Roger Williams was born in 1603 in London, England to James Williams and Alice Pemberton. The exact date is unknown due to the Great Fire of London in 1666 in which his birth records were burned. During his teenage years, Williams grew up as the protege of well-known jurist, Sir Edward Coke. Coke influenced Williams to attend Charter House in London and then Cambridge University. Williams especially had a knack for different languages and spoke Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. During college, he became a Puritan. He graduated college in 1627.
After graduating, he became a chaplain to the family of a wealthy Puritan gentleman, Sir William Masham. Through Masham, Williams gained connections to Puritans such as Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Hooker. He married Mary Barnard in December of 1629. Together, the couple had six children (all were born later in America).
In 1630, he felt he needed to leave England because of his views on the freedom of worship. On February 5, 1631, he arrived at Boston with Mary. Upon arrival, he denied the invitation to associate with the Anglican Puritans there.
Williams was well-known for his relations with Native Americans and he was one of the first individuals to document and translate a Native American language and ethnographic study in both prose and poetry. In 1632, he moved to the Plymouth Colony, and in the next year returned to Salem when he had a disagreement with the magistrate, claiming that the only fair purchase of land from the Native Americans was a direct purchase.
Because of his views, Williams was banished from the colony. So, in 1636, he set out with his followers to Narragansett Bay where they purchased land (the right way) from the Narragansett Indians, founding a colony in Rhode Island that Williams called the Providence Plantation. Quickly becoming a religious refuge, the colony served as a safe place for Quakers, among others, whose beliefs didn’t really match up with that of the public. In a trip to England to receive a charter for Rhode Island, Williams met and became friends with poet, John Milton.
Until King Philip’s War began in 1675, the Native Americans were peaceful with the English settlers. Rhode Island fell victim to the war, and was burned down.
Williams died in 1683. He is remembered as the founder of Rhode Island, an advocate for the separation of church and state, and for his views on taking land from Native Americans.
Williams’ most famous works were The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution (1644), A Key into the Language of America (1643), and his Letter to the Town of Providence (1655).