Roger Williams National Monument - Providence, RI
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member NorStar
N 41° 49.883 W 071° 24.645
19T E 299814 N 4633864
Quick Description: The Roger Williams National Monument, situated at the base of College Hill, is the location where Rev. Roger Williams and a group with him, after being forced to move beyond the borders of Massachusetts, settled here and established Providence.
Location: Rhode Island, United States
Date Posted: 12/15/2012 3:20:11 PM
Waymark Code: WMFY15
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member silverquill
Views: 4

Long Description:
In Providence, at the base of College Hill and near the Rhode Island Statehouse, is the Roger Williams National Monument, which is the location of the original settlement of Providence, and a monument to the life of Reverend Roger Williams.

The monument comprises approximately a block of land bounded by Canal Street, Park Row, N Main Street, and Smith Street. It is mostly a park, with a concrete garden area around the original spring and the Visitor Center in the north end. Various historical signs exist that provide historical information from the settlement through stages of the growth of Providence. One sign has the following:

"'A Shelter for Persons Distressed'

In 2636, Roger Williams bought land from the Narragansett chiefs and established a colony here near the site of a fresh water spring. Naming the town for God's providence to him, Williams declared the settlement a shelter for the persecuted of all religions. The original settlers built their homes in a row along the east side of the street, on narrow plots running up the hill. The Williams home was directly up the street..."

There is a stone plaque on a stone building across North Main Street that marks the location of that home.

The visitor center is in a small structure that dates back to the 1700s. The public area is one room, with a movie viewing area and modest exhibit area in one part, and the gift shop/book store in the other. The movie is about 15 minutes long, but well done and provides a good summary of William's life.

The web site for the Williams National Monument has the following summary:

"Roger Williams National Memorial commemorates the life of the founder of Rhode Island and a champion of the ideal of religious freedom. Williams, banished from Massachusetts for his beliefs, founded Providence in 1636. This colony served as a refuge where all could come to worship as their conscience dictated without interference from the state."

On the history page, the web site has the following:

"It is on this site that Williams, through word and action, fought for the ideal that religion must not be subject to regulation by the state but, instead, that it should be a matter of individual conscience. It was a remarkable journey that brought Williams to what is now the capital of Rhode Island and to where he put his beliefs into practice, giving “shelter for persons distressed of conscience."”

A summary of Roger Williams life (based on text in the NPS web site) is as follows. Williams was born in 1603. He went to Cambridge University and became a minister in 1629. He became dissatisfied how the Church of England was becoming more and more like the Roman Catholic Church. He became associated with the Puritans, a splinter group that wanted more reform of the church. But it was not a good time to push for reform in the current political climate. Roger Williams and his wife, Rachel, left on a voyage to Boston, just after the first trip by John Winthrop that settled Boston. He preached in Boston, but after a while, he became a 'Separatist,' who believed that it was better for Puritans to separate from the Church of England altogether. At this time, church and government were strongly intertwined. He moved to Salem and then Plymouth in search of more tolerant societies. Wiliams objected to ministers being paid by taxes and oaths of God, so he took up trading with the local Native American bands. In 1635, charges were brought up against Williams:

"•First, That we have not our Land by Patent from the King, but that the Natives are the true owners of it, and that we ought to repent of such a receiving it by Patent.
•Secondly, That it is not lawful to call a wicked person to Swear, to Pray, as being actions of God’s worship.
•Thirdly, That it is not lawful to hear any of the Ministers of the Parish Assemblies in England.
•Fourthly, That the Civil Magistrates power extends only to the Bodies and Goods, and outward state of men, &c."

He was sentenced to deportation, but Williams fleed (withouth his wife) out of the colony. During his flight in the wilderness, he likely received shelter from the Wampanoags, led by Chief Sachem, Massasoit. In the spring, Williams and a few followers from Salem settled in the Seekonk area. However, he received notification from Plymouth Colony (then separate from Massachusetts) that they were still within the bounds of Plymouth Colony, but if they moved across the river that they could live in peace. So they searched for and found a suitable place at this location. Williams negotiated for the purchase of the land from the Narragansetts. The form of government was different than the previous colonies. For one, since there was no official church sanctioned, religion was not directly involved. For one, members of the household did not have to be a member of the church in order to vote. Also, taxes were not levied to support a church. This would create other issues, though. Williams took two trips to England. One was to obtain a charter for the colony. The charter was unique in that "...no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be anyway molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and does not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments." These ideas would eventually be incorporated into the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Later, he would be a founder of the Baptist Church in America. He also continued dialog with the local Narragansetts and Wampanoags. His ashes were once buried off Benefit Street, but are now buried in the statue on College Hill in Prospect Park.

Williams was an interesting character and is well worth learning more about. Several books were available in the Visitor Center. Let the park ranger present help you purchase the book right for you.
Relevant Website: [Web Link]

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