Rev. Roger Williams was born 24 December 1602 in St Sepulchre Church, Newgate, Greater London, England, United Kingdom to John Williams (1562-1620) and Alice Pemberton (1564-1634) and died 1 April 1683 Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island, United States of unspecified causes. He married Mary Barnard (1609-1683) 15 December 1629 in High Laver, Essex, England, United Kingdom.


Roger Williams was a Puritan, an English Reformed theologian, and later a Reformed Baptist who was an early proponent of religious freedom and separation of church and state, and a supporter of members of the Free Will Baptist movement.

He was expelled by the Puritan leaders from the colony of Massachusetts because they thought that he was spreading "new and dangerous ideas", so he began the colony of Providence Plantation in 1636 which provided a refuge for religious minorities. Williams was a member of the first Baptist church in America, the First Baptist Church of Providence.

Williams was also a student of Native American languages, an early advocate for fair dealings with Native Americans, and one of the first abolitionists in North America, having organized the first attempt to prohibit slavery in any of the British American colonies.

Early Life

Roger Williams was born in London around 1603; however, the exact date has not been established by scholars because his birth records were destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 when St Sepulchre's Church was burned.[2][3][4][5] His father James Williams (1562–1620) was a merchant tailor in Smithfield (now part of London); his mother was Alice Pemberton (1564–1635). At an early age, Williams had a spiritual conversion of which his father disapproved.

As a teen, Williams was apprenticed under Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634), the famous jurist. Under Coke's patronage, Williams was educated at Charterhouse and also at Pembroke College, Cambridge (B.A., 1627).[6] He seemed to have a gift for languages and early acquired familiarity with Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Dutch, and French. Years later, Williams tutored John Milton in Dutch in exchange for refresher lessons in Hebrew.[7]

Williams took holy orders in the Church of England in connection with his studies, but he became a Puritan at Cambridge and thus ruined his chance for preferment in the Anglican church. After graduating from Cambridge, Williams became the chaplain to Puritan gentleman Sir William Masham.

Life in America

Narragansett Indians receiving Roger Williams

Almost immediately upon the Williams' arrival in Boston on February 5, 1631, the Boston church invited him to become its Teacher minister, to officiate while Rev. John Wilson returned to England to fetch his wife. However, Williams declined the position on grounds that it was "an unseparated church." In addition, Williams asserted that civil magistrates must not punish any sort of "breach of the first table [of the Ten Commandments]" (such as idolatry, Sabbath-breaking, false worship, and blasphemy), and that individuals should be free to follow their own convictions in religious matters. These three principles became central to Williams' subsequent career: separatism, freedom of religion, and separation of state and church.

As the summer of 1631 ended, Williams moved to Plymouth Colony where he was welcomed, and informally assisted the minister there. He regularly preached and, according to Governor Bradford, "his teachings were well approved." Williams moved back to Salem, Massachusetts by the fall of 1633 and was welcomed by Rev. Samuel Skelton as an unofficial assistant.

Settlement of Providence 1636

Narragansett Indians receiving Roger Williams

One of several settlers of Providence Plantation in 1636, 1st settlement in the future state of Rhode Island. This group was followers of Roger Williams, who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for heretical preaching. In early 1636 his group went to purchase territory immediately to the west of Plymouth Colony, from the Narrangansett Indians. It is present-day Providence, Rhode Island.

King Philips War

King Philip's War (1675–1676) pitted the colonists against Indians with whom Williams had good relations in the past. Williams, although in his 70s, was elected captain of Providence's militia. That war proved to be one of the bitterest events in his life, as his efforts ended with the burning of Providence in March 1676, including his own house.


Williams died between January and March 1683 and was buried on his own property. Fifty years later, his house had collapsed into the cellar and the location of his grave had been forgotten.

Marriage and Family

Williams also married Mary Barnard (1609–76) on December 15, 1629 at the Church of High Laver, Essex, England. They ultimately had six children, all born in America: Mary, Freeborn, Providence, Mercy, Daniel, and Joseph.

  1. Mary Williams (1633-1681) - md John Sayles
  2. Freeborn Williams (1635-1710) - md Thomas Hart & Walter Clarke
  3. Providence Williams (1638-1686)
  4. Mercy Williams (1640-1705) - md Resolved Waterman
  5. Daniel Williams (1641-1712) - md Rebecca Arnold Rhodes
  6. Joseph Williams (1643-1724) - md Lydia Olney


Offspring of Rev. Roger Williams and Mary Barnard (1609-1683)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Mary Williams (1633-1681)
Freeborn Williams (1635-1710) 4 October 1635 Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts 10 January 1710 Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island Thomas Hart (1642-1670) Thomas Hart (1642-1670) Walter Clarke (1639-1714)
Providence Williams (1638-1686)
Mercy Williams (1640-1705)
Daniel Williams (1641-1712)
Joseph Williams (1643-1724)




Footnotes (including sources)