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Rodger Williams and the First Baptist Church in America

Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.


Puritans in the New World

The first group of English settlers to come to the New World arrived at Plymouth in 1620. This was a mixed group. Some came for adventure and for fortune, but the majority of settlers were coming to flee religious persecution and to establish a "New Jerusalem." They were looking for a place to live free from sin, corruption, and an oppressive government. They left England on two ships, but due to some trouble, all the passengers had to be transferred to one ship, called the Mayflower. There were 103 passengers on this ship for 66 days. Two people died along the way, and one baby was born.

The ship was on route to land near the Hudson River. Instead, it landed near Cape Cod. After attempting to sail to the Hudson outlet, the ship was forced to return to Cape Cod due to rough sailing. This became the Plymouth settlement. Later other would arrive in the New World.


The Mayflower Compact

This was the first document written by the new settlers for the government of the colony. It was signed on November 11, 1920, while they were still onboard the ship. It became a very important document and influenced the way the US government was established.

The document was conceived because the ship was to land in one place (Virginia) but was taken off course and landed in another area. Some of the settlers were concerned that they had no legal charter to establish a colony on that land. William Bradford and William Brewster drew up the document to maintain the peaceful unity of the group.

The document could not establish the legality of the colony on this land where they had no charter. All it could do is act as a guide for how the colony would function. The Compact draws upon Puritan ideals and applies them to the civil realm.

With the compact, we see the idea of self-government and common consent. The Declaration of Independence from England references the ideals laid out in this document.

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In 1629, the second group of settlers arrived. Because of disagreements that arose within these two groups, they decided to part and settle in a different place. This laid the course for the 13 colonies, as well as the concept of states.


Rodger Williams and the first Baptist Church

He was born in London around 1603. No doubt, growing up as a young man, he was aware of the persecutions and burnings at the stake of religious heretics. As a boy in his teens, a lawyer was able to secure a place for him in school. He attended Pembroke College, Cambridge. After graduating, he became the chaplain to a wealthy family in 1629.

In February 1631, he and his family arrived at Boston, Mass., on the Lyon.

He was a preacher in Plymouth and Salem, but the Puritans did not like him. He left to settle on his own and make friends with the Indians. He gained the respect of the Indians by purchasing land from them rather than just taking it. He named his settlement Providence.

In 1643, he went back to England to get a charter for his colony. During his voyage, he wrote the book "Key Languages of America" based upon his experiences and learning the languages of the Indians he encountered.

When he returned, he started a trading post to trade with the Indians. John Clarke (who was a preacher from Newport) joined him.

Williams is best remembered for two things.

(1) He had respect for the native people, and especially his disapproval of taking land from them. Remember, he bought land rather than took it. This was one of the issues that caused him to have to leave the Massachusetts colony.

(2) The other issue that is remembered (and this one is more well known) is his belief in the separation of church and state. He had seen the issues that arise when the government is of one religion and tries to force that religion on its people. He believed that religion was not something the government had the right to enforce, impose, or restrict. He said that personal religious practices were a matter of "liberty of the conscience." Besides his views on the natives and their land, he was also officially banished for political views. Williams said that the government and magistrates had no right to interfere in or be involved in matters of religion.

He sought a place for true religious freedom. Because of his views, the colony that he established (which later became the state of Rhode Island) became a safe place for Jews, Baptists, and Quaker settlers. His views on religious liberty and the separation of church and state were adopted in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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