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.
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 or because of her Quaker beliefs. (There were scores of Quakers imprisoned in New England, and they were not killed.) That claim makes her a victim of a theocratic regime. But Mary Dyer was no victim. They didn't kill her: she laid her life down.
She had written in her letter to the General Court,
Whereas it is said by many of you that I am guilty of mine owne death by mycoming as you cal it voluntarily to boston: I therefore declare unto every onethat hath an eare to hear: that in the fear peace and love of god I came and in weldoingdid and stil doth commit my soul and body to him as unto a faithful creatorand for this very end hath preserved my life until now through many trialls andtemptations... 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 warningfor the preparation of the cruel and in your esteme cursed death of mee marie dire.
|Snippet of Mary Dyer's own handwriting from her October 1659 letter to the General Court of Boston.|
A high-resolution copy of the full-page letter is available here:
Mary Dyer was no victim of Boston's religious government.
She was the victor.
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 William Robinson and Marmaduke 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 Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick and their adult children 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. It's not freedom for one branch of believers to have privileges from the government while others are denied based on their beliefs.
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 hope 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 HutchinsonThe 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 and their associates (friend and foe).
Christy K Robinson is author of these books:
We Shall Be Changed (2010)
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)
Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This Vol. 2 (2014)
The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport Vol. 3 (2014)
Effigy Hunter (2015)
And of these sites:
Discovering Love (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)