Students Crack Shorthand of Rhode Island's Founder
Brown University math major figures out notes of Roger Williams
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 30, 2012 5:24 PM CST
Lucas Mason-Brown, a senior mathematics major at Brown University who helped crack the code.   (Stephan Savoia)

(Newser) – The obscure book's margins are virtually filled with clusters of curious foreign characters—a mysterious shorthand used by 17th-century religious dissident Roger Williams. For centuries the scribbles went undeciphered. But a team of Brown University students has finally cracked the code. Historians call the now-readable writings the most significant addition to Williams scholarship in a generation or more. Williams is Rhode Island's founder and best known as the first figure to argue for the principle of the separation of church and state that would later be enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

His coded writings are in the form of notes in the margins of a book at the university's John Carter Brown Library. This year, senior math major Lucas Mason-Brown figured out a rough key: Williams' system consisted of 28 symbols that stand for a combination of English letters or sounds, and how they're arranged is key to their meaning. He and other students determined there were three separate sections of notes, including Williams' original thoughts on one of the major theological issues of the day: infant baptism. Williams also weighed in on the conversion of Native Americans, implying it was being achieved through treachery and coercion. Click for AP's full story.

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Showing 3 of 29 comments
republiCONssuck
Dec 4, 2012 9:18 AM CST
Separation of church and state existed before the Constitution was enacted. See Madison's Memorial & Remonstrance: http://atheism.about.com/od/secularismseparation/a/MemorialRemonstrance.htm Abortion was legal under the Common Law and Roe v Wade (which was decided by a Republican majority) is consistent with this idea. See the legal term "quickening" when you search for proof. Lastly, as for 2d Amendment rights, it was RepubliCON Bush whose federalized troops confiscated guns during Katrina. See you tube's videos as Oklahoma Natl Guard & Calif state police join in on taking people's weapons. Therefore, the idea that liberals are irrational as JQT says below is absurd in view of these facts. Quite the contrary, it is RepubliCONS who fail to understand legal history, the Constitution, and the facts. As for the work done by these students, I commend them for their scholarship.
bewilderbeast
Dec 3, 2012 4:00 AM CST
Hilarious: The toffs at the varsity ("including former library director Edward Widmer, Williams scholar and Rhode Island College history professor emeritus J. Stanley Lemons and others at Brown") couldn't unravel the so-called "Mystery Book", so after a few years the university opened up the challenge to undergraduates, several of whom launched an independent project. And THEY cracked it. Go Juniors!!! When will people learn its BEST to share?? Not to hide things away up your stuffy jerseys? For similar reasons I use Firefox not IE, chrome or safari; Thunderbird, not MS email; ixquick.com not google; wikipedia not Brittanica and newser, not the WSJ! Good people sharing will beat rich people hoarding every time!
Stephen55
Dec 1, 2012 1:41 PM CST
The author states that separation of church is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. However, none of those words are used in the Bill of Rights. It does say that congress cannot make laws or infringe on the freedom of religion. Only the dishonest would claim that means there can be no connection at all. The courts have ruled in both directions over the years depending who is in power - but to say separation is enshrined in the Bill of Rights is flat out dishonest.