OTD: Roger Williams Banished

On this day, October 9, 1635, Roger Williams is banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The beliefs of Williams upset the very foundations of Puritanism – its church and its colony. Here’s what his “heretical” views were:

First: Williams believed every man had the right to practice whatever religion he pleased. A person’s beliefs were a matter of conscience.

Second: the Government shouldn’t force people to attend church or pay taxes to support a church.

Third: Magistrates have no right to punish those who break the Puritan Sabbath or the Puritan notion of blasphemy.

Fourth: The king has no right to grant lands in America because the land didn’t belong to him – it belongs to the natives.

Historian Bancroft says Roger’s chief crime/heresy consisted in maintaining “that the civil magistrate ought to restrain crime, but never control opinion: should punish guilt, but never violate the freedom of the soul.”

The Puritan leaders, having declared Roger’s opinions dangerous, ordered him to ship out! It was back to England for Roger. Neither he nor his views were welcome in Massachusetts.

Williams, instead of going back to England, fled through bitter cold and deep snow, ultimately finding refuge in an Indian hut on the shores of Narragansett Bay.

Williams learned the Narragansett language and so endeared himself to them that he was able to procure a tract of land from his gracious hosts.

On that spot, in 1636, Williams and his followers began to build a town. Williams called this new home, Providence, because he believed these events were a sign of God’s merciful providence.