The Tree Root That Ate Roger Williams

RW Tree Root-RIHS
Roger Williams tree root

Rhode Island Historical Society

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News Release Date: October 19, 2015

Contact: Sparkle Bryant, (401) 521-7266 x204

On Thursday, October 22, 2015, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., the perfect story for the Halloween season . . . digging up bones from a long neglected grave. The infamous Roger Williams tree root will be on display at Roger Williams National Memorial as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations.

In 1860, the people of Providence decided to create a suitable memorial to the founder of Rhode Island. Community leaders went in search of Williams's remains. When they dug up the spot where they believed the remains to be, they found only nails, teeth and bone fragments. They also found an apple tree root. 

The tree root looked as if it had taken on the form of Roger Williams. It had traveled the length of Williams's body, splitting at the hips, bending at the knees and turning up at the feet. Since 1860 the Rhode Island Historical Society has cared for this special tree root as representative of Rhode Island's founder, and has had it on display in the John Brown House since 2007.

 "This tree root was uncovered in an attempt to memorialize Roger Williams. It will be briefly united with the Roger Williams National Memorial on the memorial's 50th anniversary." Ranger John McNiff said. "We'll have refreshments (hot cider) and will talk about the process of how people, places and things are memorialized in our culture." 

The legislation for the national memorial, sponsored by Senator Claiborne Pell, was passed on October 22, 1965. On the memorial's 30th anniversary, Senator Pell stated, "There is no National Memorial to Roger Williams here [in Washington], unlike the monuments to other national heroes like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. Our National Memorial is in Rhode Island, where he lived and left us a philosophical legacy of incomparable worth."

This project is part of the Pell Humanities Initiative in Rhode Island to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Roger Williams National Memorial, a unit of the National Park Service, commemorates the life of the founder of Rhode Island who was a champion of the ideals of religious freedom and liberty of conscience. The memorial's visitor center is located at 282 North Main Street in downtown Providence. It is open seven days a week, from 9AM-4:30PM, and offers information, exhibits, and a free orientation film on demand. For more information, call the visitor center at 401-521-7266, or visit or follow us on Facebook

Last updated: October 19, 2015

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