Bio taken from rogerwilliams.org
ROGER WILLIAMS was born in London, circa 1603, the son of James and Alice (Pemberton) Williams. James, the son of Mark and Agnes (Audley) Williams was a “merchant Tailor” (an importer and trader) and probably a man of some importance. His will, proved 19 November 1621, left, in addition to bequests to his “loving wife, Alice,” to his sons, Sydrach, Roger and Robert, and to his daughter Catherine, money and bread to the poor in various sections of London.
The will of Alice (Pemberton) Williams was admitted to probate 26 January 1634. Among other bequests, she left the sum of Ten Pounds yearly for twenty years to her son, Roger Williams, “now beyond the seas.” She further provided that if Roger predeceased her, “what remaineth thereof unpaid … shall be paid to his wife and daughter.. ..” Obviously, by the time of her death, Roger’s mother was aware of the birth in America in 1633 of her grandchild, Mary Williams.
Roger’s youth was spent in the parish of “St. Sepulchre’s, without Newgate, London.” While a young man, he must have been aware of the numerous burnings at the stake that had taken place at nearby Smithfield of so-called Puritans or heretics. This probably influenced his later strong beliefs in civic and religious liberty.
During his teens, Roger Williams came to the attention of Sir Edward Coke, a brilliant lawyer and one-time Chief Justice of England, through whose influence he was enrolled at Sutton’s Hospital, a part of Charter House, a school in London. He next entered Pembroke College at Cambridge University from which he graduated in 1627. All of the literature currently available at Pembroke to prospective students mentions Roger Williams, his part in the Reformation, and his founding of the Colony of Rhode Island. At Pembroke, he was one of eight granted scholarships based on excellence in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Pembroke College in Providence, once the women’s college of Brown University, was named after Pembroke at Cambridge in honor of Roger Williams.
In the years after he left Cambridge, Roger Williams was Chaplain to a wealthy family, and on 15 December 1629, he married MARY BARNARD at the Church of High Laver, Essex, England. Even at this time, he became a controversial figure because of his ideas on freedom of worship. And so, in 1630, ten years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Roger thought it expedient to leave England. He arrived, with Mary, on 5 February 1631 at Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Their passage was aboard the ship Lyon (Lion).
He preached first at Salem, then at Plymouth, then back to Salem, always at odds with the structured Puritans. When he was about to be deported back to England, Roger fled southwest out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was befriended by local Indians and eventually settled at the headwaters of what is now Narragansett Bay, after he learned that his first settlement on the east bank of the Seekonk River was within the boundaries of the Plymouth Colony. Roger purchased land from the Narragansett Chiefs, Canonicus and Miantonomi and named his settlement Providence in thanks to God. The original deed remains in the Archives of the City of Providence. READ ABOUT MARGARET’S ROCK
Roger Williams made two trips back to England during his lifetime. The first in June or July 1643 was to obtain a Charter for his colony to forestall the attempt of neighboring colonies to take over Providence. He returned with a Charter for “the Providence Plantations in Narragansett Bay” which incorporated Providence, Newport and Portsmouth. During this voyage, he produced his best-known literary work — Key into the Languages of America, which when published in London in 1643, made him the authority on American Indians.
On his return, Roger Williams started a trading post at Cocumscussoc (now North Kingstown) where he traded with the Indians and was known for his peacemaking between the neighboring colonists and the Indians. But again colony affairs interfered, and in 1651 he sold his trading post and returned to England with John Clarke (a Newport preacher) in order to have the Charter confirmed. Because of family responsibilities, he returned sometime before 1654. John Clarke finally obtained the Royal Charter from Charles II on 8 July 1663, thereby averting further trouble with William Coddington and some colonists at Newport, who had previously obtained a charter for a separate colony.
Roger Williams was Governor of the Colony 1654 through 1658. During the later years of his life, he saw almost all of Providence burned during King Philip’s War, 1675-1676. He lived to see Providence rebuilt. He continued to preach, and the Colony grew through its acceptance of settlers of all religious persuasions. The two volumes of the correspondence of Roger Williams recently published by the Rhode Island Historical Society, Glenn W. LaFantasie, Editor, present an excellent picture of his philosophy and personality. Unfortunately, there was no known painting made of him during his lifetime, although many artists and sculptors have portrayed him as they envision him.