doctrine of Christ Jesus the Prince of Peace.
No man ever did, nor ever shall, truly go forth to convert the nations, nor to prophesy in the present state of witnesses against Antichrist, but by the gracious inspiration and instigation of the Holy Spirit of God.

The Hireling Ministry, None of Christ's (1652)

Online text
  • No man ever did, nor ever shall, truly go forth to convert the nations, nor to prophesy in the present state of witnesses against Antichrist, but by the gracious inspiration and instigation of the Holy Spirit of God. ... I know no other True Sender, but the most Holy Spirit.
  • 'Tis true, those glorious first ministeriall gifts are ceased, and that's or should be the lamentation of all Saints... Yet I humbly conceive that without those gifts, it is no ground of imitation, and of going forth to Teach and Baptise the Nations, for, the Apostles themselves did not attempt that mighty enterprise, but waited at Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit descended on them, and inabled them for that mighty work
I have read ... the last will and testament of the Lord Jesus over many times, and yet I cannot find by one tittle ... that ever He would have put forth the least finger of temporal or civil power in the matters of His spiritual affairs...
  • The civil state of the nations, being merely and essentially civil, cannot (Christianly) be called "Christian states," after the pattern of that holy and typical land of Canaan, which I have proved at large in the Bloudy Tenent to be a nonesuch and an unparalleled figure of the spiritual state of the church of Christ Jesus, dispersed yet gathered to Him in all nations.
    The civil sword (therefore) cannot (rightfully) act either in restraining the souls of the people from worship, etc., or in constraining them to worship, considering that there is not a tittle in the New Testament of Christ Jesus that commits the forming or reforming of His spouse and church to the civil and worldly powers...
  • I observe the great and wonderful mistake, both our own and our fathers, as to the civil powers of this world, acting in spiritual matters. I have read ... the last will and testament of the Lord Jesus over many times, and yet I cannot find by one tittle of that testament that if He had been pleased to have accepted of a temporal crown and government that ever He would have put forth the least finger of temporal or civil power in the matters of His spiritual affairs and Kingdom.
    Hence must it lamentably be against the testimony of Christ Jesus for the civil state to impose upon the souls of the people a religion, a worship, a ministry, oaths (in religious and civil affairs), tithes, times, days, marryings, and buryings in holy ground...
  • The first grand design of Christ Jesus is to destroy and consume His mortal enemy antichrist. This must be done by the breath of His mouth in His prophets and witnesses. Now, the nations of the world have impiously stopped this heavenly breath and stifled the Lord Jesus in His servants. Now, it shall please the civil state to remove the state bars set up to resist the holy spirit of God in His servants (whom yet finally to resist is not in all the powers of the world), I humbly conceive that the civil state has made a fair progress in promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Opinions offensive are of two sorts: some savoring of impiety, and some of incivility.
    Against the first, Christ Jesus never called for the sword of steel to help the sword of the spirit, that two-edged sword that comes out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus...
    The second sort, to wit, opinions of incivility, doubtless the opinions as well as practices are the proper object of the civil sword...
  • Although the loose will be more loose (yet) possibly being at more liberty they may be put upon consideration and choice of ways of life and peace, yet, however, it is infinitely better that the profane and loose be unmasked than to be muffled up under the veil and hood of traditional hypocrisy, which turns and dulls the very edge of all conscience either toward God or man.
  • Such parents or children as aim at the gain and preferment of religion do often mistake gain and gold for godliness, godbelly for the true God, and some false for the true Lord Jesus.
  • The civil state is bound before God to take off that bond and yoke of soul oppression, and to proclaim free and impartial liberty to all the people of the three nations to choose and maintain what worship and ministry their souls and consciences are persuaded of; which act, as it will prove an act of mercy and righteousness to the enslaved nations, so is it of a binding force to engage the whole and every interest and conscience to preserve the common freedom and peace; however, an act most suiting with the piety and Christianity of the Holy Testament of Christ Jesus.
  • The civil state is humbly to be implored to provide in their high wisdom for the security of all the respective consciences, in their respective meetings, assemblings, worshipings, preachings, disputings, etc., and that civil peace and the beauty of civility and humanity be maintained among the chief opposers and dissenters.

Quotes about Williams

  • At once maddeningly original and disarmingly humane, Roger Williams championed Native American rights, church-state separation, and an independent judiciary when each was considered rank heresy.
  • "The most fascinating figure of America's formative seventeenth century," Roger Williams has now gained general acceptance as a symbol of a critical turning point in American thought and institutions. He was the first American to advocate and activate complete freedom of conscience, dissociation of church and state, and genuine political democracy. From his first few weeks in America he openly raised the banner of "rigid Separatism." In one year in Salem he converted the town into a stronghold of radical Separatism and threw the entire Bay Colony into an uproar. Banished for his views, after being declared guilty of "a frontal assault on the foundations of the Bay system," he escaped just as he was to be deported to England.
    He settled in Providence with thirteen other householders and in one year formed the first genuine democracy, as well as the first church-divorced and conscience-free community in modern history. Williams felt that government is the natural way provided by God to cope with the corrupt nature of man. But since government could not be trusted to know which religion is true, he considered the best hope for true religion the protection of the freedom of all religion, along with non-religion, from the state.
    • Cyclone Covey in The Gentle Radical: Roger Williams (1966)
  • Williams' life and major works — the 1643 bestseller A Key Into the Language of America and the 1644 treatise The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution — inspire nothing less than awe. Williams showed up in Massachusetts in 1631 and immediately mixed it up with the theocrats there, staking controversial positions on hotly debated questions such as the presence of a disturbingly papal cross on the flag of England.
    Two of his arguments would earn him exile: He insisted that the colonists had robbed the local Indians of their property (he called it "an unjust usurpation upon others' possessions") and, even worse, that civil magistrates had no business enforcing religious laws (lest "the wilderness of the world" engulf "the garden of the church").
  • The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, released the same year as his friend John Milton's defense of the free press, Areopagitica, argued for "soul liberty" for all people, "paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-christian." Such ideas were far ahead of their time — perhaps even our time... Williams' ideas infused the charters of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other colonies with protections for religious freedom. And his notions of a fully secular state found their way into the writings of John Locke, who would have a seminal influence on Jefferson, Madison, and other Founders. One wishes that America had taken even more from Williams and what Gaustad calls his "bequest...of liberty, responsibility, and civility."
    • Nick Gillespie in "Remembering Roger Williams" - Reason magazine (November 2005)
  • The English... justified their grabbing of Indian land by claiming that these simple folk did not really believe in property rights. On the contrary, Williams observed, "the Natives are very exact and punctual in the bounds of their Lands, belonging to this or that Prince or People," even bargaining among themselves for a small piece of ground.
  • Roger Williams... successfully vindicated the right of private judgement in matters of conscience, and effected a moral and political revolution in all governments of the civilized world.

See also

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Roger Williams
File:RWU Roger Williams
Born December 21, 1603(1603-12-21)
London, England
Died April 19, 1683 (aged 79)
Providence, Rhode Island
Other names Bob
Religion Puritan, Separatist, Baptist, Seeker
Spouse Mary Barnard

Roger Williams (December 21, 1603April 1, 1683) was an English theologian. He was widely known as a supporter of religious toleration and separation of church and state. He also supported fair dealings with Native Americans. In 1644, he received a charter creating the colony of Rhode Island, named for the main island in Narragansett Bay. He is believed to have started the first or second Baptist church in the United States. He is known to have left the church soon afterwards, saying, "God is too large to be housed under one roof."[needs proof]

Famous descendants

These are some famous descendants of Roger Williams:

  • Gail Borden
  • Julia Ward Howe
  • Charles Eugene Tefft


Further reading

  • Brockunier, Samuel. The Irrepressible Democrat, Roger Williams, The Ronald Press Company, New York, 1940.
  • Gaustad, Edwin, S., ed., Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1991.
  • Miller, Perry, Roger Williams, A Contribution to the American Tradition, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc, Indianapolis and New York, 1953.
  • Settle, Mary Lee, I, Roger Williams: A Novel, W. W. Norton & Company, Reprint edition (September 2002).
  • Winslow, Ola Elizabeth, Master Roger Williams, A Biography. The Macmillan Company, New York, 1957.
  • Peattie, Donald Culross, Roger Williams- First Modern American. The Reader's Digest. December 1946.

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