Within the first decade of settlement in Massachusetts Bay, numerous dissenters fled or were banished from the colony. Those dissenters founded many towns and colonies in New England, becoming ambassadors for religious freedom. Such men and women are heroes today because of their beliefs, but in their time they were criminals because the challenged the religious doctrines and governmental authority of Puritan Massachusetts.
Thomas Hooker, a Puritan leader, disagreed with the restricting of the vote (suffrage) to only those who had been approved by the church. He wanted to open it up to all Puritan men, thereby giving the average citizen a greater say in the government. In 1636, Hooker left to found Hartford, in what is now Connecticut.
Roger Williams, another religious leader, took it a step further by calling for the religious freedom and the separation of church and state, the belief that religious affiliation should have no bearing on the ability to vote or determine how the government treats you. Williams argued that violations of God’s laws should not be punished by civil authorities. In 1635, Williams was convicted of sedition and heresy and banished from Massachusetts Bay, but he left before the authorities could remove him.
Believing that Indians were the rightful owners of the land and deserved to be paid a fair price for land, he first bought land from Massasoit, but he needed to head farther south to get out of Massachusetts jurisdiction. In 1636, Williams bought land from the Narragansett Indians and founded Providence in what is now Rhode Island. Williams created the first Baptist church in America and also welcomed Catholics and Jews to his colony. Williams invited another religious dissident convicted of heresy and banished from Massachusetts Bay, Anne Hutchinson, and her associates to settle near him, and they founded Portsmouth in 1638.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.