The Puritan fathers in Boston were joyfully relieved by the arrival of the Lyon from Bristol, England, on Feb. 5, 1631 for two reasons: The ship carried Roger Williams, a Puritan minister who could help preach, and it brought bread to feed the hungry population.
The Puritans were soon disappointed with Williams, who came to Massachusetts Bay Colony to escape the corruption and intolerance of the Church of England. He and his wife Mary had already decided to join the Separatists, who insisted on independent local churches.
The Williamses arrived in Boston after a tempestuous 66-day voyage. The Rev. John Wilson was anxious to return to England to fetch his wife, and Roger Williams was asked to replace him immediately. Williams shocked them by refusing. The church, he said, was unseparated.
The Salem church, more inclined to Separatism, invited Williams to preach there. The Boston Puritans objected. Williams went to Plymouth, where he again fell into disfavor. He returned to Salem.
Williams liked and trusted the Indians. In Salem, he openly questioned the validity of the colonial charter that claimed their land. That infuriated the authorities in Boston, and they summoned him to appear before the General Court -- several times. Finally they ordered him removed from his position in the church.
At the same time, the Town of Salem was asking the General Court to annex some land on Marblehead Neck. The General Court refused until the church removed Williams. Williams' support crumbled. He withdrew from his post, meeting with a few devoted supporters in his home.
On Oct. 9, 1635, the General Court ordered Roger Williams banished for spreading 'diverse, new and dangerous opinions.'
Williams led a band of outcasts 105 miles over the snow and across the Seekonk River to Narragansett territory. Williams believed Indians should be paid for their land, and so he bought property from two sachems, Canonicus and Miantonomi. With 12 ‘loving friends’ he established a settlement called ‘Providence,’ because he believed God's Providence brought him there.
The settlement was based on principles of religious toleration, separation of church and state and political democracy. It became a refuge for people persecuted for their religious beliefs: Jews, Anabaptists and Quakers. Williams tried to prevent slavery from taking root in Providence Plantations, making him North America's first abolitionist.
In Providence, Williams formed the first Baptist church in America, then left it. He stopped preaching to the Indians when he realized they had a right to religious freedom as well. Williams declared,
Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils.