I, Roger Williams: A Fragment of Autobiography


An elderly Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, reminisces about the people and events that shaped his life, many of them having changed the course of two countries. Most of this novel describes his early formative years in England. He remembers the jurist Sir Edward Coke who hired him as a boy of 14 for his intelligence and linguistic skills. Williams loves and admires Coke, who trains the young man of no breeding or wealth as his own son. Coke finances his education at Cambridge, where Williams’ religious convictions make him appear a threat to the King. Williams is rescued and protected by political allies. He eventually flees to America. The Puritans were too judgmental for Williams, whose battle cry is for freedom of conscience for all. Williams is an observer of, then an active participant in, the turbulent religious and political events of his day.

Mary Lee Settle writes as Roger Williams, using words and setting a tone to match his own writing style. It is extraordinary prose, but difficult reading at times. Williams frequently regrets the consequences of an action before he explains the action itself: the result is anticlimactic. The reminiscent quality of the writing is so effective that this reviewer doesn’t know whether it’s the book’s greatest weakness or greatest strength. This work is a historical treasure chest, but you must let that pirate, Roger Williams, explain each treasure to you in his own time and in his own way.


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