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PERSECUTION, POLITICS, AND WAR: ROGER WILLIAMS, QUAKERS, AND KING PHILIP'S WAR By Arthur J. Worrall* The debate between Friends and Roger Williams in 1672 ranks high in early New England Quaker history. Missing from the accounts of this confrontation, however, are the circumstances behind both the date and the ultimate publication of Williams's version of it. The occasion for the debate lay in an attempt by Williams to refurbish his political faction's tarnished image and to unseat the dominant Quaker group in forthcoming elections. It was an attempt which failed, however, for Friends solidified their political power and probably would have continued to dominate Rhode Island politics had it not been for King Philip's War. The war not only enabled a temporary comeback of the Williams faction in Rhode Island, but also brought about a renewed persecution of Quakers in Massachusetts. That persecution in turn led to an exchange of pamphlets which finally gave Roger Williams the opportunity to publish his account of his debate with Friends four years earlier. However, historians have too easily accepted Williams's apologia, thus failing to appreciate the ambiguities in the entire affair. This article seeks to correct that deficiency. I For over a decade after their arrival in 1656, Quakers in Rhode Island remained in a position essentially free of controversy and persecution. Apparently all elements of that factious colony united in defending the right of Friends to convert Rhode Islanders and to use the colony as a base of operations against other New England colonies. Rhode Island harbored them for its leaders favored a tolerant policy. Attempted depredations of its neighboring colonies, seeking to dismember their recalcitrant neighbor from time to time, also probably served to encourage toleration. As a consequence, Quaker successes in making converts in the colony attested to Rhode Island's continued acceptance of resident Friends and reception of Quaker immigrants. While Friends as a group avoided political disputes before 1672, their increasing numbers, the prom- *Department of History, Colorado State Unversity, Fort Collins, Colo. 73 74QUAKER HISTORY inence of several of their number in colonial politics, and factional disputes within the colony brought them into prominence, if not as a party, at least as a faction which for the moment dominated Rhode Island politics.1 Elections in May 1671 had returned governor Benedict Arnold and replaced deputy governor Nicholas Easton, a Friend, with John Clarke, a Newport Baptist. One of the issues confronting the Rhode Island assembly that May resulted from the refusal of a number of towns, among them Providence and Warwick, to pay 1670taxes—neither the first nor the last time those and other Rhode Island towns would refuse to do so. The assembly acted to secure payment of taxes from recalcitrant towns. It empowered the governor and any two assistants to appoint assessors if town assessors refused to act. If towns failed to name assessors, the legislation authorized the commissioners themselves to make the assessment. One of the commissioners was the elder statesman of the colony and Providence resident, Roger Williams. He and the other commissioners apparently encountered so much resistance that they returned the matter to the assembly which, in its September sitting , nominated rate makers and ordered a doubling of rates for those persons failing to pay.2 The other long-standing difficulty confronting the assembly in 1671concerned title to the Narragansett and Pawtuxet lands—lands essentially to the west of Narragansett Bay. Speculation in these lands by residents of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island formed one aspect of the problem; another involved a claim by the colony of Connecticut to the Narragansett lands; a third centered on the dispute over Pawtuxet lands among Providence residents. In the Pawtuxet case, Roger Williams opposed claims advanced by older settlers led by William Harris, also of Providence. In the case of Connecticut's claims, the assembly voted £200 enabling deputy governor John Clarke to present Rhode Island's position to the crown. To break up the control of Narragansett speculators, the assembly recommended that the next assembly authorize the division of speculators' lands.3 1.See Samuel H. Brockunier, The Irrepressible Democrat: Roger Williams (New York, 1940), pp. 134-38, 254...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 73-86
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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