Saturday, July 14, 2018

William Dyer's input on the Rhode Island charters


Rhode Island Charter of 1663, Providence, Rhode Island
© 2018 Christy K. Robinson 

The Rhode Island Charter of Liberties was granted July 15, 1663. As is still done today, 355 years later, a committee or group of community leaders spent weeks or months crafting the content and wording of the charter or constitution, and then presented the draft to a higher body for consideration and confirmation. In 1663, the monarch was King Charles II of England. The charter he granted was written by several Rhode Islanders in King Charles' voice, ratified by his Council of State, and sealed by the king.

The men most likely to have worked on drafting the charter were Dr. John Clarke (who always gets the credit!), Roger Williams, Nicholas Easton, and William Dyer, Mary Dyer's husband.

The men who wrought a bend in the time-space continuum included a theologian and sometime physician (Clarke), a Puritan-Baptist-nondenominational minister (Williams), a tanner-turned-antinomian speaker-governor (Easton), and a haberdasher-mariner-farmer-attorney (Dyer).

What historians have failed to recognize is William Dyer's significant input with the charters, mainly because they've forgotten William existed.

William Dyer was the attorney general of the colony when the 1652 charter was granted by the Council of State under Oliver Cromwell: he brought the copy home with him after his trip to England where he was appointed Commander-in-Chief-Upon-the-Sea in the Anglo Dutch War; and he had more input and authority than being a simple letter courier bringing it back from London. 

For the 1663 charter (see ), William Dyer returned to England, and he probably provided the list of two dozen Rhode Island founders, as pointed out in the end notes of the book, Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This. His name is last on the list, as modesty dictates, and it's spelled the way William preferred, Dyre. This is the charter that Dr. John Clarke had labored and lobbied for as Rhode Island's agent in England, for more than ten years. William Dyer and others raised the money to send Clarke to England and support his efforts during the Cromwell Protectorate of the 1650s, and the return to monarchical rule in 1660.

Further, some of the points in the 1663 charter were pet issues of William Dyer and his colleagues in the colonial assembly, namely:
  • the right to travel freely in New England (because they were colonies under royal control, not independent kingdoms -- and this royal charter nullified banishment orders by the harsh theocracy of Massachusetts Bay colonial officials); 
  • setting forth the "lively experiment" of democracy;
  • many of the Rhode Islanders were merchants and import/export traders who had business in Massachusetts ports or needed to transport goods from ports to inland destinations; 
  • with Rhode Island being such a small colony and its borders disputed by its neighbors Connecticut, Plymouth, and Massachusetts, they needed to set boundaries both physical and social; 
  • the separation of church and state functions; and 
  • they wanted religious liberty to worship -- or not -- as they behaved civilly and didn't harm others.
King Charles wasn't as religiously tolerant as we might think in granting the freedoms: he wanted to hard-tweak the noses of the ultra-Puritan and anti-Church of England governments of New England by allowing Rhode Islanders the freedom to live without oppression. He may also have dinged them for harboring some of the Puritan regicides, the participants in the execution of his father in 1649. When a Quaker, Edward Burrough, rewrote Mary Dyer's 1659 letter from the night before her first execution date, King Charles stopped the bloody New England courts from capital cases, and commanded that they refer those cases to England. William Dyer's wife's case was known to the king in late 1660 or early 1661, certainly while the 1663 charter was in negotiations.

Did the men of Rhode Island seek to exploit the king's opinion of the New England Puritan governments? Politics don't change, and timing is everything!

Do you enjoy this site's articles and photos? If so, please support the author's continued research with the purchase of her books, or push the Donate button on this page. 


Christy K Robinson is author of this website and these books. Click the book titles to find them in paperback and Kindle.
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Hutchinson, American Founding Mother (2018)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Heraldic arms found for Hutchinson nephew

© 2018 Christy K. Robinson

By BardofL - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
 In the English town of Boston, Lincolnshire is the 700-year-old church of St. Botolph's, the country's largest parish church. In 1612, Rev. John Cotton, a scholar with multiple degrees in theology, was appointed vicar of the church. Though his preaching was controversial with the Church of England bishops, his charisma and ability to draw tithe-paying listeners from miles around were much-appreciated. Cotton held his position until 1632, when he and his first wife became gravely ill with malaria. She died, and he recovered over a period of about a year. But then, when King Charles II and Bishop Laud reissued the anti-Puritan The Book of Sports, Rev. Cotton was summoned to a hearing for his refusal of the command to have it read aloud. He went into hiding, remarried, and set out for the new Boston, in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633.

During his years of ministry at old Boston, Rev. Cotton's sermons caught the attention of Anne and William Hutchinson, newlyweds from Alford, Lincolnshire, about 20 miles to the north. Even in good weather, 20 miles would be a day's journey each way, so you know that they valued their pastor's teaching and friendship.

As many people know, Anne and William Hutchinson and many members of their large families emigrated to the new Boston in 1634. After trials for sedition and heresy, the Hutchinsons were exiled from Massachusetts in late winter 1638. They and their considerable number of supporters bought land from the Narragansett Indians and settled in Pocasset, later named Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

Some of the Hutchinson relatives moved back to England; some never left England at all. One of William Hutchinson's brothers was John Hutchinson of Alford, who stayed in Lincolnshire. Among John's nine or ten children was Samuel, born 1643. Samuel was born in the same year that Anne and her children were massacred at their farm. He was her nephew-by-marriage, and first cousin to Anne's and William's children.

In 1668, Samuel married Catherine Bonner. In 1680, he was elected Mayor of Boston in that county, and he served as Mayor again in 1695. Both Samuel and Catherine died in 1696. This Samuel (out of many Samuels in numerous generations, so it gets very, very confusing to figure out which he was) had a memorial plaque placed in St. Botolph's church, perhaps by his son Stephen Hutchinson, Boston's mayor in 1699.

This plaque came to light in a Facebook group called "Partnership of the Historic Bostons." Alison Fairman posted a photo, writing:
"This was found recently in St Botolphs Church Boston. The College of Arms in London tell me that they are the Arms of a Hutchinson and his wife possibly Riddell. They are not the actual followers of John Cotton but the Arms perhaps of [Hutchinson] descendants." 

Then sister and brother, Ann Epton and Colin Epton, got into the action with these comments:

Ann Epton: any ideas?
Colin Epton: Already on it
Ann Epton: Good man
Colin Epton: According to Burke its definitely Hutchinson of Lincolnshire and Ridell of Gloucester and Oxford. Several of the Hutchinsons went to Massachusetts but I haven't found the Ridell connction yet.
Colin Epton: Got them. Burke has Ridell-alias-Bonner. Don't ask me why, possibly related by marriage and for some reason allowed the same arms. Samuel Hutchinson b. Alford 1644, m Catherine Bonner in 1668 at Lincoln, Lived in Boston and had several children there.
Samuel and Catherine both died in Boston in 1696.
(That's Boston Lincs )
Ann Epton: So that’s a really old one! Probably removed during one of the restorations.
Colin Epton: Probably. Do we know how and where it was found?
Ann Epton: No well I don’t I had no idea of it’s existence until now.
Colin Epton: Samuel was the son of Edward Hutchinson, Mercer, of Alford and grandson of John Hutchinson, Sheriff, Alderman and Mayor of Lincoln C. 1550.
Colin Epton: William Hutchinson, who went to Massachusetts colony in 1633 was Samuel's elder brother. William was married to Anne Hutchinson who was at the centre of a religious row in Massachusetts and was accused of heresy. Her family and followers were exiled from the colony and left to found the colony of Rhode Island. Apparently the family can be traced back to Bernard Hutchinson of Cowlan, Yorks, recorded in 1262. He's recorded as an Esquire, and as this would be the time when heraldry was becoming very popular among the gentry, he may well have been the first one to bear these arms.
Colin Epton: The arms are:
Per pale gules & azure. Semee of crosses crosslet or, a lion rampant argent, armed and langued of the third (Hutchinson of Co. Lincoln )
Paly of 6 or & gules. on a chief azure 3 lions rampant of the first. (Bonner / Ridell of Co. Oxford / Gloucester.)
The crest would be his -
A cockatrice azure. crested, jelloped, and armed gules issuing out of a ducal crown or.
Colin Epton: I might see If I can reconstruct this, complete with its crest.
Colin Epton: According to Pishey Thompson, Samuel Hutchinson was Mayor of Boston in 1695 and his son Stephen was Mayor in 1699.
Thompson doesn't mention this memorial in his book, but he only lists what he calls the "main" memorials in the church, so it may have been there in his day, or it might already have been lying broken in a cupboard.
Ann Epton: So another Mayor has his own memorial. Very interesting.

Then Colin did more research and photoshopping (which he calls a time machine), with this result:
Digital recreation of 1695 arms of Samuel and Catherine Bonner Hutchinson, by Colin Epton.

I've put Samuel Hutchinson into my Ancestry pedigree (though he is NOT my blood relative, my readers will get a kick out of this). Here's how I relate to Samuel Hutchinson the Mayor of Boston: First cousin 1x removed of wife of 9th great-uncle. In other words, he's the relative of the sister-in-law of my ancestor, Charles Dyer. 
Will of Samuel Hutchinson, Mayor of Boston.
  Many thanks to Alison Fairman for the original photo, and to Ann Epton and Colin Epton, amateur historian, genealogist, and time traveler, with a particular interest in Lincolnshire.

Do you enjoy this site's articles and photos? If so, please support the author's continued research with the purchase of her books, or push the Donate button on this page. 

Christy K Robinson is author of this website and these books. Click the book titles to find them in paperback and Kindle.
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Hutchinson, American Founding Mother (2018)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The weed our ancestors ate in tough times

© 2018 Christy K. Robinson 

Every late-spring or summer day that I'm out watering my potted vegetable plants to try to keep them alive in the harsh desert heat, I wonder how long I can keep them going before they inevitably wither from heat, lack of humidity, or hornworms (the voracious caterpillar of the sphinx moth). Meanwhile, nearby in the Arizona rocky gravel that passes for a desert "lawn," a plant grows and seems to flourish despite the climate and the miserly way I deprive it of water: that is the humble weed, purslane. Purslane is related to the pretty garden flowers, portulaca or moss rose. It's a fat succulent that can spread both by seeds from its flowers, and by surreptitiously sinking roots into the soil if you pull up or break off the plant and leave it there to wither.
Purslane growing in my yard, that I'll
never eat.

It's a survivor!

And that is what made it not a weed, but food for our ancestors in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe and America.

I first heard of purslane when my friend, a writer for a health sciences university where we both worked, told me I shouldn't try to rid my yard of it, but to harvest it for salad. She'd covered a foraging field trip for the university magazine, where she'd learned of this weed. But when I offered that she could take the purslane off my hands while I enjoyed my blessedly bland salad, she was not a taker.

Purslane was a cultivated garden food in India and Persia for two millennia, and it was well known in France, but when it propagated in the American colonies, it was not a desirable food. It was cultivated in 1562 in Britain, and botanists have found fossilized purslane seeds in the Americas. 

When our ancestors were suffering famine and hunger in the 17th century (Jamestown, Virginia, and New England, for instance), they had little to eat but foraged nuts, berries, and greens. Purslane was a valuable weed, and it kept them alive. 

Some of the biggest factors in famines were that everyone was trying to grow tobacco as a cash crop, but they neglected their food crops (thinking they could just buy imported food); there were biblical-style plagues of grasshoppers and caterpillars that ate the crops down to the soil; the settlers didn't count on the Little Ice Age killing their seedlings every spring; and didn't know that tobacco depletes the soil nutrients, rendering it barren. They couldn't get food shipments from England because of the famines and plagues raging through their home country, alongside the ravages of the English Civil Wars in the 1640s and 1650s. 

Going back a few more years, the Endecott Party that settled Salem, Massachusetts in 1628 that was supposed to build a settlement for the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, had terrible setbacks in its agriculture, didn't have enough food brought with them from England, and lost many of its members to scurvy (a nutritional deficit disease) and starvation. Their physical condition had deteriorated so far that they were susceptible to other diseases and disorders.

In New England, purslane is known to grow in gardens, fields, and "waste areas and coastal beaches." It doesn't need much in the way of sustenance, as it grows easily in beach sand and even in California and Arizona desert gravel.

Yet if you must be hungry, and foraging for weeds is what's for dinner, purslane is surprisingly nutritious. Among the plant's attributes are:
  1. high in Omega-3 fatty acids for brain, heart, and depression
  2. potassium for blood pressure
  3. iron for blood oxygenation 
  4. anti-oxidants that slow aging
  5. magnesium and calcium for muscles, bones, teeth
  6. tryptophan and glutathione, more anti-depressants
  7. betalain, beneficial for cholesterol levels
  8. melatonin, which regulates sleep cycles
  9. beta-carotene, in levels about six times higher than a carrot
  10. its citrusy, peppery taste is said to be good in salads
  11. its pectin (the white powder that thickens fruit jams) is a soup thickener
For recipes that include purslane, try this web page:  One of the concoctions, Traveler's Joy, which requires several invasive weeds, seems only to be redeemed by chunks of avocado and cheese. I'm pretty sure avocado wasn't on the shopping list of hungry colonial foragers.  

Martha Washington's cookbook included pickled purslane. Another site shows a 17th-century recipe:
To pickle Purslayn.
Take Purslayn with their Stalkes, and boyl them tender in fair water, and lay them a drying or soaking, when done, put them in a Gally-pot [small earthenware pot used by apothecaries], and make a Brine with Salt and Elder-Vinegar to put to them, so as to cover them, and keep the Pot close stopt.
Early 17th century hay harvest.
Hey, wait. What's going on with those slackers in the background?

We don't know if the Dyers and others of Newport foraged for purslane and ate it, as it's not mentioned in contemporary writings, and it's only a summer weed that the Indians saw growing between their corn. In the winter of 1639-40, when Newport was only about a few months old, some families were running low on food rations, even after trading with the natives for venison and Indian corn. In January, the settlers took inventory of the grain of the 95 households in Newport, and scraped together only 137 bushels. They redistributed and rationed a bushel and a half-peck to each family, promising to reimburse those larger lenders who had given up their ample stores to the poorer households in this biblical-style social compact. The Narragansett natives taught them how to find clams, crabs, and lobsters, and to forage for foods like groundnuts that the English settlers didn't yet consider food. They wouldn't see results in their crops until midsummer, but they could get by with fishing if the weather allowed, and the foods they'd dried and preserved from the previous summer.

Knowing that your ancestors are connected to that purslane growing in your yard, will you be brave enough to add a weed to your salad? If you do, will you comment on this article and let the rest of us know what we're missing?

Christy K Robinson is author of this Dyer website and these books. Click the book titles to find them in paperback and Kindle.
·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Hutchinson, American Founding Mother (2018)

Friday, June 1, 2018

June 1, 1660--Mary Dyer's victory, not victimhood

© 2018 Christy K Robinson

June 1, 1660 was the day Mary Dyer chose to die, and with her death, bring an end to religious oppression.

Statue of Mary Dyer at the
Massachusetts Statehouse, a mile from
the gallows where she was executed. Photo by
Christy K Robinson.
Mary Dyer intentionally left Shelter Island, a Quaker haven, and traveled first to Providence, Rhode Island, the colony where she was safe from persecution. She was the wife of Rhode Island co-founder, wealthy businessman, and colonial official William Dyer, so that was an additional privilege she could have claimed for personal security. She walked through wilderness and farms to Boston at the time of its greatest surge in population, the annual elections and court sessions. She timed her arrival in late May for the greatest number of watchers. Then she made an appearance, in defiance of earlier court sentences of banishment-on-pain-of-death, in the heart of the city. She was arrested and imprisoned. The governor and assistants urged her to leave and not force them to carry out her sentence. She refused to go unless they would stop the beatings, fines, and hanging of religious dissenters. They hanged Mary Dyer on the first of June, 1660, before a crowd that may have numbered 5,000.

It was Mary's civil disobedience that resulted in a royal decree to stop capital punishment for religion, and a major influence on freedom of conscience to worship--or not worship--without government interference or promotion. That's encoded in the US Constitution.

Many writers have said that Mary Dyer was hanged for being a Quaker. That makes her a victim of a theocratic regime. But she was no victim. They didn't kill her: she laid her life down. She had written in her letter to them, 
Whereas it is said by many of you that I am guilty of mine owne death by my
coming as you cal it voluntarily to boston: I therefore declare unto every one
that hath an eare to hear: that in the fear peace and love of god I came and in weldoing
did and stil doth commit my soul and body to him as unto a faithful creator
and for this very end hath preserved my life until now through many trialls and
temptations... to offer up my life freely for his truth and peoples sakes... 
to me to live is christ and to die is gaine [Philippians 1:21]
though I had not had your 48 houers warning
for the preparation of the cruel and in your esteme cursed death of mee marie dire. 

Mary Dyer was no victim of Boston's religious government. 
She was the victor. She won. 

One might question if Mary had a "religious liberty" motivation when she went to her death. It was a complex decision, surely. She didn't go to her death rashly, but rather in a considered, deliberate plan of action. As you see in the letter excerpts above, she had a purpose in forcing Governor John Endecott to stop persecuting Quakers.
  • Mary herself had been accused of heresy (the "proof" was her so-called monster pregnancy in 1637, seven months before Anne Hutchinson miscarried a molar pregnancy) which made the pair infamous on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
    She knew the Antinomian men Gorton and Holden, who Boston authorities violently abducted from Shawomet, Rhode Island in 1643, and charged with sedition and heresy.
  • She knew that there was a virulent hatred and possible plot to imprison and execute Anne Hutchinson, an Antinomian, in 1643. 
  • She knew that Baptist minister Obadiah Holmes, Sr., had been severely beaten and Humphrey Norton, a Quaker, was tortured nearly to death over several months. 
  • She knew Roger Williams, the proponent of separation of church and state, who worked closely with William Dyer for several decades. 
  • Her Quaker friends Robinson and Stevenson had been severely whipped in Plymouth Colony and were hanged before her eyes in Boston in 1659. 
  • Other Quaker friends, Katherine Marbury Scott and Herodias Long Gardner, were stripped to the waist and whipped in Boston. Robert Harper and the Southwicks were whipped often and imprisoned.
  • The 1663 Rhode Island Charter of Liberties contained the very things Mary wrote in her letter, including liberty of conscience and the right to free passage through Massachusetts. 

Adding all those pieces together, Mary was motivated to advocate for religious liberty for all, which meant believing and acting one's conscience (the Holy Spirit speaking to one's mind) 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 non-belief.

Even today, our rights to freedom of religion and freedom from oppression are under sneak attack. As an admirer or descendant of Mary Dyer, I hop you will work to protect the rights of all Americans, as started 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. Because 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. Join me in support of liberty.

Related articles in this Dyer website:

The anniversary of our civil rights  (published in Providence Journal)
Mary Dyer’s last 44 miles Mary Dyer’s last journey, toward her death
The great New England quake of June 1, 1638 Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson
The 1630 comet of doom Charles II of England was born at the time of the comet, and crowned in 1660 as Mary waited in prison for her execution
Mary Dyer's execution -- Book excerpt

I wrote the first two volumes about Mary and her life as biographical fiction. To tell her story and show her motivations, I introduced readers to the titans of New England, Henry Vane, Gov. John Winthrop, Rev. John Cotton, Anne Marbury Hutchinson, Rev. Roger Williams, and many other real people (some of them your ancestors) in my books that came from years of research into lives, family and social connections, letters, land deeds and journals, in addition to academic history and sociological studies. However, this Dyer website exists to show research about the Dyers, their associates (friend and foe).

 Christy K Robinson is the author of this extensive Dyer website, and five published books (another on Anne Hutchinson is in the works), including three books on the Dyers and their associates. You can find the paperback and e-book editions at

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Kirkby La Thorpe’s Church of St. Denys

© 2018 Christy K Robinson
Photos by Roy Hackford, used by permission. Click to enlarge photos.

Church of St. Denys, view from southwest.
 It’s fascinating to learn the history of a place or a building that we see as a static, finished piece of fabric, and realize that it’s been changing for a thousand years or more, as generations of people have come and gone. It will continue to change during our lives and after we're gone.

The village of Kirkby La Thorpe, Lincolnshire, was the birthplace of William Dyer, 1609-1677, the polymath and accomplished man who married Mary Barrett Dyer.

Whether or not you're related to anyone who lived in this sleepy English village, it's enlightening to learn that what happened to this church also happened to large and small churches all over the British Isles for your ancestors. Churches were built and altered and enlarged in stages, and it's fair to say that those changes were part of the fabric of our ancestors who sent their experiences and DNA down the years to all of us.

The church in Kirkby La Thorpe
The church of St. Denys (a martyred evangelist) is listed as Grade II*, included among “particularly important buildings of more than special interest.” At this time, in 2018, the church is closed to services and undergoing repairs, so when Roy Hackford, a Lincolnshire history buff, agreed to take interior photos for me if he could get the key, he found it cluttered with boxes and banners, chairs askew, kneelers pushed aside, and the curtains slung over the rood screen. These photos are the first interior views available, ever, on the internet. (I’ve searched for interior shots for more than 10 years, trust me!) So please look past or through the repairs and painting supplies, to the “bones” of the ancient building, and send good thoughts to the parish, in hope of a day soon, when the church is once again the center of peace and beauty. It would be wonderful to have a pictorial update.
If this is the same church key used 400 years ago, it was
held by William Dyer the Elder, the churchwarden.

Who lived in Kirkby La Thorpe:
  • William Dyer the Elder, and his wife (unknown name at this time). He was a yeoman farmer (meaning he owned property instead of being a tenant) and churchwarden (he was literate) of Kirkby La Thorpe in 1609-1610. Birth and death unknown.
  • Son, Nicholas Dyer, born 1606.
  • Son, William Dyer, baptized September 19, 1609 in the church of St. Denys on Church Lane. Probably attended the Carre School in Sleaford, took London apprenticeship in 1624; married Mary Barrett in 1633; emigrated to Massachusetts in 1635; co-founded Newport, Rhode Island 1639; became clerk, secretary of state, recorder, general solicitor, first attorney general in all of America, naval commander in Anglo Dutch War, etc.; haberdasher, mariner, farmer, father of seven; died 1677 in Newport, RI.  
  • Daughter, Margret Dyer, born about 1610.

Kirkby La Thorpe is a village on the Boston Road between Sleaford and Boston, Lincolnshire. It’s a linear village (along a single road) in the fenlands of eastern England, with houses built along a low ridge. The church of St. Denys, at the end of Church Lane, is the highest point, which makes sense as a place of refuge in times of flooding.

The village has existed at least since Iron Age times, and there was a Saxon settlement, seen in ditch and bank earthworks across the road from the church. There may have been three medieval manors in this parish, according to the Domesday Book. The nearby fields have ridges and furrows called selions, that remain from medieval partition of farmlands, and their plowing practices.

Photo © Christy K Robinson
 The chief businesses were the wool industry, fowling (waterfowl for meat and feathers), and agriculture. Today, there are crops and seed companies still in the area. If you’ve seen images of “fields of gold,” as in the song by Sting, you’re seeing the yellow flowers of the rapeseed plant whose seeds become feed for animals and canola oil for humans. The town of Boston, about 15 miles to the east, was the port through which wool was exported to weavers in the Netherlands and Flanders in medieval and renaissance periods.

Once upon a time
At various times after the Norman Conquest in 1066-67, the church in Kirkby La Thorpe belonged to Earl Morcar; and 20 years later, King William I and the Bishop of Durham shared revenues in equal portions.

It is suggested that there was a high status pre-Conquest church in Kirkby la Thorpe, due to the place-name and the presence of Saxon sculpture. The 'kirk' element of the name is normally that given by the Danes to villages in which the Danes found a church on their arrival, which suggests that there was an important pre-Conquest church in Kirkby. Paul Everson and David Stocker. 1999. Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture. Lincolnshire. page 74.

There were two churches in Kirkby’s area, but the church of St. Peter, which may have had a monastic function, was closed in 1593, sixteen years before William Dyer was born. It was demolished in 1637, the year he was disfranchised in Massachusetts Bay and Mary had the anencephalic fetus.

Description of church interior
View of the nave and tower arch from the chancel.
The nave is the largest space of the church building, and it’s where the pews or chairs are set (for the last 400 years). From the 16th century and back, the congregation stood for service or Mass.  On 16 October 1246, King Henry III granted a market and fair to the Hospitallers at the Kirkby manor, and the fair was held annually on 25 July at the manor. However, church naves in many towns were the place to strike deals, buy and sell livestock, and a community gathering place for social events, proclaiming the will of the government, and organizing workers for the strip farms in the area. That’s a good reason to screen the chancel and altar from the nave. They didn’t consider the often-secularly used building to be the “church,” in the biblical sense of church. The church was the people. 

On the south wall of the nave (the good side, not the demon side), there is a 13th century piscina, a basin built into the wall where holy water was kept, to cleanse the plate and cup used for the Eucharist. This one has a plain, pointed arch molding around it.

The 1925 organ is in the north aisle. You can
see the romanesque (Norman) arches and pillars
behind the Victorian-era pews.
A four-bay arcade (meaning four arches along the sides of the nave, where the congregation stood or sat) is “transitional,” a period between Norman and English Gothic. The arcade arches are almost round, indicating a Norman origin. The pillars and capitals are round and currently undecorated, though they may have been brightly painted in medieval times. 

There is a north aisle on the other side of the arcade, and on the exterior, there are buttresses to carry the weight of the lead roof down to the ground. The small pipe organ in the north aisle is a “Premier” Organ built in 1925 by Cousans, who say that "These models were particularly popular in smaller churches because of their small dimensions but big sound."

The church was restored in the 19th century, and much of the stone floor looks very plain, compared to hundreds of other churches this old. It was probably originally tiled in four-inch black and red ceramic tiles as seen all over the UK, and many clerics and local people would have been buried in a sub-floor crypt, facing east toward Christ’s second coming. 

In fact, Roy told me that some of the stone slabs in the center aisle and chancel had faint inscriptions on them, made illegible by hundreds of years of foot traffic. This, too, is common in large and small churches. In-church inhumations were discontinued (except by special license) in the 19th century because of decomposition smells and the fear of disease.

View of the nave (foreground), chancel and pulpit (right),
north aisle with early windows (left), and oak prayer desk beneath the
niche for access to the rood screen (center).
 An oak prayer desk (as distinguished from the lectern and the pulpit) sits on the step of the chancel, under the nook where the rood screen stretched across the chancel. A description calls the desk "made from C14 bench ends decorated with blank cusped panels and fleur de lys terminals." I haven't seen when the desk may have been built, but perhaps during a renovation of the mid-19th or early-20th century.

 There are painted-glass windows to the memory of Rector John Gorton and Alfred Anders, as well as a brass plaque for Maria Adamson. Although the painted glass is dated to the 1911 restoration of the chancel, the east window of the north aisle is said to contain bits of medieval glass. 

A glassed and framed print remembers the service of local men in the Great War (WWI). There’s a pedimented ashlar wall plaque to William Willerton, d.1845. In the reveal of the chancel south window, a small rectangular brass plate records the charitable donations of the Rev. Thomas Meriton, d.1685. If there were ever medieval effigies in a village parish church like St. Denys, it’s doubtful, because they’d have preferred grander churches like St. Andrew’s in Ewerby, or a church in Heckington, Sleaford, Boston, or Lincoln.

St. Denys churchyard near the porch.
Outside, there are numerous slate headstones, but the earliest inscriptions to be seen date back to the early 1800s. The church website notes that there is still plenty of space for burials in the churchyard. And because the church site is more than a thousand years old—perhaps 1,400 years—there are probably hundreds of unmarked burials outside, and some under the church floor.

We don’t know what happened to William Dyer’s immediate family after his sister Margret was baptized in 1610. There are no more records. They may have died in a plague, lost their land in economic upheaval of the era, or sold up and moved away. But it’s also possible that the churchwarden and his wife are buried in or just outside the church of St. Denys.

South door and porch
Wooden south door to the church, with
rounded Norman-era arch overhead. The
arch may be 1,000 years old.
 The south door of the church has a Romanesque, barrel-shaped tympanum over the door, which was common in Norman churches of the 11th and 12th centuries. Couples were wed in the doorway of a church, then moved inside to the altar rail to take Mass or Communion. To the right of the wooden door is a niche called a stoup where people dipped their fingers into holy water before entering.

Church tower
St. Denys’s west tower is not tall, but it has crenellations at the parapet that make it look like a defensive castle wall. It also has four crocketed pinnacles for decoration. On the south face is a two-light 16th century window. On the west is a three-light tall window from the 14th century which provides light to the tower’s interior. Also on the west face, below the molding between the first and second stages of the tower, are two fragments of 10th century (that’s right—the 900s!) two-strand interlacing carving, which may be pieces of the arms of a Saxon cross or gravestone. (I’ve zoomed in on the tower, and can’t make out the carving, which has had a thousand years of weathering.) An 1872 gazetteer of the county says that the tower had three bells.
The west and south aspects of
the tower.

Saxon Christians developed the square church towers we expect to see on very old English churches. If the Danes came raiding, the tower could be used as a lookout, and villagers could take refuge in the strong stone tower, much like a castle keep. When the Normans invaded and conquered in the 11th century, they burned wattle-and-daub structures, but used the massive stonework of the square church towers, or copied their style. John Marshal, in the 12th century, was injured by melting roof lead that dripped down on his face while he was defending a church tower from the military forces of King Stephen.

Other architectural historians discredit the defensive theory, saying that there are church towers in valleys, or places where a watchtower was of little value, and the battlements (like St. Denys’s crenellations and crocketed—decorated with hook-like ornaments—spires), were made several centuries later than the shaft and base of the tower.

So square stone towers may have been defensive, landmarks for travelers, lookouts, or simply held a bell or two to mark time, toll for funerals, or call an alarm.

The devil’s door?
Blocked door
on north exterior of church.
 This doorway on the north side of St. Denys is blocked up with stone, matching many churches around the UK. One pre-Reformation medieval belief was that the north side of a church was cold (it was shaded, of course, in winter), and that no one good was buried on the north side of the church, being a less desirable burial place for dodgy people like criminals, the very poor, or illegitimate children. At baptisms, with the font located at the back of the church, the custom was to open both the south and north doors, so any evil spirit that came out of the baptized infant would fly out the north door as the Holy Spirit entered the baby through the warm, sunny south door. This part of the baptismal service in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer pinpoints that belief:
I COMMAUNDE thee, uncleane spirite, in the name of the father, of the sonne, and of the holy ghost, that thou come out, and departe from these infantes, whom our Lord Jesus Christe hath vouchsaved, to call to his holy Baptisme, to be made membres of his body, and of his holy congregacion. Therfore thou cursed spirite, remembre thy sentence, remembre thy judgemente, remembre the daye to be at hande, wherin thou shalt burne in fyre everlasting, prepared for thee and thy Angels. And presume not hereafter to exercise any tyrannye towarde these infantes, whom Christe hathe bought with his precious bloud, and by this his holy Baptisme calleth to be of his flocke.

The devil's door, which in some churches was as small as 18 inches across, was blocked up after the English Reformation to discourage the superstition.

The two fonts
The older, 14th century font:
700+ years of baptisms!

A font is a stone basin on a pedestal, where infants are baptized either by immersion or anointing. Fonts are usually placed at the back of the nave, where the baby begins the journey of the Christian life, ending at the chancel with the altar and the Eucharist (Communion).

In St. Denys, there are two fonts, both octagonal. At the moment, one font is in the back of the church, and has a flat cover added in the 18th century. The stone font is said to be 14th century (during the reigns of Edward II and III and the visitation of the Black Death), with cusped square panels containing blank shields. Perhaps the shields were painted when new.
The "younger" font is still
600 years old.

The other font is 16th century (the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward, Mary, and Elizabeth), and has a conical wood cover. It is set in the corner of the north aisle near a heater. It has blank traceried panels and sunk spandrels, plain shields and quatrefoils to the stem. Quatrefoils look like four-leaf clovers and represent the four Evangelists of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They also symbolize good luck.

One font would have belonged to St. Denys's church, and the other is from St. Peter’s church that had been closed in the late 1500s. The St. Peter's font was, according to an old historical account, "long used as a sink in a small farm house, but has now been rescued from such degradation and stands in front of the parish school-house as a reminiscence of the lost church." Update that to show that the font is now in the care of St. Denys church. 

There’s no way to know which was in use when William Dyer was baptized in September 1609, or his older brother’s and younger sister’s baptism.  We can imagine his father the churchwarden, (perhaps his mother, but not likely) the minister, the godparents, and the parish members standing in a circle around a font, saying the baptism service in the Book of Common Prayer.

And then the Godfathers, Godmothers, and people, with the children muste be ready at the Church dore…
DEARE beloved, forasmuche as all men bee conceyved and borne in sinne, and that no manne borne in synne, can entre into the kingdom of God (except he be regenerate, and borne anewe of water, and the holy ghost) I beseche you to call upon God the father through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his bounteouse mercy he wil graunt to these children that thing, which by nature they cannot have, that is to saye, they may be baptised with the holy ghost, and receyved into Christes holy Church, and be made lyvely membres of the same.

Here shall the priest aske what shall be the name of the childe, and when the Godfathers and Godmothers have tolde the name, then shall he make a crosse upon the childes forehead and breste, saying.
Receyve the signe of the holy Crosse, both in thy forehead, and in thy breste, in token that thou shalt not be ashamed to confesse thy fayth in Christe crucifyed, and manfully to fyght under his banner against synne, the worlde, and the devill, and to continewe his faythfull soldiour and servaunt unto thy lyfes ende. Amen.


Ceiling and roof
View of the chancel window and
wood ceiling over the nave.
In 1881, The Antiquary magazine said,
This church is in "a most lamentable condition," to use the words of the Bishop of Nottingham, the roofs in particular requiring prompt attention. 
 The architectural surveys I read never mentioned the ceiling of the church, but Roy Hackford’s photos show nicely finished rafters and joints that look to be in excellent and uniform condition, so they must have been rebuilt or restored.   

The roof consists of lead tiles over the chancel, and tile over the rest of the building. (That’s why it looks like there are two roof styles in exterior photos.)

Rood screen, stairs, loft
 The rood screen in St. Denys was carved wooden openwork stretching across the opening to the smaller chancel, from the nave. In medieval times, it may have been painted or gilded, with a crucifix of the Suffering Christ, and possibly small statues of saints (like St. Denys, for instance) or apostles. Its purpose was to separate the altar with its sacred objects from the non-clerical people. During the Lenten period, the rood was veiled, then revealed for Holy Week, when the Passion story was read to the congregation.

The 13th century rood screen is inside the tower.
It once separated the chancel from the nave.
The rood stair (in the north aisle) leads to the rood loft, a space that gave access for cleaning or veiling the rood screen. There’s a large niche high on the left wall of the chancel, which is the opening to the rood loft. In some churches (not St. Denys), the space was used instead as a hermitage.

The 13th century wooden screen is now installed at the tower arch at the rear of the nave. It seems to be used as a curtain rod to hide the opening to the tower. Many churches I’ve seen use the floor of the tower to store music, Sunday school materials, or cleaning supplies.

Most roods, whether stone or wood, were destroyed in the English Reformation iconoclasm and the Civil War a century later, but perhaps Kirkby La Thorpe was such a small parish that it was missed by soldiers.

William Dyer the landowner and churchwarden and his family have been obscured over time, except for the legacy to his remarkable son William, whose countless thousands of descendants are nearly all Americans.
The northeast view of St. Denys includes the blocked-up devil's door,
the north aisle, the buttresses that support the lead
roof, and the north side of the tower. Before the English Reformation,
the north side of the church was the undesirable place for burials.
Most people now wouldn't know that. But you do!

Thanks from this author, and the thousands of modern friends and descendants of William Dyer, go to Roy Hackford, who generously agreed to travel from his home in Boston, Lincolnshire, to Kirkby La Thorpe, and take photos on a lovely spring day. He scanned the images and emailed them to me in high resolution, which meant that I could zoom in on certain features and crop them for this article.
Also, thanks to Rev. Valerie Greene, MA, the rector of St. Denys, for opening the church to Roy for photographs after I emailed her for permission. 

Christy K Robinson is author of the books:
·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Hutchinson, American Founding Mother (2018)

 If you enjoyed this study of a 1,000- to 1,400-year-old place of worship, you'll also enjoy Effigy Hunter, Christy K Robinson's five-star travel guide and handbook for the discovery of medieval burial monuments and places in UK and Europe. Said one reviewer:
"The book you didn't know you needed, but you do! A must for medieval lovers."