Sarah and the shipmates

By MICHAEL ATCHISON  |  October 22, 2009

SHORTLY AFTER WINTHROP SETTLES BOSTON, ROGER WILLIAMS ARRIVES FROM ENGLAND, AND HE PROVES TOO FANATICAL FOR THE PURITANS, SO HE IS BANISHED AND GOES OFF AND ESTABLISHES PROVIDENCE. UNLIKE WINTHROP, WILLIAMS MAINTAINS A STALWART BELIEF THAT MATTERS OF THE CHURCH AND THE STATE SHOULD BE STRICTLY DIVIDED. OF WILLIAMS, YOU WRITE, "I FIND HIM HARD TO LIKE BUT EASY TO LOVE." WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT HIM? I love that he's such a misfit. I love that he has so much faith in what he believes, and he's so fearless, literally. He's really only afraid of God. I think of him as sort of the founding freak, and I mean that as a compliment. He's this eccentric in a community of people who kept their heads down. I think he was probably very annoying, and I'm not sure he's the kind of guy you'd want to have lunch with every day, but as an historical figure, as someone who reads and thinks and studies and speaks up and speaks out, I think he is remarkable not just for his time, but that sort of person is rare in any time.

AND UNLIKE THOSE AROUND HIM, HE'S UNWILLING TO FIGHT FOR HIS FAITH, NO MATTER HOW STRONGLY HE BELIEVES IT. He's that rare Christian who really seems to be trying to heed the words of Christ. His ideas about nonviolence and loving your enemies. I love that he attracts these like-minded outcasts to Rhode Island. It also tickles me that he's gung-ho about the Quakers being able to live as his neighbors, but he'll paddle his canoe to Newport to host a three-day debate with them to try and talk them out of their wrong-headed convictions. In Massachusetts, Quakers are being hanged on Boston Common. But Quakers are allowed to live in Rhode Island. It's just that if they have any long-term interaction with Roger Williams, they probably would want to kill themselves.

AFTER WILLIAMS, SOMEONE EVEN MORE RADICAL ARRIVES FROM ENGLAND ? ANNE HUTCHINSON. SHE, TOO, IS BANISHED TO RHODE ISLAND. YOU CALL HER "THE PURITAN OPRAH." CAN WE ASSUME THATTHE WORDY SHIPMATES WOULD BE AMONG HER BOOK CLUB RECOMMENDATIONS? I don't know. It's too bad that she didn't write down the spiritual commentary from when she was [preaching in her home]. All we have are the transcriptions of her words taken by the people who were trying to take her down. It's hard to say what she thought about any number of topics. She does seem to be a bit of an egomaniac, so perhaps she would enjoy being still written about.

YOU'LL BE IN PROVIDENCE ON OCTOBER 29. ANYTHING SPECIAL PLANNED FOR THE TOWN THAT ROGER WILLIAMS BUILT? I'm not dressing up in costume or anything. I do look forward to the question-and-answer period because I would imagine people in Providence are a little more in-the-know about Rhode Island history. My enthusiasm for Rhode Island history is a fairly lonely occupation most of the time, so it would be nice to be in a room with people who actually care about this stuff. I guess that would be special.

Sarah Vowell will also be speaking at the Rabb Lecture Hall, Central Library at theBoston Public Library on Wednesday, October 28, 2009 at 6 pm.

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