Imagine having to flee your home and family in the middle of the night in the dead of winter; gathering what little food you could carry and wearing whatever would keep you warmest in frigid temperatures and deep snow; uncertain of anything.
That is what Roger Williams, the founder of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, endured in the very cold and snowy winter of 1636, to escape arrest and deportation back to England where he would be imprisoned and likely hung for his rebellious beliefs of religious freedom and the need for separation of church and state.
Stone erected by Roger Williams Family Association, 2011
"Here, by tradition, Chief Massasoit and Margaret, both of the Wampanoag tribe, nursed an ill Roger back to health during that very cold winter of 1636, following his banishment from the Massachusetts Bay Colony."
He was forced to flee his home in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and venture out into the frozen wilderness to evade the authorities. After running out of food and falling ill, Roger was forced to take shelter in a hollow tree. Gravely ill, he was found by Wampanoag Indian hunters. The Chief sachem of the Wampanoag tribe, Massasoit welcomed Roger Williams who spoke Algonquian, the Indian language and was considered a friend among them. Roger was taken to a rock shelter nearby that the Wampanoag tribe used to escape the harsh weather.
Today this little known landmark is called Margaret's Rock, named for the Wampanoag medicine woman who cared for Roger, bringing him back to health. Margaret's Rock is an immense rock with a long overhanging portion and in 1636 a lean-to, made by the tribe of deer skins, limbs and intertwined evergreen branches was angled up against it enclosing it to keep the formidable weather out. A fire within the shelter kept Roger warm and Margaret made sure he was fed and returned him to health.
Roger Williams lived this way convalescing for many weeks with the aid of the Wampanoag tribe and with the withdrawal of winter's wrath, he bid farewell to his friends and Chief Massasoit and continued on his journey. Roger Williams headed west on the advice and counsel of Massasoit to begin a new colony which would embrace the freedoms he believed belonged to all men.
In the spring of 1636, after purchasing the territory from the Indian Chiefs Canonicus and Miantonomi, Roger chose the name Providence as the heart of the new colony to honor the care, control and guidance that God had granted him during his exile in the wilderness.
Twelve members of the Roger Williams Family Association (all descendants) along with spouses and friends, visited this out of the way landmark in North Swansea, MA on Saturday, November 7, 2015 paying homage to this great man who risked all that he knew in order to live out his beliefs for the good of all.
The site is located on private property and is accessible through the RWFA every two years.
The RWFA wholeheartedly welcomes descendants of all ages to join the organization and honor the memory of Roger Williams by participating in meetings and encouraging the evolution of this organization.
Respectfully submitted by Susan Wordell Jacquet
RWFA Publicist, Descendant of Mary Williams