This profile was last updated in 2006
The Roger Williams National Memorial celebrates the life of Roger Williams (1603-83), the founder of Rhode Island, and the American ideal of religious freedom. Williams, who was banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 for preaching freedom of conscience (“soul liberty”) and the separation of church and state, was deeded land from the Narragansett Tribe and founded Providence. Williams’ colony came to serve as a refuge where all people could go to practice any or no religion according to their consciences without interference from the state.
The Memorial is located in downtown Providence on the site of Williams’ original settlement. It includes a Visitor Center museum, a 4.5 acre landscaped park with a garden enclosing Williams’ freshwater spring, and six markers interpreting aspects of Rhode Island’s precolonial and colonial history.
The Visitor Center museum contains two large murals, one relating the details of Williams’ life and the other exploring freedom of religion. The mural about Williams has four registers: “1600 Priest and Puritan,” “1635 Sepratist, Outcast,” “1636 Founder, Seeker,” and “1663 Statesman.” The mural on liberty of conscience has three registers: “Inalienable Rights–American Independence,” “Race and Creed–American Diversity,” and “Rights and Relevance–American Religion.” At the end of the second mural is a ledger in which visitors may enter their responses about freedom and conscience. In the center of the room is a display on “Roger Williams and the Indians,” containing replicas of the deed by which Williams was granted land for his settlement, the book Williams authored (“A Key into the Language of America”), and Williams’ Eliot Algonquian Bible with his penciled-in Narragansett translations.
The interpretive markers spaced throughout the park bear the titles: “A Thoroughfare Town,” “The Century to Statehood,” “A Howling Wilderness,” “A Shelter for Persons Distressed,” “Gone from Hence,” and “A Changing Nation.” The park also contains a grove commemorating Gabriel Bernon, a 17th-century Huguenot who fled persecution in France and settled in Providence, and the Hahn Memorial, built on land donated in the name of the first Jewish citizen of Providence to hold elected office.
The Roger Williams National Memorial is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1. Free parking is available, and the park is wheelchair accessible. Groups of visitors should make arrangements in advance. The Memorial is staffed by National Park rangers. During 2003, the Memorial is holding numerous special events to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Williams’ birth. Details are available on the internet.