John Clarke (October 1609 – 20 April 1676) was a physician, Baptist minister, co-founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, author of its influential charter, and a leading advocate of religious freedom in America.

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  • John Clarke (October 1609 – 20 April 1676) was a physician, Baptist minister, co-founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, author of its influential charter, and a leading advocate of religious freedom in America. Clarke was born in Westhorpe, Suffolk, England. He received an extensive education, including a master's degree in England followed by medical training in Leiden, Holland. He arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637 during the Antinomian Controversy and decided to go to Aquidneck Island with many exiles from the conflict. He became a co-founder of Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island, and he established America's second Baptist church in Newport. Baptists were considered heretics and were banned from Massachusetts, but Clarke wanted to make inroads there and spent time in the Boston jail after making a mission trip to the town of Lynn, Massachusetts. Following his poor treatment in prison, he went to England where he published a book on the persecutions of the Baptists in Massachusetts and on his theological beliefs. The fledgling Rhode Island colony needed an agent in England, so he remained there for more than a decade handling the colony's interests. The other New England colonies were hostile to Rhode Island, and both Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut Colony had made incursions into Rhode Island territory. After the restoration of the monarchy in England in 1660, it was imperative that Rhode Island receive a royal charter to protect its territorial integrity. It was Clarke's role to obtain such a document, and he saw this as an opportunity to include religious freedoms never seen before in any constitutional charter. He wrote ten petitions and letters to King Charles II and negotiated for months with Connecticut over territorial boundaries. Finally, he drafted the Rhode Island Royal Charter and presented it to the king, and it was approved with the king's seal on 8 July 1663. This charter granted unprecedented freedom and religious liberty to Rhode Islanders and remained in effect for 180 years, making it the longest-lasting constitutional charter in history. Clarke returned to Rhode Island following his success at procuring the charter; he became very active in civil affairs there, and continued to pastor his church in Newport until his death in 1676. He left an extensive will, setting up the first educational trust in America. He was an avid proponent of the notion of soul-liberty that was included in the Rhode Island charter—and later in the United States Constitution. (en)
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  • John Clarke (October 1609 – 20 April 1676) was a physician, Baptist minister, co-founder of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, author of its influential charter, and a leading advocate of religious freedom in America. (en)
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  • John Clarke (Baptist minister) (en)
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  • male (en)
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