1635 – Founder of Rhode Island Roger Williams is banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a religious dissident after he speaks out against punishments for religious offenses and giving away Native American land.
Roger Williams (c. 1603 – between January and March 1683) was an English Protestant theologian who was an early proponent of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. In 1636, he began the colony of Providence Plantation, which provided a refuge for religious minorities. Williams started the first Baptist church in America, the First Baptist Church of Providence. Williams was also a student of Native American languages, an early advocate for fair dealings with Native Americans, and arguably the first abolitionist in North America, having organized the first attempt to prohibit slavery in any of the British American colonies. As a separatist, Williams considered the Church of England irredeemably corrupt, and believed that one must completely separate from it to establish a new church for the true and pure worship of God. Williams believed that soul, liberty, and freedom of conscience were gifts from God, and thought freedom of religion a natural right, which demanded that church and state be separated. Williams was the first to use the phrase "When they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, and made His garden a wilderness, as at this day." Years later, in 1802, Thomas Jefferson used the "wall of separation" phrase in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, echoing Roger Williams. Williams has been considered an American hero ever since the Puritans of his own day stopped dominating historical interpretations. His defense of Native Americans, accusations that Puritans had reproduced the "evils" of the Anglican Church, and denial that the king had authority to grant charters for colonies put him at the center of nearly every political debate during his life. By the time of American independence, however, he was considered a defender of religious freedom and has continued to be praised by generations of historians who have often altered their interpretation of his period as a whole.