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Decoding Roger Williams
The Lost Essay of Rhode Island’s Founding Father
Near the end of his life, Roger Williams, Rhode Island founder and father of American religious freedom, scrawled an encrypted essay in the margins of a colonial-era book. For more than 300 years those shorthand notes remained indecipherable...
...until a team of Brown University undergraduates led by Lucas Mason-Brown cracked Williams’ code after the marginalia languished for over a century in the archives of the John Carter Brown Library. At the time of Williams’ writing, a trans-Atlantic debate on infant versus believer’s baptism had taken shape that included London Baptist minister John Norcott and the famous Puritan “Apostle to the Indians,” John Eliot. Amazingly, Williams’ code contained a previously undiscovered essay, which was a point-by-point refutation of Eliot’s book supporting infant baptism.
History professors Linford D. Fisher and J. Stanley Lemons immediately recognized the importance of what turned out to be theologian Roger Williams’ final treatise. Decoding Roger Williams reveals for the first time Williams’ translated and annotated essay, along with a critical essay by Fisher, Lemons, and Mason-Brown and reprints of the original Norcott and Eliot tracts.
List of Figures and Maps
Foreword by Ted Widmer
A Key into the Language of Roger Williams: Cracking and Interpreting the Roger Williams Code
Roger Williams: “A Brief Reply to a Small Book Written by John Eliot”(1679–1683)
John Norcott, Baptism Discovered Plainly and Faithfully According to the Word of God (1675 )
John Eliot, A Brief Answer to a Small Book Written by John Norcot Against Infant-Baptisme (1679)
Further Reading and Research
"Decoding Roger Williams provides significant insights into the life of Roger Williams, particularly by examining what is likely his latest extant theological writings and by discussing two subjects rarely touched on in his other texts. It will provide much fodder for future scholars, not only in decoding what remains in the gaps of the document, but also in the implications of a fuller picture of Williams’s religious beliefs."
—Alyssa N. Gerhardt, The Journal of Southern Religion
"Decoding Roger Williams is a must-read book for any student of Roger Williams and early Colonial America."
—Erik J. Chaput, American History Professor, The Lawrenceville School
"A gem of a book and feat of careful scholarship, Decoding Roger Williams illuminates an important aspect of Williams' thinking. It's a very welcome addition to what we know about him."
—David D. Hall, Bartlett Research Professor of New England Church History, Harvard Divinity School
“Brilliantly transcribed from Roger Williams’ shorthand notes, this previously undecoded manuscript demands reconsideration of New England’s encounter with Baptist ideas and also of the colonial effort to Christianize native Americans."
—Francis J. Bremer, Professor Emeritus, Millersville University of Pennsylvania
"Decoding Roger Williams revels in the ingenuity of American historical scholarship and renews Williams' fame as early New England's most intriguing and challenging figure."
—Jon Butler, Yale University
Linford D. Fisher is Assistant Professor of History at Brown University.
J. Stanley Lemons is Emeritus Professor of History at Rhode Island College and Clerk and Historian of the First Baptist Church in America.
Lucas Mason-Brown is a graduate student in mathematics at Trinity College, Dublin.