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The conduct of Mr. Williams, in these transactions, must be acknowledged to have been highly honorable, disinterested and liberal. He held the title to the whole territory, and he might, apparently, have amassedwealth and gratified ambition, by retaining the control of the town, and selling the lands, to be held of him as the proprietor. But he renounced all plans of power and emolument; he placed himself on an equality with the other settlers, and surrendered the territory to the whole body of freemen, among whom he claimed no other influence than that which sprung from 'his personal character. The sum which he received was not even a remuneration for his actual expenses in procuring the territory.
It does not diminish this praise, that the settlers were obliged to satisfy the claims of many individual Indians.
The grant from the sachems might, perhaps, have been considered as a full title ; but the justice and humanity of Roger Williams and his friends, led them to make compensation to the natives who occupied the territory. The whole sum paid to Mr. Williams and to the Indians, for Providence and Pawtuxet, was stated by William Harris, in 1677, to have been one hundred and sixty pounds.
have his shallop and pinnace at command, transporting fifty at a time, and lodging fifty at his house ; that he never denied them any thing lawful, that when he established a trading house at Narraganset, Canonicus had freely what he desired; and when the old chief was about to die, he sent for Mr. Williams, and “ desired to be buried in my cloth, of free gift.”
Settlement of the town of Providence- Whatcheer-islands of Pru.
dence, Patience and Hope.
Our account of the division of the lands has led us onward to a period more than two years after Mr. Williams' arrival. Some time must have been spent in his negotiations with the sachems; but he certainly erected a house soon after his landing, for in a letter, written within a short time from that event, he says, “ Miantinomo kept his barbarous court lately at my house," and in his letter to Major Mason, he mentions, that he entertained General Stoughton, at his house, in May, 1637, when the Massachusetts troops were on their march against the Pequods.
It is probable, that Mrs. Williams and her two children came from Salem to Providence, in the summer of 1636, in company with several persons, who wished to join their exiled pastor.*
The family of Mr. Williams was now dependent on his exertions for support. No supplies could be derived from Massachusetts. The natives were unable to afford much aid. It is probable, that Mr. Williams had nearly expended all his funds, in the support of his family during his absence, and in the negotiations with the Indians. Of his poverty,t there is evidence, in a touching incident, mentioned in his letter to Major Mason. It is alike honorable to all the parties : “ It pleased the Father of Spirits to touch many hearts, dear to him, with many relentings; amongst which, that great and pious soul, Mr. Winslow, melted, and kindly visited me at Providence, and put a piece of gold into the hands of my wife, for our supply."
In a deed, which was enrolled January 29, 1667, Mr. Williams says, that he planted, with his own hands, at his first coming, the two Indian fields, Whatcheer and Saxi
* Throckmorton, Olney and Westcott, three of the first proprietors, were members of the Salem church. Hutchinson, vol. i. p. 371.
| Hubbard repeatedly alludes, in a somewhat taunting tone, to the poverty of Roger Williams.-pp. 205, 350.
frax Hill, which he had purchased of the natives. Thus was he forced, as at many other times, to resort to manual labor for his subsistence. In his reply to Mr. Cotton, (p. 38) he says: “It is not unknown to many witnesses, in Plymouth, Salem and Providence, that the discusser's time hath not been spent (though as much as any others whosoever) altogether in spiritual labors and public exercises of the word; but day and night, at home and abroad, on the land and water, at the hoe, at the oar, for bread.” But he sustained all his labors and hardships with a patient spirit, and with a steadfast adherence to his principles.
His house was, undoubtedly, erected near the spot where he landed, and a few rods eastward of the celebrated spring. * Here the wanderer found a resting place. This was his home, for more than forty years. Here he died, and near the site of his dwelling his ashes were deposited.
It would be an interesting effort of the imagination, to contrast the situation of Providence at the time of the settlement, with the present condition of that beautiful and flourishing town. Where now are busy streets, and ample warehouses, and elegant mansions, and a population of nearly 20,000 souls, were, at that time, dense forests, and a few scattered Indian families. How astonishing is the change! Roger Williams himself, with all his vigor of imagination, and his ardent temperament, could not have anticipated the expansion of his little settlement to its present amplitude, beauty and strength. The glorious vision could not have visited his mind; but he acted under the power of that prophetic faith, which assured him of success, in his efforts for the welfare of men. He looked beyond the present, to the bright future, and was confident, that his principles, though then misunderstood and rejected, would ultimately triumph.
In the course of two years, Mr. Williams was joined by a number of friends from Massachusetts, with whom, as we have seen, he shared the lands which he had obtained.
* The author of Whatcheer, (p. 163) has accommodated his hero with the dwelling of a deceased Indian powaw. Poets have a license to build castles in the air, or on the land. I fear that Roger Williams was not so easily furnished with a habitation. It was, however, we may suppose, sufficiently humble.
The community, thus formed, were invested with the power of admitting others to the privileges of citizenship. Their number was soon increased, by emigrants from Massachusetts, and from Europe.* It was the design of Mr. Williams, that his colony should be open to all persons who might choose to reside, there, without regard to their religious opinions. He was careful, nevertheless, to provide for the maintenance of the civil peace. Every inhabitant was required to subscribe the following covenant:
•We, whose names are here under-written, being desirous to inhabit in the town of Providence, do promise to submit ourselves, in active or passive obedience, to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for public good of the body, in an orderly way, by the major consent of the present inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together into a township, and such others whom they shall admit unto the same, only in civil things.”
This simple instrument, which combines the principles of a pure democracy, and of unrestricted religious liberty, was the basis of the first government in Providence. It was undoubtedly. drawn up by Roger Williams. It bears the impress of his character, and it was the germ of those free institutions, under which Rhode Island has flourished till the present day.
The government of the town was thus placed in the hands of the inhabitants; and the legislative, judicial and executive functions were exercised, for several years, by the citizens in town meeting. Two deputies were appointed, from time to time, whose duties were, to preserve order, to settle disputes, to call town meetings, to preside in them, and to see that their resolutions were executed. But the power of the deputies was very limited, and their term of office short. A form of government so simple could not exist, except in a small community, and among men whose moral principles were pure, and their habits peaceful. Winthrop was mistaken, when he asserted of the settlers
Among these, were Chad Brown, William Field, Thomas Harris, William Wickenden, Robert Williams (brother of Roger) Richard Scott, William Reynolds, John Warner, Benedict Arnold, Joshua Winsor and Thomas Hopkins. Backus, vol. i. p. 93.
+ Gov. Hopkins, History of Providence, 2 Mass. His. Col. ix. p. 183.
at Providence, that they would have no magistrates."* If they had not the usual forms, they had the essence of magistracy.
The settlers applied themselves to agriculture, for subsistence. An intelligent antiquarian, of Providence, whose opinions are authority on all points touching its early history, says, that the first inhabitants settled "on such places as were most convenient, and planted their corn on the old Indian fields, as they could agree among themselves. When their number had increased, they laid out what is now the Main street, on the east side of the river, and divided the land eastward of the street, into lots of six acres each, being of equal breadth, and extending back to what is now Hope street. There were eventually one hundred and two of these six acre lots, extending from Mile End Brook, which enters the river a little north of Fox Point, to Harrington's Lane, on the north, which lane is now the dividing line between Providence and North Providence. Each proprietor had one of these six acre lots, and on which he built his house.
How they were located, whether by lot or draft, or by choice, I am not informed ;- but it is probable that the first comers had their choice, as the six acre lot of Roger Williams was the place where he first landed, and had built his house. The street, now Bowen street, leading from Main to Benefit street, divides that part of his lot nearly in the middle. The object of locating themselves so near together was for security and mutual aid against the Indians, and in conformity to the practice in Europe. Each proprietor, besides his town lot, as it was called, took up out land, upland and meadows, by grant of the whole in proprietors' meeting. These grants were entered on the records. None of them,
* Vol. i. p. 293.
Moses Brown says (Rhode Island Register, 1828) “ Roger Williams' lot was No. 38, northward from Mile End Cove, at the south end of the town; William Härris' was No. 36; John Smith's, No. 41; Joshua Verins', No. 39, adjoining on the north of Roger Williams' lot; Francis Wickes', No. 35. The Court House appears to be standing on No. 34. These first six settlers all became proprietors, though Francis Wickes and Thomas Angell did not receive full shares till they became of age.”