Baptists > History > Roger Williams
First Baptist Pastor in North America, Preacher, Statesman -1603 to 1683
   Roger Williams organized the first Baptist church in America.  He was also founder of the state of Rhode Island.  Those are remarkable accomplishments for a man who was shunned and persecuted by others who came to the New World to find religious liberty.
   Born in 1603, Williams was raised in the Church of England.  At age twenty, he was admitted to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge University.  Although, he graduated from Cambridge in 1627, and was ordained in the 
Church of England in 1628, it was obvious even then that his theological views were not always in agreement with his teachers and peers.
   While serving in his first assignment as the chaplain to the Masham household in Essex County, he came to know many powerful Puritan leaders in Parliament.  Due to their influence, he became convinced in the beliefs of separation of church and state and separated himself from the Church of England.  Soon afterwards, Charles I began a campaign of persecution against the Puritans, resulting in Roger and his wife, Mary, having to escape by sailing on board the Lyon to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America.
   Upon arriving, it just so happened that the minister of the Boston church was leaving for England.  Williams was offered the oppotunity to pastor the church during the interim but declined because of his Seperatist views.  The couple decided to press on to Salem where Roger was offered the position of teacher in the church there.  He accepted but the governor of the colony questioned his more radical Seperatist views, thus, resulting in the offer being rescinded.  He was then made assistant to the pastor of the church in Plymouth but it proved to be a breif stay as his views again came into conflict with the leadership of the church.
   Besides taking a stand on the impurity of the church, he also began to speak out publically regarding other areas of contention he had with the government of the colony.   He challenged their right to regulate religious matters, questioned the validity of the Massachusetts Bay charter, and asserted that the appropriation of land from Native Americans was illegal.  He also argued the civil government should be kept separate from the state.
   As a result, Williams was brought up before the General Court. The charges that were brought against him were as follows: "...his new and dangerous opinions, in particular his denial of the magistrates' authority in religious matters, and his seditious letters, one in the name of the Salem church attacking the General Court, and the second to the Salem church urging their separation from the other churches of the colony."   Roger and Mary Williams found themselves banished from the colony in 1635.
   Along with some followers, the Williams's  traveled into the Narragansett territory to the south of Massachusetts.  Here he purchased land from the Indians and founded Providence, Rhode Island.  In 1638, Roger Williams organized the first Baptist church in North America.  The destinctinves of baptism by immersion for believers only and separation of church and state were included in the church's doctrinal statement.
   In 1643, Williams went to England to obtain a charter for Rhode Island.  He secured the charter on March 14, 1644.
   Williams wrote a pamphlet in 1652 entitled,  "The Bloudy Tenent yet More Bloudy," which discussed separation of church and state.  Thomas Jefferson and James Madison give Roger Williams the credit of being the "original thought influencer on the first amendment"  We Baptists are proud of this man of God who endured much, stayed steadfast, founded the first Baptist church in North America, and laid the foundation for the Bill of Rights.
   Roger Williams passed away in 1683


Books About
Roger Williams
Liberty of Conscience:
Roger Williams
in America
Moral Theology
of Roger Williams
Colonial Leaders
Roger Williams
Founder of Rhode
Puritans in the New World: A Critical Anthology
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