Life in England (1603 - 1631)

Print of Pembroke College
Roger Williams was born some time around 1603 in London, England. Much of his early years remain unknown. However, we do know that he taught himself the new method of shorthand. This skill attracted the attention of Sir Edward Coke, the chief justice of the king’s bench. Coke recognized Roger’s talents, intelligence and potential. He sponsored Roger’s education at the Charterhouse school. Roger excelled in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He was one of eight students granted a scholarship to Pembroke College at Cambridge University. He received his A.B in 1627.

In 1629 Roger was ordained as a minister in the Church of England. He accepted the post of chaplain to Sir William Masham’s manor house at which he courted Jane Whalley. This courtship was abruptly ended by Jane’s aunt, Lady Barrington. She thought a minister was not worthy of their noble blood. Overcome by the rejection, Roger fell ill. Mary Barnard, a member of Lady Masham’s household, nursed him back to health. Roger and Mary were later married.

Roger became increasingly dissatisfied with the Church of England. He felt they were moving closer in substance and style to the Roman Catholic Church. Roger’s own beliefs were better aligned with those of the Puritans who wanted to simplify and purify the Church of England. But this was a dangerous time for those who challenged the Church of England. Religious dissent was dealt with harshly, including by execution. In 1630, under John Winthrop, a mass exodus of approximately 1,000 Puritans sailed from England for what was to become the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Roger and Mary followed shortly thereafter.

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Last updated: October 7, 2020

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