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This Day In Founding Fathers History – 5 February 2013

On this day in 1631, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, landed in Boston. Williams joined the Puritan migration to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. He initially sought to reform the church but later fought for separation. Williams found that most Puritans of Massachusetts did not seek total severance from the church and settled in Salem where he was a minister. His views continued to evolve and he now desired full separation of church and state, moving to the Plymouth Colony. Still Williams couldn’t find a place where his views were accepted; he insisted that land be purchased from the Indians rather than taken by force. He was put on trial by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay for his views in 1635 and found guilty of “holding four dangerous opinions at variance with official policy,” with a sentence of banishment from the colony. Williams fled Massachusetts and established Providence on the Narragansett Bay in 1636 on land gifted to him by the Narragansett Indians, and soon after obtained a patent for the colony of Providence Plantation, later Rhode Island. Rhode Island became a refuge for those persecuted for their religious beliefs. 1

One notable birthday on this day in history in 1725, that of James Otis, Jr. Otis studied law and opened practices in Plymouth and then Boston. Six years later, Otis was appointed Advocate General of the Vice Admiralty Court, which resided over maritime issues. With the introduction of the Sugar Act and the use of writs of assistance to enforce it, Otis resigned as Advocate General and represented 63 Boston merchants in their fight against the writs. In 1761, Otis argued his case to the Crown: “A man’s house is his castle…[this writ] would totally annihilate this privilege. Customhouse officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry…bare suspicion without oath is sufficient...one arbitrary exertion will provoke another, until society be involved in tumult and in blood.” Of Otis’ speech, John Adams said, “Then and there, the child Independence was born.” Otis lost the case but proved to be a patriot. That same year he was elected to the Massachusetts General Court. Otis attended the Stamp Act Congress and wrote pamphlets speaking out against the British government. Otis made many enemies with his views and received a head injury after an altercation with one insulted commissioner, from which he never fully recovered. In a letter Otis wrote to his sister Mercy Otis Warren, he wrote, “I hope when God Almighty…shall take me out of time into eternity, that it will be by a flash of lightning.” In 1783, while Otis stood in a doorway speaking with friends, he was indeed struck by a lightning bolt and killed. 3

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1 “Roger Williams, Rhode Island Founder,” Library of Congress, Today in History, memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/feb05.html; “Roger Williams, Founder of Rhode Island, Arrived in Boston,” America’s Story from America’s Library, americaslibrary.gov/jb/colonial/jb_colonial_williams_1.html
2 “Otis Was A Flame Of Fire,” www.foundersofamerica.org/jotis.html; “James Otis, Jr., Enrages Colonial Governor,” Mass Moments, massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=181