Sick of the Pilgrims? Celebrate Roger Williams Instead
While the Thanksgiving holiday is normally spent in memory of the semi-mythical 1621 feast between recently arrived Puritans and local Native Americans, a settler who arrived a decade later is a much better-suited hero for the more liberty-minded among us.
Roger Williams, known best as the founder of Rhode Island, was a Puritan minister, an early advocate for the separation of church and state, and, as writer Sarah Vowell describes in her 2008 book on the early Massachusetts Bay Colony, “a fully-formed crank, a man whom even Puritans dismiss as a tad too fanatical.”
However, Vowell has a soft spot for the oft-zealous minister—one I and many other libertarians share. As she writes, despite William’s eccentricity and fanaticism, “He is nevertheless principled, self-confident, forthright, and true to himself.”
While many early Puritan colonists can stake a claim as the most influential upon the American spirit—from John Winthrop and his “city on a hill” to the enduring cultural sticking power of the Plymouth colonists—Williams, in my view, surpasses them all. Not only did his commitment to individual religious freedom influence the stridently secular government we have today, but he also modeled a classic American troupe—the liberty-loving weirdo.
In contrast to the theocratic magistrates of the 1630s Massachusetts Bay Colony, Williams was not just a religious rebel—but a political one too. While others argued that theological unorthodoxies should result in state-sanctioned punishment, Williams disagreed. Instead, while he believed along with his fellow Calvinists that religious dissenters and most of the faithful might be hell-bound, he asserted that it’s not the job of the government to set them on the
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