Biography of Roger Williams (1603–1683), the 17th-century rebel whose ideas led to the formation of the Rhode Island colony on the American continent.
Popular historian Barry (The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, 2004, etc.) planned to write a book about America during after World War I, with the narrative built around the role of religion in public life. But as he researched the history of church-state relations in England and America, he kept running up against Williams, who, with his wife and other Puritan refugees, sought to escape persecution for their religious beliefs. Settling in Massachusetts, however, Williams began to feel a new form of religious persecution. His evolving beliefs about the need to separate church and state, and the related need to respect the liberty of the individual, led to his expulsion from Massachusetts. Williams barely survived a snowy winter in the woods, and his journey for a spot where individual liberty could thrive led him to build a city called Providence, in what would much later become the state of Rhode Island. Barry skillfully demonstrates the physical hardships faced by Williams and his intrepid followers. He also delineates the Williams’ intellectual influences, including jurist Edward Coke and Francis Bacon, the philosopher of science. In Massachusetts, Williams simultaneously won the respect of and clashed with the colony’s governor, John Winthrop, who is more than a foil throughout the biography. Barry compares and contrasts the theological and political thought of Williams and Winthrop to emphasize the remarkably fresh, daring thinking of the Rhode Island founder.
A top-notch intellectual biography.