Grave of Roger Williams
N 41° 49.788 W 071° 24.434
The remains of Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island and advocate for religious freedom, are located in Prospect Terrace Park overlooking Providence, RI.
Roger Williams died on April 1, 1683. In 1860, the people of Providence decided to create a memorial to the founder of Rhode Island. According to the National Park Service website "Community leaders went in search of Williams's remains. When they dug up the spot where they believed the remains to be, they found only nails, teeth and bone fragments. They also found an apple tree root. The tree root looked as if it had taken on the form of Roger Williams. It had traveled the length of Williams's body, splitting at the hips, bending at the knees and turning up at the feet." The remains were placed in a mausoleum in the North Burial Ground.
Before the 300th anniversary of the founding of Providence in 1936, the remains were retrieved from the mausoleum and placed in an urn kept by the Rhode Island Historical Society. They were then placed in this monument erected in 1939 by the Works Progress Administration at Prospect Terrace Park in Providence.
The remains are marked by a 15' high granite statue of Roger Williams inside a 27' high granite arch on a bluff overlooking Providence, RI. The statue was sculpted by Leo Friedlander and dedicated on June 29, 1939. Roger Williams is shown standing and wearing a buttoned coat, boots and a cape. His left arm by his side and his right arm outstretched horizontally.
Because of his belief is religious freedom, Roger Williams was forced to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He founded the present state of Rhode Island specifically to establish a haven for people who were persecuted for their religious beliefs
Roger Williams was born in London, England, probably in 1603. Originally a member of the Church of England, he became a Puritan and thereby gave up any chance for a position in the Anglican Church. He graduated from Cambridge University, married Mary Barnard in 1629, and, together, they emigrated to Boston in 1631.
He soon found himself in disagreement with the prevailing Puritan philosophy regarding religious freedom and the relationship between church and state. He believed that the Church of England was corrupt beyond redemption, espoused freedom of choice in the practice of religion, and espoused complete separation of church and state. In 1635 he was ordered to appear before the General Court of Massachusetts to explain his erroneous and dangerous opinions. As a result, the Court declared that he should be removed from his church position. Later that same year he was tried and convicted of sedition and heresy.
In 1636, Roger Williams and a number of his followers attempted to leave Massachusetts by settling near Plymouth; but they were told that they were still in Massachusetts and that they must move west beyond the Seekonk River, which was beyond the Massachusetts Bay charter. They went to Narragansett territory where they purchased land from the native Narragansetts. Roger Williams named the settlement "Providence" because he felt that God's Providence had brought him there. He declared it to be a haven for those distressed of conscience and soon many other like-minded dissenters took up settlement. In 1644 he published his most famous book The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience - A Plea For Religious Liberty in which he espoused his doctrine of religious freedom that: "No man shall be required to worship or maintain a worship against his will."
In 1647, the four towns around Narragansett Bay - Newport and Portsmouth located on the island of Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations of Providence and Warwick on the mainland, united to form a single government under the principle of liberty of conscience. The colony became a safe haven for people persecuted for their beliefs including: Baptists, Quakers, and Jews. In 1654, Roger Williams was elected the President of the colony.