« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
English Church. The force of public opinion drove him from Salem; and he became the minister of Plymouth, subsequently returning to his first residence. His known views on the subject of Church and State, and the emphasis with which he claimed the right of private judgment and free action in religion, neutralized the personal influence which a blameless life and signal abilities created. Governor Winthrop, always his friend, advised him to remove to a region where he could enjoy and advocate his sentiments without molestation; and suggested, as the nearest place, the country then designated as Narraganset Bay. He first went to Seckonk; but Winslow, the Governor of Plymouth, warned him, even after he had built and planted there, that he was still within the jurisdiction of their state; and, accordingly, loath, as he says, “ to displease the Bay,” he transferred his settlement across the water.
The circumstances of his departure from his old associates, and of his selection of a locality for the new colony, have an additional pathos and beauty that might inspire a poet. Having battled in vain against the narrow prejudices of his townsmen, he was sentenced to banishment; but the season of the year, and the claims of a family, induced him to postpone his departure. The acquiescence of the magistrates in this delay did not, however, prevent Williams from giving utterance to his opinions in conversation, and the attachment he had inspired gained him many willing auditors. This casual success irritated his enemies, and information was privately conveyed to their victim that a plan had been arranged to send him to England by a vessel about to sail. His only resource was flight; and, on a winter's night, with a hatchet, compass, tinder-box, some provisions, and the Bible, he left bis fireside and tearful wife and children, and plunged into the forest, trusting rather to savage hospitality than the mercy of his own race; and, like Lear, in his keen sense of human cruelty, ready to brave the fury of the elements. The sufferings incident to such an expedition it is easy to imagine; they form another episode in the drama of his life, infusing a spirit of endurance and the sanction of martyrdom into the heroic purpose of his soul. Less stern and wearisome was the subsequent exploration of the river upon which his little band floated in search of a new asylum. It was a beautiful summer day. Their leader had already enjoyed an interval of comparative case ; his life had been miraculously preserved, and his confidence renewed. It was decided to select a location in accordance with the greeting of the Indians; and thrice What-cheer? welcomed the fugitives to the site of Providence.
When Roger Williams entered this wild territory an exile, he determined to make it his abode: he selected lis burial-place; forty-seven years elapsed; his thin and baffled settlement had become a flourishing colony; the principle of spiritual freedom, so dear to his heart, was practically realized — when, full of years and honor, his remains were laid away in this chosen sepulture.
The Baptists claim Roger Williams as one of the founders of their church in America ; but this claim is but partially substantiated, and his true fame is that of the stanch advocate of toleration in New England. He introduced a redeeming principle into the conflict of sects; and, amid a people narrowed and hardened with bigotry, set an invaluable example of forbearance on the one hand, and bold self-assertion on the other. His name became a watchword of defence, and his settlement a home for the persecuted. There the civil and ecclesiastical powers were unmixed; every citizen was at liberty to enjoy and peaceably inculcate his peculiar doctrine ; and the rights of all were respected. How greatly such a refuge and champion were needed is obvious from a glance at the condition of society in the earlier settlements. The clergy exercised a personal influence that overshadowed the community; they were jealous of power, and sternly reprobated any variance from their standard of faith; public opinion was tyrannical, individual aspirations quelled, and private thought awed. The opponents of agencies like those, however honest and gentle, were immediately ostracized; and fortunate was it that a safe retreat for such victims of fanatical resentment existed in Rhode Island. Thither fled the poor Quakers to escape whipping and the gallows, and there Anne Hutchinson and her disciples found sympathy and protection. Like the miniature republic of San Marino, and the constitutional monarchy of Sardinia to-day, was Rhode Island in the early colonial times. Without those
mountainous features which render part of the scenery of Vermont so grand, or that fertile reach of meadow through which winds the Connecticut, this little state has attractive features which
may well endear it as a home of freedom. The sea breathes its most tempered air upon its shores ; a sky as clearly azure as that of Rome, and sunsets as glowing as those that warnt the Apennine peaks, chreterize the region. A bracing, yet, for New England, singularly mild climate, belongs to that portion of the state which borders on the Atlantic. These advantages drew to this section of the country many intelligent settlers, and afterwards attached to it not a few illustrious men, whose names are now associated with its local charms and noble annals, such as Bishop Berkeley, Allston, and Malbone, the artists ; Stiles and Channing, the divines; Perry, and a score of other naval heroes.
While procuring the charter in England, Roger Williams was greatly assisted by Sir Henry Vane, another glorious spirit, and subsequently a martyr to the principles which his compatriot established in America. Acting as his medium with the commissioners, Vane procured all the desired articles of the charter ; and Williams dedicated to Lady Vane his first work, which was published about this time. An incident of peculiar interest. brought to light by a letter of Roger Williams in this volume, is his intimacy, when thus occupied in London, with Milton. It appears they both were then engaged in the instruction of youth: and while the poet enlightened the reformer on some of the niceties of IIebrew and Latin, the latter gave the secretary of Cromwell lessons in the Indian tongues. Thus Williams enjoyed the sympathy and counsel of the two noblest men of his age, Milton and Vane, and was doubtless inspired by their confidence to maintain the rights of conscience in his settlement. On turning thither, after his successful embassy, he was greeted at Seekonk by a fleet of canoes, and, under their escort, arrived at home, where the new charter was read in public, amid grateful acclamations. His second visit to England, to procure a renewal of these privileges, the revocation of Coddington's charter, and other benefits for the colony, was equally fortunate; the occasion also enabled him to publish other works, and to enjoy the society of many brave and wise men who approved his noble purposes.
The daughter of Sir Edward Coke, his first kind friend and patron, treated his advances, however, with disdain, on account of their diverse religious views; and the correspondence between them, now first published in Elton's volume,* exhibits, on her part, a lamentable narrowness of soul and harsh bigotry, and, on his, a gentleness and forbearance worthy of his character.
The hostility of the elder colony towards the first legislator for liberty of conscience, did not remit when he had passed beyond its limits. He was obliged to go to New York to embark for England, not being able to obtain the consent of the Boston authorities to pass through their province. They even denied him the compliment of a vote of thanks for his eminent services during the Pequot war; and when the states of New England formed a defensive league against their common and savage enemy, Rhode Island was not permitted to join. The policy of that infant state at this period was, indeed, a constant reproach to her less tolerant but more prosperous neighbor, of which the contrast of their respective behavior to the Quakers is a striking illustration.
Lamartine has given a highly dramatic picture of Napoleon's solitary advance towards the regiment of Grenoble after his flight from Elba; not less courageous was the appeal to savage magnanimity of Roger Williams, when he ventured alone into the midst of an exasperated tribe collected for battle, and, by the force of his calm and kindly resolution, subdued their vindictive purpose.
. Indeed, one of the most interesting features of his career is his relation with the Indians. By the magnetism of consistent kindness and fearless bearing, he won the confidence and respect of those children of the forest. Canonicus signed a deed of the land he purchased, and caused his nephew to attest it; thenceforth a most friendly intercourse subsisted between the two chiefs and their pale guest. The magnanimity of Roger Williams is shown in his effective mediation with these savage allies, when a formidable conspiracy threatened the colony which had so ignominiously expelled him. In 1663 he writes to Winthrop : “I discerned cause of bestirring myself, and staid the longer; and, at last, through the mercy of the Most High, I not only sweetened his spirit, but possessed him that the plague and other sicknesses were alone in the hand of God." He is speaking of Canonicus, and his delusion that the English brought a pestilence among the aborigines, and deserved, therefore, to be cut off. When the venerable sachem expired, Williams compares the feeling manifested by his tribe and that of the Bay colonists at the funeral of their excellent governor : “He so lived and died, and in the
* Life of Roger Williams, by Romeo Elton, D.D., F. R. P. S.
“ same most honorable manner and solemnity (in their way) as you laid to sleep your prudent peacemaker, Mr. Winthrop, did they honor their prudent and peaceable prince.” The romance which has been associated with the Indian race of this continent is first vanishing. Well-informed writers, intent rather upon the scientific than poetical view, have demonstrated that, with much that is curious, there is little of promise or beauty in the nature of the red man; and nowhere did the Indian present a more hopeless character than in the region colonized by Williams. It is a remarkable evidence of their drunken propensity, that a special vote of the Town Council was requisite even for so judicious a citizen as Williams to supply them with alcoholic medicine. In the state record, it is noted that " leave was granted to Roger Williams to sell a little wine or strong water to some natives in case of sickness.” It was not by direct expostulation only that he warded off impending danger from the other settlements. Through his Narraganset friends, in repeated instances, he obtained seasonable notice of the vindictive plans of other tribes, and gave due warning; thus, in the Pequot war, he prevented an Indian league, and saved the colony from destruction. He was also a mediator between the Indians themselves, and carried their petition, " that they might not be forced from their religion," to the English king. These offices gave him a strong hold upon their sympathies; and we find in his correspondence that the influence thus acquired was constantly invoked by those who had most wantonly persecuted this brave messenger of peace. To his knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, Williams had now added the Indian tongue, of which he prepared a key during his first voyage to England. It was published in London. Few of the new settlers were able to maintain such direct intercourse with the natives; and he endeared himself to them by publicly advocating strict payment and definite boundaries for all lands