Roger Williams (the Founder of Rhode Island) was an English clergyman who immigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631. Five years later he was banished from the Colony for being too liberal and too friendly with the Indians.
He founded Providence, a community based on religious freedom and democratic ideals, outside the boundaries of Massachusetts at the head of Narragansett Bay. Later, he obtained a royal charter for the Colony of Rhode Island.
Williams gave up the clergy and ran a trading post. There were no roads or bridges at the time, and he traveled throughout the area on foot and by boat. He mastered the Indian’s language and had friendly relations with them, often mediating in disputes between Indians and Colonists.
By 1670, the Quakers were gaining political power in Rhode Island. Although Williams tolerated the Quakers, he had differences with them, and tried to discredit the teachings of their leader, George Fox. On August 8, 1672, in an attempt to debate Fox, Williams rowed himself some thirty miles from Providence to Newport, leaving in the morning and arriving that night before midnight. The debates took place the next day, but Fox was not present.
30 miles in one day would be a challenging row for anyone. What makes this row amazing is that Williams was about 70 years old at the time. He must have been one tough cookie. He said that God helped his old bones row the distance. The prevailing summertime winds in Narragansett Bay are from the south, so he probably had headwinds most of the day. The tides reverse direction every 5 3/4 hours, so he would have had tides running in both directions. Then he rowed for several hours at night, without the aid of lights. The row boat he used was described as a “great canoe” which may have been fitted out with a pair of oars, as was common on ships’ boats of the time.