At this time Massachusetts had a population of about 15,000. To all New England 21,200 emigrants came between 1628 and 1643, the total White population at the latter date being about 24,000.
So early as 1631 this colony decreed to admit none as freemen who were not also church members. Thus Church and State were made one, the government a theocracy. The Massachusetts settlers, though in many things less extreme than the Pilgrims, were decided Puritans, sincere but formal, precise, narrow, and very superstitious. They did not, however, on coming hither, affect or wish to separate from the Church of England, earnestly as they deprecated retaining the sign of the cross in baptism, the surplice, marriage with ring, and kneeling at communion.
Yet soon they in effect became Separatists as well as Puritans, building independent churches, like those at Plymouth, and repudiating episcopacy utterly.
Much as these Puritans professed and tried to exalt reason in certain matters, in civil and religious affairs, where they took the Old Testament as affording literal and minute directions for all sorts of human actions for all time, they could allow little liberty of opinion.
This was apparent when into this theocratic state came Roger Williams, afterward the founder of Rhode Island. Born in London, England, about 1607, of good family, he was placed by his patron, Coke, at the Charter House School. From there he went to Pembroke College, Cambridge. In 1631 he arrived in Boston. Somewhat finical in his political, moral, and religious ideas, he found it impossible, having separated from the Church of England, in which he had been reared, to harmonize here with those still favoring that communion. At Salem he was invited by a Little company of Separatists to become their teacher. His views soon ofended the authorities. He declared that the king's patent could confer no title to lands possessed by Indians. He denied the right of magistrates to punish heresy, or to enforce attendance upon religious services. "The magistrate's power," he said, "extends only to the bodies, goods, and outward state of men."
Alarmed at his bold utterances, the General Court of Massachusetts, September 2, 1635, decreed his banishment for "new and dangerous opinions, against the authority of magistrates." His fate was not, therefore, merely because of his religious views. The exile sought refuge at Seekonk, but this being within the Plymouth jurisdiction, he, on Governor Winslow's admonition, moved farther into the wilderness, settling at Providence. He purchased land of the natives, and, joined by others, set up a pure democracy, instituting as a part thereof the "lively experiment," for which ages had waited, of perfect liberty in matters of religious belief. Not for the first time in history, but more clearly, earnestly, and consistently than it had ever been done before, he maintained for every man the right of absolute freedom in matters of conscience, for all forms of faith equal toleration.
See also: 1626-1630