Roger Williams

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Roger Williams (1603-1683) was the founder of the colony of Rhode Island and a promoter of a strict separation between church and state. He opposed any preference by government of one religion over another, or any interference by a magistrate into religious matters.

Roger Williams was born in London and worked under the great English jurist Sir Edward Coke. Williams knew the famous Puritan Oliver Cromwell in England, but Williams had non-conformist religious views that caused him to leave England for Boston in 1631. Williams disagreed with the Anglican Puritans, who wanted to remain in the Church of England, and he moved to the Plymouth Colony, which wanted to separate from the Church of England. Williams soon fought with them because he felt that ownership of land did not come from the king, but required direct purchase from Indians.

In 1636 the Puritans in England banished Williams due to his non-conformist views, and he founded the city of Providence, Rhode Island as a haven for all religions that were being denied freedom of religious speech elsewhere. Williams personally remained a Calvinist. He could speak the language of the Indians and was friendly with them, though he defended Rhode Island against King Philip's War. Williams himself earned a living based on farming and trading.