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Dr. John Clarke was one of the founding fathers of Rhode Island. His signal contribution was his authorship of the 1663 Charter of Rhode Island, the most liberal charter granted by England during the colonial era.
Clarke was born in England in 1609 and emigrated to Boston in 1637. The next year, he joined Anne Hutchinson and William Coddington to found Portsmouth. In 1639, he was part of a small group that established the settlement of Newport, where he served as both a physician and a Baptist minister for several years.
In 1647, favoring the union of these settlements with those in Providence and Warwick, Clarke and Roger Williams went to England to secure a charter. Williams soon returned, but Clarke remained in England until King Charles II granted the Charter of Rhode Island of 1663, guaranteeing religious freedom to the colony and stipulating that it would henceforth be known as The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
Upon his death in 1676, John Clarke left no descendants, and his will instructed that a trust be created "for the relief of the poor and the bringing up of children unto learning from time to time forever." The John Clarke Trust, which is administered by Bank of America, is the oldest charitable trust in the United States. Every year, the John Clarke Trust donates thousands of dollars to social service and educational institutions throughout southeastern New England.