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Roger Williams (c.1603-1683), a clergyman and advocate of religious freedom, was the founder of Rhode Island. Williams founded the capital, Providence, after he was exiled from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635. The Massachusetts General Court banished Roger Williams for his radical religious beliefs and ideas about politics. He challenged his fellow Puritans to acknowledge their separation from the Church of England, and questioned the king's right to confiscate Native American lands. For the sake of purifying the church, he believed in the complete separation between church and state, and also in religious tolerance. People fleeing persecution in Massachusetts colony and England found a home in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island became an official colony in 1644, thanks to several powerful friends of Roger Williams. He served as its president for three consecutive terms after 1654, and made a living from farming and trading. Williams maintained close ties with the local Native Americans, especially the Narragansetts, whose language he spoke and from whom he purchased the land that became Providence. Still, he could not prevent the outbreak of King Philip's War in 1675 and actually fought in it as a captain of militia. Known for his charm and integrity, Williams remained a Christian all his life, though he dissociated himself from the existing churches.

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