Roger Williams

Edwin S. Gaustad (Author)


The founder of Rhode Island and of the first Baptist Church in America, an original and passionate advocate for religious freedom, a rare New England colonist who befriended Native Americans and took seriously their culture and their legal rights, Roger Williams is the forgotten giant among the first English colonists.
Now, Edwin S. Gaustad, a leading expert on the life of Roger Williams, offers a vividly written and authoritative biography of the most far-seeing of the early settlers--the first such biography written for a general audience. Readers follow Roger and Mary Williams on their 1631 journey to Boston, where he soon became embroiled in many controversies, most notably, his claim that the colonists had unjustly taken Native American lands and his argument that civil authorities could not enforce religious duties. Soon banished for these troubling (if farsighted) views, Williams wandered for fourteen weeks in bitter snow until he bought land from the Narragansett Indians and founded Providence, which soon became a sanctuary for religious freedom and a refuge for dissenters of all stripes. The book discusses Williams' journey back to London, where he sought legal recognition of his colony, spread his enlightened views on Native Americans, and (alongside John Milton) fought passionately for religious freedom. Gaustad also describes how the royal charter of Rhode Island, obtained by Williams in 1663, would become the blueprint of religious freedom for many other colonies and a foundation stone for the First Amendment.
Here then is a vibrant portrait of a great American who is truly worthy of remembrance.

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
May 15, 2005
6.42 X 0.93 X 9.24 inches | 0.84 pounds
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About the Author

Edwin S. Gaustad is Professor of History and Religious Studies Emeritus at the University of California at Riverside. An authority on Roger Williams and on the subject of religious freedom, he is the author of Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America and Church and State in America, and is co-author of the award-winning The New Historical Atlas of Religion in America.


"Not just an excellent introduction to the man but a deep analysis of his largely unacknowledged influence on our political and cultural life."--Reason

"Our notions of the separation of church and state owe a lot to Williams, a deeply pious Puritan clergyman who believed that civil authorities had no business enforcing religious views....In 1635, Williams founded Rhode Island as a haven of toleration and freethinking. Gaustad's timely little book reminds us that those are the enduring foundations of American civilization."--Time Magazine


"This is a little masterpiece. Gaustad knows the religious literature of colonial America as well as anyone. Despite being a professional historian, he can also write sentences that sing. Williams, he tells us, understood what Thomas Jefferson was to proclaim over a century later about freedom and the human spirit. The core of our liberal political heritage began as a religious argument about souls rather than citizens."--Joseph J. Ellis, author of His Excellence: George Washington

"As Gaustad makes clear in his remarkably succinct biography, Williams planted the seeds of ideas that would sprout a century after his death....He could have written several amendments to the Bill of Rights all by himself."--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"At once maddeningly original and disarmingly humane, Roger Williams championed Native American rights, church-state separation, and an independent judiciary when each was considered rank heresy. The justly noted historian Edwin S. Gaustad presents Williams's remarkable story in straightforward prose, without losing sight of its poetic power." --Forrest Church, author of The American Creed: A Biography of the Declaration of Independence and The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's Founders

"Energetic, elegant."--Providence Journal