Roger Williams has a new biography, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry. The new book was reviewed last Sunday for the New York Times Book Review by historian Joyce E. Chaplin. She opens with this astonishing statement,
Should you find yourself in front of the Rhode Island Statehouse in Providence, look up and east, and tip your hat — real or imagined — to Roger Williams. A 35-foot statue of the Protestant theologian (1603?-1683) stands high in Prospect Terrace Park, with right hand extended, as if blessing the city he founded.
Thirty-five feet?! This number sounded a little high so we set out to take our own measurements and the Colbert (One Colbert = 5’9″) seemed as good a unit as any for this purpose. So let’s say that the statue measures roughly three Colberts, that would still only add up to 17 feet or so. (Yes, we know there is some geometry to be performed involving shadows and hypotenuses, but our budget does not allow for such elaborate calculations.)
So not only has The Dose caught the New York Times in a factual error, but an online search produces only one source for that “35-foot” detail — Wikipedia. Oh for shame.
However, all this has nothing to do with Mr. Barry (I don’t think) who Chaplin describes as a “gifted author.” In a recent interview with Phoenix scribe David Scharfenberg — “Roger Williams gets his due” — Barry attributes Williams’ powers of persuasion in no small part to his “sincerity and enthusiasm”, able to convince no less than Oliver Cromwell to “stop Massachusetts from forcing [Indians] to convert to Christianity.” Roger Williams actually got Oliver Cromwell to think about Indians.
Reading and reception: John M. Barry will be at the John Carter Brown Library on the Brown University main green (in from George at Brown Street) this Wednesday, January 11, from 5:30pm to 7:30pm.