In a way, the reimagining of Columbus Day into Indigenous People’s Day is a fitting memorial for Roger Williams. An English-born Massachusetts immigrant, he was a colonist who came to the New World without much regard for the people who already lived here in their, umm, Only World. In that way, he was something like Columbus. But probably only in that way.
In many other ways, he understood that this land was not unoccupied, that the people who lived in what we now call New England were – and are – members of sophisticated cultures. He came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a Puritan, a separatist, as someone who objected to what he viewed as corruption in the Anglican Church.
Anglican Church Corruption rabbit hole: To recap the origin of the Anglican Church – In 1485, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain (yes, the same ones who, just 7 years later, would finance Columbus to sail the ocean blue to the Americas – it’s like a perfect little bow tying the whole story together) gave birth to a daughter, Catherine. At the tender age of 3 (not a typo), this child was betrothed to Arthur Tudor. When she was 16, they married. Arthur died a few months later at the age of 15. Since Catherine had been a queen in waiting her whole life, she caught the eye of her prior brother in law, Henry. Well - let's just say the parents liked the idea of their kids getting married so they begged the Pope for permission given that whole 5-month marriage to the brother thing which the Pope granted. 8 years after Arthur died, Henry and Catherine got hitched. By all accounts, this was a happy and quite interesting marriage – Catherine was beloved by the people of England and Henry was enchanted by his wife – until she failed to provide him with sons at which point he became disillusioned with her and infatuated with one of her Ladies in Waiting. Then he looked for a reason to divorce or annul the marriage with Catherine so pretty Anne could birth him some boy children (spoiler - she didn’t but their daughter would end up pretty powerful one day). He found a "religious" reason for the divorce, but the Pope was not having it and refused to dissolve the marriage. So, naturally, Henry had to start his own religion where he could divorce Catherine – this religion also forced every English subject to convert to it and take an oath of loyalty. The ones who refused were put to death – some burned, some drawn and quartered, some beheaded – but all very much dead. So weird that a religion that only began because a madman wanted to get a divorce from a woman he very much wanted to marry in the first place in order to wed a woman he would end up murdering just 3 years after their nuptials would ever be seen as corrupt for any reason. Mind boggling.
Even though Williams considered himself a Puritan, he ended up with the Pilgrim folks in Plymouth (for clarity, at this time, Plymouth was a separate colony from Massachusetts Bay and Puritans and Pilgrims were different people - though it is possible that they all had buckles on their shoes). He befriended the colonists there but also members of the Narragansett tribe. Something of a language whiz and a polyglot, Williams learned their language and their customs and had great respect for both.
The Plymouth colony ruling class started thinking that Williams had some strange notions, so they shipped him back up to Massachusetts Bay – to Salem. Salem, to its credit, liked him fine. But, the Boston ruling class was very uncomfortable with Williams who – by this time – had written to the King calling BS on the charters on land that was inhabited by other people, especially without compensating them. Considering his positions incorrect, he was summoned into Boston where he was tried for heresy. He was banished on October 9, 1635.
He bought some land from Massasoit (you know, the father of King Philip with whom the colonists would have an epic war just a few years later in the continuing saga of how what you were taught about the peaceable relations between New Englanders and the native people of this region was utter nonsense hence Indigenous People’s Day). But, the governor of Plymouth send word that this was in his colony, so Williams continued on. He and his compatriots met up with some Narragansett people along their route. These kind people gave them food and shelter and helped them find what would become their home. Williams purchased a tract of land which he called Providence Plantation where everyone lived happily ever after. In truth, they kind of did. There was complete freedom of religion and complete separation of church and state. Williams was the most respected and most trusted of all of the colonists by the Narragansett people (not so much the Pequot which is a rabbit hole we will not go down today). Overall, people seemed to think he was a pretty good guy.
On October 9, 1635, the powers that be in Boston deemed Williams a seditious heretic. They booted him from the colony because he believed that we live on stolen land, that white supremacy is nonsense, and that government of the people also requires freedom for all religious beliefs. He would go on to found a separate colony where land was purchased at a fair price. He would become a peacemaker until war came to his doorstep. 388 years after he was kicked out of Massachusetts Bay, on this day contrasting the voyage of Columbus with the suffering of indigenous peoples at the hands of colonists, celebrate a different kind of colonist - one who valued his own freedom enough to believe in the freedom of others. Sorry we banished you, Roger Williams, you were right all along.