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My Grandfather’s Brush with History

Over at Dispatches, Ed writes eloquently about the history of separation of church and state. Along the way, he mentions a fella by the name of Roger Williams, one of the founders of Rhode Island.

Allow me to quote Ed…

Notice how he pretends that the situation for Roger Williams was only that the government was violating his religious freedom; he does so because folks like him like to pretend that separation of church and state only means the church is protected from state intervention. But the reality, as demonstrated perfectly by the Roger Williams situation, is that separation requires both. The reason why Williams’ religious freedom was restricted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony was because that colony was controlled by the Puritans, who rejected any notion of separation of church and state.

The Mass Bay Colony was a theocracy, ruled by Puritans. They used the Mosaic law as the civil and criminal law for the colony and they were ruled over by religious leaders. Anyone preaching anything contrary to their narrow theology was imprisoned, deported or killed. Williams was about to be deported when he fled the colony and settled in what is now Rhode Island, starting the Providence Colony. He was not alone. Quakers, Baptists and other non-Puritan Christians also found themselves jailed in Massachusetts for having the wrong theological interpretations of the Bible.

Williams clearly understood that religious freedom demanded both freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion – that is, from the imposition of someone else’s religion. So in contrast to the false impllcation here, Williams’ case demonstrates perfectly the necessity of keeping the church from controlling the state and destroying the religious freedom of all who are not members of that church.

What does this have to do with me? I’ll tell you below the fold.


Williams was not alone in his founding of the new colony. There were 53 other proprietors who first settled Rhode Island, and among them was William Arnold, both father of the three time governor of Rhode Island, Benedict Arnold, and Great Great Grandfather of the now imfamous traitor to the American Revolution Benedict Arnold. (Note: The story of General Arnold is not quite as cut and dry as American children are led to believe and though he was definitely in the wrong, the full story is worth your consideration. It is in fact, the story of how one of the greatest patriots of the Revolution could be driven to treason, by the deaf ears of the Continental Congress, out of concern for his men, and for the love of his young bride. It’s a tale of heroism, romance, suspense, deception, treason and tragedy worthy of the pen of The Bard.)

But William also had amongst his children a daughter, Elizabeth Peake Arnold, who married the Reverend William Carpenter. Turns out that William and Elizabeth (Arnold) Carpenter were my 12th Great Grandparents, and William Arnold my 13th Great Grandfather.

In my family there is a strong tradition of belief in keeping the state out of the affairs of the church, and the church out of the affairs of the state. I hope and believe that we do my forefathers proud.

Just so y’know.

Filed under: Family, More Formal Blogs, Politics, Religion

One Response

  1. Brenna Searcy says:

    Just a comment– we are distantly related! Elizabeth Peake Arnold and William Carpenter are my 11th great grandparents and William Arnold is my 12th. If you were interested.

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