by Florence Markoff

The story of how he left Massachusetts and founded his own colony.


A statue of Williams, located in Congdon Park, overlooks the city he founded in 1636.

The time was the winter of 1636. In Salem, Massachusetts, the snow was heavy on the ground, and a young minister was forced to leave his wife and children and escape into the wilderness. He had just been warned that he would be sent back to England. The Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony said he was preaching dangerous beliefs—false doctrines. He had told the people about religious freedom; he had spoken of complete separation of church and state; he declared it was sinful to take land that belonged to the Indians instead of buying it from them.

And so it was that the young minister found himself pushing his way along primitive Indian paths to secure the protection of the great Indian leader, Massassoit. Joining him on the difficult journey was a young lad, Thomas Angell. After months of travel, they crossed the Seekonk River and settled near a spring on the bank of the Moshassock River.

It was here that the courageous preacher started the first settlement in the New World founded on the principle of freedom of worship and separation of church and state. It was here, in gratefulness to God's mercy, that the young clergyman spoke history-making words... "It is God's good providence that has brought us safely to this spot." In this place, he was determined to make a colony of refuge for all who were persecuted for conscience's sake. Since that day, more than 360 years ago, his words have been written in many important United States documents.

The youthful pioneer started the firt settlement in the colony of Rhode Island, the first democratic state of modern times. The settlement was called Providence—by Roger Williams—a Rhode Island Portrait in Sound.

Providence resident Florence Markoff is a speaker, performer, storyteller, and radio personality. For information on ordering audiotape copies of Rhode Island Portraits in Sound, There's a Word for It, or her latest project, Famous Jewish Portraits in Sound, visit BookmarkProductions.com. The story of how Roger Williams left Massachusetts and founded his own colony is featured on Rhode Island Portraits in Sound, volume 1.

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This article last edited February 12, 2003

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