Friday, September 16, 2011

Happy birthday, William Dyer!

© 2011 Christy K. Robinson

Happy birthday, William Dyer! He was probably born Sept. 17-19, 1609; because there’s a record that he was baptized Sept. 19, 1609 in the parish church at Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire, between Sleaford and Boston.  
St. Denys Church of England in Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire,
where William Dyer was baptized in 1609.

St. Denys is a parish church built and improved in stages over the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. The chancel was rebuilt 1854-55, and restored 1911-12. Perhaps William’s parents, who were land-owning farmers there (as opposed to tenants), are buried in the church or churchyard. William's father (also William Dyer) was a churchwarden there for several years.

William Dyer, 1609-1677, is scarcely known today, except as the husband of the Quaker convert, Mary Barrett Dyer, who was hanged for civil disobedience to the Puritan theocracy in Massachusetts. That’s not how it was during his lifetime!

William was an apprentice and then guild member in London, emigrated to Massachusetts in 1635, was a clerk-recorder-commissioner for Massachusetts and Rhode Island governments, the co-founder of Portsmouth and Newport, a militia captain, the first attorney general of Rhode Island (actually, the first attorney general in all of North America!), and the first Commander-in-Chief-Upon-the-Seas for the United Colonies, appointed by the English Council of State in 1652. Dyer was also solicitor general of Rhode Island in 1657. He was instrumental in the colony charters (he may have drafted them from sessions with the other colony leaders), he was named in the 1663 Rhode Island royal charter, and he was author of a business proposal to King Charles II. He was trained for leather-goods importing in the Fishmongers guild (so he was probably also skilled in many aspects of marketing and customs/duties/inspections). 

Dyer owned properties in Boston, Portsmouth, and Newport. He had a large farm at Newport with horses and tobacco, and traded with Indians for venison, corn, and other goods. We know that he was a mariner from his trading and admiralty duties, so I presume that William was also a primary mover and shaker in developing the wharves and port facilities that made Newport one of three great harbors in New England (besides Boston and New York). He was the father of six children with Mary Dyer, and another child with his second wife. There are no known portraits of William Dyer.

All this from the farm boy out of Kirkby LaThorpe!  (See the article, William Dyer's Boyhood, here: http://marybarrettdyer.blogspot.com/2015/06/william-dyers-boyhood.html )
Dyer's Point, now Ft. Greene, is due east from Rose Island.

William died in 1677, and was buried (probably with his first wife Mary and some of their children) on the family burial ground at the Dyer farm in Newport, south of Coddington Cove and east of Coaster’s Island.

A 1777 map shows a tiny projection as Dyer’s Point, which is now Battery Park / Ft. Greene, just south of the Newport Bridge--I imagine that Dyer's Point was part of his property. During the Revolutionary War, the British forces that held Aquidneck Island leveled orchards and buildings in and around Newport for clear shooting. The artillery array gave it the name of battery, ergo, Battery Park.

Eventually, the farmland was repurposed and subdivided, and after the American Civil War, a naval college was built on Coaster’s Island and a naval station complex was developed on what had been the Dyer farm, 250 years earlier. Court records indicate that Dyers and Coddingtons had properties bordering one with the other, and that due to politics and land disputes, they were not exactly love-your-neighbor types during the 1650s and 1660s.

Battery Park at Dyer's Point
Surely the co-founder of Newport and naval commander William Dyer would be very proud of his legacy with the port and the naval complex! Wouldn’t it be a good thing for his descendants to propose, fund, and place a historical marker in that vicinity, to the honor of William Dyer? I suggest Battery Park, formerly Dyer’s Point, would be just the spot! I've tried corresponding with various historical agencies in Rhode Island about creating a historical marker for William, including the state and the city of Newport, but they've stonewalled me.

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