Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Road to Providence

Magnet # 446:  Roger Williams National Memorial

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

Boston, Massachusetts received yet another boatload of newcomers on this day in 1631 and among them was one man who would leave a permanent mark on the colonies - the minister Roger Williams.  He had traveled with his wife Mary from England.  And while he was initially met with enthusiasm by the locals, Williams' strong religious convictions and refusal to confirm soon prompted them to drive him out of their community.  Forced to take an arduous journey that might have killed others, Williams was able to survive and establish a settlement of his own in Rhode Island.  And to this day, Providence commemorates its founder and his dedication to religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

Roger Williams was born in 1603 to a merchant tailor in Smithfield, England who later disapproved of his some of son's religious fervor.  But he was undaunted and became a Puritan as he was studying at Cambridge.  Williams also took Holy Order in the Church of England, but he realized his religious views would prevent him from advancing very far in the Anglican Church, which he believed was corrupt.  So he and his wife decided to join the second wave of Puritans that sailed for the New World in 1630.  They came aboard the Lyon and were greeted by a group of settlers eager to have them lead them while their own reverend sailed for England to bring back his wife.  But Williams shocked them, declining the position on the grounds that the church was not separated from the local government and the magistrates punished religious infractions, such as blasphemy and idolatry.  He'd go on to stir up even more trouble, writing a tract that accused the King of illegally issuing charters to the New World and asserted that the Native Americans should be paid for their land.  He moved from Boston to the Plymouth colony but, unsatisfied there, later headed to Salem.  The authorities in Massachusetts weren't happy to have him back and brought him before the General Court in Boston when they learned of the tract he had written.  Williams narrowly avoided staying out of trouble and went on to become acting pastor of the Salem church, but he was unable to put his objections aside.  He went against his word and began speaking out against the charter again, as well as the new oath of allegiance that the colonial government was trying to enforce.  The Town of Salem stood behind him for a time, but when its delegates were shut out of the General Court and Williams called for the church to break free from other congregations, it could no longer back him.  In October of 1635, the General Court  banished Williams from Massachusetts.  However, as Winter was coming and Williams had taken ill, the local authorities did not immediately enforce the order, offering Williams temporary shelter so long as he stopped stirring up trouble.  But Williams was nothing if not a man who firmly stood behind his convictions, and he continued to voice his concerns.  Realizing he would soon be sent back to England, he decided to flee so that he could remain in the colonies.  Three days after he departed, the local sheriff came looking for him.  Williams' trek was not an easy one - he traversed 105 miles in deep snow, despite his illness - and it might have killed others.  Yet somehow he managed to survive the ordeal and the Wampanoag Indians, whom he had defended, took him in and saved his life.  His followers soon joined him and after learning that they land they planned to settle was part of the Plymouth colony, they crossed the Seekonk River and purchased land from the Narragansett Indians.  Williams named their settlement Providence, as he believed God's will had brought them there.  His religious tolerance and appeal to other dissidents attracted plenty more.  Williams and his followers were able to establish the first place modern history where government and religion were separated, and the example set an important precedent for the United States.  And even though neighboring colonies tried to take down what became known as Rhode Island, Williams and those who came after him didn't back down, and eventually it became the country's smallest state, but an impressive one nonetheless.

Though it's been quite some time since Roger Williams set foot in Providence, there are still traces of him there.  On top of the Rhode Island State House dome, there is a gold-covered bronze state known as the Independent Man that pays tribute to Williams' unique spirit.  And a brief walk away is the Roger Williams National Memorial, one of the smallest national parks in the nation. It's located on the site of the original Providence settlement, which is now surrounded by urban development.  The visitor center features a video that points out that no one really knows what Roger Williams looks like.  I thought that was pretty interesting.  And the park rangers there are some of the friendliest I've come across in my travels.  Stop by if you ever get a chance.  There's also many other places that celebrate his memory, like the Roger Williams Park and Roger Williams University, both of which are in Rhode Island.  The United States Episcopal Church also celebrates his feast day today.  So let's remember this man who refused to back down from what he believed to be right and stood up for other's rights and the great legacy he left behind on the anniversary of the day he first set foot on our shores.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chaos at the Capitol

Magnet # 445:  Old State Capitol, Frankfort Photo

Material:  Plastic

Purchased By:  Me

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the day in 1900 when Kentucky governor William Goebel passed away after an assassin gunned him down days earlier.  He was shot on his way to the State Capitol Building.  Goebel was a somewhat shady politician who had been engaged in a bitter, fiercely close election to become governor of the state.  Tensions were running high between political parties and some wondered if another civil war wouldn't break out.  But Goebel's death was pretty much the worst of the fighting and when he passed, tensions still ran high but the threat of violence was over.  To this day, he remains the only United States state governor to have been assassinated while in office.

William Goebel was born to a family of German immigrants in Pennsylvania in 1856 and was the first of their four children.  For the first five years, he only spoke German.  He went on to study law at the Cincinnati Law School and practiced in Kentucky.  Before long, he became known as a man who was not particularly friendly or sociable, almost never greeting anyone with a smile or handshake.  He also had a severe appearance that some even called reptilian and was not a very talented public speaker, relying more on force than appeal.  And he remains the only unmarried Kentucky governor. But what he lacked in charm and personality, Goebel made up for in intellect and ambition.  He was an avid reader with a keen intellect and even his many opponents were impressed.  Before long, he turned his attention toward politics, running for a seat in the Kentucky Senate.  The race was close, and Goebel won a narrow victory, running as a member of the Democrat Party.  He won two reelections, but his time in the Senate wasn't without controversy.  In 1895, despite his efforts to prevent it, Goebel ran into one of his enemies, a businessman he had referred to as "Gonorrhea John" in a newspaper article, on the street.  They then engaged in what many consider to be an impromptu duel after both showed he was armed.  The other man was struck in the head with a bullet and died of his injuries while his shot simply tore through Goebel's clothes.  He was acquitted after he plead self-defense, but the shooting would follow mar the rest of his political career.  Four years later, Goebel decided to run for governor of the state. Both the fight to receive his party's nomination and the election itself proved to be brutal, but Goebel was up to the task, even if it meant lying and breaking alliances.  The results were very close once again, and Goebel's opponent was declared victorious until the decision was overturned by the General Assembly.  Accusations of dirty politics were being hurled by both parties, Republicans around the state were incensed, and the state seemed dangerously close to breaking out in civil war.  Goebel was warned that, with tensions running as high as they were, an attempt might be made on his life, but he nonetheless traveled to what has become the Old State Capitol on the morning of January 30, 1900.  He was escorted by two bodyguards but they couldn't prevent shots from being fired.  This time, Goebel found himself on the receiving end of a mortal wound.  He held on for days, and was sworn in as governor the next day, but finally passed on February 3.  His lieutenant governor succeeded him and people across the state began to calm down, as many preferred him to Goebel.  His Republican opponent, fearful of being charged in Goebel's death, fled to Indiana, where he was harbored by their governor and was never even questioned about his role in the assassination.  A handful of people were indicted for the crime, and while three went to trial, authorities were never able to determine just who fired the shots that brought down Goebel.  It remains a mystery even now, and it's believed that individual will never be known.

Kentucky certainly hasn't forgotten its fallen leader.  Even though the building he was heading to on that fateful day was no longer the State Capitol a mere decade after Goebel's death, it has become the Old State Capitol and is a museum and home to the Kentucky Historical Society.  A plaque had been installed on the grounds to mark where the politician fell.  And nearby, an imposing statue of the man himself looks down narrowly at pedestrians.  Also, just down the street at the Kentucky Historical Society, the suit coat that Gobel was wearing is on display.  It's protected by glass casing, but they have a button for visitors to push that will illuminate the bullet hole.  I saw it for myself and it was pretty interesting.  At that time, I hadn't heard the full story about Gobel and it's certainly been fascinating finding out more about the man and his times.  He may have had the shortest time in office of any Kentucky governor, but the Bluegrass State will never forget William Goebel.