Ezekiel Holliman is one of the founders of Rhode Island and the Six Principle Church at Providence. He was born in Hertfordshire, England about 1586 to William and Alice Holyman. He married his first wife Susanna Oxston in England. The records are not clear, but it appears they had a daughter Pricilla, born in England.There are no records of Susannah’s death or if Ezekiel brought her and Pricilla to America, however Pricilla Holliman married John Warner who immigrated to America from England and settled in Rhode Island.
Ezekiel came to America about 1634, settling first in Dedham, Massachusetts where he was listed as receiving a land grant of twelve acres and the first recorded meeting of the town included his name. He attended a number of meetings, the last one in March 1636-7. He must have left Dedham soon after because he is listed as receiving a grant of land at Salem, Massachusetts in 1637.
Ezekiel married Mary Sweet about 1638, the widow of John Sweet and he changed the name of her daughter Meribah to Renewed. References to the widow of John Sweet, now married to Ezekiel Holliman were alluded to in a letter of July 1, 1639 of Reverend Hugh Peters to the church at Dorchester. He wrote that “she and certain others had had the great censure passed upon them in this our church” and that “they wholly refused to hear the church, denying it and all the churches in the Bay to be true churches, etc.”
Like others, Holliman found himself in conflict with those in authority in Massachusetts. He was summoned to the General Court on March 12, 1638 “because he did not frequent the public assemblies and for seducing many, he was referred by the Court to the ministers for conviction” and like others before him, he determined to remove himself from the Massachusetts jurisdiction.
Ezekiel Holliman was one of the “twelve loving friends” that joined with Roger Williams at Providence Plantation. In keeping with their beliefs they were baptized and formed what historians have referred to as the first Baptist Church in America, though research does not reveal the group called themselves Baptists. A recorded deed in 1711 lists the church at Providence as a Six Principles Church. There is little written about this baptismal event, but historians understand that those who were baptized had nominated and appointed Ezekiel Holliman, who was appears to have been the eldest of the group, to baptize Roger Williams. Williams then in turn baptized the others. Whether this included at this time their wives, there is no record, although Stukely Westcott History and Geneaology states that eight of the re-baptized members of the church at Salem were excommunicated after the authorities learned of the baptisms.
Governor Winthrop’s journal states:
“At Providence things grew still worse; for a sister of Mrs. Hutchinson, the wife of one Scott, being infected with Ana-baptistry, and going last year to live at Providence. Williams was taken, (emboldened by her) to make open profession thereof, and accordingly was re-baptized by one Holyman, a poor man, late of Salem. Then Williams rebaptized him and some ten more.”
Soon there were others who came seeking shelter, the majority of them leaving the strict rule of Massachusetts Bay Colony to find a much more tolerant community at Providence. Holliman was an assistant pastor with Roger Williams and ministered in Providence, Portsmouth, Newport and Warwick. At one time, records show him as having a lot in Portsmouth.
Ezekiel’s son-in-law John Warner was a purchaser along with Samuel Gorton and others, of land from Miantonomi, chief sachem of the Narragansett in January 1643. The purchase was initially called Shawomet and later named Warwick when they received a charter from the Commissioners of Plantations in England in honor of the Earl of Warwick.
In Warwick, Ezekiel served as a member of the Town Council in 1647, as a Member of Court of Trial in 1648 and was Commissioner from 1652-1659, except in the year 1657. He also served the community as a Magistrate in 1656 and as a Warden in 1658. He had been made a Freeman in 1655. Also, in August 1654, he and John Greene Jr. were appointed to review the general laws of the colony and report to the next Court of commissioner their findings, if there be anything “defective or any way jarring, etc.”
In July 1654 Holliman and Randall Holden bought land from Taccommanan for 15 pounds and an annual giving of a coat as gratuity.
John Warner had made arrangements for he and his family to return to England, leaving only his baby daughter Rachel behind in New England. A number of accounts state that he died at sea about 1654. There is some dispute of where Pricilla died, with one account listing her death in Warwick, Rhode Island in 1652 another stating she died in London.
Later, Ezekiel sent for his grandson, John Warner (Jr.) to return to Rhode Island to inherit his grandfather’s estate. This John Warner (John Jr.) was born August 1, 1645 in Warwick and his sister Rachel was born in 1651/52, also in Warwick. There were two other children, Mary and Susannah, who may have remained in England. Because Rachel stayed in New England and John returned to Rhode Island while still very young, it would cause one to believe that their mother Pricilla had died before John Warner left Rhode Island to return to England. Ezekiel made arrangements in his will for John Jr. and Rachel to be taken care of and mentions the sister in England. The Town Council appointed Walter Todd, John Greene and Thomas Olney as guardians for Rachel and John. The guardians were to take care of the stock until the children were of age at which time the children were to divide the stock between them. John received the housing and land in Warwick and Rachel inherited the land at Providence. However, Ezekiel’s second wife, Mary willed the house to her daughter Renewed and husband John Gereardy.
An inventory of Ezekiel's estate gave value of “168 pounds and also included a bible, wearing apparel, bed, spit, bigger and lesser iron pot, mortar and pestle, horse, two mares, two colts, six cows, five two year-olds, three yearlings, one sow and hog, three little pigs, a man servant Jo, and bushels of various grains.”
John Warner Jr. married Anna Gorton, daughter of Samuel Gorton, one of the initial founders of Warwick.
Doyle Davidson is a descendant of Ezekiel Holliman as is David Kaspareit.
Compiled by Kathryn Currier
Sources: The Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island: Comprising Three Generations of Settlers who Came Before 1690, with Many Families Carried to the Fourth Generation; History and Genealogy of the Ancestors and some Descendants of Stukely Westcott; Society of Stukely Westcott Descendants of America; Ezekiel Holliman of Warwick, by Perry Streeter, Canisteo, NY; Dedham Historical Register, Vol. 3-4 by Dedham Historical Society, (Mass) 1892.
You can watch and listen Doyle Davidson and Paul Peters read and discuss Ezekiel Holliman here:
"Rhode Island Founders" Page
"A Nation Bringing Forth Fruit" Page