Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rode Island - A Colony Founded on Tolerance and Reform

Did you know that the colony of Rode Island, means Red Island? It  was founded on the principle of separation of Church and State guaranteeing religious freedom to all who settled there. It became a safe haven for persecuted Jews, Quakers and Presbyterians who had fled the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
William Rogers who is credited with starting the colony of Rode Island, was himself a Puritan who came to America. He had quite an impact on the second generation of Puritans at a time when ideas of change were contagious. Rogers was friends with the Puritan leaders of Colonial Massachusetts until he started voicing his discontent. Rogers told the Puritan leaders that the Puritanism practiced in the colony was not pure enough and the Church of England was beyond reform. He spoke out against the punishment of anyone for religious offences and denounced Puritan leaders for forcing religion on everyone who lived in the community. When asked to take an oath by the local government, Rogers refused stating that any kind of oath or vow was religious and could not be required of the government. For speaking his mind, the colony tried and banished William Rogers (founder) to Rhode Island. It later became it's own colony. After William Rogers was banished from Colonial Massachusetts, he made friends with the Pequot Indians and established Rhode Island from land that he purchased from the Indians. William Rogers believed that the Indians had legal right to the land, which further ostracized him from society. He learned the Pequot language and remained on friendly terms with the Indians. Rogers used his friendship with the Pequot to save the Massachusetts colony from attacks on many occasions yet the people of the colony still ostracized him. Despite the Puritans treatment, William Rogers still helped them.
The example William Rogers set for generations of Puritans was important. Literacy was widespread in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Many could read, and did read the Bible. They were able to think, making interpretations and judgments on their own. Most in the Massachusetts Bay Colony perceived William Rogers as a trusting person who was ostracized because he questioned the authority of "the establishment." Over one hundred years later an article in the Massachusetts Spy, stated, “For however strange it may appear, yet indubitable facts prove that mankind is naturally compassionate toward those who are subjected to pains and hardships for the sake of their religion, and very frequently join with them and espouse their cause and raise sedition and faction and endanger the public peace.”

Here is a little background:
In the Massachusetts Bay colony, those caught practicing the Quaker faith were whipped, tarred and/or hanged. Rogers chastised the Puritan Colony for refusing to allow freedom of religion after they had experienced religious persecution when he wrote his book The Bloudy Tenant of Persecution for Cause of Conscience. “The blood of so many hundred thousand souls of Protestants and Papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.”

Rhode Island Colonial Facts

  • The Puritans of Colonial Massachusetts exiled to Rhode Island those who did not fit into their society or those who's ideas and beliefs were contrary to theirs.
  • Rhode Island original name was Rogues Island
  • William Rogers set up a colony that was based on religious toleration
  • Anne Hutchinson banished from Massachusetts settled in Rhode Island
  • The capital of Rhode Island is Providence
  • Rhode Island is the smallest State in the United States
  • Rhode Island is a New England State

A Special Colonial Woman - Anne Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson was another exiled to Rhode Island colony by the Massachusetts colony. Colonial women did not speak in Church or teach in public. Anne Hutchinson knew the Bible well and preached the word of God despite the consequences. She openly denounced the views of a preacher during a sermon at a church service. Labeled a heretic for her brazenness, Hutchinson was banished to the Rhode Island colony. The Puritans believed that the devil was using Anne to undermine the stability of Puritan society, which would eventually lead to the breakdown of moral standards. However, the real reason was that Anne was a woman who dared to speak out in church and teach in public.

Anne’s audacity threatened the man-woman relationship where colonial women submitted to the authority of their husbands. Anne in effect challenged the State and raised issues of responsibility and equality. An accuser told Anne, “You have stepped out of your place; you have rather been a husband than a wife, preacher than a hearer and a magistrate than a subject.” New laws enacted after Anne’s banishment put more restrictions on women and allowed the Puritan leaders to deny entrance to anyone thought to be seditious. People protested the enactment of these oppressive new laws by signing petitions. The Puritan leaders imposed fines on those who signed the petitions and forced them to give up their firearms. Authorities arrested the instigators who stood trial for seditious behavior and consequently denied legal council. Oppression of religious liberty led to oppression of other liberties. Anne Hutchinson was exiled to the Rhode Island colony where she continued to preach her beliefs.

Anne Hutchinson was an early Boston colonist who was expelled from the colony because of her different religious views. She conflicted with ministers who preached that “good works” were a sign of individual holiness. She believed that people instead could only receive grace from God. She was also known to draw women to prayer meetings at her house because she gave women’s souls the same value as men’s souls. As a result, she was banished for heresy in 1638, fleeing to Rhode Island, and eventually staying in the New Netherland colony. In 1643, she and her family died tragically in a conflict between the Dutch colonists and the local Native Americans. This statue was sculpted by Cyrus Dallin in 1922, and given by the Anne Hutchinson Memorial Association and the State Federation of Women’s Clubs.

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