‘Roving Roger’ comes to Jesse Smith


BURRILLVILLE – He stands 7-feet-tall, weighs 170 pounds, and may – or may not – resemble Rhode Island’s founder.

“Roving Roger,” has arrived at Jesse Smith Memorial Library, and for the next two months, he’ll help to educate visitors about state history.

A traveling exhibit sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of State, the statute was commissioned in 1960 by officials from the Roger Williams Savings & Loan Association.

But because no accurate likeness of the man who founded Rhode Island’s first colonial settlement exists, the statue’s creators had to make an educated guess about his features.

The hollow figure, which currently stands by the library’s reference desk, is believed to have been made with paper maiche and was hand-painted by Standish Johnson Company. Old Newport National Bank acquired the statue when it merged with Roger Williams Savings, and it stood on a pedestal on the second floor level of the branch at 270 Westminster Mall building for 23 years.

More recently, the figure has had a home with the Rhode Island State Archives, and in 2018, officials launched the Roving Roger project, a traveling exhibit that includes panels where visitor’s can read about the history surrounding Williams’ banishment from Massachusetts Bay Company and settlement of Providence.

“Roger Williams reminds us that individuals with powerful ideas can make lasting, impactful contributions,” notes the introduction, which goes on to tell the story of how Rhode Island won a charter from England that explicitly protected freedom of religion and self government.

Librarians in Burrillville have put together a short matching activity called “How Well Do You Know Roger Williams?” in conjunction with the temporary exhibit. Patrons are invited to complete the activity – available at the Reference Desk – and submit an entry into a raffle to win a Rhode Island-themed prize basket.

Roving Roger will be on display at the library until the first week of May, when he’ll move on to his next location.

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