Winter of 1636

Map of Roger Williams trip from Salem to Providence
The winter of 1636 had drifts of snow and was so cold that Narragansett Bay froze over, an event that rarely happens. It was in this extreme weather that Roger Williams made his escape from Salem, on foot. The nearest European settlement that he could go to was New Amsterdam, now known as New York, more than 200 miles away. But there were people close by willing to help. More than likely it was a Wampanoag hunting party who eventually found Roger, gave him shelter, and brought him safely to Massasoit’s home near present day Bristol, Rhode Island. Without their help he probably would have died.

As Chief Sachem of the Wampanoag, Massasoit welcomed Roger. He sheltered him through the winter. That spring Massasoit gave him a tract of land along the Seekonk River in what is now East Providence. A handful of Roger’s followers came down from Salem and began to plant fields and build houses. Almost as soon as they had started, Roger received a letter from Governor Winslow of Plymouth. Winslow warned Roger that he was within the bounds of Plymouth Colony and advised him to cross the Seekonk River. By moving beyond Plymouth’s jurisdiction, all could live as friends.

In a canoe with several others, Roger scouted the area across the Seekonk River. They spotted a group of Narragansett on a large rock, known afterwards as Slate Rock. As they approached, the Narragansett greeted them by calling out: “What Cheer Netop!” This greeting is a combination of English and Narragansett languages. ‘What cheer’ was an informal common English greeting of the day, short for ‘what cheery news do you bring’ and today’s equivalent of “what’s up?’’ “Netop” is the Narragansett word for friend.

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Last updated: October 1, 2020

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