Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Life sketch of Charles Dyer, 1650-1709

© 2017 Christy K Robinson

Charles Dyer was the last child of Mary and William Dyer. He was born the year after King Charles I was beheaded, at the time when the young Charles II was fighting Cromwell’s forces before he fled to exile in France. To name the Dyer baby after the Anglican (with Catholic leanings) king was a rather bold statement in Puritan, republican-leaning New England!
King Charles I of England

1650: Charles Dyer born in Newport, Rhode Island, the last of Mary Dyer’s six living children. His parents were co-founders of Portsmouth in 1638 and Newport in 1639.

1652: He was about one and a half or two years old when both parents went to England. William went as an agent of Rhode Island, and came home after a short time, with a political charter for the colony that replaced their former charter; but Mary Dyer stayed until 1657.  Mary returned when Charles was about seven, so he probably didn’t recognize her.  He may have been fostered with friends when his father had to leave town on business. (Read "Mary Dyer, the mother.")

The Dyer family probably attended the Baptist church of Rev. Obadiah Holmes, in Newport. There’s no record of Charles in the Friends/Quaker books, which is understandable, considering his mother’s actions as a Quaker.  There’s probably no birth record like a Congregational (Puritan) or Anglican family might have, because Baptists didn’t baptize infants—they waited until the teen or adult years when the person reached an age of accountability.

Was Charles educated as well as his parents had been? Mary had been known for her conversational ability and we know she both read and wrote, which was not the usual attainment of most women of her time. William had probably been educated at a grammar school in Lincolnshire before his elite apprenticeship in London, and he had trained as a surveyor and attorney after he emigrated to New England. It was the custom of hundreds of years that boys were educated and/or apprenticed sometime around age 14, but we don’t know about the Dyer boys. But Charles was a farmer by age 18, so perhaps he learned on his father’s Newport farm.

1660: Mary Dyer, a Quaker, was hanged in Boston for religious liberty, having violated her banishment orders and been imprisoned several times between 1657 and 1660.

1661: William Dyer Sr. married a woman named Katherine and they had one daughter, Elizabeth, by 1661-1662. In her twenties, Elizabeth Dyer married John Greenman, they had several children, and she died in 1755. Though Katherine sued her husband’s children after his death (and lost each of her cases), Charles named his only daughter after his half-sister Elizabeth.

Little Compton, Rhode Island 
Photo by LandVest

1668: Charles married very young, perhaps at age 17-18, for his first child, James, was born in May 1669 in Little Compton, Rhode Island. The village is located across the Sakonnet water to the east of Newport, on the mainland. Even today, it’s a rural setting with green farms and a rocky Atlantic coastline. 

For many years, Charles' first wife has been assumed to be Mary Lippett, and there was a  family of Lippetts in Rhode Island, but Mary is not confirmed to be one of them.  Did the teenage Charles and Mary fornicate and get pregnant, and marry in haste? So how did a teenager come to be a husbandman (a farmer and stock breeder)? Was Charles given the land by his wealthy father, or was the land a dowry of his wife Mary (of whatever surname)? Little Compton is close to Newport as the crow flies (in a sailboat), but they could have farmed in Middletown, between Portsmouth and Newport, or across Narragansett Bay at Kingston. Or perhaps it was the perfect distance to start your family if it came less than nine months after the wedding.

Charles and Mary had children between 1669 and 1687, and Mary must have died between 1687 and 1689,  perhaps in or shortly after childbirth.
Their children were:
1.     James, b. 1669-d. abt 1735
2.     William b. 1671, d. 1719 (executed for murdering his wife)
3.     Elizabeth, b. 1677, m. Tristram Hull 1699, d. 1719
4.     Charles, b. 1685, d. 1726
5.     Samuel, b. 1687, d. 1767. This man raised his brother William’s orphaned children after William was hanged for murdering his wife.
1670: Death of brother Maher Dyer. Maher left a young wife, but no children.

1670: William Dyer Sr. deeds Newport lands to sons Samuel, Henry, and William, but not to youngest son Charles, who was already living in Little Compton with wife and child. Perhaps William Sr. had already provided land to Charles on his wedding.

1676-77: King Philip’s War raged between Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut colonists and Native American tribes.  His oldest brother Samuel evacuated colonists from mainland Rhode Island across Narragansett Bay to Newport.  His brother Henry Dyer supplied horses to the military. Charles, being about 26 years old, would have been very insecure at Little Compton, so he may have moved his family to better-defended Newport during the war. Also, his father’s health may have been failing at this time. Charles moving back to manage the Dyer farm would make sense, but we can’t know. 

1677: Charles’ father, William Dyer Sr., dies in Newport at age 67.
1678: Death of eldest brother Samuel Dyer.
1679: Death of sister Mary Dyer Ward.
1680: Half-sister Elizabeth Dyer receives her £40 inheritance from her father’s estate.
1681: His stepmother Katherine Dyer sues Charles over "trespass" on her land. She loses.
1687: After lawsuits which she lost, Charles buys back Newport land and house from his stepmother Katherine.

Oct. 5, 1687: “Charles Dyre of Newport, Husbandman bought of [nephew] Samuel Dyre of Boston, carpenter, land in Newport RI. Bounded on the East, partly by certain lands in possession Mr. Francis Brinley & Lt . Collo of Peleg Sanford on the South, by land of Late Mr. Nicholas Easton and Mr. Johnson the West, by the sea on North by land of Henry Dyre.—with house, orchards, Gardens, meadows, woods - swamp--layed out unto mis Katharin Dyre [his stepmother] by town of Newport 1681 as her Right of Dower. 5 Oct1687.
Witt[nesses]. Weat Clarke, Robert Little, Daniel Vernon. “
Source: Rhode Island Land Evidence 1648-1696 -Abstracts Vol 1 p. 206.

1687: Grants for land in Delaware secured for Charles and Henry, by older brother, Major William Dyre. Neither Charles nor Henry take possession of the land. [WAD]  But it’s very possible that Charles’ oldest son James did, for James died in Bucks Co., Penn.

1687-88?: Death of Charles’ wife Mary. They’d been married for 20 years.

1688: Death of brother Maj. William Dyer in Delaware/Pennsylvania.

Mar. 8, 1690: Charles married Martha Brownell Wait. Martha was a childless widow who was seven years older than Charles. On the same day they married, Martha bought for £20, of her brother Robert Brownell, 30 acres in Little Compton, RI. Charles and Martha did not have children together, but Martha raised his younger children, and perhaps grandchildren. She died in 1744 at age 100. 

From age 40 to his death at 59, I've seen no records of Charles and Martha. But it seems from his will that he owned land at Little Compton and Newport, and Martha owned land in Massachusetts, so they would have been very busy managing farms, or possibly leasing them to others.

1690: Death of brother Henry Dyer. Henry (and possibly his wife) had been buried on the Dyer Farm, but after 199 years, his headstone and remains were moved to the Farewell Cemetery in Newport.

1699: Daughter Elizabeth marries Tristram Hull, the grandson of the Quakers Robert and Deborah Harper of Sandwich, who Mary Dyer would have known. Elizabeth and Tristram had nine children, the first named Mary--perhaps after Mary Dyer the great-grandmother, or after Elizabeth's birth mother. Elizabeth and Tristram were Quakers.

1709: Charles dies, age 59, in Newport. He was buried with his brothers and parents on the Dyer family farm in Newport. He'd owned several farms, livestock, and equipment, and he had a respectable amount of money to leave to his children and widow.
Will of Charles Dyer Sr.
Dated May 9, 1709; proved May 12, 1709 Newport.
Overseers: brothers George Brownell, Thomas Cornell & Benjamin Thayer.
Sons James, Samuel, William & Charles; daughter Elizabeth, now wife of Tristram Hull. 

·       To son James, all land and tenements in Little Compton, which he now liveth on, part of which I had with my wife Martha Dyer.

·       To son Samuel, all my land and homestead that I now live on, with the old end of the dwelling house, barns, stables, &c., to be for him and his heirs unto the third generation, he paying legacies. To him also commonage in Newport and great bible.

·       To son William, £100.

·       To son Charles, £100.

·       To daughter Elizabeth, the now wife of Tristram Hull, £30.

·       My earnest will and desire is (that) piece of ground that is now called the Burying Ground, shall be continued for the same use unto all my after generations that shall see cause to make use of it, and I order that it shall be well kept fenced in by my son Samuel Dyre and his heirs forever.

·       To wife Martha, the new end of Newport house for life, and then to son Samuel. To her also, all my household stuff, plate, cash, bills, bonds, six of best cows of her choice, twenty ewe sheep, best of flock, and two cows and six sheep to be kept for her winter and summer by Samuel, who is to take a reasonable care of her, as food, firing, &c. without any grudging or grumbling.

·       To four sons James, William, Samuel and Charles, rest of stock.

·       To son Samuel, carts, plows, &c.

·       To overseers, £3 each.

The Dyer Farm burying ground was on the coast of Narragansett Bay. Since the early 20th century, it's under what is now the Naval College hospital or clinic.  William and Mary Dyer were buried there, as well as Charles and Henry. Probably Maher and Charles Dyer’s wife Martha, as well as other Dyer generations, were buried there. But the farm was broken into smaller and smaller parcels from the time of the Revolution. In 1889, workmen came across seven graves with headstones, and moved them to the Farewell Cemetery and Common (meaning the common grazing land) Burying Ground near the center of Newport. Among the seven were stones for Mary’s sons Henry (d. 1690) and Charles (d. 1709).  Other graves, unmarked, probably remain there on the former Dyer property. If you're in Newport, you can drive on Cypress Street, right up to the fence, or you can visit it on Google Maps at this link. Then choose Street View.  
Cypress Street fence. Approximate location of Dyer burying ground.
Photo by Christy K Robinson
Charles Dyer's headstone in Newport's Common Burying Ground
I met Bert Lippincott, Newport Historical Society librarian and genealogist, who marked a map of Common Burying Ground so I could visit the grave of Charles Dyer, 1650-1709. Charles may have been buried first on the Dyer home farm, where he lived after his father and brothers died. His remains were moved to the large cemetery later. (Alternatively, the officials took the headstones but not the skeletons.)
Common Burying Ground
click to enlarge
Common Burying Ground, Newport, with inset of Charles Dyer's headstone.

Dyre Avenue in the CBG cemetery

Lovely ancient tree with old headstones in CBG

Headstone of Charles Dyre:
Here Lyeth Ye Body of Charles Dyre Senior, He Dececed May 15, 1709, Aged 59 Years

Christy K Robinson is the author of this Dyer website and three five-star-reviewed books on the Dyers, available by clicking these links.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

International Women's Day celebrates American founding mothers

© 2017 Christy K Robinson 

For more information on their contributions to our human rights and civil liberties, see the "For Educators" tab above. 
Celebrate International Women's Day, March 8, by honoring Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson. Religious liberty is STILL not settled, even after nearly 400 years of strife. If you're deeply religious, as Mary and Anne were, or a non-believer, religious liberty covers everyone. Everyone.

ANNE HUTCHINSON (1592-1643) was a Puritan woman who stood for grace against legalism, which she called the Covenant of Works. She's best known for being a Bible teacher in Boston from 1634-1637, then being tried twice for sedition and heresy because she taught in public, and taught men--which was contrary to the ultra-zealous Puritan community of the 17th century. She led a large group of men and women to found a new colony in Rhode Island, that was formed as a social democracy standing apart from religious law.

MARY BARRETT DYER (1611-1660) was a Puritan woman who arrived in Boston in 1635, and became a close friend and follower of Anne Hutchinson. Her first pregnancy in the New World terminated in the miscarriage of an anencephalic (no brain) fetus with spina bifida--and the tiny corpse was considered proof of Mary's heresy in associating with Anne. Mary and her husband William went with Anne and the "Antinomians" to co-found Rhode Island. Mary was held in high regard for her beauty, intellect, and marriage to William, the first attorney general in America. In the 1650s, Mary went back to England for a period, and became a Quaker there. When she returned to New England, she was imprisoned without trial before being rescued by her husband. But she was determined to share the Gospel of grace, or at least support fellow Quaker missionaries (there's no record that she actually preached or what she preached), and she was arrested several times. She was banished "upon pain of death" from Massachusetts Bay Colony, but returned more than once to protest the bloody persecutions of other Quakers, which was what we call civil disobedience. Mary was sentenced to hang in October 1659 but was reprieved against her will. She was released, but then entered Plymouth Colony and was jailed there. She spent the winter on Long Island, and then sailed to Providence, Rhode Island, from where she walked the 44 miles to Boston at the time when more people were in the capitol than any other time of year. She was duly arrested. The court was reluctant to execute her because of her high social status and the danger of making her a martyr, but Mary forced their hand. They hanged her on June 1, 1660. Word quickly sailed to England, where King Charles II ordered that further capital crimes for religion be sent to his court, and Quaker persecutions cease.  (This is what Mary Dyer wanted, so she won!) Her husband was part of the team which wrote the Rhode Island charter of liberties that the King granted in 1663, and the charter, which gives religious liberty and secular government, was used as a template for the US Constitution's First Amendment.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Share this link with your friends and family, share it with women and girls for their inspiration, and share with the politicians at state and federal levels who represent you in government. http://bit.ly/2lZW81S

HOW TO CONTACT YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Well, that wasn’t very nice

© 2017 Christy K Robinson

When the religious dissidents left (or were exiled from) Massachusetts Bay Colony in early 1638, they went first to the small town of Providence Plantations on the Seekonk River to meet with another dissident, Roger Williams, who had helped them negotiate with the Indians. Then they went on another few miles to the beautiful wooded island they’d purchased from the Native Americans during the extremely harsh winter when the Boston women were preparing to move their households (children, servants, household goods, domestic animals), the men were selling properties in Massachusetts and surveying and exploring their new island and Narragansett Bay, Mary Dyer was recovering from her traumatic miscarriage, and Anne Hutchinson was under house arrest in the home of one of the richest, most strict Puritans in New England, Joseph Weld.

The island was called Aquiday or Aquidneck (“the floating mass” or “island”), and the town they founded at the north end was first called Pocasset, the native name for “where the stream widens.” The Narragansett Bay is actually not an ocean bay, but an estuary for several rivers, so it does appear that you cross a river when you drive over the bridge from Massachusetts onto the island. Or in the 17th century, take a ferry or boat ride from the mainland.

Within two years of settlement, the island was The Isle of Rhodes or Rhode Island, and the town officially became Portsmouth.

But because of the heresy of the founders of Rhode Island, Governor John Winthrop called the place “the Isle of Error,” and that name was often used by other New England leaders in letters and journals.

The city and harbor of Newport, Rhode Island were founded and surveyed in 1639 by, among others, William Dyer. The deep-water harbor became the second-largest harbor and commerce center in New England after Boston, and traded in molasses and rum, horses and lumber, ship-building, food for the Caribbean plantations—and slaves. It was a center for smuggling and piracy. Mind you, Boston was no City Upon a Hill when it came to the same trade goods, piracy, and human trafficking, but Rhode Island had a bad reputation from the very beginning because of its religious tolerance and its rejection of a church-state government.

There were other names for the first colony to encode full religious liberty as law:
Rogues Island: This pun was an early name for the colony, used in the time of the Dyers. But its nickname was renewed at the time of the American Revolution, and its popularity continues today in websites, newspapers, and a restaurant name.
Asylum to evil-doers.
The sink into which the other colonies empty their heretics.
The sink-hole of New England, actually a 17th-century reference to the morals of its residents, but now useful as a meme.
That's actually a sinkhole!
The licentious republic.
A modern nickname I found while googling: Rude Island
The receptacle of all sorts of riff-raff people.
In 1657, two Dutch Reformed ministers reported their encounter with Quakers to their religious board in Amsterdam, that “We suppose they [the majority of the Quaker missionaries] went to Rhode Island; for that is the receptacle of all sorts of riff-raff people. … They left behind two strong young women. As soon as the ship had fairly departed, these began to quake and go into a frenzy, and cry out loudly in the middle of the street, that men should repent, for the day of judgement was at hand.”

Caeca latrina. Probably the same two ministers (of the town of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island) sent this report to the Classis of Amsterdam. The Classis was the religious arm of the Dutch West Indies Company (WIC). The WIC appointed the governor to administer the colony’s business affairs, and the Classis provided Reformed, Calvinist ministers to serve the WIC’s towns and outposts. The Reformed doctrines were not far different from Puritan beliefs.

1658, Sept. 24th.
[from] Revs. J. Megapolensis and S. Drisius

Reverend, Pious and Learned Fathers and Brethren in Christ: —
Your letter of May 26th last, (1658,) came safely to hand. We observe your diligence to promote the interests of the church of Jesus Christ in this province, that confusion may be prevented, and that the delightful harmony which has hitherto existed among us here, may continue. At the same time we rejoice that the Hon. Directors have committed this matter to you, and we hope that God will strengthen you in your laudable efforts. Last year we placed before you particularly the circumstances of the churches both in the Dutch and English towns. And as this subject has been placed by your Rev. body before the Hon. Directors, we hope that their honors will take into earnest consideration the sadly destitute circumstances of the English towns. …The raving Quakers have not settled down, but continue to disturb the people of the province by their wanderings and outcries. For although our government has issued orders against these fanatics, nevertheless they do not fail to pour forth their venom. There is but one place in New England where they are tolerated, and that is Rhode Island, which is the caeca latrina of New England. Thence they swarm to and fro sowing their tares.

A 17th-century anatomical illustration seems
to have the man flipping up his belly skin
to look at his own large and small
The letter went on to complain about a Lutheran minister that they didn’t like interfering with their Reformed churches and people.
Source: (Abstract of, in Acts of Deputies, Jan, 13, 1659. xx. 391.) https://books.google.com/books?pg=PA433&lpg=PA433&dq=caeca+latrina&sig=JVSVCS9zqu10HXu_CjS95XKfnYo&id=U3EAAAAAMAAJ&ots=2P2AE1C-z2&output=text

The Classis, and indeed the Netherlands government, was very tolerant of various religions in their country and colonies. The Reform church was prominent, but they tolerated Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Lutherans, Musselmen (Muslims), and English Separatists like the Pilgrims who came from England and later moved to Plymouth, Massachusetts. And Rev. Megapolensis himself had redeemed a French Catholic missionary who had been captured by the Mohawks of the Hudson River Valley. But it seems they had no tolerance for Quakers (like Mary Dyer) or rogues (like her husband, the privateer)! In the mid-1660s, New Netherland gave over control of their colony to the English and it was named New York, after James Stuart, Duke of York. Who was one of the first mayors of New York City in the 1670s? None other than William Dyer the Younger, the son of Mary and William Dyer. Few of my readers saw that coming!

What did the Dutch Reformed ministers mean by calling Rhode Island a caeca latrina? Caecum, in 17th century anatomy, was the colon or rectum (they used the term interchangeably). Latrina was the public toilet or sewer used by a military barracks. So the epithet of caeca latrina meant, basically, the outdoor toilets for feces, a.k.a. “number two” or “poop.” (One could go on, but surely you’ve heard other slang terms.)

Well, that wasn’t very nice.  

Christy K Robinson is the author of this award-winning blog and books on the notable people of 17th century England and New England. Click the links to find the books.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Life sketch: George Herbert versus the prosperity gospel

© 2016 Christy K Robinson

From time to time, I post a life sketch of people who were important members of 17th-century England and New England culture. 

George Herbert, 1593-1633, was an English Parliamentarian, an orator (a spokesman for a college of Cambridge University), an author, a poet who was well connected with notables like Rev. John Dunne and scientist Francis Bacon, and the minister of a tiny chapel of ease just outside Salisbury, Wiltshire. He was one of ten children raised by a widowed mother, and homeschooled by her before he entered the prestigious schools at Westminster and Cambridge. He was married for only a few years before his death, and had no children.
Rev. George Herbert

He was the creator of phrases and proverbs we still recognize today:
  • "His bark is worse than his bite."
  • "Living well is the best revenge."
  • "Whose house is of glass must not throw stones at another."
  • "The eye is bigger than the belly."
  • "Half the world knows not how the other half lives."
I used a poem by Herbert in my biographical novel of Mary and William Dyer, when Mary was walking from Providence, Rhode Island, to her arrest and certain death at Boston in 1660. On page 292 of Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This, I created a dialogue between Mary Dyer and Patience Scott, regarding George Herbert and his care for the poor, and for widows and orphans.

The Anglican pastor died of consumption (tuberculosis) at age 39, and was buried in front of the altar of the medieval chapel of St. Andrews, of which he was the rector, and that he rebuilt from his own funds. There is no effigy to mark his resting place or distract from the simplicity of the chapel’s purpose: to worship God and serve people.

A carved plaque is set into a wall of the rectory in Bemerton, Salisbury, where Herbert served in ministry to the poor for the last four years of his life. It’s a poem Herbert left for his successor in the ministry. Herbert’s legacy was no monumental work of art or vanity, it was his message and his poetry.
To my Successor.
If thou chance for to find
A new House to thy mind,
And built without thy Cost:
Be good to the Poor,
As God gives thee store,
And then, my Labour’s not lost.

George Herbert came from a wealthy and connected family. His friends and colleagues expected that with his elite education and his network in King James I's government, he'd rise high in politics and power. But he took holy orders with the Church of England in a time when the Puritan movement was rising. True, tens of thousands of Puritans would move to America in the last few years of his life, feeling persecuted by the Anglican bishops and King James' successor, Charles I. The Puritans, though, believed that being wealthy meant that God had predestined them for salvation, because he had rewarded their piety with favor in their commerce and trades. Herbert used his own wealth to rebuild his crumbling medieval church, and took clothing and blankets to the poor of his parish. In response to the Puritan prosperity mentality, Herbert wrote books on being a good pastor, religious poetry, and proverbs, which are still published today.

He would have had much to say about the income inequality of the twenty-first century, and the hijacking of the earnings, retirement, and healthcare of the poor and middle class by the politicians, oligarchs, and billionaire class. He would have spoken sharply against the so-called prosperity gospel advocates, who teach that those who contribute to their media ministries and morality police are financially blessed by God; that God makes people wealthy to show his blessing and favor.

But wait! Rev. Herbert did have an answer for that!
“But perhaps being above the common people, our credit and estimation calls on us to live in a more splendid fashion; but O God! how easily is that answered, when we consider that the blessings in the holy Scripture are never given to the rich, but to the poor. I never find Blessed be the Rich, or Blessed be the Noble; but Blessed be the Meek, and Blessed be the Poor, and Blessed be the Mourners, for they shall be comforted.”

Mic drop.

To read more about George Herbert, click his hotlinked name at the top of this article, or Google "Rev. George Herbert."

Christy K Robinson is the author of five books and two history sites, three of the books revolving around the titans of New England. Click their titles to read the five-star reviews and purchase the paperback or Kindle editions.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Leonid meteors: nothing new under the sun

© 2016 Christy K Robinson

Every year in November, peaking at about the 17th of the month, a meteor shower can be seen, dropping tiny streaks of light. Some flashes are so slight that you think you’ve imagined them. Other meteors are so bright that they make the annual pilgrimage to the back yard lawn chair, in your warm bathrobe and thick socks, worth the 2am alarm clock call.
Boston supermoon in 2013. In 2016, we may not see many meteors
because of the Nov. 14 "supermoon,"
when the full moon appears larger and
brighter than any other in the 21st century. 

The mid-November Leonid meteor shower is caused by the dust particle trail of the Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Its journey around our solar system takes it close to the sun (perihelion) and the earth crosses that debris path of sand-sized particles, which strike our atmosphere and flare up on entry. Every 33 years, we pass through a zone of particles more dense than the other years, and that’s when we experience a more spectacular starfall.

I was educated in a Christian school where we learned in Bible class that the signs of Jesus’ second coming would be war, pestilence and plagues, earthquakes, deadly persecution of those who professed they followed him, offending one another, hate, false prophets, and taking the gospel to the entire world. 

But that wasn’t yet the end! There would be false prophets and those claiming to be the messiah and savior and who did miracles, and the “elect” or people who loved and served God would have to flee for their lives. Anne Hutchinson and her followers believed themselves to be the Elect, and when they were banished on pain of death, they felt it was confirmed.
1966 Leonid meteor storm--NASA photo.
How to find the Leo constellation from your back yard:
download the free app "SkEye" for Android or iOS, then
point your device at the eastern sky. The meteors will
come from the space between Regulus and the Big Dipper.

In the fullness of God's mysterious timing, that’s when the heavens and earth would be jolted. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matt. 24:29), said Jesus, who may have been referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 67-70AD, or of the final events of this world. Theologians disagree, but most say the similar heavenly events, which take place all at once, described in Revelation 6:12-15 point to the end of the world.

In Bible class, we were taught that the earthquake and tsunami at Lisbon in 1798 was The Big One, and that the sun and moon had darkened in the early 19th century (it was the result of a catastrophic forest fire in eastern Canada), and that the starfall on November 17, 1833, when the stars rained down in a terrifying and bright cascade for hours, fulfilled that prophecy.

Several religious movements sprang up in the 19th century, and they came out of New England, where the churches were still preaching like the hellfire and damnation sermons of the earliest Puritan ministers like John Wilson, Thomas Sheperd, John Cotton, Thomas Weld, Hugh Peter, John Davenport, Increase Mather, and others. Some of the new movements were the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Millerites, Seventh-day Adventists, and later, Christian Science, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They had in common that they believed that their law-keeping and pure lives would hasten the coming of the Lord, the world would soon be destroyed by sin, then be restored by God, and we would return in peace and live here eternally. (Understand that I’m being very broad here, covering a period of 50 years or more.)

While the LDS and Millerites were in their infancy, the 1833 Leonid meteor shower produced its strongest showing in recorded history. It was one of the years in the 33-year cycle of Tempel-Tuttle comet dust, though the comet wouldn’t be named until 1866 (33 years later).
"On the night of November 12-13, 1833, a tempest of falling stars broke over the Earth... The sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs. At Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be about half that of flakes of snow in an average snowstorm. Their numbers... were quite beyond counting; but as it waned, a reckoning was attempted, from which it was computed, on the basis of that much-diminished rate, that 240,000 must have been visible during the nine hours they continued to fall." - Agnes Clerke's Victorian Astronomy Writer

I used that 33-year cycle factoid when writing my first biographical novel, Mary Dyer Illuminated. Counting in 33-year intervals, I saw that 1635 was one of the peak years, and I wrote a scene about it. There was no journal entry for John Winthrop or the other historians regarding a meteor shower, perhaps because that year, the shower was seen better in Asia or Europe, or it might have been cloudy in Massachusetts. But it made a wonderful scene in which Mary Dyer experienced the Light of God that would shine at her very core in the last years of her life.

In the 17th century, every natural event was considered apocalyptic, from the hand of God. If you review the signs of Matthew 24, our ancestors and founders had endured religious persecution and fled from it. They’d experienced bubonic plague, smallpox, and typhus epidemics. On May 30-June 1, 1630, they’d seen a comet so bright that it, along with the noonday sun, cast a double shadow. There were religious-based wars in Europe. There was a great earthquake in New England on June 1, 1638, and a blood moon (annular eclipse) three weeks later. Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer, teaching the Covenant of Grace, were considered false prophets. When the Massachusetts exiles settled in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, they even called the men who believed they’d discovered new biblical truths “prophets,” because it meant that they’d be inspired or received a revelation from God. (Prophet didn’t mean a foreteller of events, but a messenger.) In Great Britain and Europe, new sects, including the Friends/Quakers, emerged and drew thousands of adherents away from established state denominations.

A Seventh-day Adventist illustration of the
1833 Leonid starfall in New England.

"Lo, there was a great earthquake;
and the sun became black as
sackcloth of hair, and the moon became
as blood; And the stars of heaven
fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree
casteth her untimely figs, when she
is shaken of a mighty wind.
And the
heaven departed as a scroll when it is
rolled together; and every mountain and island
were moved out of their places." Rev. 6:12-15
You can understand why the experiences and observations of the first New England settlers were still resounding in the lives of the New Englanders (and prophets) who founded the 19th-century denominations whose beliefs revolved around “End Times.”

“In the year 2034, Earth is forecast to move through several clouds of dusty debris shed by comet Tempel-Tuttle from the years 1699, 1767, 1866 and 1932. If we’re lucky, we might see Leonids fall at the rate of hundreds per hour, perhaps briefly reaching "storm" rates of 1,000 per hour, experts have estimated.
But sadly, in the year 2028, Jupiter is expected to throw comet Tempel-Tuttle off from its current path through space, making it all but impossible — at least through the beginning of the 22nd century — to see a repeat of the Great Leonid Storm of 1966.” http://www.space.com/13613-leonid-meteor-shower-peak-1966-storm.html

When you see a single shooting star, or a meteor shower, remember your ancestors, and their fascination and fear at seeing the same thing you see today. As the wise man said in Ecclesiastes, three thousand years ago,
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” 

Christy K Robinson is the author of this award-winning blog and books on the notable people of 17th century England and New England. Click the links to find the books.