Who was Roger Williams?

Background image is The Landing of Roger Williams in 1636, painted in 1857 by Alonzo Chappel, American, 1828-1887, housed in the RISD Museum

For more information about the painting visit the RISD Museum website.

Rhode Island founder Roger Williams was a remarkable man. He set the standard for separation of church and state that the nation adopted, and his vision and determination built the “lively experiment” that was and is Rhode Island. Many of his values are more relevant than ever.

We encourage you to view him as the complex man he was. Roger Williams was both incredibly forward-thinking and very much a man of his time. We are committed to presenting a complete and accurate portrayal, which means we have stayed as true as possible to verifiable information while recognizing that many details are lost to history and some are still emerging. While he is not perfect and there is much we do not know, we believe that Roger’s character and legacy are worthy of reflection and admiration.


"There goes many a ship to sea, with many hundred souls in one ship, whose weal and woe is common, and is a true picture of a commonwealth, or a human combination or society. It hath fallen out sometimes that both Papists and Protestants, Jews and Turks, may be embarked in one ship; upon which supposal I affirm that all the liberty of conscience that ever I pleaded for turns upon these two hingers: that none of the Papists, Protestants, Jews or Turks be forced to come ot the ship's prayers or worship, or compelled from their own particular prayers or worship, if they practice any."

SOURCE: John Osborne Austin, editor, The Roger Williams Calendar (Central Falls: E.L. Freeman and Sons, 1897)


What does Roger Williams’s legacy means for us, our community, or the world? We’ve asked people with relevant insights and experience to participate in a series of guest blog posts, or “Reflections on Roger.” Check back for updated Reflections throughout the year.