Friday, September 16, 2011

Happy birthday, William Dyer!

© 2011 Christy K Robinson

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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. Baptisms usually were held between the day of birth and about three days. The day of birth was more likely if the infant was in physical distress, while the third day allowed the mother a bit of recovery time. So William's actual day of birth might have been Sept. 17, but the record, written by his father the churchwarden and admitting William to the fellowship of the Church of England, was Sept. 19.

Font from Great Limber,
Lincolnshire; what the
Kirkby La Thorpe font
might be like.
 Weddings took place at the door of the church. Baptismal fonts, usually carved from stone, were located at the back of the church because they symbolized the beginning of the spiritual life; while the crypt or burial chests with effigies were in the chancel or transept area, after the soul's journey and spiritual growth through life. Sometimes babies were immersed, but usually they were sprinkled or the priest's wet fingers traced the sign of a cross on the baby's forehead. I have friends who live near Kirkby La Thorpe, but they haven't yet been able to photograph the church interior for this website.

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.

St. Denys Church of England in Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire,
where William Dyer was baptized in 1609.
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: )
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 propose that the Naval land that has been proposed to give back to the city of Newport, which is where the Dyers' original burial plot is located, would be just the spot! 


Christy K Robinson is author of these sites:  

and of these books:

·          We Shall Be Changed (2010)
·          Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013)
·          Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014)
·          The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014)
·          Effigy Hunter (2015)
·          Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (2018)

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