Monday, June 1, 2015

Mary Dyer's execution, 1 June 1660--book excerpt

Mary Dyer was not hanged "for the crime of being a Quaker," despite what Quaker writers have promoted for more than a century. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Quakers in Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Colonies, who were Quakers. They were persecuted, but not executed, for not attending Puritan/Congregational churches, and for not taking oaths (which meant they couldn't be sworn onto juries). According to Massachusetts court records, Mary and the three male Quakers were hanged because they intentionally broke their banishment law, that was contrary to English law.

Mary never claimed that, either. She committed civil disobedience believing that God had commanded her to go back to Massachusetts to ask them to "repeal your unrighteous laws of banishment on pain of death."

It was no accident that Mary Dyer returned to Massachusetts against her death-penalty banishment--she didn't sneak back, she arrived on a specific date for the purpose of civil disobedience. She forced the theocratic government to execute her, a high-status, well-known woman innocent of anything but carrying out Jesus' commission in Matthew 25, in the hope that her death would be so shocking that the people would cry out to the government to cease their bloody persecution and allow liberty of conscience (what we call religious freedom and separation of church and state).

My extensive research, just for this short section, included books by Quaker historians, and the records of Massachusetts Bay Colony General Court, as well as the backgrounds of all the people involved, from Gov. Endecott to the militia (their formation and purpose), and the hangman.

Excerpt from Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This
copyright 2014, by Christy K Robinson.

All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

June 1, 1660
Boston, Massachusetts
As she had been last October, Mary was surrounded by a troop of more than a hundred musketeers and pikemen who were there to protect the officials of the court from the angry mob. Captain Oliver was the officer in charge of the guard today.
Word had spread quickly overnight, and this day thousands of men, women, and children were spread out along the streets as if for a parade. Others waited at the gallows for the spectacle to come to them. Should she attempt to speak, before and behind her, military men beat the slow execution drum call to drown out the sound of her voice.
Brrr-tap-tap-rest. Brrr-tap-tap-rest. Brrr-tap-tap-rest. Brrr-tap-tap-rest.
The monotonous, repetitive beat set the pace for the walk along Tremont Road, part of the Common, and finally, to the fortification and gate of the city of Boston. Then they were out on the isthmus, or Boston Neck, where the road led to Roxbury. Hundreds more people surged up from the towns of Roxbury and Weymouth.
Mary remembered that the last execution here had been a chilly autumn day, appropriate, perhaps, for the murder of the two dear young men. Today, though, was a day at the height of spring, with daisies on the Common turning their faces toward the sun, and dandelion seed puffs drifting on the breeze from the bay.
It was just such a day, exactly twenty-two years ago, that the great earthquake had rumbled across New England, and the little group of people praying with Anne Hutchinson had felt the Pentecostal filling of the Holy Spirit.
And thirty years ago this day, Mary remembered seeing the noon-day comet that marked the birth of the future King Charles the Second, and presaged war, famine, and plague. What was it that John Donne had preached at St. Paul’s? That
“all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.”

Like all memories, these flashed through Mary’s mind in still pictures, like landscape paintings. One could view the scene all at once, or stop and decipher the symbolism. She had lived them and learned from them, but were they connected with today?
She and the guard and drummers, and all of Boston behind them, arrived at the gallows. Michaelson ceremoniously handed the end of her tether to Edward Wanton, the man at the foot of the gallows.
Mary climbed the ladder, the drumbeat ended, and she stood ready.
The crowds of men and women, packed shoulder to shoulder on the slim neck of land, jostled one another and a few on the edges of the marsh actually trod in the mud.
“Mistress Dyer,” a man shouted over the din of the people, “if you’d only leave this colony, you might come down and save your life!”
As beautiful as this world is, and as much as I love my life with family, friends, health, and prosperity, what does it avail? How does it compare to the Paradise I’ve already glimpsed? If my momentary death can shine Light on the human right to worship and obey God, then let it be. I shall be with the Lord.  
She answered, projecting her voice while she motioned for silence, “No, I cannot, for in obedience to the will of the Lord I came, and in his will I abide faithful—to the death.”
The man in charge of her execution was Captain John Evered-Webb. She recognized him from 1635, when he and his shipmates had been caught in the great hurricane as they approached Massachusetts, but miraculously avoided shipwreck and limped in with broken masts and mere rags of sails. He and his sister and her husband had settled near Salem, and that made Webb one of Endecott’s men.
He stood on the platform and shouted to be heard. “The condemned woman has been here before, here on this very gallows. She had the sentence of banishment on pain of death, but she has come again now and broken the law. Therefore she is guilty of her own blood. The executioner shall not ask her forgiveness as would be customary.”
The masked hangman bowed as if he were an actor.
At this insult, some in the crowd grumbled at Webb’s lack of godly grace. The angry murmur spread through the crowd like a wave as the nearest told their neighbors behind them what they’d heard.
Mary answered, looking pointedly at Reverend Wilson, Major-General Humphrey Atherton (an assistant to the governor), and others of her accusers, “No, I came to keep blood guiltiness from you, desiring you to repeal the unrighteous and unjust law of banishment upon pain of death, made against the innocent servants of the Lord. Therefore my blood will be required at your hands, who willfully do it; but for those that do it in the simplicity of their hearts, I desire the Lord to forgive them.”
She raised her voice to a victorious shout. “I came to do the will of my Father, and in obedience to his will, I stand even to death!”
“’Tis wrong to murder this innocent woman! Take her down! Let her go home!” came the shouts from every direction.
Edward Wanton tied Mary’s legs together with the rope over her skirts for modesty when she’d be dropped.
John Wilson, the man who had examined Mary and William for church membership, and baptized her baby Samuel nearly a quarter-century before, put on a dramatic act for the audience, far larger than any Sunday congregation he’d ever preached to. He added a sob to his voice: “Mary Dyer, O repent! O repent! And be not so deluded, and carried away by the deceit of the devil.”
It was difficult to control her facial expression at this hypocritical display of concern for her soul, but Mary answered, “No, man, I am not now to repent.”
One of the ministers asked if she would have the elders pray for her soul, if she would not pray for herself. They meant an appointed elder of the First Church of Christ in Boston.
She said, “I do not know of a single elder here.” She meant she didn’t recognize their elders as having authority over her. As Anne Hutchinson had rejected the authority of that body over her.
“Would you have any of the people to pray for you?”
“I desire the prayers of all the people of God.” As she looked over the crowd, she recognized Friends, including Robert and Deborah Harper of Sandwich. She knew they kept her in prayer continually, and being encouraged, she felt warmth and strength fill her.
A scoffer from the church cried out, “It may be she thinks there is none here!”
Mary replied softly, “I know that there are only a few here.”
The Light became brighter now, Mary thought. She was closer to heaven than she’d ever been.
Another from the crowd below her urged, “Woman, you’re about to die, and a heretic at that. Don’t throw away your soul. Ask for an elder to pray, that his effectual, fervent prayer will be heard by God.”
Mary answered, “No, first a child, then a young man, then a strong man, before an ‘elder’ in your Church of Christ.”
“What?” called the critic. “You said ‘an elder in Christ Jesus?’ You don’t want a Christian man to pray for you? If not an elder in Christ Jesus, you prefer to go, then, with your master the Devil?”
She said, “It is false, it is false; I never spoke those words. I said an elder in the church.”
“Are you not afraid to die, knowing that you are a cursed Quaker? A heretic?” said the minister Norton.
“The Lord has said to me, as to all who come to him in repentance and humility, ‘Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.’”
“You and the dead Quakers said last time that you have been in Paradise.”
“Yes, I have been in Paradise several days,” she said with a blissful smile.
John Wilson, who had a look of fear on his face now, produced a handkerchief from his coat, and young Wanton draped it over Mary’s face and tucked it under the rope before than hangman made it snug.
She remembered what Sir Harry Vane had said, “Death does not bring us into darkness, but takes darkness out of us, us out of darkness, and puts us into marvelous light.”
As she spoke further of the eternal happiness into which she was now to enter, Mary felt that familiar buoyancy of light and love, as if she were being borne away by angels.
“Mary.”
“Yes, Lord?”

***** 
Read everything that led up to this moment, and what transpired afterward, in Mary Dyer Illuminated and Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This, both by Christy K Robinson.

As I wrote in the foreword to both volumes on Mary Dyer and her husband William, they weren't written to be religious books for a religious market. But I did want to show that though religion in that generation was everything to them (they'd staked their lives, families and possessions on a New Jerusalem in the New World), the colony of Rhode Island, of which William Dyer was an important government member, incorporated itself as a secular democracy, with religion distinctly separate from government matters. Their founding documents influenced and inspired generations to come, and formed a template for the Constitution's Bill of Rights.

Related articles:


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
 

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