Expansion Of The Massachusetts Bay Colony Rhode Island
Roger Williams.—The power of the Massachusetts magistrates was exercised to maintain the ideal of a biblical commonwealth, whose principles were expounded by John Cotton of the Boston church. Those who did not agree were in danger. Among the dissenters was Roger Williams, a brilliant young student from Cambridge, who arrived at Boston in 1631, where he was invited to become one of the ministers. He refused to commune with those who had not broken with the English church and repaired to Salem where he was invited to become the minister, but the general court prevented his ordination. Williams soon departed for Plymouth, where he devoted much time to the study of the Indians. He concluded that the title to land belonged to the natives and that the king had no right to grant it away, a view which somewhat disturbed Brewster and Bradford.
He returned to Salem where, during the illness of Skelton, the pastor, he occasionally preached; when Skelton died, Williams became the teacher of the organization. In his sermons he argued that church and state should be separate, and denied the right of the magistrates to regulate churches. He also considered it a sin to follow the forms of the established church. When the colony was attacked by Laud, the general court ordered that a new oath of fidelity be taken. Williams objected to enforced oaths, as he thought that they obliged wicked men to perform a religious act, thus invading the freedom of the soul.
Providence plantation.—To punish Salem for harboring Williams, title to its lands on Marble Neck was refused by the general court and the town was denied the right of representation. Endicott yielded but Williams remained obdurate. In a letter to the churches he protested against the arbitrary act. Williams was summoned before the magistrates and in October, 1635, was sentenced to banishment. The sentence was not immediately enforced and at Salem he continued to be the center of a group of Separatists, who proposed to remove in the spring to the shores of Narragansett Bay. This again alarmed the magistrates, and they decided to send Williams to England. Hearing of the project, he fled from his persecutors and found refuge among the Narragansett Indians. He was warned away from the territory of Plymouth, and in June, 1636, settled at Providence, where he soon had a considerable following, this being the first settlement in Rhode Island.
Title to the land was obtained from the Indians. As the Providence people were outside of any special jurisdiction, they established a government on democratic lines. Church and state were kept separate, no one being forced to support religion. In 1640 an agreement was drawn up which served as a form of government for several years. The governing body was composed of five men called disposers, who were chosen four times in each year. They disposed of the land and managed the common stock. The freeholders retained the right to ratify or disavow, in general meetings, the acts of the disposers. There was a lack of a strong executive and judiciary. Disputes were usually settled by arbitration, but as there was no authority to enforce the settlement, disorders frequently occurred.
Anne Hutchinson.—No sooner had Williams been driven from Massachusetts Bay Colony than a second controversy shook the commonwealth. In the congregation of John Cotton was Mrs. Anne Hutchinson. She became popular by ministering to the sick, and began to hold meetings for women, where the sermons were discussed. Mrs. Hutchinson assumed the roll of teacher, discussing the questions of "a covenant of works" and "a covenant of grace," By the covenant of works she referred to the practice of the Catholic church, which considered penance, confession, and pilgrimages as means of salvation. By a covenant of grace she meant that condition of mind of Protestant Christians which found peace in the thought of the holiness of Christ. She believed that the divine spirit existed in every true Christian. John Cotton and her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright, were held up as examples of those who lived in the covenant of grace. To many of the Boston leaders it seemed as if Mrs. Hutchinson claimed to be inspired, and they feared that her teachings would endanger the authority of the church.
The Boston congregation split into two factions. In Mrs. Hutchinson's party was Governor Harry Vane. On the other side were John Winthrop and the pastor, John Wilson. Cotton attempted to remain neutral but favored the Hutchinsonian party. The question soon became a bitter political quarrel between Winthrop and Vane. At the election in 1637 Vane was defeated. Without the support of the chief executive the followers of Mrs. Hutchinson soon lost power. A synod of ministers was held at Cambridge to root out the heresies. Cotton succeeded in making his peace with the magistrates, but Wheelwright was banished, as was Mrs. Hutchinson. She was allowed to remain in the colony during the winter, but early in the spring of 1638 Winthrop ordered her to depart.
Settlements on Rhode Island.—She found a temporary asylum at Providence, but soon went to the island of Aquidneck, afterward called Rhode Island, where she joined her husband and some of her friends. The little group of nineteen settlers constituted themselves a body politic, electing William Coddington chief magistrate. Many emigrants joined the people of Portsmouth and in 1639 a new settlement was founded at Newport.
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