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Brown University Students Crack 300-Year-Old Code Attributed To Rhode Island Founder Roger Williams


Roger William's code seen written on book. NPS photo.

For more than 300 years, since late in the 17th Century, the shorthand attributed to Roger Williams in the margins of a library book befuddled code crackers. But now a team of students and faculty at Brown University has cracked it and come to learn what the founder of Rhode Island wrote.

Contained within the shorthand in the book held in the John Carter Brown Library 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." It 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.

On April 30 at 6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of America, 75 North Main Street in Providence, Rhode Island, the methods used to ccrack the code will be discussed by Lucas Mason-Brown, Stanley Lemons, and Linford D. Fisher. They also will discuss the new light it sheds on Williams' views of baptism and Native American conversion. Free parking is available just a few blocks away from the First Baptist Church at Roger Williams National Memorial in the Canal Street parking lot.

"Roger Williams looms large in the history of the American colonies," notes Fisher, an assistant professor of history, "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."

At Roger Williams National Memorial, sirte manager Jennifer Smith said, "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 added.

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