Welcome to the audio-described version of Roger Williams National Memorial’s official print brochure. Through text and audio descriptions of photos, illustrations, and maps, this version interprets the two-sided color brochure that Roger Williams National Memorial visitors receive. The brochure explores the history of the park, some of its highlights, and information for planning your visit. This audio version lasts about 34 minutes, which we have divided into 23 sections as a way to improve the listening experience. Sections 1-10 cover the front of the brochure and include information about the life of Roger Williams. Sections 11-23 cover the back of the brochure and offer information about making your visit to Roger Williams a success.
Roger Williams Memorial, located in Rhode Island, is part of the National Park Service, within the Department of the Interior. The 4.56-acre park is situated near the eastern bank of the Moshassuck River, east of the Rhode Island State House and north of downtown Providence. Each year, thousands of visitors come to Roger Williams Memorial to learn about, and pay their respect to, the founder of Rhode Island. We invite you to explore the park’s rich history and natural beauty.
The front of the brochure includes quotes, historic photographs and photographs of artifacts. Most photos are black and white unless indicated as color. The text explains the life and times of Roger Williams. It explains his journey from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, including the troubles he experienced in the colony that led him to found Rhode Island, plus the legacy he left behind.
“that no civil magistrate, no King, nor Caesar, have any power over the souls or consciences of their subjects, in the matters of God and the crown of Jesus.”
—The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
—First Amendment, U.S. Constitution
Through word and action, Roger Williams fought for the idea that religion must not be subject to state regulation but should be a matter of individual conscience. Americans now take this for granted, but most people of his time condemned such ideas as naive and dangerous. They believed religious freedom and civil order could not coexist. Williams extended his defense of individual conscience to American Indians, respecting their rights and condemning imposed Christianity. As the founder of Rhode Island, he put his beliefs into practice, giving “shelter for persons distressed of conscience.”
DESCRIPTION: Signature of Roger Williams. Clear, well-defined cursive signature. Letters are easily readable. In "Williams," the "i"s look like "j"s due to his penmanship.
IMAGE 1 of 2: The Bloody Tenent
DESCRIPTION: Grayish-color title page of book with big, black, bold letters. Title covers 75 percent of the page and reads,“The Bloudy Tenant of Persecution, for cause of Conscience, dicussed, in a Conference between TRUTH and PEACE. Who, in all tender Affection, present to the High Court of Parliament, (as the result of their Discourse) these, (amongst other passages) of highest consideration.”
Some of the words in the title are written larger than others. The words “Bloudy” and “Truth” are spelled with a “V” instead of a “U”. A "long s” (which resembles a lowercase “f”) is used in some words.
In the remaining 25 percent, toward the bottom of the page, there are two black straight lines and in-between the lines are three stamp blocks designs that are a wood-block floral pattern.
CREDIT: Brown University
IMAGE 2 of 2: Christenings
DESCRIPTION: Grayish-color title page of book with big, black, bold letters. Title covers a little more than half of the page and reads, “Christenings make not Christians or A Brief Discourse concerning that name Heathen, commonly given to the Indians. As also concerning that great point of their CONVERSION.” A "long s” (which resembles a lowercase “f”) is used in some words. At the bottom of the page is a black-and-white drawing in a square of a Native American, holding an arrow in the left hand and a bow in the right. The Native American appears to be wearing feathers in her hair. In the upper-left corner of the illustration is a depiction of the sun with lines reflecting rays of light. Inside the sun is a crescent moon. Near the feet, in the bottom left corner of the illustration is a four-legged animal of some sort. In the bottom right corner is indecipherable vegetation that reaches to the height of the Native American’s knees.
CREDIT: British Library
DESCRIPTION: Image of a deed written on paper that was burned. A quarter of the deed is missing. The signatures of the Narragansett chiefs are unusual, because American Indian tribes did not have a written language. When signing this document, the chiefs used symbols as their signatures. The signature for Canonicus was a bow. Miantonomi used an arrow.
CREDIT: Providence City Hall Archives
With this deed, the Narragansett transferred to Roger Williams the land Providence was founded on. Williams’ beliefs about freedom of conscience were stated in his tract, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution. His "Christenings make not Christians" text decried mass conversions of American Indians to Christianity as a “prophanation of the holy name of God.”
Roger Williams’ academic promise convinced eminent jurist Sir Edward Coke to help him acquire an excellent education. Born in London in 1603, and trained as an Anglican clergyman, he increasingly sympathized with Puritans, who believed the Church of England had not made a clean break with Catholicism. The Puritans’ options were to risk jail or worse by trying to reform in England, or move to more tolerant Holland. In 1629, a third choice arose: Some Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony and elected John Winthrop governor. They sailed the next year, founding Boston and several other settlements.
Roger and his wife, Mary, sailed with another group in 1631. On arrival, he was noted by Winthrop as ”a godly minister,” but the two soon clashed. Williams became a separatist, a Puritan wanting to leave the Anglican Church, and believed that not separating from the established church was “middle walking” and “halting between Christ and antichrist.” But the colony refused to take so radical a step. Other issues set Williams at odds with Puritans. He rejected civil jurisdiction over “First Table” laws (the first four of the Ten Commandments), which were matters of individual conscience. He disputed English charters that took land from American Indians. He denounced “hireling” ministers paid from taxes and civil oaths taken in God’s name. Massachusetts Bay finally sentenced the troublesome minister to deportation; he fled the colony to avoid arrest.
The Narragansett deeded Williams land in 1636 for a colony at the headwaters of Narragansett Bay that he named Providence after “God’s merciful Providence unto me in my distress.” After he was joined there by family and a few friends, the settlers formally agreed to “hold forth Liberty of Conscience,” making laws “only in civill things.” But he had to divide his energies between the new colony—soon called Rhode Island—and other developments. Though he remained an outcast, he was valuable to Massachusetts as a negotiator. When rumors spread that the Narragansett would ally themselves with the Pequot against the English, Governor Winthrop asked Williams to meet with the Narragansett to prevent the alliance. Williams succeeded, even getting them to help the English. The ensuing war of 1637–38 greatly reduced the Pequot population. In coming decades, Williams repeatedly was asked to negotiate with American Indians on behalf of the colony that had expelled him.
Williams remained busy, establishing a trading post south of Providence around 1637 and cofounding the first Baptist Church in North America in 1638. By 1643, the towns of Portsmouth, Newport, and Warwick had also been established in the area by fellow dissenters. That year Williams returned to England to secure a charter for the colony, and in 1651, trying to hold Rhode Island together, he traveled to England again to defend the charter against another grant that threatened to split the colony.
In his later years, Williams’ health deteriorated. In 1676, he was “near destitute,” he said, from a lifetime committed to the colony without trying to accumulate land or a fortune—the first order of business for many prominent colonists. He had sold his trading post—his one dependable source of income—to finance his 1651 trip to London to defend the colony. Williams died in 1683, his wife, Mary, having died several years before.
In his final year, Williams wrote a letter pleading with Rhode Island citizens to put away “heats and hatreds” and “Submit to Government.” He was content with the colony charter. More than any other, it set into law the freedom for the “Souls of Men” he had sought. He found the goal a self-evident truth he spent his life trying to make others see. Forty years earlier, he wrote: “a man may clearly discern with his eye, and as it were touch with his finger, that according to the verity of holy scripture . . . men’s consciences ought in no sort to be violated, urged, or constrained.” His ideas were addressed, though less vividly, 100 years later in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. In that document, this complex man’s abiding passion for freedom of conscience found protection in the law of the land.
Dissenters, like Roger Williams, who published their beliefs risked having their works burned—at the least.
Curious Punishments of Bygone Days, Alice Morse Earle, 1896
England in the 1500s demanded religious conformity, forbidding “unlawful assemblies ... under color or pretense of any exercise of religions, contrary to her majesty’s said laws.” Catholics and radical Puritans who refused to conform even outwardly met persecutions as dissenters—public humiliation, torture, and sometimes death. Stuart Monarchs of the early 1600s also opposed unorthodoxy, but early migrations to the new world had begun, and the Crown and Parliament gave colonies more latitude. Many Puritans chose to emigrate.
In 1642, conflicts between the Stuarts and Parliament led to the English Civil War, with Puritans taking Parliament’s side. Roger Williams’ views were too extreme for both sides. On a visit to London in 1644, he published The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, calling for religious freedom for all: “Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or Antichristian.” Parliament ordered all copies burned. By 1653, Independent Puritan Oliver Cromwell ruled England. Independents believed each congregation should order its affairs with no outside interference. Williams invoked England’s example, urging Massachusetts to allow its churches more freedom.
After the monarchy was restored in 1660, Anglicanism was again the national religion, and one style of conformity replaced another. But dissent across the Atlantic was less feared. In 1663, Charles II granted Rhode Island a charter confirming that no one would be “molested, punished . . . or called in question” for differing religious opinions. England’s 1689 Act of Toleration moved in that direction, allowing all Protestant worship recognizing the Holy Trinity. Public worship by Catholics and other religious groups was still banned.
DESCRIPTION: A map of southeastern New England, showing Roger Williams’s travels. Green represents land, and light blue represents water. Two lines of text at the bottom of the map indicate that white labels are historic tribal lands. Gray lines and labels indicate present-day states. The tribal lands, clockwise from top left of the map, are Massachusett, Wampanoag, Narragansett, Pequot, Mohegan, and Nipmuck. States included are Rhode Island, part of Massachusetts, part of New Hampshire and part of Connecticut. The English towns of Salem, Boston, Plymouth, Providence, Warwick, Portsmouth, and Newport are indicated by yellow circles. There are four lines of trails, in shades of red and orange, that indicate Roger Williams’ travels. Boston to Salem (in red) 1631. Salem to Plymouth (dashed red) 1631. Plymouth to Salem (dashed orange) 1633. Salem to Providence (dashed orange) 1636.
Arrives in Boston.
Declines offer of Boston ministry. Accepts assistant minister post in Salem, whose church shares separatist beliefs.
Massachusetts Bay Colony persuades Salem to withdraw the offer. Accepts similar position in Plymouth. Gov. William Bradford calls him a “man godly and zealous, having many precious parts,” but Williams’ uncompromising defense of his beliefs brings a falling out.
Back in Salem; he continues to denounce the New England church’s connection to compromising Anglicans and insistence on the state’s duty to control citizens’ spiritual lives. When he urges Salem church to separate from others in Massachusetts Bay, he goes too far and loses his congregation’s support. For his “new and dangerous opinions,” Massachusetts Bay convicts him and plans to deport him to England. Barely avoiding arrest, Williams flees the colony in February 1636.
After spending winter with the Wampanoag, Williams travels to the headwaters of Narragansett Bay. Founds Providence there on land Narragansett deed to him.
IMAGE 1 of 2: Roger Williams’ portable compass
DESCRIPTION: Inside the lid is an image of a compass rose: four arrows arranged in a cross. There is a fleur-de-lis marking north, and in the center of the image is a sandglass with wings on each side. There is a human skull on top of the sandglass. The face of the compass is yellow and weathered. The ink has faded.
CREDIT: Rhode Island Historical Society
IMAGE 2 of 2: Roger Williams’ sundial
DESCRIPTION: The sundial is round and made of brass or bronze. Etched into the outer rim of the compass are Roman numerals, numbers depicting 21 out of 24 hours. A compass rose is on the inside of the sundial with a red fleur-de-lis designating north. There is no needle.
CREDIT: Rhode Island Historical Society
The back of the brochure includes quotes, historic photographs, and photographs of artifacts. Most photos are black and white unless indicated as color.
The text explains Roger Williams's complex relationships with the Algonquian-speaking tribes in the area, his founding of Rhode Island as a refuge for those in distress, and foundational information for visiting the national memorial.
DESCRIPTION: Image of two strings of wampum (shell-bead strings, made out of quahog shells). The beads are small and drum-shaped and are different colors of white and beige. The beads also vary in size and some are chipped.CREDIT: Peabody Essex Museum
“in consideration of many kindnesses and services he hath continually done for us . . . we do freely give unto him all that land from those rivers reaching to Pautexet River."
Roger Williams remained close with the Narragansett sachems (leaders) who deeded land to him in 1636 (per the quotation above). In 1643, an enemy tribe, conspiring with the English, murdered one of the sachems, Miantonomo. Williams and the other sachem, Canonicus, were lifelong friends.
As payment for the land, Williams let Canonicus take what he wished from his trading post. Shell bead strings were used ceremonially and as a medium of exchange.
The Algonquian-speaking tribes that Roger Williams came to know so well had long prospered in southeastern New England. When the Puritans first came to their homeland, the tribes already had contact with Europeans, from Basque fishermen to traders and explorers like Verrazano. They were ready to deal with English settlers as equals. The region’s tribes—Pequot, Wampanoag, and Narragansett—were migratory, their economy based on agriculture, hunting and gathering. They moved with the yearly cycles to establish places to best exploit seasonal resources. Spring found dispersed groups settled near waterways in coastal areas, living in circular wigwams made of bent saplings covered with woven reed mats, hides, or bark. They harvested fish and shellfish, trapped ducks and geese, hunted and gathered plant foods. They periodically burned large areas to create meadows to attract deer for meat and to clear fields for planting maize, beans, and squash. The fire-resistant trees produced an abundant harvest of nuts in the fall. During winter, they gathered inland in sheltered valleys. There, several families lived in longhouses built like wigwams. They relied on fresh shellfish, stored food, and hunting to survive the cold, lean months.
DESCRIPTION: Image of the title page of a book by Roger Williams. It reads: “A Key into the LANGUAGE OF AMERICA: OR, An help to the Language of the Natives in that part of America, called NEW-ENGLAND. Together with briefe Observations of the Customs, Manners and Worships, etc. of the aforesaid Natives, in Peace and Warre, in Life and Death.
On all which are added Spirituall Observations, Generall and Particular by the Authour, of chiefe and special use (upon all occasions,) to all the English Inhabiting those parts; yet pleasant and profitable to the view of all men:
BY Roger Williams of Providence, in New-England.
Printed by Gregory Dexter, 1643."
CAPTION: Williams wrote the first extensive lexicon of an American Indian language
CREDIT: Brown University
Roger Williams spent a lifetime trying to forge closer ties with the Wampanoag and especially the Narragansett tribes. The Narragansett deeded the land to him for Providence and, with the Wampanoag, helped the colony in its early months. Thereafter, Williams’ complex relationship with American Indians included defending their rights, studying them as an anthropologist, and dealing with them as a diplomat. His "A Key into the Language of America" (1643) alternated translated Narragansett words with related observations of the tribe’s culture. For example, Uppaquontup (the head) and wesheck (hair) preceded the note that “some cut their haire round, and some as low and as short as the sober English.” His religious tract, "Christenings make not Christians," condemned mass American Indian conversions because an American Indian’s conscience should be as inviolate as a European’s. He preached the gospel and lived the Christian life as an example to them, but he believed they had the right to worship as they wished.
Williams admired the American Indians but never romanticized them, believing they could be both noble and “insolent.” And he was an Englishman first of all: He headed a militia during King Philip’s War and then presided over the selling of American Indian slaves to raise money for English families who lost their homes in the war. For his time, Williams had extraordinary respect for tribal rights. When settlers seized American Indian land, Williams said that tribes had as strong a sense of land ownership as the English. He also ensured the American Indian deed to Rhode Island was interpreted literally when some settlers argued that riverbank grazing rights meant rights to the entire region. Perhaps the dying request of Narragansett sachem Canonicus best shows Williams’ relationship with the tribes. Canonicus asked that Williams attend his funeral and that he be buried in the cloth Williams had given him. Williams championed American Indian rights, but—unlike in his fight for religious freedom—this bore little fruit. By 1676, the rich American Indian cultures of 1620 were reeling from war and disease, and Europeans would take virtually all of their lands. But Roger Williams led in helping these Europeans understand the first settlers of North America.
DESCRIPTION: Black-and-white pen-and-ink drawing. Starting at the left of the drawing, reaching almost to the center, are American Indians lined against their palisade wall, defending their territory with gunfire. From the center to the right of the drawing, a line of colonial soldiers advances across a log to attack the palisade. In the far right, a soldier mounted on horseback, points his sword towards the palisade, indicating the direction of the attack. Just to the left of center, is a large pine tree that splits the drawing in half.
CAPTION: In 1675, the Wampanoag and the Narragansett joined together to fight the English colonists in King Philip's War – per capita, the deadliest war in American history. After a year of bloody fighting, American Indian military and political power in southeastern New England was broken. In the English attack on the palisaded fort, hundreds of Narragansett men, women, and children died in the "Great Swamp Massacre."
CREDIT: From the History and Antiquities of New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, 1842.
DESCRIPTION : Image of the Eliot Indian Bible, the first Bible published in British North America, in 1663. The bible is opened to the first page of the Book of Genesis. Across the top of the page are two lines of decorations. The text of Genesis has a large decorative initial “W.” The rest of the text on the page is split into two columns with marginal notes in English.
CAPTION: The Reverend John Eliot translated the Bible into an Algonquian dialect in 1663. Williams transcribed the text from other books in the margins of his copy.
CREDIT: Brown University.
DESCRIPTION: Black-and-white image of an American Indian tobacco pipe. It has a long straight stem and a small tapered bowl.
CAPTION: Tobacco pipe used by New England American Indians.
CREDIT: Rhode Island Historical Society.
DESCRIPTION: A pen-and-ink, black-and-white drawing of an American Indian man dressed in a mix of colonial and American Indian garments. He is standing on grass, encircled by low-lying plants with broad leaves. He is wearing a long-sleeved shirt, with rolled cuffs, that runs just below his hips. The shirt has a lacy short collar that encircles the neck and decorative lace along the hem of the shirt. He is also wearing a one-armed cloak that is worn on his right arm, draping across his back and reaching just below his calf muscles. He is wearing a belt and has a curved knife, tucked blade down, into the belt. Across his chest is a band for his arrow carrying case on his back. He is wearing a headband and has five feathers tucked into his hair. On his feet are shoes that have flaps that reach above his ankles. He has strong legs, very muscular and defined. He is posing, with thick lines drawn across both cheeks. In his right hand, he is holding an oar that is as tall as he is. In his left hand is a stick with what looks like a curved horn, attached at the bottom.
CAPTION: Loss of tribal lands angered Wampanoag sachem Metacom – called "King Philip" by the English.
CREDIT: Library of Congress.
DESCRIPTION: Color photograph of First Baptist Meetinghouse. The picture showcases the front and right side of the church and is from a distance. The church is painted white and has a tall steeple that houses a bell tower, three tiers of windows, and a weathervane on top. The front has a doorway underneath a four-columned portico, with a Palladian window directly above it. There are three windows located on the ground level, four arc-shaped windows on the second level, and six arc-shaped windows on the third level. On the right side of the building is a set of stairs with black rails, leading from a dark-color doorway on the second level to ground level. There are four tall trees, in front of the church, with a green and budding canopy of branches, spread across the picture, from left to right, partially hiding the roofline of the church and a green hedge at the edge of the lawn leading up to the church. On the left side of the photograph are two buildings: A yellow, three-story, Federal-style building with a small portico, no columns, and with a partially hidden chimney. The other is a pink, four-story Federal-style building, with a small Palladian window over the doorway, small windows on the second and thirds floors, and large, paned picture glass windows on the first.
CAPTION: The First Baptist Meeting House, near Roger Williams National Memorial, represents one of the many active faiths in Providence.
CREDIT: Paul Rezendes.
Rhode Island lived up to its charter allowing all forms of worship and sheltering religious fugitives like Anne Hutchinson, a fellow exile from Massachusetts. Descendants of Jewish settlers expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 1400s came to Rhode Island in search of religious freedom. When some of the colonists questioned Jews becoming citizens, the General Assembly said “they may expect as good protection here as any stranger residing among us.”
Baptists, barred from Massachusetts, were welcomed also. In Providence, they could attend the first Baptist church in America, which had been gathered by Roger Williams. He soon left the group, coming to believe no earthly church could fit the “first and ancient pattern” of the New Testament, at least until the return of Christ.
Yet Roger Williams did not casually accept all faiths. At age 70, he rowed 25 miles from Providence to Newport to debate Quakers. He mistrusted a religion that relied more on “inner light” than on the New Testament. But Quakers in Rhode Island were never punished for their religious beliefs or practices, whereas in Massachusetts some Quakers were hanged. Rhode Island’s first charter said that as long as they obeyed the civil laws, all Rhode Island citizens could “walk as their consciences persuade them.”
Williams likened Rhode Island to “many a Hundred Souls in one ship.” The captain should punish those who “refuse to obey the common laws and orders of the ship,” but “none of the Papists, Protestants, Jews, or Turks [should] be forced to come to the Ship’s Prayers or Worship; nor, secondly, compelled from their own particular Prayers or Worship, if they practice any.” This compelling image of the state’s role would set the pattern for a nation.
Stop by the visitor center for a film and exhibit about Roger Williams. Open 9 to 5 daily except Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1. (Check the park website for seasonal closures.) Free parking. Groups must make advance arrangements.
The Hahn Memorial honors Isaac Hahn, Providence’s first Jewish elected official. The city began as a settlement around the freshwater spring.
• Bernon Grove pays tribute to Gabriel Bernon, who fled persecution in France in the 1600s. He is buried across the street in St. John’s Cathedral, which he helped found (as King’s Church).
The First Baptist Meeting House, built in 1775, is home to the Baptist congregation organized by Williams and others.
At Prospect Terrace, a statue of Williams marks where he and his wife, Mary, were reinterred in 1939. The terrace has excellent views of the city.
The portico of the Rhode Island State House is inscribed with words from the 1663 royal charter: “To hold forth a lively experiment that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments."
From I-95 North, Exit 23, State Offices; through light to Smith St.; left at light to bottom of hill; right onto Canal St.; then quick left into memorial lot. From I-95 South, Exit 23, Charles St.; first left, continue through three lights; then quick left into memorial lot.
We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For information call or check the park website.
A symbolic well in the Hahn Memorial marks the site of a spring from the 1600s. Roger Williams discovered the freshwater spring, which sustained the new settlement on the saltwater cove.
Roger Williams National Memorial 282 N. Main St. Providence, RI 02903
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