Religion and Social Movements

Roger Williams Lands in Boston, Shocks the Puritans

The arrival of the Lyon from Bristol, England, brought joyful relief to Puritan leaders in Boston on Feb. 5, 1631. First, because the ship carried Roger Williams, a Puritan minister who could help preach. Secondly, it brought bread to feed the hungry population.

Roger Williams

Roger Williams

Roger Williams soon disappointed the Puritans. He 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.

Roger Williams

The Williamses arrived in Boston after a tempestuous 66-day voyage. Upon his arrival, Roger Williams was asked to replace the Rev. John Wilson immediately. Wilson wanted to return to England to fetch his wife.

Williams shocked the Puritan leaders 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 wanted 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.’

Roger Williams lived in this house in Salem. It's now known as 'The Witch House.'

Roger Williams lived in this house in Salem. People now call it ‘The Witch House.’

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. 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.


Williams based the settlement on principles of religious toleration, separation of church and state and political democracy. People persecuted for their religious beliefs came to Providence for refuge. The settlement attracted Jews, Anabaptists and Quakers.

Williams also tried to prevent slavery from taking root in Providence Plantations. That made him North America’s first abolitionist.

In Providence, Roger Williams formed the first Baptist church in America. Then he  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.

This story was updated in 2019.



  1. Kelly Spalding Spring

    February 5, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    That’s great!! Amazing man!

  2. Main Street Interiors Espinosa

    February 5, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Hear that people ? “Forced worship stinks in god’s nostrils ” amen to that !

  3. Kathy Degraff Svagdis

    February 5, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Awesome! Really interesting piece.

  4. Sharon Anthony

    February 6, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Roger Williams was my 10th Great Grandfather and John Coggeshall …first President of the colony who was part of his entourage…was my 9th Great Grandfather. Could not be prouder of my ancestry.

  5. Pat Cohen

    February 6, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    what an interesting man….and way ahead of his time…the Puritans left England due to religious persecution and they turned around and did the same’s different when it’s your religion….tolerance is not over rated

  6. Becky Tschida

    February 6, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Thanx for sharing!!

  7. Sara Jones

    February 7, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    My ancestor Canonicus ( 15 generations back ) knew him.

  8. Chris Robison

    February 7, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Cool”! Roger bought land from him !

  9. Chris Robison

    February 7, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Cool”! Roger bought land from him !

  10. Chris Robison

    February 7, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Cool”! Roger bought land from him !

  11. Connie Strawbridge Elefante

    October 9, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Michele Miller Walker

  12. Philip Sheldon

    October 9, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    8XGGF John Sheldon was one of Roger Williams radical followers!

  13. Marilyn Callan

    October 9, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    The statue of Roger Williams at Roger Williams University is actually Ted Williams because when the statue was built, nobody knew what Roger looked like.

  14. Paula Phipps

    October 9, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Where is that house? It’s not the Witch House.

  15. Marisol Mendez

    October 10, 2014 at 9:10 am

    I went there so much history and gorgeous places! Love it!

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