Monday, August 5, 2019

Mary Dyer’s persecution heats up in summer of 1659

© 2019 Christy K Robinson

The summer of 1659 was fraught with danger for the Quakers in the New England colonies. Three hundred sixty years later, separation of church and state is again under attack by religio-political forces.
A carefully researched historical novel
of William and Mary Dyer from 1652 to 1660,
covering their remarkable lives and
Mary's execution for standing up for
those who suffer persecution for their faith.
Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This Vol. 2
After they were released from a torturous 20-week prison stay in December 1658, Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick had bought a parcel of land at Ipswich, then were ordered out of the colony by early June, or be returned to prison and then executed. Their teenaged children, Daniel and Provided, were fined the hefty sum of £10 each for not attending Congregational (Puritan) church services, and they refused to be forced laborers, so they were sentenced to be sold to “English” slave owners in Virginia or Barbados—except no mariner would agree to broker the teens, so they were finally released. The Southwick parents, only in their early 60s but broken in body by their repeated whippings, starvation, and winter exposure in prison, moved to Shelter Island on Long Island Sound, to spend their last months before they died in May 1660.

In a boat accident, Sarah Gibbons, a Quaker missionary, was drowned at Providence, Rhode Island.

Quakers Nicholas Davis, William Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, and Patience Scott were committed to Boston prison on June 19, 1659. It’s possible that Mary Dyer followed the four Quakers to Boston when she heard they’d been arrested. Food, clothing, and blankets were not automatically provided to prisoners, and Mary may have gone on an errand of mercy. She knew the risks of arrest and prison if she were discovered, and she went anyway. She’d already spent months in Boston prison, and believed it was her duty to help.

Was it raining hard, or was there some sort of boating or ferry accident that soaked Mary to the skin when she was in Boston?

The letter was about Patience Scott, the young daughter of Richard and Katherine Marbury Scott, but mentions in passing that there were adult Quakers imprisoned with the girl. Mary Dyer was probably the woman mentioned, based on William Dyer’s August 1659 letter to the court in Boston.
"They have imprisoned three men and a woman, whom they cast in prison with her clothes wet, and a child between ten and eleven years of age, who was moved of the Lord to travel from her home 105 miles to Boston, where she was cast into prison, and being examined, her answers were so far beyond the ordinary capacity of a child of her years, that the governor confessed there was a spirit in her beyond the spirit of woman; but being blind, and not seeing God perfecting his praise out of the child’s mouth, he said it was the devil.”  

Snippet of William Dyer's letter to the General Court in Boston, 30 August 1659.
William Dyer’s letter to the General Court of Boston, 30 August 1659:
Meanwhile, back in Rhode Island, William had been in attendance at the colonial assembly in Portsmouth in late August. The Rhode Island government was vigorously opposed to having the lands they had purchased from the Narragansett tribes being annexed by Connecticut and recorded in Boston courts. They wrote a letter to Boston on August 23, 1659 about that very matter.

Apparently, within a week of the assembly meeting, William heard that his wife Mary had been taken prisoner in Boston and he wrote to protest her imprisonment. Assuming that it could take two days (by special messenger) or up to two weeks (by post rider’s regular route*) for letters to pass between Boston and Newport, this put Mary Dyer in prison by at least the first days of August 1659, if not in July. William had received more than one letter from her, but the letters might have arrived at the same time, or possibly had been delivered to Newport while he was in Portsmouth, 15 miles to the north.

William was the former attorney general of Rhode Island, a magistrate on its admiralty court, and its solicitor general, so he was well acquainted with New England law and court procedure. Massachusetts Colony courts didn’t allow defense attorneys, but they did accept written testimony such as William Dyer’s arguments.

So he sat down to write with his fine-tip quill on August 30. The letter is quite long, and accuses the “Christian” court of treating its prisoners worse than domestic animals.

Having received some letters from my wife, I am given to understand of her commitment to close prison. …
Had you no commiseration of a tender soul that being wett to the skin, you cause her to thrust into a room whereon was nothing to sitt or lye down upon but dust ... had your dogg been wett you would have offered it the liberty of a chimney corner to dry itself, or had your hoggs been pend in a sty, you would have offered them some dry straw, or else you would have wanted mercy to your beast, but alas Christians now with you are used worse [than] hoggs or doggs ... oh merciless cruelties. …
My wife writes me word and information, ye she had been above a fortnight [more than two weeks] and had not trode on the ground, but saw it out your window; what inhumanity is this, had you never wives of your own, or ever any tender affection to a woman, deal so with a woman, what has nature forgotten if refreshment be debarred?”

Mary hadn’t been arrested for preaching or speaking against the church/state government, which is what the 1658 law against Quakers described as fit for banishment upon pain of death if they returned.

William Dyer wrote, “[She] only came to visit her friends in prison and when dispatching that her intent of returning to her family as she declared in her [statement] the next day to the Governor, therefore it is you that disturbed her, else why was she not let alone. [What] house entered she to molest or what did she, that like a malefactor she must be hauled to [prison] or what law did she transgress? She was about a business justifiable before God and all good men.”

Her offense had been merely visiting her fellow Quaker friends while they were imprisoned—and she got caught up in the anti-Quaker hatred. (Visiting prisoners was a virtue, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25.) There are reports of male and female Quakers receiving repeating lashings, usually connected with their being disruptive to church services, or preaching. Men and women were stripped to the waist and lashed, with knots at the end of the multiple strands of leather to break the skin with more wounds per stroke. But there are no reports of Mary being beaten, which makes me suspect that she was not a preacher or public speaker, at least in the company of men. Hers was a supporting role to the Quakers.

The result of William Dyer’s letter was that not only Mary, but her fellow Quakers, were released from prison on September 12. Patience Scott, the niece of Anne Hutchinson and cousin of Captain Edward Hutchinson, a Boston attorney, was released to her cousin’s care and then returned to Providence.

“You are required by these, presently to set at liberty, William Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, Mary Dyer, and Nicholas Davis; who, by an order of the court of council, had been imprisoned, because it appeared by their own confession, words, and actions, that they are Quakers; wherefore a sentence was pronounced against them, to depart this jurisdiction on pain of death; and that they must answer it at their peril, if they, or any of them, after the 14th of this present month, September, are found within this jurisdiction, or any part thereof.
Boston, September 12th, 1659”

Davis, who had only gone to Boston to do business, not preach, left the colony and returned home to Sandwich in Plymouth Colony. Robinson and Stevenson committed civil disobedience and stayed in Massachusetts, and were re-arrested and condemned to hang in October 1659. Mary Dyer went home to Newport, but returned to Boston by October 19 (against her husband’s will!) with Hope Clifton and Patience Scott’s older sister and was re-arrested and condemned.

William Dyer pulled more strings in October, and sent their 19-year-old son William to obtain the arranged reprieve for Mary. (The young man was merely the messenger. The drama played out in private meetings between Boston magistrates and ministers about nine days before the October 27 execution date. See Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This Vol. 2 for the full story.)

The law regarding Quakers:
Whereas, there is a pernicious sect, commonly called Quakers, lately arisen, who by word and writing have published and maintained many dangerous and horrid tenets, and do take upon them to change and alter the received laudable customs of our nation, in giving civil respect to equals or reverence to superiors, whose actions tend to undermine the civil government, and also to destroy the order of the churches, by denying all established forms of worship, and by withdrawing from orderly church-fellowship, allowed and approved by all orthodox professors of truth, and instead thereof, and in opposition thereunto, frequently meeting by themselves, insinuating themselves into the minds of the simple, or such as are at least affected to the order and government of church and commonwealth, whereby several of our inhabitants have been infected, notwithstanding all former laws made upon the experience of their arrogant and bold obtrusions, to disseminate their principles among us, prohibiting their coming into this jurisdiction, they have not been deterred from their impetuous attempts to undermine our peace and hazard our ruin.
For prevention thereof, this court does order and enact, that every person or persons of the cursed sect of Quakers, who is not an inhabitant of, but is found within this jurisdiction, shall be apprehended without warrant where no magistrate is at hand, by any constable, commissioner, or select man, and conveyed from constable to constable to the next magistrate, who shall commit the said person to close prison, there to remain (without bail) unto the next court of assistants, where they shall have a legal trial; and being convicted to be of the sect of Quakers, shall be sentenced to be banished upon pain of death. And that every inhabitant of this jurisdiction, being convicted to be of the before said sect, either by taking up, publishing, or defending the horrid opinions of the Quakers, or the stirring up mutiny, sedition, or rebellion against the government, or by taking up their abusive and destructive practices, namely: denying civil respect to equals and superiors, and withdrawing from our church assemblies, and instead thereof frequenting meetings of their own in opposition to our church order, or by adhering to or approving of any known Quaker, and the tenets and practices of the Quakers that are opposite to the orthodox received opinions of the godly, and endeavoring to disaffect others to civil government and church order, or condemning the proceedings and practices of this court against the Quakers, manifesting thereby their compliance with those whose design is to overthrow the order established in church and state; every such person, upon conviction before the said court of assistants in manner before said, shall be committed to close prison for one month, and then, unless they choose voluntarily to depart this jurisdiction, shall give bond for their good behavior, and appear at the next court, where continuing obstinate, and refusing to retract and reform the before said opinions, they shall be sentenced to banishment upon pain of death; and any one magistrate, upon information given him of any such person, shall cause him to be apprehended, and shall commit any such person to prison, according to his discretion, until he come to trial as before said.

* In 1775, more than a century later, Rhode Island Colonial Records reported: “That Mr. Benjamin Mumford be employed as a post rider from Newport to Cambridge [near Boston]; that he set out from Newport on Monday afternoon at 3 o'clock, to carry the Newport mail for the westward to Providence, and proceed immediately to Cambridge, with the mails for that post office, and set off from thence on Thursday, in the afternoon, for Providence; and there take the mail from the westward, and proceed immediately to Newport; that he be allowed for his services at the same rate as hath heretofore been allowed to the post rider between Newport and Boston;”

Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title):

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)

Saturday, July 20, 2019

20 July 1591 -- Happy birthday, Anne Hutchinson

© 2019 Christy K Robinson

Anne Hutchinson, 20 July 1591 – August 1643, was despised for her quick mind, her ability to think on her feet and her willingness to defy university-trained theologians. She was unflinching, though she had a premonition of danger to come. She lived four-fifths of her life in her native England but is world famous for her years in early colonial America. She was a woman of valor. She persuaded scores of families to leave their homes, businesses, the church that was their ticket to eternal life, and to create a new colony in the wilderness.
            The new community she inspired and co-founded was the first of its kind in the Western world, a secular democracy made of people of strong moral principles and enlightened views on human and civil rights.
Anne Hutchinson memorial at the Massachusetts
State House in Boston.
Photo by Christy K Robinson, 20 July 2016.

Religious liberty for all is the freedom to believe and act one’s conscience, even if the majority disagrees with an individual or group. It’s not freedom or justice for all if some are excluded for their belief – or their non-belief.

In the United States, besides those who do not believe in a god or higher power, there are approximately 2,000 religious sects, and the variety of adherence and buy-in to their individual creed or dogma runs from weak to strong. Infinite variety! Who gets to choose which strain gets prominence or receives government financial support?
It’s not freedom for one branch of believers to have privileges from the government while others are denied based on their religious beliefs, or their choice to not believe in any religious system.
Because Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer, Roger Williams and John Clarke, and almost every co-founder of Rhode Island, were very religious people (zealous Puritans, Antinomians, Baptists, Quakers, etc.) who sacrificed worldly goods and even their lives for their faith in God, we might think of these “Founders before the Founders” as desirous of a religious utopia in the New World.
Not. At. All. 
They’d faced religious persecution by their governments in Europe, to such a degree that they’d fled to the wilds of North America. But the people who governed the new society were theocrats who based their laws in the Old Testament laws given to the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. Ministers and magistrates locked arms and wills to accuse and prosecute, imprison, torture, and execute in the name of God. This marriage of religion and government is called theocracy. 

 Williams, the Hutchinsons, the Dyers, and scores of others were banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony, reviled as heretics, and ridiculed for the rest of their lives, for insisting on liberty of conscience and separation of church and state. In the 1630s, though they believed and practiced their deep faith, they were the first people in Western civilization to form a secular (non-religious) government. They insisted on it, to the degree that religious liberty is encoded in the charter (constitution) of Rhode Island, which was central to the formation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution in the next century.
The problem is not that people have strong religious beliefs. The problem is enforcing one set of beliefs on another person or a community, or discriminating against another because of their beliefs or behaviors. 
Liberty of conscience is what Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams and John Clarke lived for, and in Mary Dyer’s case, died for. They didn’t impose their beliefs on others, but advocated for the full rights of others. They were the great-great grandparents of the revolutionaries of the United States and authors of its Constitution – which is by design a secular document.
Even today, our rights to freedom of religion and freedom from oppression are under sneak attack. As an admirer or descendant of Anne Hutchinson or Mary Dyer, I hope you will work to protect the rights of all people, as fought for by our first founders, Roger Williams, William and Anne Marbury Hutchinson, Richard and Katherine Marbury Scott, William and Mary Dyer, John Clarke, and many others.
It’s a never-ending struggle in every government agency, every state and territory, and every municipality, to allow freedom for all, and not just freedom for the powerful.
“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?” – Sandra Day O’Connor, conservative Supreme Court Justice.
Join Anne Hutchinson in support of liberty.

Endorsements of the book, Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother:

“Anne Marbury Hutchinson is a woefully unsung giant in the creation of secular democracy.  Christy K Robinson's book goes a very long way toward refreshing the historical record of genuine religious freedom in America.  She does so in a style both scholarly and eminently readable.  It took 350 years for Hutchinson to be pardoned for her ‘crimes’ which amounted only to defying theological orthodoxy and the authority of male clerics.  Through this work, Robinson makes it abundantly clear that people make real social change through the lessons of the very lives they live.  Best we remember that today.”
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Former Executive Director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

“The tone is perfect and is the way that history should be written. The author’s voice speaks directly to the reader with humor, real content with wise use of original documents, and access to the personalities through those documents. She masterfully weaves the documents together with 21st-century English.”
Rose A. Doherty, President Emerita, The Partnership of the Historic Bostons

“An impressive accomplishment. Christy Robinson’s exhaustively researched account gives Anne Hutchinson her due as a martyr for religious freedom. Too many Americans today don’t know Anne’s story; this book will go a long way to correct that.”
Rob Boston, Editor, Church & State magazine

“There are people who can research, and people who can write, and people who can break down the barriers of historical distance. Then there are those that allow us into hearts and minds from the past. Christy Robinson does all of those things. You’ll love coming to know Mother Anne and her times through this penetrating work.”
Devin D. Marks, Founding Trustee, The Anne Marbury Hutchinson Foundation; Founder and President, My TED Talks

“A carefully researched accessible account of Anne Hutchinson’s remarkable life. Christy’s beautiful conversational style helps bring Anne’s story alive and makes early ‘Puritan’ theological differences much clearer. This book will make so many more people aware of her importance here in England.”
Rev. Ros Latham, Vicar, St. Wilfrid’s Church of England, Alford, Lincolnshire

Thursday, June 13, 2019

A ship William Dyer probably knew

© 2019 Christy K Robinson

Recently, I was cruising the internet for images of 17th century ships (as one does). I've been doing this for years, but only in November 2018 discovered this Dutch blog, written in English, that creates models of ships from paintings and drawings of the period.

Why would we 17th century Dyer fans and descendants care particularly about such art? William Dyer was commissioned by the Council of State in England (Oliver Cromwell, Sir Henry Vane, John Thurloe, etc.), and by the colony of Rhode Island, as Commander in Chief Upon the Seas, making him the admiral of operations in New England waters (specifically Long Island Sound) during the First Anglo-Dutch War.

What we don't know is if the English Council of State provided William Dyer with ships, ammunition and cannon, sailors, and provisions. It's possible that they did, because they outfitted a Boston commander, Maj. Robert Sedgwick, who had raised a few hundred Massachusetts and Connecticut men to invade Long Island and Manhattan, known as New Netherland in the Dutch towns, and New Haven Colony in the English territories. He was about to attack the Dutch (where William Dyer had command), when he received word that an English and Dutch treaty had ended the war in January 1654. Why let some pesky peacemaking get in the way when you're all ready to kill and destroy? So Sedgwick sailed north to Acadia (modern Maine and Nova Scotia), captured several forts, and transferred ownership of the territories from France to Great Britain.

"I'd like to show my latest render of a British light frigate, the HMS Martin, built in 1652.
This ship had quite an active career, sailing to the West Indies, Mediterranean and was part of the squadron capturing New York from the Dutch in 1664. Although she was very lightly armoured, she participated in several battles during the First and Second Anglo-Dutch wars."
Photo copyrighted by Artex, and used here by his permission. THANK YOU!

On, I found a list of British Royal Navy actions, wins and losses, from 1652 to 1654, during the First Anglo-Dutch War. These actions were taken from Cornwall's The Lizard, across the English Channel to Dutch waters. Most of the paintings one finds were made by Dutch artists and the subjects are Dutch ships.
1652. May 19. Blake engaged the Dutch, under Tromp, off Dover.
1652. June 12. Engagement between English and Dutch off the Lizard.
1652. June. The Tiger and another Frigate engaged two Dutch Men of War.
1652. July. Capture of the Rotterdam. Re-named Falmouth, July 19.
1652. Aug. 27. Defeat of the English by the Dutch, off Elba.
1652. Sept. 28. Battle of the Kentish Knock. Defeat of the Dutch Fleet.
1652. Oct. Capture of the Morning Star. Re-named Plover, Oct. 30.
1652. Nov. 30. Defeat of Blake by Tromp.
1653. Feb. 18. Battle of Portland.
1652-3. Mar. 4. Defeat of Appleton by Van Galen, off Leghorn.
1653. June 3. Battle off the Coast of Essex. Death of Doane.
1653. July 31. Decisive Defeat of the Dutch. Death of Tromp.
1653. Nov. "Scuffle" between the Nonsuch and a Dutch Man-of-War.
1653. Dec. Action between Phoenix and a Dutch Man-of-War.
1654. Jan. Capture of the Walcheren by the Sapphire.
1654. Feb. The Amity captured a Dutch Man-of-War of 20 Guns.

To learn more about William Dyer's role in the Anglo-Dutch War, see my article in this site,, and for the naming of Wall Street in New York, the roles that William Dyer and John Underhill played in that affair, see .


Christy K Robinson is author of these books:
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)

Sunday, June 2, 2019

How you can help authors

--Click on the tabs at the top of this blog header

Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click a title to go to the Amazon page):
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)


Sunday, March 24, 2019

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (On March 25)

"From marie dire to ye generall court now this present 26th of ye 8 moth 59," a snippet of Mary Dyer's letter to the court that had sentenced her to hang with two other Quakers the next day.
A high-quality print of Mary's handwritten letter is available HERE.

©  2019 Christy K Robinson 

If you think keeping track of the changes on and off Daylight Savings Time are difficult, you should take a moment to thank historical authors for figuring out the date of historical events from notes that say "26th of ye 8 moth 59" (26 October 1659). And you thought October was the 10th month.  

Well, October has been the 10th month in the British Empire, including the American colonies, since 1752. But before then, the countries of the empire, including the American colonies, did business by the Julian Calendar, which started on March 25 (New Year's Day). If they celebrated with gift-giving in midwinter, it wasn't at Christmas, but traditionally at the January 1 other new year.

Party on! 17th century English people enjoying their ale in a pub. The man at top right is smoking a tobacco pipe.

Several religious groups, including Puritans and Quakers, didn't want to call months by their Roman or pagan-god names (March for Mars the god of war, or January for Janus the two-faced god), so they numbered the months in this way:
     March = 1st month 

     April = 2nd month
     May = 3rd month
     June = 4th month
     July = 5th month
     August = 6th month
     September (septem being Latin for seven) = 7th month
     October (octo being Latin for eight) = 8th month
     November (novem being Latin for nine) = 9th month
     December (decem being Latin for ten) = 10th month
     January = 11th month
     February = 12th month  

It's interesting that when William Dyer, the first Recorder, first Secretary of State, and first Attorney General of Rhode Island, wrote dates on documents, he did so in the conservative Puritan convention on the Portsmouth Compact, a religious document: "The 7th Day of the First Month, 1638" [7 March 1638], and on a letter to the Boston Puritan theocratic court to try to save Mary, he wrote "27th of 3rd 1660" [27 May 1660]. On Rhode Island documents, however, he wrote this way: "this present XX day of December Ano Domy 1644" [20 December 1644]. William Dyer knew his audience and communicated appropriately. 

When I'm teaching octaves or the 8va symbol to my piano students, I like to mess with their heads. 
     Me: "How many arms does an octopus have?" 
     Student: "Eight." 
     Me: "How many sides does an octagon have?"
     Student: "Eight."
     Me: "How many tones do you hear when I play a C scale?" 
     Student: (Counts the tones) "Eight."
     Me: "From C to the next C is an interval of an octave, of eight tones. What number month of the year is October?" 
     Student: (Counts months on fingers) "Ten." 
     Me: "Muahahaha!" (Short discussion of Julian and Gregorian calendars ensues.) 

Wikipedia explains the calendar and its change in this way: 

The Julian calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, was a reform of the Roman calendar. It took effect on 1 January 45 BC by edict. It was the predominant calendar in the Roman world, most of Europe, and in European settlements in the Americas and elsewhere, until it was refined and gradually replaced by the Gregorian calendar, promulgated in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.
The Gregorian calendar was decreed in 1582 by the papal bull Inter gravissimas by Pope Gregory XIII, to correct a divergence in the canonical date of the [northern] spring equinox from observed reality (due to an error in the Julian system) that affected the calculation of the date of Easter. Although Gregory's reform was enacted in the most solemn of forms available to the Church, the bull had no authority beyond the Catholic Church and the Papal States. The changes he was proposing were changes to the civil calendar, over which he had no formal authority. They required adoption by the civil authorities in each country to have legal effect.
The bull became the canon law of the Catholic Church in 1582, but it was not recognised by Protestant churches, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and a few others. Consequently, the days on which Easter and related holidays were celebrated by different Christian churches again diverged. 
In addition to moving New Year back to January 1, the New Style calendar (the Gregorian) subtracted 11 days to account for the earth's 365.25-day trip around the sun that had wreaked havoc with planning religious holidays like Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. Not only was it as confusing and as contentious to the people of the British empire as a Brexit from the European Union, the Old Style/New Style calendar change still confuses historians, authors, and genealogy hobbyists today. If a baby was born on 7th of 1st month 1644/45, which date will you convert to in your ancestry records? 
     a.) January 7, 1644
     b.) January 7, 1645 
     c.) March 7, 1644 
     d.) March 7, 1645 

The answer is D, even though March 7 precedes New Year. Seems crazy, right? But it helps explain why your 9th great-grandparent has several dates listed by other descendants. 

In some cultures, New Year was April 1, and tied up with April Fools' Day origins. But for business and legal purposes for several centuries, March 25 was designated. Aren't you glad we've standardized most calendars across the globe?

Good luck with your New Year resolutions. I only hope you've recovered from that whole "spring forward" thing on Daylight Savings Time!

Christy K Robinson is author of these books:
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Mary Barrett Dyer

© 2018 Christy K Robinson

During Women’s History Month, we often hear the stories of women in recent history.  This article celebrates a woman who gave her life to force the New England theocracy to stop persecuting (fining, beating, torturing, hanging) those who believed differently than the fundamental dogma. Meet Mary Barrett Dyer, 1611-1660.

Mary Barrett was raised in London, to parents history has lost track of. Unusually for a girl of her era, she was well educated and could converse on traditional “men’s” subjects. She could write, which not all men could do, and she had knowledge of several religious denominations: she was married as an Anglican, she was admitted to membership in Boston First Church of Christ (Puritan), joined the Antinomian movement of Anne Hutchinson, and became a Friend (Quaker) in the 1650s.  She married William Dyer, a remarkable man, in 1633, and they joined about 35,000 Puritans in the Great Migration to Boston in 1635.

Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, had been founded as the City Upon a Hill by members of the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. It was meant to be a New Jerusalem where the theocratic government and utopian society would usher in the second coming of Christ. They’d seen the signs of the end with blood moons, solar eclipses, starfalls and comets, earthquakes, and believed the Elect (those who God predestined to salvation) would be taken to heaven in their lifetimes.
Mary Dyer at the Friends Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Artist: Sylvia Shaw Judson

The Bay Colony was governed by Puritan ministers and magistrates who were far more zealous or fanatical than English Puritans. Plainly and simply, it was a theocracy. The voters and jurymen were freemen who were members of their churches—and membership was not easy to obtain without an interview, personal testimony, and recommendations. Those who committed adultery were subject to severe whippings and possibly hanging, and members were encouraged to report crimes for the purpose of purifying the church and greater community. They were known to drop in on other members and quiz their children on their catechism. The Massachusetts Bay founders believed that religious error or dissent from their dogma was treasonable.

Along came Anne Hutchinson, who turned Massachusetts on its ear by teaching Bible studies in her home, emphasizing the New Testament covenant and salvation by grace, in contrast to the adherence to Old Testament laws and trying to be saved by keeping religious and ceremonial laws. Mary Dyer was one of Anne’s friends, and Gov. John Winthrop described Mary as “a very proper and fair woman, and both of them notoriously infected with Mrs. Hutchinson's errors, and very censorious and troublesome, (she being of a very proud spirit, and much addicted to revelations)."

One of the main accusers of Hutchinson and Dyer was Rev. Thomas Weld, who accused the Hutchinson followers of gaining adherents by
“Being once acquainted with them, they would strangely labour to insi­nuate themselves into their affections, by loving salutes, humble carriage, kind invitements, friendly visits, and so they would win upon men, and steal into their bosoms before they were aware. Yea, as soon as any new-comers (especial­ly, men of note, worth and activity, fit instruments to advance their design) were landed, they would be sure to welcome them, shew them all courtesie, and offer them room in their own houses, or of some of their own Sect…”

That sounds to my 21st century ears like community outreach  or personal evangelism. To the 17th century Puritans, it was a seditious political movement that threatened the vision of the City Upon a Hill.

Mary’s husband William was involved with Hutchinson’s religious and political movement in Boston, and signed a remonstrance against the government. Just before he had his civil rights revoked, Mary gave stillbirth to the first “monster” in America: a seven-months anencephalic and spina bifida-afflicted girl. Only a few people knew of it in October 1637, but when Anne Hutchinson was excommunicated in 1638, Mary took Anne’s hand as she was told to depart the meetinghouse, and someone told the crowd that Mary was the mother of a monster. The fetus was exhumed and it was pronounced God’s judgment on her heresy. 

Mary and William co-founded both Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island, with William taking an active role in government, including being appointed first Recorder, first Secretary of State, first Attorney General, and Commander in Chief Upon the Seas for New England. Rhode Island formed the first democracy disconnected from ecclesiastical control. From 1635-1650, Mary bore six children who lived to adulthood.

In 1652, just before the Anglo-Dutch naval war broke out, William was sent to England to secure a new charter of liberties and his naval commission, and Mary sailed there, too. She stayed, probably with influential family friends, until early 1657. She had been “convinced” as a Quaker during that time. Quakers were not popular in England or America because of their criticism of orthodox religion, their radical behavior in disrupting churches, and because they encouraged women to testify and preach. In 1656, the first Quaker missionaries arrived in southern New England. They were arrested, tortured, suffered confiscations of their farms, and then tried in court. They schooled the magistrates, asking what law they’d broken. The theocrats hastily created laws after the fact, to viciously persecute and kill these nonconformists. 

Mary knew exactly what she was coming home to in 1657. She intentionally sailed for Boston, rather than for her home ports in Rhode Island, a haven for religious nonconformists. The Massachusetts assistant governor promptly cast her into prison because of her Quaker beliefs. Already being famous as the mother of the monster, they knew she had a high social status because of her husband.

Over the next two and a half years, Mary was jailed several times for civil disobedience—not her religion. Surrounding colonies banished her “on pain of death” if she returned. Nevertheless, she persisted. They didn’t want to hang her and create a martyr, so she was released several times. They hanged two Quaker men in 1659, but their deaths had no effect on the bloody laws. Mary decided they needed a woman to protest, and give up her life if necessary—an educated, beautiful woman who was the perfect wife and mother, and famous at that. In May 1660, she returned to Boston at the time when the city was crowded for elections and courts. She showed up at the prison to encourage the Quakers inside, but apparently also to make her presence known. She was cast into prison, given a chance to go home, shut up, and be safe, but she refused.

On June 1, 1660, Mary Dyer marched a mile from the prison to the gallows on Boston Neck, with a large militia escorting her. They weren’t there to protect Mary: the crowd had sympathy for her. The pikemen and musketeers were there as security for the government officers and ministers who reviled her.

Mary recognized her duty to speak to oppression, and to the torture and imprisonment of her fellow believers. Her death was reported to King Charles II, who wrote an order forbidding capital punishment for religion based on a letter Mary wrote. Two years later, he ratified a new, groundbreaking charter (which William Dyer had a hand in) for Rhode Island, guaranteeing religious freedom and liberty of conscience.  It was one of the templates for the U.S. Constitution, 130 years later. Other countries have modeled their constitutions and rights on those of the United States: these liberties have become global.

Does Mary Dyer still have the ability to inspire you, 
400 years later, or are you content to say that she was your ancestor, and then change the subject? 

The battle for religious liberty, though encoded in law and enshrined in the Constitution, rages on even to this day. Stay vigilant. Note that federal and Supreme Courts, Congress, state legislatures, lobbyists, and media influencers have a hard grip on your freedoms. Write or call, and give them a piece of your mind. Do it often. They work for us.

It’s time for you and all of us to summon the courage and vision of Mary Dyer.


Christy K Robinson is author of these books:
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)