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and his fellow managers. At least, we can go as far as
Winthrop in his confession that there was " too much "

There are two constant marvels in this bit of history,
as especially developed in these three colonies of the
new and newest England. 1. That, the idea of Roger
Williams once formulated, worked itself so slowly into
the consciousness of other communities, even in the ad-
joining districts of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

2. That a civic principle deemed so revolutionary in
the seventeenth century should have affected the political
and social development of Rhode Island so little, as the
principle emerged from theory and was adopted into
the life of a state. Rhode Island has been noted for
oddities and particular individualities. Yet these per-
sonal differences have affected very little the steady
development of the community along the lines inevitable
to the progress of America. In increase of population it
has averaged with the whole Union, surpassing most
Eastern states. In industrial progress and in acquisi-
tion of property, it is equal to any district of the United
States. It is true that the infant colony suffered from
the vagaries of wild theorists ; Samuel Gorton and those
like him who drifted into these open harbors. But there
came with them much free thought which grew and pros-
pered. Political order in some way established itself over
and through these chaotic elements of life.

The individual man may be odd in that he is uncommon,
but he must be strong, whatever his social condition and

1636] Individualism in Rhode Island 25

environment. In all the military development of our
country — that superior test which welds the right arm
of individual men into the true consolidation of the state
— Rhode Island has shown that individual liberty works
toward the highest patriotism. In the old French and
Spanish wars, in the struggles with Great Britain, in our
tremendous civil war, Rhode Island, notwithstanding her
strong Quaker heredity, was ever at the front.

We could not fully comprehend the historic founda-
tions of Rhode Island, without considering the relative
bearing of the neighboring governments. We would sub-
mit that Massachusetts is set forth as an absolute theoc-
racy. Connecticut starting under a theocratic impulse,
limited that form of rule by the first practical democracy
in representative action the world had known. Rhode
Island after turbulent struggles and contention, was
brought by her charters into civic life, based on soul-
liberty and protected by the crown. This new form of
democracy, the achievement of men freed from every form
of absolutism — whether ecclesiastical or feudal — lived unto
itself, and now attracts the attention of the civilized

Roger Williams stands out in these studies, larger and
more heroic as time goes on. He did not create or invent
soul-liberty. The great impulses of humanity spring
forth as the occasion ripens, and seldom can be wholly at-
tributed to any one man. But some one man gives ef-
fective life to each and every one of them. Primitive
men could conceive of a hero only in a demigod. We find
the man in history heroic, who had the courage to enforce
a great principle. Williams could brave power and place,
in his assured conviction that his soul was bound to its
Creator, by ties that neither law nor custom, neither
priest nor magistrate should any longer control.

26 Foundations of Rhode Island

Williams was not skillful or wise in politics. He was a
good man of business in his private affairs. Mr. Dorr
comments on this, as we know that he was so poor in the
first home on Towne street, that Winslow, visiting them,
gave Mrs. Williams a gold piece. He did not profit by
selling lands to the first settlers, but he acquired in trade
an independent property. He sold his trading house at
Wickford to get funds to pay his expenses in London,
while procuring the charter. So, he was ready always to
sacrifice himself for the community. But in developing a
state out of turbulent, democratic town-meetings, in dis-
putes with Harris and others, he was not able to separate
the body politic from his own communistic bent, or the
vagaries of his individual will.

The little community of the plantation appreciated him
according to its own fashion and circumstance. He was
buried with military honors, and his fellow soldiers of the
Indian war fired a volley over his grave. Yet there were
no inscriptions over this grave for three generations.

Thomas Durfee states that " historians urge that he
was eccentric, pugnacious, persistent, troublesome. Un-
doubtedly he was." With all his failings he was the
trusted and beloved friend of Winthrop, the best of the
Puritans. His nature was large enough to recognize in
the Governor of the Bay " that excellent spirit of wisdom
and prudence wherewith the father of lights hath endued
you." Urquhart could say 47 " he did approve himself a
man of such discretion and inimitably sanctified parts that
an archangel from heaven could not have shown more
goodness and less ostentation." This might indicate a
defective man ; but not a worthless man even by the stan-
dards of Massachusetts Bay.

Whatever the limitations of his personality, whatever

^Ante, p. 6.

1636] The Greater Roger Williams 27

petty ordinances and powers of state the rulers of Salem
might bring against him, in historic perspective these
facts and proceedings fade like rushlights in the rays of
the sun. He was driven from home and the body politic
for conscience's sake. In this sublime offering of him-
self on the altar of conscience, he made the principle
sacred and appealed to the hearts of men. No longer
a mere disputant in theology, he became a heroic leader
of men. The founder of Rhode Island becomes greater
in history as the principle he embodied spreads its in-
fluence far and wide in the world's development.



IN the spring or early summer of 1636, Roger Williams
with his five companions, William Harris, John Smith
(miller), Joshua Verin, Thomas Angell and Francis
Wickes, pushed out a canoe from the east side of the See-
konk, crossed into the cove southwestward, and landed
upon " the Slate Rock." An Indian on the hill above
saluted them " What Cheer, Netop ! " It was a signifi-
cant and potential welcome. The peaceful and numerous
Narragansetts under the judicious direction of Canonicus
and Miantinomi had refused the passionate appeals of
warlike Sassacus and his Pequots to join in a confederated
effort to expel the English. The native on his own shore
spoke in effect for the great Narragansett people; as
the friend of his sachems, and these exiles from Puritan
civilization, approached this new territory. Continuing
around the peninsula and Fox's Hill — which will after
appear in surveyor's lines and boundary-disputes — these
six voyagers paddled up " the great salt river." The
land fall was made near the mouth of the Moshassuck, just
below the site of the present St. John's church, where
a fine spring of water tempted them to found the first
plantation, which the devout Williams named Providence.
Williams located his house across the way from the
spring, and immigrants from Plymouth and the Massa-
chusetts Bay soon joined the planters. In the year 1638, 1
twelve proprietors received from Roger Williams, in con-

i The dates are somewhat confusing, as proceedings of the town
sometimes preceded the formal conveyance.


1638] The " Initial " Purchase 29

sideration of £30. for his expenses, all the lands deeded to
him by Canonicus and Miantinomi. These lands upon the
Moshassuck and Seekonk, and on the Woonasquetucket
southward to the Pawtuxet, had been obtained in gift from
the sachems; though there had been nominal considera-
tion, the transaction was something that " monies could
not do." Williams, when pressed by the planters to part
with his title and convey to the first proprietors, consented,
intending a shelter for " persons distressed for conscience."
By conveyance he made " proprietors " of the twelve as-
sociates and " such others as the major part of us shall
admit into the same fellowship of vote with us." This
" initial deed " was reinforced by documents in 1661 and
1666 intended to amplify and secure the title. The thir-
teen proprietors, for convenience, divided their territory
into the " grand purchase of Providence " and the
" Pawtuxet purchase." This division according to Judge
Staples 2 caused much difficulty and dissension. The vague
boundaries of the deeds and the equally vague conceptions
of rights of grantees and qualifications of subsequent
purchasing proprietors alike confused the issues —
whether fiscal or political — and agitated the town-meet-
ings of Providence for half a century or more. Williams,
pure in intention, was poorly equipped for politics. Con-
science and will worked together in complex personality ;
until a controversy became polemic or fancied inspiraton,
as the occasion prompted. Like many reformers, he con-
ceived that the " freed " citizen and upright believer should
be benefited not only in his conscience, but in his financial

The first record of a town-meeting is intensely interest-
ing, for these steps and fossil tracks were in the noble

2 " Annals of Prov.," p. 34.

30 Planting in Providence

path of soul-liberty. "16 die. 4 month 3 the year not
given, after warning to attend towne-meeting," " whoever
be wanting, above one quarter of an hower after ye time "
was to pay two shillings fine, and the same for departing
without leave. The other entry provides for electing a
town treasurer monthly ; two significant facts that, they
met each month and kept a close grasp on the public

This was doubtless in 1637, as will appear below from
more important proceedings. In the beginning, " masters
of families " had met fortnightly to consult " about our
common peace, watch and planting," choosing also an
" officer " to call these meetings. But in the first year,
several young men admitted " inhabitants," yet discon-
tented politically, sought equal representation and free-
dom of voting. This shows a variance between family
organization and freedom for the individual to act under
the state. Williams prepared a "double subscription," 4
one for masters of families, the other a sort of indenture
for young men, admitted as " inhabitants." These in-
cidents are most interesting, as throwing light on the
next procedure; a momentous step and degree in the
world's progress toward individual freedom.

Aug. 20, 1637, the " second comers," thirteen in num-
ber, subscribed to the following " civil compact." Thomas
Harris (brother of William), Benedict Arnold, Richard
Scott, Chad Brown and John Field were included among
the signers. This document has been interpreted fre-
quently as a special instrument to admit " young men."
But there was more conveyed in the procedure than such
purpose would account for. Richard Scott, John Field,
Chad Brown, Thomas Angell, Thomas Harris, Win. Wick-

s " Early Records Town of Providence," VI., 2.
4 Cf. " Narr. Club Pub.," V., VI., 3.

< - r

£ 5

a a


1637] " Only in Civil Things " 31

enden, as well as others, were in no sense " young men."
They were among the most responsible settlers. Wil-
liams had even conceived, though it came to nought, as
shown in his letter to Winthrop, a " double subscription,"
one for masters of families, one for young men. These
thirteen signers were " second comers," and the adoption
of our famous Magna Charta indicates that it was an
evolution from the actual proceedings of the previous gov-
ernment. Whether these proceedings were based on a
written agreement we do not know. Certainly in their
actual experience they worked away from the Judaic con-
ceptions prevailing at the Island. Witness below the
" Saints of the most High " embodied in the Code of
Laws. Providence developed out of this and put civic
government on every-day living, squarely down on the
foundation of " civil things."

" We, whose names are hereunder, desirous to inhabit
in the town of Providence, do promise to subject ourselves
in active or passive obedience to all such orders or agree-
ments as shall be made for the public good of our body
in an orderly way, by the major assent of the present
inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together
into a town fellowship, and others whom they shall admit
unto them, only in civil things." 5 The positive matter
of this compact differed not from the Mayflower compact
and numerous other Anglo-Saxon conventions. The limi-
tation " only " marks the new development outward and
upward. That order in civil government could be 6 organ-
ized in material form, leaving each individual free in his
conscience before his own Heavenly Father, was a discov-
ery for human intelligence, an invention in governmental

5 " Early Records," Vol. I., 1.
e " Narr. Club Pub.," Vol. VI., 3.

32 Planting in Providence

No property qualifications were directly instituted, but
divisions of land went with most early proceedings of the
" proprietors." At first, fifty-four settlers received
" home lots," a six-acre lot and additional tracts of
meadow land. The home-lots of five acres ran in narrow
strips from the " Towne Streete 7 (now North and South
Main) to the present Hope Street, and the six-acre lots
were in the southerly part of " Providence Neck," bor-
dering on the Seekonk, or upon the Woonasquetucket

The government was the simplest form of democracy,
and it could not last long. All functions were lodged in
the town-meeting; for which a quorum was not easy and
difficult to manage, when it was assembled. In 1640, the
freemen tried to institute a choice of five men, arbitrators
or " disposers," to " be betrusted with disposals of land
and also of the town's stock and all general things." A
town clerk was to be chosen, who should call the disposers
together every month, and call quarterly town-meetings.
Former grants of land were to be valid. Mark this espe-
cial provision as " formerly hath been the liberties of the
town, so still to hold forth liberty of conscience."

This might mitigate some ills, but it created others,
for the executive force of the disposers was almost fruit-
less. Roger Williams' pungent pen put it " our peace was
like the peace of a man who hath the tertian ague." Dis-
order and in one instance bloodshed occurred. The oppo-
sition of Samuel Gorton and his fellows prompted thirteen
colonists to appeal to Massachusetts Bay for intervention.

7 This name was not local or fortuitous — rather, it reverted to
old English custom dear to the hearts of these wayfarers. Just
as in Boston Sewall notes " the house that was sometimes Sr. Henry-
Vanes' bounded with the Towne Street on the East." — " Mass. H.
C," Sewall, VI., p. 59.

1636] Domestic Discord 33

The reply called for absolute submission of the plantation
to the Bay or to Plymouth. Though Winthrop confessed
to a sneaking fondness " for an outlet into the Narra-
gansett Bay," and forcible intervention was afterward
attempted at Warwick, no practical change was effected
in the external affairs of the Plantation. But this move-
ment of the Pawtuxet men aggravated the internal dis-
cord for many years.

While the socio-political structures were being forged
out, a serious rift in the lute had been made by a cer-
tain domestic discord. Joshua Verin, an original com-
panion, had his backyard next and adjoining Roger Wil-
liams' ; whence the good Verin dame found it easy, too easy,
to flit across to hear the prophet's sermons and exhorta-
tions. Mr. Dorr suggests that the Verin stew-pot suf-
fered in the too frequent spiritual aberrations of the house-
wife. However it might be, Verin's soul could not stomach
wifely absence, and more disobedience, for he forbade her
attending the meetings. 8 Winthrop, our sole authority, re-
joicing in these practical restraints of liberty of conscience,
with "grim humor " dilates on the proceedings of the Prov-
idence council before the " disposers " attempted adminis-
tration. The motion to censure Verin would virtually
establish that " men's wives, and children and servants
could claim liberty to go to all religious meetings, though
never so often, or though private, upon the week days."
In the debate " there stood up one Arnold, a witty man of
their own Company, and withstood it, telling them that
when 'he consented to that order, he never intended it
should extend to the breach of any ordinance of God, such
as the subjection of wives to their husbands,' etc., and gave
divers solid reasons against it. Then one Greene replied
' that if they should restrain their wives, etc., all the
s " History of N. E.," VI., 283.

34* Planting in Providence

women in the country would cry out of them, etc.' Arnold
answered him thus : ' Did you pretend to leave the Massa-
chusetts because you would not offend God to please men,
and would you now break an ordinance and command of
God to please women?'" Arnold was a vigorous con-
testant and he claimed that the desire to be gadding was
not prompted altogether by the woman's conscience ; that
Williams and others persuaded her. Arnold was of the
" Pawtuxet men," and these bickerings indicate the early
differences which were to harass the Plantation most
seriously. Roger Williams' influence appears in the final
action, which condemned Venn, May 21, 1638. 9 " It was
agreed that Joshua Verin, upon the breach of a covenant
for restraining of the libertie of conscience, shall be with-
held from the libertie of voting till he shall declare the
contrarie." He soon left Providence. Much has been
written, to make of this affair a state question, but to
little purpose. The " woman question " inevitably leaves
unsolved elements in a political situation — whether the
time be of Solomon, of the seventeenth century, or of the
all-confident twentieth century.

We are neglecting the local habitation, which made
possible these domestic and social doings. The " Towne
Streete " wavering in outline, as it went up the valley
toward Constitution Hill, was in its name, according to
Mr. Dorr's sympathetic analysis, one of the earliest Eng-

9 It is proper to consider Williams' account and his view of Verin,
as given in a letter to Winthrop, " Narr. Club,' V., VI., 95, " He
hath refused to hear the word with us (which we molested him. not
for this twelvemonth), so because he could not draw his wife, a
gracious, modest woman, to the same ungodliness with him, he hath
trodden her underfoot tyrannically and brutishly; which she and
we long bearing, though with his furious blows she went in danger
of her life, at the last the major vote of us discard him from our
civil freedom, or disfranchise."

1638] Characteristics of Towne Streete 35

lish traditions accepted by the roving community gather-
ing around Williams. Home-lots along this thoroughfare
were laid out by John Throckmorton, of the original thir-
teen, Chad Brown, who came from England in 1636, and
was to be a pastor of First Baptist Church and ancestor
of " the Four Brothers " in the eighteenth century, with
Gregory Dexter, who appears as town clerk in 1651, and
became President of the Assembly in 1653. There were
five-acre lots appropriated to settlers along the way ; a
narrow front with area stretching up the hillside and
eastward. Each settler persisted until he got his quota.
Thomas Olney, Jr., had his " house lot or home-share "
made up in 1661. The " Spring Lot" was retained by
the proprietors until July 3, 1721, when it was deeded to
Gabriel Bernon.

Opposite lived Williams, and he held religious meetings
in his house, as we have noted. Above were Verin and
Richard Scott, below was John Throckmorton. Accord-
ing to Dorr, one of the strongest of this disputing neigh-
borhood was Gregory Dexter, who dwelt up the hill at
the turn of Dexter's Lane, now Olney Street. William
and Mary Dyre settled at Portsmouth, but removed to
Providence. Ultimately the martyr went from Towne
Streete to meet her doom on Boston Common.

On the irregular lines of this street, houses were built
hastily, and generally of logs, the yards closely adjoining.
A narrow strip of green separated the dwelling from pass-
ing traffic. The homesteads crept up the sloping side
and unyielding grades of the ridge, which made the penin-
sular conformation of the early plantation. Barns shel-
tered the cattle for a generation and orchards soon gave
plenty of fruit for the clustering families. Above and
often in the orchard preserves, burial grounds soon at-
tached the planter yet more closely to his homestead, where

36 Planting in Providence

the individual literally stood and lived, as never before
in the history of the citizen. Along the middle of the
hillside, the patriarchs of the plantation were laid at rest,
and these particular personal burying grounds could not
be disturbed by any communal or social wants for a full
century. On the plateau above, home-lot pastures
stretched over to a highway (the modern Hope Street)
called Ferry Lane, after Red Bridge was opened across
the Seekonk River.

And we perceive here the meaning of the English term
plantation, as it developed under the necessities of vary-
ing colonies. The settlers did not merely drop seeds in
the ground. They planted institutions in germ, which
grew into communities at Plymouth, Boston, Hartford
and elsewhere, as the occasion made new citizens in new
homes. The close affinities cultivated in the Plantation
at Providence were powerful in affording stay and sup-
port for a new religious life. Likewise, this close and in-
tense method of living bred certain difficulties of its own,
as we shall see when social and political life expanded.

After the home, a church was instituted, though the
apostles of the Bay had assured themselves no Christian
society could exist in a government based on " civil
things." The particular steps in organizing this church
have been matter of dispute. Winthrop's account 10 that
Richard Scott's wife, a sister of Anne Hutchinson, influ-
enced Roger Williams to become an Anabaptist, has been
criticised. Williams was baptized by Holyman, 11 and
then baptized a dozen communicants. He remained as
leader only three or four months, leaving the organization
to become a " Seeker." By some accounts he was a

10 Brigham, " Rhode Island," p. 38.

n Cf. Carpenter, " Roger Williams," p. 164, for Holyman and

1638] First Baptist Church 37

Seeker before he left England, though he "kept member-
ship in the Congregational church at Salem before his
banishment. Whatever the detailed steps may have been,
certainly the First Baptist Church was formed about the
end of the year 1638, attended to worship and Christian
culture, without meddling with civil government, and be-
came a thriving influence in the community. That it sur-
vived the defection of the powerful Roger Williams proves
that it met the positive wants of its members.

We should now consider a matter — the beginning of
disputes — which will vex the colony for more than two-
score years. Said Williams, " W. Harris and the first
twelve of Providence were restless for Pawtuxet." In
1638 all the meadow ground at Pawtuxet had been " im-
propriated unto thirteen persons being now incorporate
into our town of Providence," a consideration of £20 being
paid to Roger Williams. Uncertain and without bounda-
ries, this deed bred many controversies, not finally set-
tled until 1712, The "Pawtuxet purchase" conflicted
with the " grand purchase of Providence." Notwith-
standing the rebuff from the Bay cited above, William and
Benedict Arnold, Carpenter and others resident at Paw-
tuxet submitted to the government of Massachusetts.
Samuel Gorton and his companions considered that this
movement affected them, and they moved to Shawomet,
buying land from the Indians and settling Warwick.

The plantation as it grew consisted of proprietors,
additional settlers, and those admitted to be freemen.
Nineteenth of eleventh month, 1645, 12 twenty-eight per-
sons received " a free grant of twenty-five acres of land
apiece, with the right of commoning according to the said
proportion of lands." They agreed in positive terms
" not to claim any right to the purchase of the said plan-
is" Early Records," Vol. II., 29.

38 Planting in Providence

tations, nor any privilege of vote in town affairs until
we shall be received as freemen."

Online LibraryWilliam Babcock WeedenEarly Rhode Island; → online text (page 3 of 29)