Roger Williams National Memorial, Providence RI

As the quest for the National Parks Stamps continues, I may not have succeeded in getting the Adams National Historical Park but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t successful. I took a quick trip into Providence, RI. Providence is only about 30 minutes from my home so when I say a “quick trip”, I mean it.

I was heading into Providence to see the Roger Williams National Memorial. This time I went to the web page to download the directions. Then I backed it up with Map quest. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “Garbage in – Garbage out”? Well I did it again. I entered the wrong address! The Memorial is on North Main st, I entered South Main St.

I found my way to S. Main St. with no problem. The directions were “spot – on” but I couldn’t find anything that looked like a memorial. I parked at a meter and fed about $1.50 in quarters into it’s maw and began to search on foot. According to Map quest (which I still didn’t realize was the wrong address) it should be on my left. There was nothing. Confused I returned to the car and pulled the little Passport book out and that’s when I realized my error. Rather than back track I decided to see if S. Main would turn into N. Main . So back in the car I continued on down South Main and sure enough. With no fan fare or street sign change, there was the National Parks Sign.

As I stopped at the light I realized I was right next to the visitor center. I made a left to go around the block and at the next light I saw a little parking lot designated for Roger Williams Park. I had arrived.

The park is a very attractive little park. I didn’t see any big statue to Providence’s founder but there were a lot of trees and picnic tables and benches. I bet it would be a great place to have your lunch in the summer or just to sit and “commune with nature”. (Sorry that’s my inner flower child coming out.)

After snapping a couple of pictures I made my way to the Visitor Center to collect my stamp. The Center was manned by a really nice ranger who was friendly and informative.

There was a short movie about Roger Williams that was very interesting. It was only about 5 minutes long but that 5 minutes was crammed with information.

Most people learn in school that Roger Williams left the persecution of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in search of religious freedom. I remember when I learned about him in school he wasn’t much more than a foot-note to the Puritans and there was sort of a bad-boy image. It was “ see what happens when you question authority? You get sent away.” Although there is some truth to this image, I think it may have been a bit slanted as there was so much more to this man.

Roger Williams was trained as an Anglican Clergyman but while he was still in England he became more and more sympathetic to the Puritans. Some Puritans sailed to the New World in 1630 to escape the severe restrictions, persecutions and penalties they faced in England and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A year later Williams and his wife Mary followed with another group.

Williams soon clashed with Governor Winthrop. Williams became a “separatist” pushing for a clean break from the Anglican Church. The colony wasn’t ready for so radical a step. Williams also clashed with the Puritans on jurisdiction over what were know as “Matters of Conscience”. These were the first of the Ten Commandments. In Williams opinion, there was no place for civil jurisdiction over such matters.

He disagreed with the colonists where the Native Americans were concerned as well, arguing that Native Americans had as much right to property as the English Settlers. He went on to denounce taking civil oaths in God’s name and paying church ministers from civil taxes.

At some point he crossed a line and the colony refused to tolerate him anymore sentencing him to deportation. To avoid arrest he fled the colony. He spent that winter with the Narragansett cementing a life long friendship. Eventually the Narragansett deeded Williams the land at the headwaters of Narragansett Bay for a colony that he named Providence.

Williams was always a friend to the Natives of the area and although still exiled from Massachusetts Bay Colony, Governor Winthrop had no qualms about calling on Williams to intervene and negotiate on the colony’s behalf whenever relations with the Natives became strained.

I didn’t realize that Rhode Island was the last colony to ratify the Constitution but Williams pushed hard for the First Amendment and Rhode Island did not ratify until that amendment was included. Hence, we are guaranteed freedom of religion thanks to Roger Williams.

All that from a man that was considered a troublemaker and banished to avoid arrest. Sadly, Williams died destitute, only the year of his death being known.

Quite a different take than I got in history class. But to borrow a famous radio phrase: Now you know the rest of the story!

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