Religious dissenter Roger Williams founded the colony of Providence, Rhode Island after being run out of the theocratic Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. Unlike the Puritans, he scrupulously purchased land from local Indians for his settlement. In political beliefs, Williams was close to the Levellers of England. He describes Rhode Island local “government” as follows: “The masters of families have ordinarily met once a fortnight and consulted about our common peace, watch and plenty; and mutual consent have finished all matters of speed and pace.”

While Roger Williams was not explicitly anarchist, another Rhode Islander, Anne Hutchinson, was. Hutchinson and her followers emigrated to Rhode Island in 1638, bought Aquidneck Island from the Indians, and founded the town of Pocasset (now Portsmouth.) Another “Rogue Island” libertarian was Samuell Gorton. He and his followers were accused of being anarchists, and Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay called Gorton a “man not fit to live upon the face of the earth.” Gorton and his followers were forced in late 1642 to found an entirely new settlement of their own, Shawomet (later Warwick). In the words of Gorton, for over five years the settlement “lived peaceably together, desiring and endeavoring to do wrong to no man, neither English nor Indian, ending all our differences in a neighborly and loving way of arbitration, mutually chosen amongst us.”

In 1648, Warwick joined with the other three towns of Rhode Island to form the colony of the “Providence Plantation.” From that time on Rhode Island had a government; this government, however, was far more democratic and libertarian than existed elsewhere in the American colonies. In a letter to Sir Henry Vane penned in the mid-1650s, Williams wrote, “we have not known what an excise means; we have almost forgotten what tithes are, yea, or taxes either, to church or commonwealth.”

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