Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sir Henry Vane the Younger

© 2011 Christy K Robinson

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Massachusetts Bay Colony Governors John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley were not close friends (in fact, they were rather miffed at one another on several occasions), but they were fathers-in-law, co-investors in the MassBay Company, and brothers in the faith. Despite their differences of opinion in government matters (Winthrop was lenient on his erring friend Roger Williams and Dudley wanted Williams exiled even in harsh midwinter), it was their practice to stay professional, work together, and present a unified front.

Henry Vane the Younger, 1637
So imagine their surprise when cocky, 24-year-old Henry Vane called a meeting on January 18, 1636, about the “reconciliation” of Winthrop and Dudley. Among the citizens, factions were forming for Winthrop and Dudley, said Vane. He was a new arrival to Boston in 1635, and came with family wealth and royal court connections. He was popular with the people of Boston and the magistrates hoped for Vane’s brilliant career in colonial government.

Those present at the meeting were Governor John Haynes, Reverends John Cotton, John Wilson, Thomas Hooker, and Hugh Peter, as well as Winthrop and Dudley, of course.

“Vane declared the occasion of this meeting,” wrote Winthrop in his Journal:  “A more firm and friendly uniting of minds, etc., especially of the said Mr. Dudley and Mr. Winthrop, as those upon whom the weight of the affairs did lie, and therefore desired all present to take up a resolution to deal freely and openly with the parties, and they each with other, that nothing might be left in their breasts, which might break out to any jar or difference hereafter.”

After hearing Vane’s concern about the lack of hugs, affectionate glances, Saturday barbecues, and warm fuzzies, Winthrop and Dudley protested (politely and wordily) that they’d reconciled and healed their differences long ago, and that they were “brothers,” and if people complained, that was their problem. Surely these fiftyish men with dignitas were annoyed at being called out to a “come to Jesus meeting” by a meddling twenty-something newcomer. And seriously, wasn’t there some real business to conduct?

Governor Haynes requested that the ministers confer and create a rule, and that they all should meet the next day. The conclusions of the ministers were that
  • there should be “more strictness used in civil government and military discipline;”
  • that the magistrates should confer privately, decide cases and deliver their verdicts with a face of unanimity;
  • not to discuss cases out of court;
  • speak not to the person but to the cause of a case;
  • not to make faces or continue to argue against fellow magistrates when disagreeing;
  • and that the magistrates should appear “more solemnly in public, with attendance, apparel [a dig at the dandily-dressed Henry Vane], and open notice of their entrance into the court.”
  • And further, that the magistrates should be more open and familiar with each other, visit more frequently, and honor the others.
(As for the Massachusetts Bay governors’ council and their resolution for charity and professional comportment at the conclusion of Henry Vane’s warm-fuzzy meeting, in the autumn of 1637, when these magistrates and ministers were trying Anne Hutchinson for heresy, they made personal attacks on her, and showed open contempt and disdain. Their emotions ran so high that they seemed to forget the rules of conduct laid out and agreed to in 1635. When Hutchinson desired to know how she deserved the banishment sentence, John Winthrop snapped, “Say no more! The court knows whereof and is satisfied.”)

It’s quite possible that Henry Vane was already well-acquainted with William Dyer and his former master, Walter Blackborne, both of whom had lived near the Thames in Westminster and were taxed in the same parish (St. Martin-in-the-Fields) as Henry’s father had been. Vane and Dyer, who were about four years apart in age, were admitted to freeman status (voters and members of the church and community) at the same time.

When Henry Vane first arrived in Boston, he was admired for his Puritan fervor, his government connections in England, and his family’s money (rich people were obviously blessed by God). His father, Henry Vane the Elder, who was an Anglican, had given his eldest son and heir leave to spend three years in New England, and it seemed Henry was actually headed to Connecticut, but Boston caught him and there he stayed. John Winthrop was peeved at Henry’s flamboyance with his apparel and his attendants (what you might call a posse).

Soon, Henry became a supporter of Anne Hutchinson and her teachings, along with the Dyers and many other men and women of Boston, and that really infuriated Winthrop. Henry, a single man, lived in the very nice home of Rev. John Cotton, one of the "stars" in the Boston firmament, and many of the Hutchinson teaching sessions revolved around the sermons of her mentor of 20 years, Rev. Cotton. Henry was in the very heart of the biggest thing to come down the turnpike—except that the Massachusetts Turnpike wouldn't be built for 320 years!

In May 1636, the young Henry Vane was elected governor of Massachusetts Bay and directed a military action against the Pequot natives; within seven months, he attempted resignation in tears, but was urged to complete his year’s term. In March 1637, he and scores of other men signed a Remonstrance against the governors’ council in their heavy handling of the Wheelwright controversy, and that was called sedition by that council (the council retaliated in November of that year). In May 1637, he was replaced as governor by John Winthrop’s reelection.

Henry Vane may have been planning to lead a group of investors and important members of Boston, to a new “plantation” in Rhode Island. Members of the Wheelwright faction, who had signed the Remonstrance, were dissatisfied with the politics and governance of John Winthrop and the deputy governors and ministers, and were planning a move as early as the summer of 1637, before Anne Hutchinson’s first trial for heresy, and her exile from Massachusetts. Losing these men’s business skills and financial assets would be an economic setback to Boston, and they’d be too far away for the magistrates and ministers to control. The renegades were talking with Roger Williams and the Narragansett Indians about purchasing Aquidneck Island—which they did in the early winter of 1638 when it was obvious that Anne Hutchinson and her adherents were being banished, and they were forced to accelerate their plans.

But Henry abruptly sailed back to England in August 1637, a year early. The same month, the Bay's ministers held a convocation to affirm their belief in salvation (only for the Elect or predestined) confirmed by keeping the Sinai Laws, and decry the Hutchinson teaching of salvation by faith in the grace of God, apart from the law. At the meeting, they set a November date for Anne Hutchinson's heresy trial.

An official letter signed
by Henry Vane in 1643
(second, centered).
Henry Vane took up naval administration with favorable professional advancement courtesy of his powerful father. By 1640, he was knighted, married to the daughter of Parliament’s treasurer, and started a large brood of children. As a Puritan, he supported the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War of the 1640s, and was appointed Treasurer of the Navy. He continued to have an important, respected role in Great Britain's relations with its American colonies.

When Mary Dyer gave birth to her seventh child in 1648, the baby was named Henry—almost certainly in honor of Sir Henry Vane. (Her eighth child, born in 1650, was named after King Charles I, who had been executed the year before.)

During the 1650s, Vane was at times the head of the English government, when the council presidency rotated around to him. In 1652, he (as one of the Council of State) commissioned William Dyer as Admiral in the Anglo-Dutch war. Vane retired to Raby Castle in County Durham (which his father had bought from the Crown in 1626), with his wife and large family, and wrote several books that would be criticized for their liberality of thought, especially as regarded liberty of conscience. 
Sir Henry Vane the Younger in about 1652.

When Mary Dyer spent nearly five years in England, from 1652 to 1657, it may be that she enjoyed the hospitality and protection of Henry and Frances Vane at times, even as many Quakers were being beaten and imprisoned around the country. Imagine the spirited discussions they would have held regarding liberty of conscience, grace and works, and the inspiration of what many at the time called "Inner Light." A historian wrote that Henry "presented himself as a 'witness' of light." (Perhaps that was Mary's influence!) In fact, Quaker founder George Fox met with the Vanes at Raby Castle (see photo) in 1657, after Mary had departed for America in January. When Fox and Vane could not agree on theology, Fox remarked later that Vane was "vaine & high & proude & conceited."

Henry fell out with Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of the realm, and was arrested and imprisoned regarding his publications. He was released to home, and arrested again, spending some “quality time” in Carisbrooke Castle prison where the high-status political prisoners were held. In 1662, he was politically betrayed and beheaded for treason on June 14. He'd done no wrong, but the new king, Charles II, was told that Vane was too dangerous to keep alive. (Similar to modern corporations which sweep out the long-term administrators and employees for new bosses to bring in a new "team.") 
Raby Castle, purchased by Henry Vane the Elder in the 1630s, has been owned by
the Vanes and Neville-Vanes from then until now.
Samuel Pepys attended Henry Vane’s execution and recorded these lines in his journal:
He made a long speech, many times interrupted by the Sheriff and others there; and they would have taken his paper out of his hand, but he would not let it go. But they caused all the books of those that writ after him to be given the Sheriff; and the trumpets were brought under the scaffold that he might not be heard. Then he prayed, and so fitted himself, and received the blow; but the scaffold was so crowded that we could not see it done....He had a blister, or issue, upon his neck, which he desired them not hurt: he changed not his colour or speech to the last, but died justifying himself and the cause he had stood for; and spoke very confidently of his being presently at the right hand of Christ; and in all things appeared the most resolved man that ever died in that manner, and showed more of heat than cowardize, but yet with all humility and gravity. One asked him why he did not pray for the King. He answered, "Nay," says he, "you shall see I can pray for the King: I pray God bless him!"
You may have read in genealogy or wiki pages on the internet that Henry Vane the Younger was the father of Mary Dyer's "monster" anencephalic baby, and/or of Anne Hutchinson's molar pregnancy. That rumor started decades after the tragic pregnancies, some years after Vane's execution to cast judgment and vitriol on three people who were considered religious heretics. There is NO foundation to that lie.

For more information about the career of Henry Vane the Younger, who is the ancestor of Raby Castle's current owner, Henry Vane Lord Barnard, click HERE


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)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Where Paths Diverge: The Great Quaker Debate

I'm pleased to present a guest post by a friend I met through the Mary Barrett Dyer Facebook page. Thank you so much, Ken, for adding to our understanding of the life-and-death issues that surrounded Massachusetts Bay and Rhode Island Colonies in the 17th century.
© Ken Horn (use in this site by author’s permission) 

Picture two people traveling down the same road, in seeming accord. Both meet a wayfarer … and respond in directly opposite ways. One is captivated, the other appalled. One sees an open door, the other an obstacle. To one it’s an opportunity, to the other a stumbling block. For Mary Dyer and Roger Williams (1604?-1683) that wayfarer was George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. And the paths of Dyer and Williams diverged—radically.

Dyer would become a Quaker and eventually give her life for that cause; Williams became a bitter enemy of the Quakers, though his principled adherence to the separation of church and state and freedom of religion kept him from ever wielding the force of law against them in Rhode Island. Instead, the pen and the tongue were his weapons.

After Anne Hutchinson was expelled from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638 on grounds of heresy, she and her family, and scores of her followers, sought the refuge Roger Williams had created in his colony.

Roger Williams and the Rhode Island Charter
Williams had fled the persecution of Archbishop Laud in England, arriving in Boston in 1631. He went to Salem and became a teacher of the church, but was eventually banished (in the dead of winter) because of his radical views on religious liberty, the separation of church and state, and fair compensation and godly interaction with the Native Americans.

He took those beliefs with him and put them to work when he founded Providence Plantation, which eventually was united with Portsmouth, Newport, and Warwick to form Rhode Island Colony. After purchasing the land for a fair amount from the Narragansett Indians in 1636, Williams’ unique society was built on the foundation of freedom of religion. 

When the Puritans risked all to cross the ocean, they were not seeking freedom of religion as we understand it today. Toleration was not part of their goal. Instead they sought freedom for their religion—strict Calvinism—and toleration of other forms of Christianity was not included. As a result, dissenters from the state religions (Anglican, Catholic, Jew) were drawn to Williams’ haven for refuge.

In 1639 Baptists took refuge in the colony and influenced Williams to accept their view of water baptism—immersion for believers, no infant baptisms—doctrines contrary to Puritan teaching and practice. He was rebaptized by Ezekiel Holliman, who had been a member of the Salem church Williams had ministered in, and helped found the first Baptist church in America.

But the relationship did not last. Williams left it in short order to become a “Seeker” and wait for the restoration of the true church. He came to believe that the true church no longer existed, its succession being broken when Constantine instituted the first state church in Rome in the fourth century.

Following her husband’s death, Anne took her family to Dutch territories. She and five of her children were killed by Indians in 1643.

The Dyers had also been banished with the Hutchinsons to Rhode Island in 1638. In 1651, William Dyer, now Attorney General of Rhode Island, accompanied Roger Williams and John Clarke to England, where they obtained a confirmation of their charter and revoked divisive land claims of the governor. Mary Dyer sailed for England in early 1652, remained five years, and became a follower of Fox.

In Rhode Island, the strong foundation of freedom of religious expression survived the onslaught of internal problems brought about by the hearty individualism that very freedom fostered. Rhode Island became a haven to the Quakers but Williams came to distrust, even dislike, them.

Fox’s teaching included the precept of the “Inner Light,” a mystic tenet which was similar to Anne Hutchinson’s “Antinomianism.” To Dyer, the Quaker cause was worth dying for. To Williams, it deserved the worst of his open scorn.

Mary’s fate after becoming a follower of Fox is well documented on this blog. Dyer was eventually hanged for repeatedly returning to Boston with her Quaker beliefs in 1660.

While Quakers were persecuted in Massachusetts, in Rhode Island they were debated—quite bitterly indeed, but nevertheless not persecuted.

 Williams and Fox were alike in that they held radical religious and political views, but the views themselves differed, so they made formidable adversaries. Fox spent two years in the New World and was grateful for its freedom.

During that time, Williams composed 14 propositions against Fox that were published as “Mr Wms Q against ye Quaker,” and included a challenge to debate. Williams’ mean-spirited accusations included calling Quaker teaching “Popish” and “Jewish.” Williams did recognize that Quakers suffered for their beliefs. But one of his propositions asserted the persecutions were not to be construed an evidence of the truth of their religion.

Fox never answered the challenge, but after his departure from Rhode Island, three of his disciples picked up the gauntlet. The result was several days of bitter and incendiary rhetoric between the Quakers and Williams.

A few years later, in 1676, Williams published his book George Fox Digg’d out of his Burrowes. In 1677, Fox and disciple John Burnyeat responded with A New-England Fire-Brand Quenched, a volume directed against Williams.

What came to be known as The Great Quaker Debate can be disillusioning. It paints a radically disparate picture from what little most of us know about Williams. And it seems immensely unfair to the memory of Mary Dyer, who died a martyr for the causes of both Williams and Fox.

George Fox Digg’d out of his Burrowes Full Title

George Fox digg'd out of his burrowes, or, An offer of disputation on fourteen proposals made this last summer 1672 (so cal'd) unto G. Fox, then present on Rhode-Island in New England by R.W. : as also how (G. Fox slily departing) the disputation went on being managed three dayes at Newport on Rhode Island, and one day at Providence between John Stubs, John Burnet, and William Edmondson on the one part, and R.W. on the other : in which many quotations out of G. Fox and Edward Burrowes book ... are alleadged : with an appendix of some scores of G.F. his simple lame answers to his opposites in that book quoted and replyed to

A New-England Fire-Brand Quenched Full Title
A New-England-fire-brand quenched being something in answer unto a lying, slanderous book, entituled, George Fox digged out of his burrows, &c. printed at Boston in the year 1676, of one Roger Williams of Providence in New-England ... : of a dispute upon XIV, of his proposals held and debated betwixt him, the said Roger Williams, on the one part, and John Stubs, William Edmundson, and John Burnyeat on the other at Providence and Newport in Rode-Island, in the year 1672 where his proposals are turn'd upon his own head, and there and here he was and is sufficiently confuted : in two parts : as also, something in answer to R.W.'s Appendix, &c. with a post-script confuting his blasphemous assertions ... : also, the letters of W. Coddington of Rode-Island, and R. Scot of Providence in New-England concerning R.W. and lastly, some testimonies of ancient & modern authors concerning the light, Scriptures, rule & the soul of men
Guest author Ken Horn
 Ken Horn, a descendant of William and Mary Dyer, and William and Anne Hutchinson, is an ordained minister, and editor of the Pentecostal Evangel at the General Council of the Assemblies of God.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mary Dyer’s Other Friends

I’m pleased to present a guest post by “Hay Quaker,” whose blog I’ve enjoyed reading since he discovered the Facebook page for Mary Barrett Dyer that I administer, and became her Facebook friend. Whether it’s his own article, or one of the many quotations he posts, it’s always food for meditation, and sometimes the impetus for further study. Thank you, Ray, and I hope you’ll favor the Dyers’ readers again in the future. (In the meantime, you can follow his blog.)
1670s-A meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
at Gracechurch Street, London

© Ray Lovegrove* (use in this site by author’s permission) 

William and Mary Dyer were remarkable people in many ways, as regular readers of this blog will not need reminding. It is, perhaps, their travel across the Atlantic Ocean not once, but twice, that would have singled them out as particularly unusual in their age. Mary became a Quaker during her return to England [1652-57] following her witnessing of George Fox preaching; so her first trip to America was as a Puritan and her second as a Quaker.

In the fifty years between 1675 and 1725, many Quakers left Britain and came to settle the Delaware River area of Pennsylvania and into western New Jersey. It is estimated that about 23,000 Quakers left Britain during this migration, about eighty percent of them coming from the counties of Yorkshire, Cheshire, Lancashire in the north of England and Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in the English Midlands.  

1654-Quakerism in England and Wales
 A further ten percent were from Wales and Ireland. The rest came from counties scattered across England, but there were none from the Eastern Counties of England (East Anglia), the heart of the Puritan movement. There were a small number of Quakers to be found in New England prior to this; they were not Friends to start with, rather came over as Puritans, later ‘converted’ by Quaker missionaries mainly from 1655–1670.

The reasons for this Atlantic migration are not hard to understand; the forces ‘pushing’ Friends towards the New World would have included persecution and lack of religious freedom in Britain.  The ‘pulling’ forces would have doubtless been the promise of a new start, the possible economic benefits of life in America, and the ultimate hope of starting new Quaker communities where like minded people could develop lives together, both in a spiritual and practical sense. The history of these migrants, and those adopting Quakerism in America is well known, but what of those left behind?

In the North of England and the Midlands, so many Friends took up the challenge of a life in the ‘New World’ that it had a devastating effect on many Meetings. The fact that a relatively small number of areas lost Friends in the migration would have made even more dramatic the impact on many communities, to an extent that was observable even to those who were not Friends.  Inevitably it was the young, fit and presumably the more wealthy Quakers who made the journey, leaving behind the elderly, the infirm and the poor. Families would have been split up and those Friends who migrated would have said goodbye to loved ones in the full knowledge that the chance of ever seeing them again was remote. Communications ‘home’ would have come by letter or as news brought by the very rare visitors (of which George Fox himself was one (1671-73). These visits aside, news between Quakers on both continents would have been slow, inconsistent and sometimes not at all.

Early American Friends had an influence on the history and development of their nation far greater than their numbers might have suggested. Influential Quakers like William Penn are justifiably looked upon as numbering among those who helped build America. In Britain, however, Quakers’ influence was limited. Excluded from studying at Universities unless they denied their Quaker beliefs and joined the Church of England, Quakers in Britain exercised influence not in government, but in the areas of commerce and industry, many becoming important players in the Industrial Revolution. Most of the leading UK banks were founded by Quakers and chocolate manufacture was for many years a virtual Quaker monopoly. 

Quaker numbers in Britain have never reached high levels (estimated currently to be 16,000 in the UK, compared to an estimated 93,000 in the USA) and perhaps that mass migration to America has had a bearing on this. Certainly many parts of England and Wales that were once strong Quaker regions, later to became Methodist strongholds, perhaps following the preaching of John Wesley in the eighteenth century, perhaps due in part to depleted Quaker numbers following migration.

When the visionary American Quaker John Woolman visited England in 1772 he was not entirely pleased with what he found in relation to Friends’ involvement with commerce and industry. He wrote in his Journal;
I have felt great distress of mind since I came on this island, on account of the members of our Society being mixed with the world in various sorts of traffic, carried on in impure channels. Great is the trade to Africa for slaves; and for the loading of these ships a great number of people are employed in their factories, among whom are many of our Society. Friends in early times refused on a religious principle to make or trade in superfluities, of which we have many testimonies on record; but for want of faithfulness, some, whose examples were of note in our Society, gave way, from which others took more liberty. Members of our Society worked in superfluities, and bought and sold them, and thus dimness of sight came over many; at length Friends got into the use of some superfluities in dress and in the furniture of their houses, which hath spread from less to more, till superfluity of some kinds is common among us.
In this declining state many look at the example of others and too much neglect the pure feeling of truth. Of late years a deep exercise hath attended my mind, that Friends may dig deep, may carefully cast forth the loose matter and get down to the rock, the sure foundation, and there hearken to that divine voice which gives a clear and certain sound; and I have felt in that which doth not receive, that, if Friends who have known the truth, keep in that tenderness of heart where all views of outward gain are given up, and their trust is only in the Lord, he will graciously lead some to be patterns of deep self-denial in things relating to trade and handicraft labour; and others who have plenty of the treasures of this world will be examples of a plain frugal life, and pay wages to such as they may hire, more liberally than is now customary in some places.”
Early Quaker meeting in a home. This was from an anti-Quaker
publication. Note the cats in the cupboard, the dog lifting
 his leg, the woman preaching from a tub.
John Woolman died during this trip to Great Britain; for this author at least, his visit represents one of the greatest gifts of American Friends to Quakers in these Isles. In pointing out the differences between British and American Friends he also underlined those things that keep us as Quakers – wherever we live – and his advice still gives us cause to stop and think.
The level of writing and journal keeping by both British and American Quakers is remarkable and provides us with a richly illustrated history, but also some considerable inspiration. Today with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, Quakers from all over the world are able to communicate (be that exchanging information or taking part in that age-old Quaker pastime – arguing) on a daily basis, hopefully with “the pure feeling of truth” always being present. Those close to the geographical roots of Quakerism are, at last, able to communicate freely with the most fruitful of the branches.
Guest author Ray Lovegrove
 © Ray Lovegrove 2011, used by permission
Ray Lovegrove (aka ‘Hay Quaker’) is a Quaker living in Hay-on-Wye, on the border between Wales and England.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Eight is Enough, especially in bed

I'm pleased to present the FIRST of a series of guest posts by some special friends who are knowledgeable about the culture of the 17th century, during which William and Mary Dyer lived their remarkable lives. Jo Ann Butler has kindly written this post based on her university degree in anthropology, and her research for the trilogy of historical novels she's writing (see footnote).  

© Jo Ann Butler (use in this site by author’s permission)
We’ve all lived without electricity and heat for the duration of a power outage. A few of us have done so for longer, perhaps tenting in the woods for a few days, or a week at scout camp. I’ll bet that you were grateful to get home to light, warmth, and tap water.

I spent a summer in a tent during my student archaeologist years. My crew bathed in a pond, cooked on a propane stove, and swatted mosquitoes as we catalogued artifacts under a string of bare light bulbs. It was a memorable experience, but I enjoyed it. If it had been January rather than July, my memories would have been far less pleasant.
A wigwam of poles and reed mats

My primitive summer was voluntary, but people in the 17th century knew no other life. Mary and William Dyer never felt the joy of hot water piped into their home, and they couldn’t turn up the thermostat on a cold night. Firewood, quilts, and body heat were all that kept the Dyers warm at night.

When the Dyers landed at Boston in 1635 and picked out a home lot, they needed shelter as quickly as possible. They may have lived with friends in the town, or in a tent like I did, or they may have used an Indian-style wigwam. To make a wigwam, create a tunnel by jabbing two rows of poles into the ground, bend them over, and then tie them at the top. Cover them and close one end of the tunnel with woven reed mats, and use another mat or a deer hide for a door. The wigwam wasn’t warm or waterproof, but the occupants could be under cover in a day.

A dugout was hard work to make, but would last two or three years, and it was warmer. Dig a hole into a hillside, tall enough to stand inside, and as wide and long as you wish. Line it with sawed planks or bark slabs. Close the open side of the pit with a plank wall equipped with a door. Roof it with pole rafters covered with bark, thatch, or turf. Dugouts were damp and dark, for they were often built without windows. However, their inhabitants were safely indoors.
Reconstruction of a colonial house
in Plymouth, Massachusetts

With the family’s first shelter built, the Dyers turned their attention to a more permanent home. Houses were small in New England’s early years for sensible reasons. A small home is more quickly built, and is easier to keep warm than a large one. The Dyers’ first house was probably a single room structure, with a squared timber frame. The walls were sawed planks, or withy filled in with a latticework of twigs slathered with mud. Forget about log cabins – that building style was not used in New England. The walls probably rested on timber sills set into the ground, and the home had either a plank flooring, or bare dirt.

The size of the one-room home depended on the size of trees available and how much time the owner (or the men he hired to build the home) wished to spend on sawing planks and squaring timbers for the frame. Even a 12’x16’ interior would serve for a small family, with rooms added later as the family grew.

The Dyers’ home was heated by a wood fire laid on hearthstones on the short side of the home. Chimneys were a rather new innovation when the Dyers came to Boston. Formerly, smoke escaped from a house via a hole cut into the roof, but William and Mary probably had a chimney built of logs plastered with mud. Such “cat and clay” chimneys were easier to build than stonework, but if the clay coating cracked, disastrous fires were the result.

It was hard to keep even a small room warm with a wood fire, especially during winter storms. The simplest way to sleep warm at night? Pile all of the family members into a single bed. Mary and William Dyer had six children who survived infancy (born 1635, 1640, 1643, 1647, 1648, and 1650). 

In warmer weather, a family's older children may have preferred to find less crowded sleeping spots, especially after the family home was expanded, but parents and younger children often shared a common bed. If the family had company overnight, they may have shared the communal covers. Privacy, as we know it, barely existed, unless the family was prosperous--as the Dyers were.

Related article: The Little Ice Age, coldest in 17th century
Chamber pot

Let me close with one more factoid about my primitive summer. With no plumbing but a well, several times a day we faced a 1000-yard walk to the privy. The 17th-century privy was probably much nearer to the house. There was far less concern with how close one’s outhouse lay to one’s drinking water. During their cold winter nights, the Dyers would use chamber pots, and then empty them in the morning. No matter how nostalgic I feel about the 17th century, or even my summer’s campout, when I think of Mary and William Dyer’s frigid, drafty outhouse, I am grateful for modern plumbing!
Guest author Jo Ann Butler
 Jo Ann Butler, of Fulton, New York, is author of Rebel Puritan, the first in a historical-novel series about Herodias Long Hicks Gardner, who lived in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and knew the Dyers.

Friday, October 7, 2011

William and Mary Dyer’s 17th-century bookshelf

1655-Woman Writing a Letter,
by Gerard Terborche

© Christy K. Robinson 
The first settlers of New England were avid readers. On long winter evenings, or rainy summer days, books were treasured for intellectual stimulation and entertainment value.

William and Mary Dyer were very well-educated for their time and social class. In an era when only some people could read, and fewer people could write, their penmanship is strong and clean, without scratch-outs, indicating that they thought carefully and focused on what they were writing. They make reference to the Bible and history. William was well-versed on geography and animal and marine species. Mary was highly-regarded for her intellect.

While we don’t know precisely which books the Dyers read in their youth or adulthood, I’ve listed books that were very likely on their reading list, published before or during their lifetimes (just a representation of hundreds or thousands of books which would have been available at the time). The hyperlinks take you to the online versions—searchable—many of them free downloads.

Book of Martyrs—John Foxe
The Book of Sports—King James
Daemonologie—King James
The Advancement of Learning—Francis Bacon
The English Housewife—Gervase Markham
A new booke of Cookerie—John Murrell
The Queen’s Closet Opened—Queen Henrietta Maria
Wonder working providence of Sions Saviour in New England—Edward Johnson
Religio medici—Sir Thomas Browne 
Newes from America—Captain John Underhill
New England’s Prospect—William Wood
Good Newes from New England—Edward Winslow
The First Planters of New England—John Winthrop
The Pathway to Health—Peter Levens
A Healing Question—Henry Vane
The Compleat Angler—Izaak Walton

Monday, October 3, 2011

All the fun a Puritan can stand

© 2011 Christy K Robinson

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In 1618, King James of England published The Book of Sports, a pamphlet that promoted recreation on Sundays after church services. Most English people worked 12 or more hours per day, six days a week. Puritan worship practices were to attend service for hours in the morning, have a lunch break, and then sit for two or more hours through more teaching and preaching before going home. Servants of Puritan masters were oppressed with no leisure time, no recreation, no time away from their employers. In 1632, James’ son, King Charles I, with the support of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, reissued The Book of Sports, but with the injunction that it be read aloud in all churches, or the ministers would be deprived of income, and probably imprisoned. “People are governed by the pulpit more than the sword,” said King Charles in 1638.

This was a serious blow to Puritans (as it was meant to be), and it sparked the Great Migration to New England. When Rev. John Cotton refused to comply, he went into hiding for a year before his emigration, and ten percent of the citizens of Boston, Lincolnshire, followed his flight to New England.

‘Puritans' opposition to sport was grounded on at least seven propositions: sport was frivolous and wasted time; sport did not refresh the body as good recreation should, but tired people instead; much sporting activity was designed deliberately to inflict pain or injury; sporting contests usually led to gambling; more sport took place on Sunday than on any other day, so, sport encouraged people to defile the Sabbath; sport was noisy and disrupted others, sometimes entire communities; and many sports had either pagan or “Popish” origins.’ ~Bruce C. Daniels, Puritans at Play, p. 166.

America’s Puritan colonists in the 17th century were opposed to ball sports because of the risk of injury and betting. They forbade blood sports (dog fights, bear-baiting, cock fighting), not so much from concern about animal cruelty, but because of the gambling attached to them. They condemned theater (cross-dressing because men played women’s parts, and sexual immorality) and organ music in church (distracted from Bible reading and preaching, inflamed the senses toward the emotional rather than the intellectual).

American Puritans approved of hunting, marksmanship, wrestling, and fishing. Their militia drill days were festivals in manly pursuits of warfare, and womanly cooking and marketing of home products.

What did New England women do for sport? Quilting, spinning, and sewing bees were productive and a great time for laughing and talking. There were speed-spinning competitions. Some sewing bees would have been occasion for the Bible studies that Anne Hutchinson got in trouble for, in mid-1630s Boston.

At home with the family, they loved reading aloud in the evening. At first, the books of choice were the Geneva Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, but soon, books and broadsheets were shipped to Boston, and sold, traded, loaned, and read over and over.

The Sabbath was a long day of preaching, punctuated by lunch at the meetinghouse—we’d call it a potluck or fellowship meal today. And when families came to church from some distance in the wagons, it wasn’t practical to go home for lunch. So the Sabbath dinners were a time to show off cooking skills.  

When homes and outbuildings were raised, it was turned into a community activity with men competing in carpentry and weight-lifting skills, and women competing with foods, or speed-sewing sprints.  

Group dancing, particularly at weddings, was acceptable in some communities, but not usually between unmarried men and women. In some areas, though, the ministers condemned dancing as too frivolous for end-times, when people ought to be soberly aware of the impending apocalypse and judgment.

What about drinking? you ask. Alcoholic drinks were extremely low in alcohol, about four percent. Everyone, including children, drank fermented cider, beer, ale, and wines, but usually not to excess. Private parties combined with over-imbibing often led to fornication and adultery. Those who did become drunk and misbehave (sexual affairs, homosexuality, or violent behavior) were tried by their church, put in stocks, whipped, or in an extreme case, made to wear a scarlet letter D (for "drunk") for a year. Overall, the preference for mild alcoholic beverages probably saved many lives, considering water-borne illnesses and parasites. Distillation of spirits and the resulting concentration of alcohol and its effects came to Newport when the Caribbean molasses were refined there. Newport gained a reputation for drunken mariners and prostitution.

But the joy in every New England man's heart came from sport fishing, in ponds, rivers, lakes, and the ocean, according to the author of Puritans at Play.

Fishing was both favorite pastime for men, and an important industry. Fishing, whaling, shipbuilding, and import/export of essential goods were vital to the development of New England. Often, stores of fruit, vegetables, grain, and meat from the fall slaughters had run out before the summer harvests began, and the people turned to the disdained food of poor people: lobsters.

Fishing vessel
When several failed harvests (at the peak of the Little Ice Age), and the population explosion of the Great Migration combined to threaten widespread famine and disease, Rev. Hugh Peter of Salem, Massachusetts, brought the bulk of fish processing and shipbuilding south, from French territories on Canada’s east coast, to ports of Salem, Cape Ann, and Boston, thus enriching the economy of Massachusetts Bay for generations to come.  

How convenient that William Dyer was a dues-paying member of London's Worshipful Company of Fishmongers! His nine-year apprenticeship in the prestigious guild was an advanced education in business management and foreign trade, though surely he was extremely knowledgeable about fish! He and Mary Dyer were among the co-founders of Newport, Rhode Island in 1639, a port that traded with Europe and the West Indies. What did they export? Lumber for shipbuilding, furs, horses, fish, and whale oil.

Colonial New England fun (sanctioned fun, anyway) was constructive and productive. It makes one wonder about what they’d think of their successors and descendants, painting their bodies in freezing weather and cheering for the New England Patriots, joyfully scrapping in hockey fights, or worshiping the Sox in their bikinis in the summer heat.


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)