In the John Carter Brown Library is a book, the margins of which are filled with a mysterious code, or shorthand, long believed to be the writing of Roger Williams, the seventeenth-century theologian and founder of Rhode Island. Although the shorthand went undeciphered for over three hundred years, in 2012, a team of Brown University undergraduate researchers, with the support of several faculty members, was able to crack the code. Contained within the shorthand was a previously untranslated essay written by Roger Williams late in his life, titled, “A Brief Reply to a Small Book Written by John Eliot,” which was part of an ongoing Protestant theological debate between those who believed the Bible supported the baptism of infants and those who were certain that adult baptism was the only biblically defensible practice.
- Lucas Mason-Brown, math concentrator, Brown University
- Stanley Lemons, Emeritus Professor, Rhode Island College
- Linford D. Fisher, Assistant Professor of History, Brown University
“Roger Williams looms large in the history of the American colonies,” Fisher notes, “so to have a brand new, never-before-seen essay from Williams from so late in his life is fascinating. It is likely the single greatest discovery related to Williams in a generation or two. Fortunately for all of us, this essay helps us fill in gaps regarding his later views on several topics.”
“Roger Williams National Memorial is thrilled to be a co-sponsor of this event,” states Memorial Site Manager, Jennifer Smith. “It is very exciting to ‘hear’ the thoughts and words of Williams through the groundbreaking work of the Brown team. Williams was a progressive thinker and his teachings of Soul Freedom and Liberty of Conscience rooted in his belief that church and state should be kept separate are incredibly relevant today. The fact that math and the science of cryptography have come together to bring Williams’ teachings to life in a library just up the hill from where he and a small band of followers settled Providence almost four centuries ago is just plain cool,” Smith continues.