As should be fairly obvious, Roger Williams is one of my favorite historical figures, and certainly my favorite “American,” if I can use that term for someone born in England who never lived in an independent USA. Unfortunately, he’s not very well known. He comes after the Pilgrims and Jamestown, but before the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, so he falls into a century and a half or so of history where most Americans know that stuff had to be happening on our continent, but couldn’t really tell you much of what those things were.
Just to give him a bit more visibility, I wanted to share some of my favorite depictions of Roger Williams in art. I hope you enjoy!
First up we have a commemorative coin that was struck three centuries after Roger Williams founded Providence. It’s pretty simple. Roger Williams arrives with his book in Narragansett land. For some reason, he’s carrying a gun in his boat, something I don’t much associate with the peaceful theologian. I found one of these at a local coin show, but it was about $50, which I considered a bit much for such a small piece of art that I probably wouldn’t really display, anyway. Still, it’s a very lovely coin.
Here, Peter Frederick Rothermel depicts Roger Williams first being banished from Salem in the middle of winter. He looks impressively resolute, despite his circumstances. Not surprisingly, Roger Williams’s exile and arrival in Rhode Island are the subject of most artwork about him. It’s definitely the most legendary moment of his life.
In Geneva, there’s a monument called the International Monument to the Reformation, depicting important events and people from the Protestant Reformation. Among the ten main statues, Roger Williams is the only American (London-born, but still…) in the group. I really like the art style. It’s simple and clean, but still very distinctive. It would make for an excellent figurine or statuette, and I really wish it were one, because Roger Williams statues are impossible to find. Desk-sized ones, anyways. Life-sized ones are relatively common in Rhode Island, but I just want one I can keep by my desk to inspire me.
Speaking of statues of Roger Williams in Rhode Island, here are a few of them. The top one is at Roger Williams University, named for him. The second is at Roger Williams Park, which most Rhode Island kids know from field trips to the zoo. And the third is from Prospect Terrace Park. Of the three, only the university isn’t in Providence, the city Roger Williams founded. The one at Roger Williams Park is my favorite of the three. even though he looks a lot like the one at the university. The addition of Clio, muse of history, writing his name adds something to it.
And lastly, we have Roger Williams Being Received by the Indians, 1635, by Alonzo Chappel, the painting that inspired the meme that prompted my original post about Roger Williams. It’s also the only one that shows Roger Williams actually with more than one other person. Even though he founded a city and a state, and was heavily involved in the various Massachusetts colonies, as well, he seems to be primarily thought of as an individual. Leaving Salem alone, fighting for separation of church and state alone, arguing against theocracy alone. I guess it makes sense, it’s just an interesting trend.
What’s your favorite?