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Student, historians disagree on account of Roger Williams

March 21, 2011

Anthropology student Julianne Jennings takes aim at Roger Williams’ ties to slavery.

Julianne Jennings, an anthropology student with Native American heritage, has taken aim at Rhode Island's founder, Roger Williams, and is working to post a plaque that states his involvement in the selling of slaves after Providence was burned in March of 1676. The Narragansett Indians are not involved with the plaque which would be placed on South Main Street in Providence in commemoration of the Native Americans who were sent to the Caribbean plantations to work as slaves after their defeat.

The language for the proposed plaque is as follows:

“Mequanamiinnean (Remember Us): In 1636, Narragansett Sachem, Canonicus, and his people gave Missionary Roger Williams a large tract of land which later became the colony of Providence Plantation. In just 40 years, relations between the colony and the Narragansett Indians became strained as a result of frequent intercultural conflicts. After the King Philip's War (1675-1676), Roger Williams claimed the leading post to the justifiability of slavery in Rhode Island by transporting Narragansett and other Indians out of the region to be sold as slaves.”

But many historians disagree with Jennings' interpretation of these events as well as her credibility.
Dr. Patrick Conley, the author of 18 books and several volumes about Rhode Island history, said that the historical records shows that Roger Williams was never a missionary and that Jennings' statements are imprecise.

“Providence Plantation was not a colony. It was a plantation or a settlement,” Conley said. “If all the colonists in New England, Roger Williams was perhaps the most cordial and fair to the Native Americans. It is most unfortunate to allow one fanatic to rewrite history to serve her own prejudices.”

Roger Williams was convicted of sedition and heresy for criticizing the king and could have been drawn and quartered if captured by the Massachusetts Colony. But he fled the Puritans, built Providence, and forged relationships with local tribes in manner strikingly dissimilar to the surrounding colonies.

For more information pick up a copy of The Narragansett Times.

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