The first European settlers arrived in the region around 1635, and the following year the Narragansett sachems Canonicus and his nephew Miantonomi granted Roger Williams land use rights to establish the settlement that would become the city of Providence.
Williams had been banished by the civil authorities of Massachusetts Bay Colony due to his non-conformist religious views, and he established a policy of political and religious freedom in the new colony of Rhode Island. (The colony, which would earn a charter from King Charles II in 1663, soon became a haven for Anabaptists, Quakers and other non-conformists drawn to its atmosphere of tolerance and relative independence.) For his part, Williams learned the Algonquian language and became renowned for his role as a peacemaker with the Narragansett and other tribes on behalf of Rhode Island and other colonies.
Also in 1636, a Boston trader was murdered on Block Island (off the shore of southern Rhode Island). The culprit was presumed to be a member of the Pequot tribe, who had earlier challenged the Narragansett for control over an area of land. Though the Pequots had been living peacefully alongside the colonists of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut, tensions had been building, and this incident proved to be the breaking point. After Massachusetts authorities sent a punitive expedition against the Pequot, the tribe mounted a fierce defense of their homeland. The so-called Pequot War reached its peak when warriors from the Mohegan and Narragansett tribes joined English settlers under Captain John Mason in mounting a surprise attack on the main Pequot fort at Mystic, Connecticut. Some 500-600 inhabitants of the fort were burned alive or killed; the attack devastated the Pequot, who fled the fort in smaller groups, many of which were killed or captured and sold into slavery or placed under the control of other tribes, including the Narragansett.