I’m a native Rhode Islander, and like every native Rhode Islander, I have fond memories of Roger Williams Park (there’s a zoo, a carousel, and all kinds of fun playground stuff). There’s also a huge amount of park in Roger Williams Park, and most people drive around it for several minutes before reaching their destination. I’d never really walked around the park before, so about ten days ago (before all this snow) I decided to go for a hike out there.
Where: Roger Williams Park, 1000 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, RI 02905
Hours: Open 9:00am – 4:00pm in winter, not sure in summer
Directions: Heading south on I-95, take exit 17, make a left onto route 1, and it’ll be on your left. Heading north on I-95, take exit 16, make a left onto route 1, and it’ll be on your right.
Built in 1872, Roger Williams Park is technically located in Providence, Rhode Island, but I always think of it as Cranston. It’s probably most famous for its zoo, but it also has a carousel, a handicap accessible playground, a botanic center, a natural history museum, a planetarium, and a music venue.
I started at the Carousel, not because I actually had a plan, but because it was an area with lots of parking that was close to some paths. The original goal was to hike around part of the pond, ending at about 2 or 2.5 miles.
The hike was fantastic. It wasn’t too cold once I got moving, and it was beautifully sunny. The pond (lake?) was frozen over in most places and the sun glittered off the ice, making for some very nice photos.
Roger Williams Park is named after Roger Williams, one of the founders of Rhode Island. Roger Williams was born in London in about 1603. He was active in the Church of England, but became a Puritan while studying at Cambridge. He was not on the first Puritan ship out to the New World, but he left shortly after due to the rule of what he felt was an overly corrupt Church of England. He arrived in 1631.
He was offered a position in Boston, but declined because it was not a separated church. He also felt that magistrates shouldn’t punish any breach of the first half of the ten commandments (idolatry, sabbath breaking, etc., not murder or adultery, etc.) and that individuals should be able to practice their own faith in their own way.
Roger Williams was also very interested in the Native Americans and wanted to serve as a missionary to them. He set out to learn their languages, customs, and beliefs. As a result, he saw Native Americans as people, rather than savages, and heavily questioned the legality of European settlement. He also came to the conclusion that their religion did not need to be changed, and he never baptized any Native American. He felt that converting people was hypocritical, given his beliefs on religious freedom.
Williams’s questioning of the legality of settlement led to controversy, as did his ideas on religious freedom. He claimed that, because there was no legal purchase of land from the Native Americans and no legal agreement between them, the colony of Massachusetts Bay had no grounds for settlement. He was ordered to appear in court, and the matter was smoothed out, never to be discussed again.
But Williams, being the wonderful person he was, brought it up again. He was ordered to court again, and later again for erroneous and dangerous opinions. After some more issues with Salem and his removal from the church, Williams was convicted of sedition and heresy in 1635. He was banished from the colony for spreading “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions.” Remember he only arrived in America in 1631. It’s only been 4 years.
The order for banishment was delayed, because winter was approaching and Williams was ill, so they let him stay provided he shut up, more or less. But this is Roger Williams, so of course he didn’t shut up. So in January of 1836, the sheriff arrived at his house to evict him only to find that Williams had left three days earlier and traveled 55 miles to the Wampanoag winter camp. Chief Sachem Massassoit gave him shelter there for three months until winter passed.
Williams purchased some land from Massassoit in what is now Rhode Island, and he founded a settlement there. Plymouth claimed he was still on their land and would evict him, so Williams traveled even further south. He met up with the Narragansett, who sold him some land. This was the settlement he called Providence, which is now the capital of Rhode Island. It was governed by the separation of church and state as well as a democratic majority.
There’s much more to his story, and I encourage you all to look into it, but if you’ve ever wondered why Rhode Islanders are fiercely proud of their little state, Roger Williams is one of the biggest reasons.
I had gone about two miles and realized I was nowhere close to the end of the pond. It was also about 1pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet, so I stopped for a bit to rest, eat, and hydrate. I was on an area of the pond that’s pretty far from roads and other attractions, just a nice little secluded area on the edge of the ice.
My loop turned out to be 3.5 miles instead of 2 or 2.5, which was fine by me. I didn’t mind the increase in miles, I was mostly just surprised it was so much more than I thought it was. But it led to some great photos and a wonderful picnic lunch, some fun encounters with happy dogs, and a great hike in a park I hadn’t visited in far too long.