Roger Williams: Prophet of Liberty

Roger Williams: Prophet of Liberty

Roger Williams: Prophet of Liberty

Roger Williams: Prophet of Liberty

Synopsis

Roger Williams chronicles the life of one of the most remarkable forefathers in American history. A true revolutionary, this devout Puritan championed Native American rights; wrote treatises on equal rights, flag desecration, and the separation of church and state; established the first American settlement based on total religious toleration--and he lived more than a century before independence, when America was still a vast wilderness! Williams went on to adopt adult baptism and founded the first Baptist church in America. He became president of Rhode Island colony in 1654, served as captain in the defense of Providence during King Philip's War, and continued to write and preach passionately for religious tolerance and Native American rights until his death in 1683.

Excerpt

At first glance, Roger Williams does not seem like a promising subject for a biography. We do not know when he was born, nor exactly when he died. We do not know what he looked like. We cannot visit his home, for it went up in flames long ago. Although he was a preacher, no sermon of his survives. During his lifetime, not a single monument was erected in his honor and, at his death, no carved stone marked his grave. He was—or so it appeared—a forgotten man.

Slowly, however, the memory of the man has begun to be reclaimed. If he was a person well ahead of his times, the times have gradually caught up. Scattered writings about his life, often hurriedly composed, were in the latter half of the 19th century gathered together in six volumes; in the 20th century a seventh volume was added. Recollections of his contemporaries, both friends and foes—he had more of the latter—required more careful examination. Tiny steps that he took in the 17th century now look, from the perspective of some 300 years later, like giant strides.

Williams wrote much about the Native Americans, a great deal about the nature of civil government, but most about the proper relationship between things of the spirit and matters of the sword. We still puzzle over exactly where to draw the line between the authority of the state and the freedom of the soul. We still agonize over the folly of religious persecution, both in America and abroad. And we still worry about the limits of liberty as these relate to calls for responsibility. If any such matters seem urgent in the opening years of the 21st century, then Roger Williams needs to be a remembered rather than a forgotten man. His life and his words command our attention.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.