Back in the early 1600s, there weren't many folks who stirred up more trouble in New England than Roger Williams. In fact, he was kicked out of some of the best neighborhoods in New England: Boston, Salem and Plymouth.
Williams came to America seeking, as many others did, freedom from religious persecution. What made Williams unique though, was that he wanted that freedom not just for himself (as was the case with the Separatists (Pilgrims) at Plymouth, or the Puritans in Boston), but for everyone. Williams believed that each individual had to make his or her own decision about what to believe about a supreme being, or even whether to believe at all. His radical ideas got him banished from Salem, and to avoid being sent back to England, he set off on foot in a howling midwinter snowstorm, to find his friends Canonicus and Miantonomo, two Narragansett Indians. He chose for his homesite a location near a 'sweet spring,' and established a colony where all people could live according to their own conscience. He named his town not after himself, but after God, whom he believed led him there.
Williams had other radical ideas as well. He believed the native peoples were not savages, but noble people, worthy of respect. As a mark of his respect he learned to speak Algonguin, and even translated the language into English. This was the first time that a native American Language was translated, and Williams' book remains a classic in linguistics.
He believed that women had a right to self-determination, and that they too should have 'Liberty of Conscience.'
These ideas all seem pretty dull to many people today, but Williams laid important foundations in this beautiful New England city -- foundations that later influenced the framers of the U.S. Constitution into including religious liberty as a right for all people.