Roger Williams to the Town of Providence
Well-beloved friends and neighbors,
I am like a man in a great fog. I know not well how to steer. I fear to run upon the rocks at home, having had trials abroad. I fear to run quite backward, as men in a mist do, and undo all that I have been a long time undoing myself to do, viz.: to keep up the name of a people, a free people, not enslaved to the bondages and iron yokes of the great (both soul and body) oppressions of the English and barbarians about us, nor to the divisions and disorders within ourselves.
Since I set the first step of any English foot into these wild parts, and have maintained a chargeable and hazardous correspondence with the barbarians, and spent almost five years’ time with the state of England, to keep off the rage of the English against. us, what have I reaped of the root of being the stepping-stone of so many families and towns about us, but grief, and sorrow, and bitterness? I have been charged with folly for that freedom and liberty which I have always stood for; I say liberty and equality, both in land and government. I have been blamed for parting with Moshassuck, and afterward Pawtuxet, (which were mine own as truly as any man’s coat upon his back,) without reserving to myself a foot of land, or an inch of voice in any matter, more than to my servants and strangers. I hath been told me that I labored for a licentious and contentious people; that I have foolishly parted with town and colony advantages, by which I might have preserved both town and colony in as good order as any in the country about us. This, and ten times more, I have been censured for, and at this present am called a traitor by one party, against the state of England, for not maintaining the charter and the colony; and it is said I am as good as banished by yourselves, and that both sides wished that I might never have landed, that the fire of contention might have had no stop in burning. Indeed, the words have been so sharp between myself and some lately, that at last I was forced to say, they might well silence all complaints if I once began to complain, who was unfortunately fetched and drawn from my employment, and sent to so vast distance from my family, to do your work of a high and costly nature, for so many days and weeks and months together, and there left to starve, or steal, or beg or borrow. But blessed be God, who gave me favor to borrow one while and to work another, and there-by to pay your debts there, and to come over with your credit and honor, as an agent from you, who had, in your name, grappled with the agents and friends of all your enemies round about you.
I am told that your opposites thought on me, and provided, as I may say, a sponge to wipe off your scores and debts in England, but that it was obstructed by yourselves, who rather meditated on means and new agents to be sent over, to cross what Mr. Clarke and I obtained. But, gentlemen, blessed be God, who faileth not, and blessed be his name for his wonderful Providences, by which alone this town and colony, and that grand cause of Truth and Freedom of Conscience, hath been upheld to this day. And blessed be his name who hath again quenched so much of our fires hitherto, and hath brought your names and his own name thus far out of the dirt and scorn, reproach, &c. I find among yourselves and your opposites that of Solomon true, that the contentions of brethren (some that lately were so) are the bars of a castle, and not easily broken; and I have heard some of both sides zealously talking of undoing themselves by a trial in England. Truly, friends, I cannot but fear you lost: a fair wind lately, when this town was sent to for its deputies, and you were not pleased to give an overture unto the rest of the inhabitants about it; yea, and when yourselves thought that I invited you to some conference tending to reconciliation, before the town should act in so fundamental a business, you were pleased to forestall that, so that being full of grief, shame and astonishment, yea, and fear that all that is now done, especially in our town of Providence, is but provoking the spirits of men to fury and desperation, I pray your leave to pray you to remember (that which I lately told your opposites) only by pride cometh contention. If there be humility on the one side, yet there is pride on the other, and certainly the eternal God will engage against the proud. I therefore pray you to examine, as I have done them, your proceedings in this first particular.
Secondly, Love covereth a multitude of sins. Surely your charges and complaints against other have not hid nor covered anything as we use to cover the have nakedness of those we love. If you will now profess not to have disfranchised humanity and love, but that, as David in another case, you will sacrifice to the common peace, and common safety, and common credit, that which may be said to cost you something, I pray your loving leave to tell you, that if I were in your soul’s case, I would send unto your opposites such a line as this: “Neighbors, at the constant request, and upon the constant mediation which our neighbor Roger Williams, since his arrival, hath used to us, both for pacification and accommodation of our sad differences, and also upon the late endeavors in all the other towns for a union, we are persuaded to remove our obstruction, viz. : that paper of contention between us, and to deliver it into the hands of our aforesaid neighbor and to obliterate that order, which that paper did occasion. This removed, you may be pleased to meet with, and debate freely, and vote in all matters with us, as if such grievances had not been amongst us. Secondly, if yet aught remain grievous, which we ourselves, by free debate and conference, cannot compose, we offer to be judged and censured by four men, which out of any part of the colony you shall choose two, and we the other.
Letters of Roger Williams, 1632-1682, John Russell Bartlett, ed. (Providence: The Narragansett Club, 1874) pg. 262-266.