Roger Williams and the Discord that Created Rhode Island

A few years after his official banishment from Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay, Roger Williams wrote to John Winthrop, assuring the governor that he had “not yet turned Indian.” At first, it may appear that the statement constituted banter between friends and was written in jest. But Williams was making no joke because his “turning” Indian was not just a possibility; it was expected. This talk traces the interactions between the Narragansett and the English colonists who resided within their community and appraises how conflicting interpretations about the parameters of tenancy within the Narragansett Country informed the discord that created Rhode Island. Click here for the one-hour recording of Dr. Mack Scott‘s presentation posted by Brown University on April 4, 2023.

Dr. Scott begins by describing monuments on the Brown University campus and at Slate Rock Park in Providence that suggest that Roger Williams was invited into vacant land rather than land that had been inhabited by the Narragansett Tribe for thousands of years.

Maps of Dawnland, or what today is considered “New England” make little reference to the tribal inhabitants that were here when the English colonizers arrived. Even the deed to Providence suggests that Williams purchased the land and was not simply invited as a guest on Narragansett land.

(Above, left) The 1663 Royal Charter falsely indicates that the Narragansetts gave their consent to the colonists taking land. Following King Philip’s War, during which Williams authorized the Great Swamp Massacre of hundreds of men, women and children, the Narragansett land was simply seized by the colonists.