ON TOLERANCE AND THE FOUNDING OF
[A LETTER TO A FRIEND]
WHILE paddling down the Seekonk River, Roger Williams espied an Indian standing on top a rock on the bank. "What cheer, netop [friend]?" the Indian hailed him in greeting. Williams continued a short distance up the river and knew that his journey had ended. Shortly after, with a few companions, he founded a new settlement in Rhode Island: "Having of a sense of God's merciful providence unto me called this place Providence, I desired it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience."
Roger Williams had left England in 1630 to find religious freedom in America. It did not take him long to realize that he would not find it in the Massachusetts Colony. First preaching and then teaching, he conflicted with the civil authorities. The civil power of a state, he boldly asserted, had no jurisdiction over the consciences of men. He refused to take civil oaths, for an oath was a religious pledge and the state could not administer it. The king, he said, had no right to give away land in America to the colonists; the land belonged to the Indians and must be bought from them. Freedom of speech being as unknown as freedom of conscience in Massachusetts, Williams was arrested and brought to trial. Convicted, he would not recant and was ordered banished from the lands of Massachusetts.
In January, 1636, just escaping capture and being sent to England for trial, he made his way into the wilderness, alone. Joined by some friends,