Roger Williams was an English clergyman who, in 1636, left the repressive atmosphere fostered by the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to found the first permanent European settlement in Rhode Island. This settlement, called "Providence Plantations" was the first organized colony in America to be founded on the principles of freedom of thought and worship. The official name of Rhode Island is "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations". It can be traced in this form back to the Royal Charter of 1663, granted to the Rhode Island colonists by King Charles II of England. In the Charter, it is the "Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations".
Born in England on December 21, 1603, Roger Williams came to America on February 5, 1631 with his wife Mary. First arriving in Boston, Williams was offered a position as a pastor. However, he refused this position, reasoning that the church restricted freedom of choice and pastors or high-church officials did not have the authority to punish their congregations for breaking of the Ten Commandments and other offenses. While acting as a teacher at a Plymouth church, Williams began friendly relations with Native Americans in the area. Learning to speak their native language, Williams was eventually called upon to negotiate for peace with some of the surrounding tribes. During his tenure as both teacher and negotiator, Williams developed strong views on the role of the Church of England. He believed it was blasphemous for the Church to declare itself Christian and refused Communion from such an institution. Williams was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony on October 9, 1635. Upon hearing threats that he would be returned to England, Williams and a few devout followers in search of freedom of choice and religion, set out to what we now know as the State of Rhode Island. Williams and his followers were given land at present-day Providence by Narragansett Indian Sachems Canonicus and Miantonomi.
In 1643 he voyaged to England to gain a charter for Rhode Island, a state built on the foundation of tolerance and diversity. After a life spent pioneering religious freedom and the right to free speech and thought, Roger Williams died in 1683. He was originally buried in the rear lot of his home, now the Sullivan Dorr Estate at 109 Benefit Street in Providence. Years later, Williams' remains, which had almost been forgotten, were relocated to a steel chest to wait for the construction of a proper memorial to honor Rhode Island's founder. In 1850, the Providence Association of Mechanics and Manufacturers began to raise money to pay for the cost of a suitable monument. In 1865, Stephen Randall, a direct descendent, deposited his own money to serve as the core of a memorial fund. Randall had strict conditions for the size and type of the monument but unfortunately, he died before the monument was constructed. It was not until the early 1930s that the General Assembly carried out the stipulations of Randall's will. Although many of his conditions were impossible to satisfy, his wish that the monument be on Prospect Terrace and be visible from a distance were carried out. Ralph T. Walker of New York, an architect and Rhode Islander by birth, designed the memorial that stands today. Dedicated in June of 1939, the memorial is fourteen-foot statue of Westerly granite and portrays Williams as standing on the bow of a canoe, blessing the city. His remains were ultimately moved to their final resting place at the base of the monument behind his statue.