Roger Williams graduated from Cambridge University in 1627, took holy orders in the Church of England, and arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. Regarded as a young man of great promise, he was quickly offered a ministerial post in the church in Boston. When he declined the appointment, explaining that he could not minister to a congregation that followed the Church of England, he identified himself as a separatist. At the same time, he asserted his conviction that the civil authorities had no right to punish colonists who held dissenting religious beliefs.
Williams next stopped briefly in Salem before moving on to Plymouth, but his charge that the colonies were stealing land from the Indians contributed to the controversy that followed him. Meanwhile, in 1634 the General Court of Massachusetts responded to worry about the colony’s enemies in England by requiring an oath of loyalty, a commitment that Williams refused to abide by, and when he learned in January, 1636, that he was about to be shipped back to England, he hurried south to Narragansett Bay in what was to become Rhode Island. Concerned about the mother country’s threats to his new settlement in Rhode Island, in 1643 Williams returned to England right in the middle of its civil war.
Among the contending religions in England, the Presbyterians were strongest, while their main rivals were another Calvinist group, the Independents, or Congregationalists, who rejected the hierarchy of Presbyterian Church governance. The publication in 1644 of An...
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