Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island's Founding Father

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island's Founding Father

Article excerpt

Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island's Founding Father. By Linford D. Fisher, J. Stanley Lemons, and Lucas Mason-Brown. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014. 212 pp.

For centuries a "Mystery Book" at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University refused to reveal all its secrets. The work's subtitle is "An Essay Towards the Reconciling of Differences Among Christians," but the title, author, and publication date of the book itself are unknown. Even more intriguing is the fact that the margins of many of the pages are filled with cryptic shorthand writing, again without a named author.

Many scholars presumed through the years that the famed Roger Williams (ca. 1603-1683) was the author behind the shorthand-written manuscript, but in 2012 all doubts were put to rest when an interdisciplinary collaborative effort decoded the cryptic shorthand and confirmed Williams' authorship.

Decoding Roger Williams explains the process by which Williams' shorthand code was deciphered, introduces the reader to the polemical context and content of the essay, and provides a critical edition of the short essay itself ("A Brief Reply to a Small Book Written by John Eliot").

The context for Williams' essay was the ongoing trans-Atlantic debate about baptism. John Norcott, an English Baptist minister, wrote what proved to be a popular defense of believer's baptism in 1672. A few years later John Eliot, the well-known minister and missionary to the New England natives, responded to Norcott with a defense of infant baptism titled A Brief Answer to a Small Book Written by John Norcot Against Infant-Baptisme (1679).

Williams, ever the controversialist, even at his advanced age, penned "A Brief Reply" around 1680 as a point-by-point rebuttal to Eliot's case for infant baptism and its role in Eliot's evangelization of Native Americans.

Beyond the obvious significance of discovering a new manuscript and the fascinating historical cryptanalysis that brought it to light, "A Brief Reply" supplements and sharpens what we know of Roger Williams' final years. His refutation of infant baptism employs arguments typical of those convinced of its invalidity, and the entire essay reveals a fundamental continuity between his Baptist period and his later years where believer's baptism is concerned. …

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.