Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why the Pilgrim governor wanted to know about the Dyer “monster”

© 2013 Christy K Robinson

In October 1637, Mary Dyer gave birth to a premature, stillborn girl, which, according to descriptions, was anencephalic (lacking more than a brainstem) and probably had spina bifida (neural tube defects). (See link to my article at the end.) This was the first anencephalic baby ever reported in America. 

Drawing depicts an anencephalic child born in England,
but not Mary Dyer's child.
It had no head, nor any sign or proportion thereof,
there only appeared as it were two faces,
the one visibly to be seen, directly placed in the breast,
where it had a nose, and a mouth, and two holes
for two eyes, but no eyes, all which seemed ugly,
and most horrible to be seen, and much offensive
to human nature to be looked upon,
the other face was not perfectly to be seen,
but retained a proportion of flesh in a great round lump,
like unto a face quite disfigured, and this was
all of that which could be discerned. 
The face, mouth, eyes, nose, and breast,
being thus framed together like a deformed piece of flesh,
resembled no proportion of nature, but seemed
as it were a chaos of confusion,
a mixture of things without any description...

Back in their native country, England, gravely-deformed babies were called “monsters” or “monstrous births,” and were commonly known to be heaven-sent proof of heresy or monstrous religious or political beliefs of the mother. 

A holograph of William Bradford's letter to
John Winthrop regarding Mary Dyer's stillborn baby.
Source: Massachusetts Historical Society
 On April 11, 1638, in the first month after the revelation of Anne’s trial and Mary’s monster, the governor of Plymouth Colony, William Bradford, wrote a letter to his friend and colleague, John Winthrop. Most of the letter was about colonial boundaries and the islands in the Narragansett Bay, which Plymouth insisted were part of their original royal patent.

The first part of the Bradford letter asked for juicy details of Mary Dyer’s poor baby.

For more information on Mary Dyer’s “monster,” visit my blog article HERE.

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