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“Accept, O Lord ! our thanks for mercies past;
Thou wast our cloud by day, our fire by night, While yet we journeyed through the dreary vast;
Thou Canaan more than givest to our sight;
Lord ! 'tis possessed, not seen from Pisgah's height. We deeply feel this high beneficence;
And ages hence our children shall recite Of Thy protecting grace their Father's sense, And, when they name their Home, Proclaim Thy PROVI
I sing of trials, toils and sufferings great,
Which FATHER WILLIAMS in his exile bore,
And to the soul her sacred rights restore. “ROGER WILLIAMS was born of reputable parents in Wales, A. D. 1598. He was educated at the University of Oxford; was regularly admitted to Orders in the Church of England, and preached for some time as a minister of that Church; but on embracing the doctrines of the Puritans, he rendered himself obnoxious to the laws against the non-conformists, and embarked for America, where he arrived with his wife, whose name was Mary, on the 5th of February, A. D. 1631.” He had scarcely landed ere he began to assert the principle of religious freedom, and insist on a rigid separation from the Church of England. A declaration that the magistrate ought not to interfere in matters of conscience could not fail to excite the jealousy of a government constituted as that of Massachusetts then was; and this jealousy was roused into active hostility when, in the April following his arrival, he was called by the Church of Salem as teaching Elder under their then Pastor, Mr. Skelton.
“Of this appointment,” says Winthrop, “the Governor of Massachusetts was informed, who immediately convened a Court in Boston to take the subject into consideration.” Their deliberations resulted in a letter addressed to Mr. Endicot, of Salem, to this effect :-“That whereas Mr. Williams had re
* These notes were mostly written for the poem as first published in 1832; – none after 1847, when the author died. -[EDITOR.]
fused to join the churches at Boston, because they would not make a public declaration of their repentance, for having communion with the Churches of England while they tarried there, and besides had declared his opinion that the magistrate might not punish the breach of the Sabbath, nor any other offence that
a breach of the first table; and therefore they marveled they would choose him without advising with the council, and withal desired him that they would forbear to proceed until they had considered about it."
This interference of the government forced him to leave Salem. “He removed to Plymouth, and was engaged assistant to Mr. Ralph Smith, the pastor of the church at that place. Here he remained until he found his views of Religious Toleration and strict non-conformity gave offence to some of his hearers, when he returned again to Salem, and was settled there after Mr. Skelton's death, which took place on the 2d of August, 1634.” In this situation Williams preached against the cross in the ensign, as a relic of papal superstition. His preaching however, on this topic, does not seem to have been a subject of complaint, only as it led some of his friends to the indiscretion of defacing the colors. His persecutors, in excusing this act to the government of England, say that they did so, “ with as much wariness as they might, being doubtful themselves of the lawfulness of a cross in an ensign.” But though he may have given no offence by declaring an opinion on this subject so little at variance with their own, yet when he ventured to speak against the king's patent, by which he had granted to his subjects the lands which belonged to the Indians; and, above all, to maintain that the civil magistrate ought not to interfere in matters of conscience, except for the preservation of peace, his presence within the jurisdiction of Massachusetts could no longer be tolerated. A summons was granted for his appearance at the next court.
He appeared accordingly. " It was laid to his charge,” says Winthrop, “that, being under question before the magistracy and churches for divers dangerous opinions, viz: That the magistrate ought not to punish for the breaches of the first table, otherwise than in such cases as do disturb the public peace. 2d. That he ought not to tender an oath to an unregenerate man.
man ought not to pray with such, though wife, children, &c. 4th. That a man ought not to give thanks after
sacrament nor after meat, &c., and that other churches were about to write the church of Salem to admonish him of these errors, notwithstanding the church had since called him to the office of Teacher.”
These charges having been read, all the magistrates and ministers concurred in denouncing the opinions of Williams as erroneous and dangerous, and agreed that the calling him to office at that time was a great contempt of authority. He and the church of Salem were allowed until the next General Court to consider of these charges, and then either to give satisfaction to the Court, or else to expect sentence.
Much warmth of feeling was exhibited in the discussion of these charges; and in the course of the debate it seems the ministers were required to give their opinions severally. All agreed that he who asserted that the civil magistrate ought not to interfere in case of heresy, apostacy, etc., ought to be removed, and that other churches ought to request the magistrates to remove him. Nothing will give a better idea of the state of feeling on this occasion than the fact that when the town of Salem at this time petitioned, claiming some land at Marblehead as belonging to the town, the petition was refused a hearing, on the ground that the church of Salem had chosen Mr. Williams her teacher, and by such choice had offered contempt to the magistrates.
The attendance of all the Ministers of the Bay at the next General Court was requested. This was held in the month of November, 1635. Before this venerable congregation of all the dignitaries of the church, Williams appeared, and defended his opinions. His defence, it seems, was not satisfactory. They offered him further time for conference or disputation. This he declined, and chose to dispute presently. Mr. Hooker was appointed to dispute with him. But Mr. Hooker's logic, seconded as it was by the whole civil and ecclesiastical power of Massachusetts, could not force him to recognise the right of the civil magistrate to punish heresy, or to admit that the king's patent could of itself give a just title to the lands of the Indians. The consequence was, that on the following morning he was sentenced to depart, within six weeks, out of the jurisdiction of Massachusetts.
Such were the causes of Williams' banishment, and such the circumstances under which the decree was passed. He was a
man who fearlessly asserted his principles, and practiced upon them to their fullest extent. Persecution could not drive him to a renunciation of his opinions. His observance of any principle which he adopted was conscientiously strict; but this very strictness of observance had its advantages, in enabling him with more certainty to detect any latent error which his opinions involved. He was as free to declare his errors as he was to assert whatever appeared to him to be right. His very honesty in this respect has given occasion to his enemies to brand his character with inconsistency and apostacy; but he remained true to every principle espoused by him, which posterity has since sanctioned, and inconstant in those things only which are unimportant in themselves, and which are unsettled even in the present day. A tacit confession of his own fallibility was implied in the great principle of which he was the earliest asserter, that government ought not to interfere in matters of conscience; and therein consisted a wide difference between his errors, whatever they were, and those of his perse
This fact, in estimating the character of Williams, cannot be too well considered.
Subsequently to his banishment, he was permitted to remain until spring, on condition that he did not attempt to draw others to his opinions.” But the friends of Williams could not consent to see their favorite pastor leave them, without frequently visiting him whilst they yet had an opportunity. In these interviews, the plan of establishing a colony in the Narraganset country, where the principle of Religious Freedom (the assertion of which had been the chief cause of his banishment) should be carried into effect, was discussed and matured. It is also highly probable that he did not fail to do what he conceived to be the duty of a faithful pastor in other respects. At length the rumor of these meetings reached the ears of the civil authorities; and in January, 1635, (O. S.,) “The governor and assistants,” says Winthrop, "6 met in Boston to consider about Mr. Williams; for they were credibly informed, that he, notwithstanding the injunction laid upon him, (upon liberty granted him to stay until spring,) not to go about to draw others to his opinions, did use to entertain company in his house, and to preach to them even of such points as he had been sentenced for; and it was agreed to send him into England by a ship then ready to depart. The reason was because