Location: Providence, Rhode Island
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The colonial history of Rhode Island begins with Roger Williams. Born in London in 1603 and trained as an Anglican clergyman, he found that he sympathized with the Puritans who believed the Church of England had not made a clean break with the Catholicism. To escape persecution the Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in present day Boston and elected John Winthrop governor in 1629. Roger Williams followed later in 1631, however, he soon clashed with Winthrop believing a clean break with the Anglican church, a view too radical for the Puritans. He also disagreed with a theocracy believing religion should be a personal choice and that land should not just be taken from the Indians. He finally fled Massachusetts Bay to avoid arrest in 1636 and befriended the Narragansett Indians who deeded him land to form a colony which he named Providence. After being joined by his family and a few friends, they formally agreed to “hold forth Liberty of Conscience” making laws “only in civill things.” However, he was still valuable to Massachusetts Bay as a negotiator with the Indians successfully convincing the Narragansett Indians to ally themselves with Britain instead of the Pequot tribe leading to nearly wiping out this tribe in the was of 1637-1638. Williams remained busy, establishing a trading post south of Providence and cofounding the first Baptist Church in North American in 1638. By 1643 the towns of Portsmouth, Newport, and Warwick had also been established by other like dissenters of Puritan government. In 1643, Williams returned to England to acquire a charter for the colony and returned successful. Once again he traveled to England in 1651 to defend this charter from another grant that threatened to divide the colony. When Williams died in 1683, he was nearly destitute giving spending all his time defending the colony and its ideals. His ideals of religious freedom and the separation of church and state endured for the next 100 years until they were codified in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which along with the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights had to be done before Rhode Island would ratify the Constitution. Today the Roger Williams National Memorial consists of a 4.5 acre park in the center of Providence near the site of Roger Williams’ home on the banks of the Moshassuck River.
1) The Visitor Center is a small building at one end of the park. It consists of a few exhibits about the part Roger Williams played in the founding of Rhode Island. There is also a short movie about Roger Williams that provided a lot of useful background. For instance we found out that the full name for the state, even today, is Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations.
2) The park has a few small monuments, picnic tables, and walking paths.
3) The main purpose of the park for us was the access it gave to the other historical buildings in Providence, including the State House.