The early origins of separation of church and state in America. Williams was a Puritan minister, banished from Massachusetts, before creating the settlement Providence: 

He bought the land from the Narragansett Indians and wrote that “having, of a sense of God’s merciful providence unto me in my distress, [I] called the place PROVIDENCE, I desired it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience.”

By “conscience” he meant religion. His family and a dozen or so men with their families, many of them followers from Salem, joined him. Few as they were, Williams soon recognized the need for some form of government. The Narragansetts had sold the land solely to him, and in all English and colonial precedent those proprietary rights gave him political control over the settlement. Yet he drafted a political compact for Providence, and in it he demonstrated that his thinking had taken him into a new world indeed.

“God, Government and Roger Williams’ Big Idea.” — John M. Barry, Smithsonian magazine

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