John McNiff, a Park Ranger at the Roger Williams National Memorial has written this My Story on how Williams might have reacted to seeing WaterFire on the shores of the Moshassuck River, where he established Providence nearly 375 years ago.

These WaterFires

They bring back so many memories. The fire my mother kept in the hearth at home and all the things my London home meant to me. My brothers and sister, sometimes I miss the comfort of such simple things.

The fires in Smithfield, when heretics were burned at the stake, just down the street from my home on Cow Lane. I may never get the stench, or the sounds, out of my mind… I was only a small boy…

The hearth fire of my first home in Salem, safe with my dear wife Mary, in this New England. And then being cast out from there into a cruel New England winter, with fierce winds and numbing cold…. all for telling the magistrates in Boston that no man should be required to worship or maintain a worship against his will. . .

The warmth and friendship around the fire in the Wampanoag Sachem Massasoit’s wetu as he gave me shelter from the cold that first winter as an outcast.

The fires and smoke from all the chimneys in the new town of Providence, as people from all over came here, because here, no one here could be punished for what they believed. Here was our experiment. We did not believe that God was the foundation of a government’s authority. The sovereign, original and foundation of civil power lies in the people. Here we could at last proclaim a true and absolute soul-freedom to all the people … so that no person be forced to pay nor pray, otherwise then as his soul believeth.

The heartbreaking fires as all the farms and all this town, including mine own home, burned to the ground in a war between people that never learned they could be friends.

The fires on the river, each one somewhat different than the next, are like a roll call of my life, bringing back to me all these and many more memories. Sadness, heartbreak, joy, love, all reflected in these waters, with the smoke rising up to the heavens: our prayers for peace, happiness and freedom.

-Roger Williams

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