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William Wickenden (c. 1614–1671) was an early Anglo-American Baptist minister, co-founder Providence, Rhode Island, and signer of the Providence Compact. Wickenden Street in Providence marks where he originally settled in the seventeenth century and is named in his honor.
Immigration to New England
Wickenden was possibly born in Oxfordshire, England in about 1614. There has been no definitive evidence provided that William Wickenden was born in Oxfordshire. Some claim that he was born in Oxford and this has not been proven either. The Wickenden name originates in Cowden, Kent, and by coincidence, there is an Otford in that county. Some people wonder whether this is a more logical place to search for his birth.
There is also no proof that Wickenden was a clergyman in Oxfordshire before he went to America. He immigrated to America prior to 1634 and lived in Salem, Massachusetts for a time. Wickenden followed Roger Williams to Rhode Island and in 1637 he was one of 12 men who signed an agreement sometimes called the "Providence Compact," and was one of the 39 signers of an agreement to form a Providence government in 1640. Wickenden served in the Rhode Island Legislature in 1648, and from 1651 to 1655 and then again in 1664. In 1656 Wickenden was arrested, along with his host Sheriff William Hallet (husband of Elizabeth Fones) by Dutch colonial authorities, jailed, and fined for baptizing Christians in Flushing, Queens near New Amsterdam (New York). Upon being informed that Wickenden was a poor cobbler with a large family, the Dutch authorities agreed to exile Wickenden instead. The following year, Dutch colonists signed the Flushing Remonstrance to allow for more religious freedom. Wickenden served as the fourth minister at the First Baptist Church in America in Providence.
Roger Williams brought a presentment against William Wickenden, Thomas Harris, and Thomas Angell on March 13, 1656, charging them as ringleaders of a division within the colony regarding the teaching of liberty. Williams never, however, came forward to prosecute the charge. William Wickenden died on February 23, 1671 in Providence. After Wickenden's death, his son-in-law, John Steere, and his daughter Hannah sold the area now comprising Wickenden Street.
- James Pierce Root, Steere Genealogy: A Record of the Descendants of John Steere, who Settled in Providence, Rhode Island, about the year 1660, (Providence: Riverside Press, 1890). (Wickenden's daughter married John Steere, progenitor of that family)