Roger Williams was a Separatist leader and the founder of the colony of Providence Plantations, which became Rhode Island. He is best remembered for his advocacy of religious freedom and separation of church and state. To be successful on Roger Williams APUSH questions, be sure to study his political and religious viewpoints, as well as the circumstances leading to his founding of Providence.
Who is Roger Williams?
Roger Williams was born in England and in 1630 declared himself a Separatist after coming to believe that the Church of England was corrupt. Shortly afterward, he traveled to America and settled in Massachusetts. Once there, he formed close relationships with the local Native American tribes as he learned about their languages and customs. He grew ardent beliefs of Separatism, as well as the separation of church and state. Additionally, he came to question the legality and morality of chartering land belonging to Native Americans and advocated for purchasing land directly from the tribes.
Williams’s religious and political beliefs brought him the wrath of Puritan leaders, and in 1635, he was convicted of sedition and heresy and banished from Massachusetts. He fled into the wilderness beyond Massachusetts. He purchased land from the Narragansett, founding the settlement of Providence, which was ruled by the concepts of democracy and separation of church and state. The settlement grew in the ensuing years, and Rhode Island became a haven for those who had been exiled or disenfranchised from other colonies.
Important years to note for Roger Williams:
- 1631: Williams arrives in Boston
- 1635: Williams is banished from Massachusetts
- 1636: Williams founds Providence
Why is Roger Williams so important?
Roger Williams’ ideas were radical and ahead of his time. He was an early abolitionist who tried to keep slavery out of Rhode Island, and his respect for the land rights of Native Americans helped him gain the trust and respect of the Narragansett and other tribes. As such, he was able to barter and maintain peace between the Native Americans and the surrounding colonies (for a time, at least). Williams is best remembered, however, for being the originator of the concept of the separation of church and state, and his ideas likely influenced the first amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.
What are some historical people and events related to Roger Williams?
- Antinomians: a religious group, led by Anne Hutchinson, who were exiled from Massachusetts Bay Colony and took Refuge in Rhode Island
- First Baptist Church of America: Baptist church founded by Williams in 1638
What example question about Roger Williams might come up on the APUSH exam?
“God requireth not an 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.”
-Roger Williams (Source)
Roger Williams’s views on religion led to
A) the spread of the Anabaptist and Antinomian movements in America.
B) the separation of church and state in Massachusetts Bay Colony.
C) the founding of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations Colony.
D) the exile of Baptists, Quakers, and Jews from Salem settlement.
The correct answer is (C). Roger Williams was a radical proponent for religious freedom and the separation of church and state. The Puritan leaders of Massachusetts considered his views heretical, and in 1936 he was banished from the colony. Williams then purchased land from the Narragansett and formed Providence Plantations Colony, which became a haven for the persecuted and exiled throughout New England.