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The Banishment of Roger Williams, RIHS 1943.3.1

It’s an oft-used phrase in my state of residence: I know a guy. Even I use it, because I do. Know a guy. A bunch of guys. They are mostly contractors, but they get stuff done and if they can’t, well, then they know a guy.

My favorite guy, Billy, union carpenter and accidental poet, is a descendant of Roger Williams, and has shown me his genealogy to prove it. He’s a multiple-great-grandson of Roger’s youngest son, Joseph, and Lydia Olney. As it happens, not too long after my encounters with Billy, I visited a donor in the rural but wealthy Quiet Corner of Connecticut. The widow of a man descended from a Rhode Island governor, Natalie showed me her late husband’s genealogy.

Yes, the children of the very wealthy scion of lawyers and governors and bankers are some kind of cousin of a construction superintendent who lives in area known as “Rhode Island’s Alaska.” I was immensely gratified and smug all the way home from that donor visit.

As we try to calculate how many domestics are involved in making John Brown’s house run (perhaps nine), though we think the domestics aren’t family members, it might be worth considering that in Rhode Island, you can be relatives and still not be family. You might just “know a guy.”