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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Separation of Roger Williams

By Nathaniel Morton (1613–1685)

[Born in England. Died at Plymouth, Mass., 1685. New England’s Memorial. 1669.]

IN the year 1634, Mr. Roger Williams removed from Plymouth to Salem; he had lived about three years at Plymouth, where he was well accepted as an assistant in the ministry to Mr. Ralph Smith, then pastor of the church there, but by degrees venting of divers of his own singular opinions, and seeking to impose them upon others, he not finding such a concurrence as he expected, he desired his dismission to the church of Salem, which though some were unwilling to, yet through the prudent counsel of Mr. Brewster, the ruling elder there, fearing that his continuance amongst them might cause divisions, and there being many abler men in the bay, they would better deal with him than themselves could, and foreseeing, what he professed he feared concerning Mr. Williams, which afterwards came to pass, that he would run the same course of rigid separation and anabaptistry, which Mr. John Smith, the se-baptist at Amsterdam had done; the church of Plymouth consented to his dismission, and such as did adhere to him were also dismissed, and removed with him, or not long after him, to Salem.

He came to Salem in the time of Mr. Skelton’s weakness, who lived not long after Mr. Williams was come, whereupon after some time, the church there called him to office; but he having in one year’s time filled that place with principles of rigid separation, and tending to anabaptistry, the prudent magistrates of the Massachusetts jurisdiction sent to the church of Salem, desiring them to forbear calling him to office, which they hearkening to, was a cause of much disturbance; for Mr. Williams had begun, and then being in office, he proceeded more vigorously to vent many dangerous opinions, as amongst many others these were some; that it is not lawful for an unregenerate man to pray, nor to take an oath, and in special, not the oath of fidelity to the civil government; nor was it lawful for a godly man to have communion, either in family prayer, or in an oath, with such as they judged unregenerate; and therefore he himself refused the oath of fidelity, and taught others so to do; also, that it was not lawful so much as to hear the godly ministers of England, when any occasionally went thither, and therefore he admonished any church members that had done so, as for heinous sin; also he spake dangerous words against the patent, which was the foundation of the government of the Massachusetts colony; also he affirmed, that the magistrates had nothing to do in matters of the first table, but only the second; and that there should be a general and unlimited toleration of all religions, and for any man to be punished for any matters of his conscience, was persecution.

And further, he procured the church of Salem’s consent unto letters of admonition, which were written and sent by him, in their name, to the churches at Boston, Charlestown, Newtown (now Cambridge), etc., accusing the magistrates, that were members of the respective churches, of sundry heinous offences, which he laid unto their charge; and though divers did acknowledge their error and gave satisfaction, yet Mr. Williams himself, notwithstanding all the pains that was taken with him by Mr. Cotton, Mr. Hooker, and many others, to bring him to a sight of his errors and miscarriages, and, notwithstanding all the court’s gentle proceedings with him, he not only persisted, but grew more violent in his way, insomuch as he staying at home in his own house, sent a letter, which was delivered and read in the public church assembly, the scope of which was to give them notice, that if the church of Salem would not separate not only from the churches of Old England, but the churches of New England too, he would separate from them.

The more prudent and sober part of the church, being amazed at his way, could not yield unto him; whereupon he never came to the church assembly more, professing separation from them as antichristian, and not only so, but he withdrew all private religious communion from any that would hold communion with the church there, insomuch as he would not pray nor give thanks at meals with his own wife nor any of his family, because they went to the church assemblies. Divers of the weaker sort of the church members, that had been thoroughly leavened with his opinions, of which number were divers women that were zealous in their way, did by degrees fall off to him, insomuch as he kept a meeting in his own house, unto which a numerous company did resort, both on the Sabbath day and at other times, in way of separation from, and opposition to the church assembly there; which the prudent magistrates understanding, and seeing things grow more and more towards a general division and disturbance, after all other means used in vain, they passed a sentence of banishment against him out of the Massachusetts colony, as against a disturber of the peace, both of the church and commonwealth.

After which Mr. Williams sat down in a place called Providence, out of the Massachusetts jurisdiction, and was followed by many of the members of the church at Salem, who did zealously adhere to him, and who cried out of the persecution that was against him; some others also resorted to him from other parts. They had not been long there together, but from rigid separation they fell to anabaptistry, renouncing the baptism which they had received in their infancy, and taking up another baptism, and so began a church in that way; but Mr. Williams stopped not there long, for after some time he told the people that followed him, and joined with him in a new baptism, that he was out of the way himself, and had misled them, for he did not find that there was any upon earth that could administer baptism, and therefore their last baptism was a nullity, as well as their first; and therefore they must lay down all, and wait for the coming of new apostles; and so they dissolved themselves and turned Seekers, keeping that one principle, that every one should have liberty to worship God according to the light of their own consciences; but otherwise not owning any churches or ordinances of God anywhere upon earth.