Tuesday, October 09, 2018

It was on This Day in 1635

It was on this day in 1635 that Roger Williams (books by this author) was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for spreading "newe and dangerous opinions." He left and founded what is now the city of Providence, Rhode Island.

These days Williams is considered a hero for the very reasons that got him banished. He was an extreme believer in the separation of church and state, in the rights of individuals, and he befriended and admired the Narragansett people, the local Native Americans, and spoke out against their persecution. Now he is admired as a radical, for his progressive religious and cultural tolerance.

But Williams' position was more complicated than that. The reason he believed in the separation of church and state was because of his extremely conservative thinking about Christian scripture, his belief that Christianity was always the ultimate authority and shouldn't be tangled up in the flawed decisions of human laws. He was adamant about religious tolerance, and other outcasts fled to Providence, including Quakers and even some of America's first Jews. He published A Key into the Language of America (1643) in which he wrote out dialogues, essays, and poems in both English and Narragansett, and in which he made the Natives generally sound a lot smarter and more moral than their colonizers. It is this work that gave us English words like squash (from the Narragansett askutasquash), succotash (from msíckquatash), papoose (from papoos), and pow-wow (from powwaw). He was a big advocate for the Narrangansett, the Quakers, and other religious dissidents who the Puritans thought should be persecuted for their beliefs. But he didn't question that they were all left out from the Kingdom of Heaven to which he himself was bound.
- The Writer's Almanac