Greater City Providence

Roger Williams Decoded – April 30, 2013

williams-codeIn 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.

[alert type=”muted”]Join us Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of America, 75 North Main Street in Providence, as we hear Lucas Mason-Brown, Stanley Lemons, and Linford D. Fisher describe the methodology used to crack the code as well as share the new light it sheds on Williams’ views of baptism and Native American conversion.[/alert]


  • 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.

Greater City Providence

Promoting the smart urban growth of the Greater Providence region.


  • Pity that a man with a mind like Roger Williams possessed should have concerned himself mostly with superstitious trivialities and arcana.

    Not a bad man, apparently quite humane. Socialized with poet John Milton, a likinded intransigent religious wingnut, but give Mr Williams credit for believing firmly in the separation of church and state — interestingly enough, for the opposite reason that we promote it today. We tend to think of any union of religion and government as being undesirable to the extent that it will result in the pollution of the government. But Roger Williams, zealot that he was, argued that government involvement in religion would limit the free exercise of same and render it impure. So even in that belief, he ended up on the wrong side of history …

Providence, RI
5:10 am8:23 pm EDT
Feels like: 84°F
Wind: 8mph SW
Humidity: 60%
Pressure: 30.31"Hg
UV index: 4
93°F / 70°F
88°F / 64°F
82°F / 66°F