July 8

On this day in 1663, after 12 years of lobbying, John Clarke, obtained a British charter which established Rhode Island as America’s first colony providing true freedom, including religious freedom. While many Baptists are aware of this fact, many are not aware of the severe persecution which forced the Rhode Islanders to seek a strengthened charter protecting their rights.

In 1656, neighbors from Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Haven, pressed the Islanders to join them in their effort to crush the Quakers living in their region and to prevent more from immigrating. The founders of Rhode Island, of course, refused. “We shall strictly adhere to the foundation principle on which this colony was first settled, to wit, that every man who submits to the civil authority may peaceably worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience without molestation.”

This answer made the neighboring colonies more furious, inflaming them to seek vengeance through violence and slander. The slander was sent to England, making the application of Clarke very difficult.

Locally, the Protestants encouraged the Pumham Indians to harass the Rhode Islanders, stealing the property and driving some from their homes. As ammunition grew low in the colony, they attempted to buy some from the other colonies, but they were denied. Some of the Baptist people fled north and east, but they were taken to Boston where they were routinely harshly treated. When the Indian leader, Myantonomo, became reluctant to continue his attacks on Rhode Island, he was accused of various crimes and put to death in Massachusetts.