Monday, August 5, 2019

Mary Dyer’s persecution heats up in summer of 1659

© 2019 Christy K Robinson

The summer of 1659 was fraught with danger for the Quakers in the New England colonies. Three hundred sixty years later, separation of church and state is again under attack by religio-political forces.
A carefully researched historical novel
of William and Mary Dyer from 1652 to 1660,
covering their remarkable lives and
Mary's execution for standing up for
those who suffer persecution for their faith.
Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This Vol. 2
After they were released from a torturous 20-week prison stay in December 1658, Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick had bought a parcel of land at Ipswich, then were ordered out of the colony by early June, or be returned to prison and then executed. Their teenaged children, Daniel and Provided, were fined the hefty sum of £10 each for not attending Congregational (Puritan) church services, and they refused to be forced laborers, so they were sentenced to be sold to “English” slave owners in Virginia or Barbados—except no mariner would agree to broker the teens, so they were finally released. The Southwick parents, only in their early 60s but broken in body by their repeated whippings, starvation, and winter exposure in prison, moved to Shelter Island on Long Island Sound, to spend their last months before they died in May 1660.

In a boat accident, Sarah Gibbons, a Quaker missionary, was drowned at Providence, Rhode Island.

Quakers Nicholas Davis, William Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, and Patience Scott were committed to Boston prison on June 19, 1659. It’s possible that Mary Dyer followed the four Quakers to Boston when she heard they’d been arrested. Food, clothing, and blankets were not automatically provided to prisoners, and Mary may have gone on an errand of mercy. She knew the risks of arrest and prison if she were discovered, and she went anyway. She’d already spent months in Boston prison, and believed it was her duty to help.

Was it raining hard, or was there some sort of boating or ferry accident that soaked Mary to the skin when she was in Boston?

The letter was about Patience Scott, the young daughter of Richard and Katherine Marbury Scott, but mentions in passing that there were adult Quakers imprisoned with the girl. Mary Dyer was probably the woman mentioned, based on William Dyer’s August 1659 letter to the court in Boston.
"They have imprisoned three men and a woman, whom they cast in prison with her clothes wet, and a child between ten and eleven years of age, who was moved of the Lord to travel from her home 105 miles to Boston, where she was cast into prison, and being examined, her answers were so far beyond the ordinary capacity of a child of her years, that the governor confessed there was a spirit in her beyond the spirit of woman; but being blind, and not seeing God perfecting his praise out of the child’s mouth, he said it was the devil.”  

William Dyer’s letter to the General Court of Boston, 30 August 1659:
Meanwhile, back in Rhode Island, William had been in attendance at the colonial assembly in Portsmouth in late August. The Rhode Island government was vigorously opposed to having the lands they had purchased from the Narragansett tribes being annexed by Connecticut and recorded in Boston courts. They wrote a letter to Boston on August 23, 1659 about that very matter. 
Snippet of William Dyer's letter to the General Court in Boston, 30 August 1659.

Apparently, within a week of the assembly meeting, William heard that his wife Mary had been taken prisoner in Boston and he wrote to protest her imprisonment. Assuming that it could take two days (by special messenger) or up to two weeks (by post rider’s regular route*) for letters to pass between Boston and Newport, this put Mary Dyer in prison by at least the first days of August 1659, if not in July. William had received more than one letter from her, but the letters might have arrived at the same time, or possibly had been delivered to Newport while he was in Portsmouth, 15 miles to the north.

William was the former attorney general of Rhode Island, a magistrate on its admiralty court, and its solicitor general, so he was well acquainted with New England law and court procedure. Massachusetts Colony courts didn’t allow defense attorneys, but they did accept written testimony such as William Dyer’s arguments.

So he sat down to write with his fine-tip quill on August 30. The letter is quite long, and accuses the “Christian” court of treating its prisoners worse than domestic animals.

Having received some letters from my wife, I am given to understand of her commitment to close prison. …
Had you no commiseration of a tender soul that being wett to the skin, you cause her to thrust into a room whereon was nothing to sitt or lye down upon but dust ... had your dogg been wett you would have offered it the liberty of a chimney corner to dry itself, or had your hoggs been pend in a sty, you would have offered them some dry straw, or else you would have wanted mercy to your beast, but alas Christians now with you are used worse [than] hoggs or doggs ... oh merciless cruelties. …
My wife writes me word and information, ye she had been above a fortnight [more than two weeks] and had not trode on the ground, but saw it out your window; what inhumanity is this, had you never wives of your own, or ever any tender affection to a woman, deal so with a woman, what has nature forgotten if refreshment be debarred?”

Mary hadn’t been arrested for preaching or speaking against the church/state government, which is what the 1658 law against Quakers described as fit for banishment upon pain of death if they returned.

William Dyer wrote, “[She] only came to visit her friends in prison and when dispatching that her intent of returning to her family as she declared in her [statement] the next day to the Governor, therefore it is you that disturbed her, else why was she not let alone. [What] house entered she to molest or what did she, that like a malefactor she must be hauled to [prison] or what law did she transgress? She was about a business justifiable before God and all good men.”

Her offense had been merely visiting her fellow Quaker friends while they were imprisoned—and she got caught up in the anti-Quaker hatred. (Visiting prisoners was a virtue, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25.) There are reports of male and female Quakers receiving repeating lashings, usually connected with their being disruptive to church services, or preaching. Men and women were stripped to the waist and lashed, with knots at the end of the multiple strands of leather to break the skin with more wounds per stroke. But there are no reports of Mary being beaten, which makes me suspect that she was not a preacher or public speaker, at least in the company of men. Hers was a supporting role to the Quakers.

The result of William Dyer’s letter was that not only Mary, but her fellow Quakers, were released from prison on September 12. Patience Scott, the niece of Anne Hutchinson and cousin of Captain Edward Hutchinson, a Boston attorney, was released to her cousin’s care and then returned to Providence.

“You are required by these, presently to set at liberty, William Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, Mary Dyer, and Nicholas Davis; who, by an order of the court of council, had been imprisoned, because it appeared by their own confession, words, and actions, that they are Quakers; wherefore a sentence was pronounced against them, to depart this jurisdiction on pain of death; and that they must answer it at their peril, if they, or any of them, after the 14th of this present month, September, are found within this jurisdiction, or any part thereof.
Boston, September 12th, 1659”

Davis, who had only gone to Boston to do business, not preach, left the colony and returned home to Sandwich in Plymouth Colony. Robinson and Stevenson committed civil disobedience and stayed in Massachusetts, and were re-arrested and condemned to hang in October 1659. Mary Dyer went home to Newport, but returned to Boston by October 19 (against her husband’s will!) with Hope Clifton and Patience Scott’s older sister and was re-arrested and condemned.

William Dyer pulled more strings in October, and sent their 19-year-old son William to obtain the arranged reprieve for Mary. (The young man was merely the messenger. The drama played out in private meetings between Boston magistrates and ministers about nine days before the October 27 execution date. See Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This Vol. 2 for the full story.)

The law regarding Quakers:
Whereas, there is a pernicious sect, commonly called Quakers, lately arisen, who by word and writing have published and maintained many dangerous and horrid tenets, and do take upon them to change and alter the received laudable customs of our nation, in giving civil respect to equals or reverence to superiors, whose actions tend to undermine the civil government, and also to destroy the order of the churches, by denying all established forms of worship, and by withdrawing from orderly church-fellowship, allowed and approved by all orthodox professors of truth, and instead thereof, and in opposition thereunto, frequently meeting by themselves, insinuating themselves into the minds of the simple, or such as are at least affected to the order and government of church and commonwealth, whereby several of our inhabitants have been infected, notwithstanding all former laws made upon the experience of their arrogant and bold obtrusions, to disseminate their principles among us, prohibiting their coming into this jurisdiction, they have not been deterred from their impetuous attempts to undermine our peace and hazard our ruin.
For prevention thereof, this court does order and enact, that every person or persons of the cursed sect of Quakers, who is not an inhabitant of, but is found within this jurisdiction, shall be apprehended without warrant where no magistrate is at hand, by any constable, commissioner, or select man, and conveyed from constable to constable to the next magistrate, who shall commit the said person to close prison, there to remain (without bail) unto the next court of assistants, where they shall have a legal trial; and being convicted to be of the sect of Quakers, shall be sentenced to be banished upon pain of death. And that every inhabitant of this jurisdiction, being convicted to be of the before said sect, either by taking up, publishing, or defending the horrid opinions of the Quakers, or the stirring up mutiny, sedition, or rebellion against the government, or by taking up their abusive and destructive practices, namely: denying civil respect to equals and superiors, and withdrawing from our church assemblies, and instead thereof frequenting meetings of their own in opposition to our church order, or by adhering to or approving of any known Quaker, and the tenets and practices of the Quakers that are opposite to the orthodox received opinions of the godly, and endeavoring to disaffect others to civil government and church order, or condemning the proceedings and practices of this court against the Quakers, manifesting thereby their compliance with those whose design is to overthrow the order established in church and state; every such person, upon conviction before the said court of assistants in manner before said, shall be committed to close prison for one month, and then, unless they choose voluntarily to depart this jurisdiction, shall give bond for their good behavior, and appear at the next court, where continuing obstinate, and refusing to retract and reform the before said opinions, they shall be sentenced to banishment upon pain of death; and any one magistrate, upon information given him of any such person, shall cause him to be apprehended, and shall commit any such person to prison, according to his discretion, until he come to trial as before said.

* In 1775, more than a century later, Rhode Island Colonial Records reported: “That Mr. Benjamin Mumford be employed as a post rider from Newport to Cambridge [near Boston]; that he set out from Newport on Monday afternoon at 3 o'clock, to carry the Newport mail for the westward to Providence, and proceed immediately to Cambridge, with the mails for that post office, and set off from thence on Thursday, in the afternoon, for Providence; and there take the mail from the westward, and proceed immediately to Newport; that he be allowed for his services at the same rate as hath heretofore been allowed to the post rider between Newport and Boston;”

Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title):

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
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.)

1 comment:

  1. Facebook comment:

    Sandra Petrie Hachey: So sad that such horrific religious persecution was endured by my 8th great grandmother Mary Barrett Dyer and my 9th great grandmother Anne Marbury Hutchinson. Strong women were feared by men whose quest for supreme authority unleashed deadly retribution and cruelty that bore no resemblance to Christianity.


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