Monday, November 28, 2011

William Dyer, landed gentleman

© 2011 Christy K. Robinson

William Dyer was the son of a prosperous farmer in Lincolnshire. Unlike most farmers of his time, his father was a "yeoman farmer," meaning that instead of leasing land, he owned it. At age 14, William apprenticed to a master milliner in London, an international trader in fashion and leather accessories for men. His master emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1633. William married Mary Barrett, and followed his master and several prosperous friends in 1635. In 1637, he was one of many signers on a Remonstrance that was deemed seditious, and along with many Boston families, was ejected from the colony in early 1638. William was a co-founder of Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island.

In this article, you’ll see how a farmer’s second son became “William Dyre, Gent.,” a landed gentleman.

London, England

1633-35: William Dyer leased his former guild-master’s home on Greene’s Lane near River Thames in Westminster; leased space in the New Exchange market on the Strand, for The Globe, a millinery shop.

Boston, Massachusetts
Modern Boston, with labels of where Hutchinsons, Winthrops, and Dyers lived in mid-1630s.

1635-36: Owns land and home on Shawmut Peninsula (now central Boston) at Milne (now Summer Street) and Cornhill Rd. (now Washington Street), near Fort Hill; and owns 1/14th (seven percent) of Boston’s town dock.
The shoreline of Boston in 1630, overlaid by a modern street plan
that shows where shallow bays were land-filled in the 19th century.
The Dyers lived on Milne Street (now called Summer Street),
from 1635 when they arrived, to March 1638 when they left to
co-found Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island.
Click HERE to see larger, detailed map in another tab. 

Rumney Marsh, Massachusetts
Jan. 1637: William Dyer granted 42 acres at Rumney Marsh, Saugus, Massachusetts, “bounded on the North with Mr. Glover, on the East with the Beach, on the South with Mr. Cole, and on the West with the highway.” Click HERE for more on Rumney Marsh.

From New England’s Prospect, by William Wood, is this description of Rumney Marsh:
Rumny Marsh, which is 4 miles long and 2 miles broad; halfe of it being Marsh ground and halfe upland grasse, without tree or bush: this Marsh is crossed with divers creekes, wherein lye great store of Geese, and Duckes. There be convenient ponds for the planting of Duckcoyes. Here is likewise belonging to this place divers fresh meddowes, which afford good grasse and foure spacious ponds like little lakes, wherein is store of fresh fish: within a mile of the towne, out of which runnes a curious fresh brooke that is seldome frozen by reason of the warmenesse of the water; upon this streame is built a water Milne, and up this river comes Smelts and frost fish much bigger than a Gudgion. For wood there is no want, there being store of good Oakes, Wallnut, C├Ždar, Aspe, Elme; The ground is very good, in many places without trees, fit for the plough. In this plantation is more English tillage, than in all new England, and Virginia besides; which proved as well as could bee expected, the come being very good especially the Barly, Rye, and Oates.

Winter/spring 1638: William sells land—probably all his land—in Massachusetts Bay area before they move to RI, being banished as of the end of March.

Dyer Island in Narragansett Bay

Dyer Island
March 24, 1638: As the purchasers of Rhode Island (including William Dyer) sailed past a small wooded island in Narragansett Bay, William asked to be granted that island; it was named Dyer Island after him. Some small islands were used to contain goats or hogs; as this island has a lagoon, perhaps William used it for bird hunting or fishing. See the depositions below, made in 1669, when he deeded the island to his second son.

Aerial view, Dyer Island
Source: NOAA
Dyer Island is a low-lying 28-acre island situated approximately halfway between Aquidneck Island and the south end of Prudence Island. Despite its small size, Dyer Island's ecological value is significant. It supports one of the last remaining salt marshes without mosquito ditches in Rhode Island and is a nesting area for coastal shorebirds including the locally rare American oystercatcher.
This uninhabited island also provides foraging habitat for a variety of shorebirds and was found to support 47 species of seaweed – a diversity second only to Rose Island in the bay. In September 2001, Dyer Island was acquired for preservation and incorporation into the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve using state and NOAA funds. It will be used in perpetuity for research, monitoring, education, and passive recreation. (Source:,_Rhode_Island )

Mar 25, 1639: William’s share of ownership of Boston dock conveyed to merchant (speculation: Walter Blackborne, his former master?).

Portsmouth, Rhode Island 
Founders Brook Park memorials to
Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson,
Portsmouth, Rhode Island


1638: The purchasers of Aquidneck Island (later called Rhode Island) bought the island and some of the Narragansett Bay islands from Indian sachems (chiefs) Miantonomo and Canonicus for "the full payment of forty fathom of white beads, to be equally divided betweene us." (This was a legitimate purchase. Wampum shell beads were currency that could be traded for furs, foodstuffs, clothing and textiles, etc. Even the English colonists used wampum on occasion, when coin was short.)

Click this link to a copyrighted photo of the lane leading to the Founders Brook where the first settlement was made on Aquidneck Island, on the northernmost tip. The Indians called it Pocasset, and in 1640 its name was changed to Portsmouth. During the year the Dyers lived in Pocasset/Portsmouth, William was a surveyor. With two other men, he measured and laid out land allotments to the freemen of the town.

Land granted [Itt To Mr] Wm Dyre At the Cove by the marsh 6 Acres being [10] pole in bredth by 50 in Length y bounded round by the marsh. 

Newport, Rhode Island

March 10, 1640, William had 87 acres of land recorded to him at Newport. Again, he was on a commission to apportion land and to survey hundreds of acres across the southern half of the island. One payment he received for professional services was 10 acres of land and £19 (a healthy amount of money that would buy three cows or two horses in their economy).
No one knows the exact dimensions of the Dyer farm, but I've
drawn this from the river mouth by Coaster's Harbor, to Dyer
Point (Ft. Greene), to reflect the size of 140 acres. It might have
been longer and thinner, or had an irregular shape
because of the addition of the 30 acres in 1644.

William Dyre having exhibited his bill under the Treasurer's hand unto the sessions held on the 10th of March, 1640, wherein appears full satisfaction to be given for seventy-five acres of land, lying within the precincts of such bounds, as by the committee, by order appointed, did bound it withal, viz.: To begin at the river's mouth, over against Coaster's Harbour, and so by the sea, to run up to a marked stake, at Mr. Coddington's corner, and so down, upon an easterly line to a marked tree over against the Great Swamp, and so two rods within the swamp, at the two deepest corners of the clear land, the one at the southeast corner, and the other upon a straight line in the northeast, marked by stakes, and so down to a marked tree by the river side; the river being his bounds to the mouth thereof. with a home lot and a parcel of meadow and upland lying between Mr. Jeremy Clarke's meadow, and Mr. Jeoffrey's at the north end of the harbour, and north upon the highway, with ten acres allowed by the town order for his travelling about the island, lying within the former bounds, which is his proportion.
“This, therefore, doth evidence and testify, that all those parcels of land before specified, amounting to the number of eighty-seven acres, more or less, is fully impropriated to said William Dyre and his heirs for ever.”
1650 map. Perhaps William Dyer
was one of the surveyors who
reported to the cartographer.

1644: In May, William buys 30 acres adjacent to Dyer farm, and 15 acres in south Newport. Sells 10 acres of land to George Gardner in October, and four acres more in December; the land was in south Newport between the ponds and right on the ocean front. William recorded this about himself:
“Wm Dyers farm [June or January] 20th 1644: Memorandum that the farm of William Dyre of Newport in the Isle of Rhodes consisting of all well the lands that was granted unto him by the said town as also of several purchases that he, said William, made of divers lands that adjoined hereunto amounteth to the number of one hundred forty acres more or less.”

1661: Land in Narragansett, called Misquamokuck (now Westerly), was taken by William Dyer, Sr., Samuel Dyer, and Mahershalalhashbaz Dyre, and articles of agreement between an Indian captain and others were signed by them. William Dyer was appointed to transcribe the deeds, testimonies, ratifications, etc. At a general meeting, February 17th, 1661-2, William Dyer was chosen surveyor of Misquamokuck. At the court held at Aquidneck, near Wickford, May 20th, 1671, the persons inhabiting here being called to give their encasement and desiring; to know whether or no the court, on behalf of the colony, do lay any claim to their possessions which they now inhabit, which persons were Mr. Samuel Dyer and others. To which demand this present court do return unanimously this answer: That on behalf of the colony this court do not lay any claims to their possessions which they now inhabit. (Source: )

1668-69: William Dyer surveys New Hampshire and Maine for geology and natural resources before writing proposal to King Charles II. The proposal was printed in London in 1670.

1669: William Dyer may have become ill and put his estate in order, in the event he wouldn’t recover (he lived another seven years). Depositions were made that William owned Dyer Island.
Dyer Island, off Portsmouth:

The affidavits in regard to this gift follow:
“To whome these shall Concern I Testefy that the little Island lying in the bay on the North Side of the wading River was given Mr Dyre by the Purchassers. 31 October 1650 Jno. Sanford.

I Attest that the above written Premisses were by my fathers Order and Comand by me written my father then being very sick and ill witness my hand the 4th of October 1669 John Sanford.

I do afirm also that as wee past along by the afore-said Island the Purchassers gave the said Island to Mr William Dyre. Nov. 1, 1650 John Porter.

This is to Testefy that I Roger Williams being acquainted (by the good Providence of God) with the first Conception Birth and growth of Rhode Island (alias Aquednick) doe Asert and affirme as in the holy Presence of God, that by the  Consent of the first Purchassers of Rhode Island (Dead and liveing) the litle Island Comonly Called Dyres Island was from the first and allways (sometimes in Meriment) but always in Earnest granted to be not only in Name but also in truth and reality the Proper Right and Inheritance of Mr William Dyre of Newport On Rhode Island. Roger Williams Assista:” (R. I. L. E. I, 267., Po. R. 376.)

“Captn Randall Houldon of Warwick in the Province of Rhode Island iff Providence Plantation aged 57 years or thereabouts being Ingaged according to law Testefieth as followith That the Purchassers gave that litle Island Called Dyres Island to Mr William Dyre senior that was then one of us and further saith not. Taken the 24th day of June 1669.”

“I Doe affirm that wee the Purchassers of Rhode Island (my selfe being the chief) William Dyre desireing a spot of land of us as we passed by it, after we had Purchassed the said Island, did grant him Our Right in the said Island and named it Dyres Island. Witness my hand. October 18th 1669 William Coddington.”

“I Richard Carder being a Purchassere doe own the above said writeinge: November: 7th 1669 by me Richard Carder”

“William Cooley aged 66 years or thereabouts being Ingaged Testefieth that in the first year of the setling of this Plantation of Newport he being Master of a boat and Jeffery Champlin and Richard Series being of his company, and stoping at the Island Called Dyres Island mr William Dyre in Presence of them took posession of the said Dyres Island and further saith not. Taken before me this 6th of December 1669. John Green Assistant” (R. I. L. E. I, 267., Po. R. 346.)

1777 map of Newport, RI. The Dyer farm probably extended
from Dyer's Point (now the Battery Park), north to the
land opposite Coaster's Island.
1669: William Dyer sold 12 acres of land to Peleg Sandford.

1670: William deeds northern part of Newport Dyer farm to son Henry in Henry’s 21st year. William directs properties to sons and money to daughters. July 25: Samuel and Henry Dyer bind themselves to their father William Dyer to pay to their sister Mary Dyer Ward, eldest daughter of William, £100 within three years after the death of their father and to Elizabeth Dyer, second daughter of William by his second wife Katherine, the sum of £40 when eighteen years of age [1679].

William Dyre of Newport, ,Gent : granted to my sonn Henry Dyre into that part of my farme lyinge at the northerly and thereof: to witt, from the Stone Ditch. as alsoe from the tree where my sonn Mahers Tobacco house stood, from the Cave to and by that tree upon an Equidistante line from the said Stone Ditch downe unto and through the swamp unto mr. Coddingtons line by the brooke. (the fence is equally devided) percell of Land so bounded with a free Egress ingress and regress to and through the land of my sonn Samuels but in case my sonn Henry should have Issue only Femailes then my sonn Samuell after the death of the said Henry shall Give one hundred and fifty pounds starllinge the eldest to have a double portion the rest an equall dividend of the Residue, but if only one all to her &c besides the Valluation of the houssinge  thereon built the Land to return to Samuell
7th day of July 1670. William Dyre.
Wit The X marke off.
Robert Spinke
John Furnell

August 5, 1670:William Dyre of Newport, gent.,” deeded to “my son William island called Dyre's Island lying and being situated in Narrogansett Bay upon the northern side of Rhode Island over against Prudence Island.

1677: William Dyer dies at age 67-68, and farm is inherited by his sons; his two daughters received financial bequests by 1679-80, as did his second wife Katherine.
·         Samuel Dyer b. 1635 d. 1678, resided Kingston, RI with wife Anne Hutchinson Dyer and seven children, on lands granted by her father, Edward Hutchinson. Odd that Samuel, as eldest son, wasn’t deeded the Dyer properties at the same time as his younger brothers. Yet, in 1687, his son Samuel sold his portion of the Dyer farm to his uncle Charles Dyer. Probably Samuel Sr. automatically inherited whatever land his father hadn’t deeded to other sons, when William Sr. died. Samuel Sr. died only a year or two after his father.
·         William Dyer Jr. b. 1640 d. 1688 (Customs official and Mayor of New York), resided Delaware. William bequeaths Dyer Island and large estates in Delaware and Pennsylvania to his son William Dyer and five other children.
·         Maher Dyer, b. 1643 d. before 1670, resided Portsmouth and Newport. He was married for about five years, but his wife had no living children.  
·         Henry Dyer, b. 1647 d. 1689/90, resided Newport. Had two children.
·         Charles Dyer, b. 1650 d. 1709, resided Newport and Little Compton, RI. Charles Dyer moved from his farm in Little Compton to Newport to raise his children. Charles’ will leaves the Newport farm to his son Samuel and the house and its contents to his second wife Martha (who raised his five children after his first wife Mary died); after her death it reverted to Samuel or his heirs. In addition, Charles said, “My earnest will and desire is (that) piece of ground that is now called the Burying Ground, shall be continued for the same use unto all my after generations that shall see cause to make use of it, and I order that it shall be well kept fenced in by my son Samuel Dyre and his heirs forever.”

1679: At the May 12, 1679 court, “upon indictment by the General Solicitor against Katherine Dyre of Newport for misbehavior [apparently she sued Samuel Dyer’s widow, Anne Hutchinson Dyer], she being in court called, appeared: pleads not guilty and refers for trial to God & the country. The Court upon serious consideration of the matter see cause to quash the bill.” Katherine then sued her stepson Charles Dyer in 1682, in a £30 complaint of trespass, in which the jury found for Charles. 

1687: Charles Dyre of Newport, Husbandman, bought of [oldest brother Samuel’s son] Samuel Dyre of Boston, carpenter, land in Newport, Bounded on the East, partly by certain lands in possession Mr. Francis Brinley & Left Collo of Peleg Sanford on the South, by land of Late Mr. Nicholas Easton and Mr. Johnson the West, by the sea on North by land of Henry Dyre.—with house, orchards, Gardens, meadows, woods, swamp--layed out unto mistress Katharine Dyre [his stepmother] by town of Newport 1681 as her Right of Dower. 5 Oct1687. 
Witt. Weat Clarke, 
Robert Little, 
Daniel Vernon.   
(Source: Rhode Island Land Evidence 1648-1696 -Abstracts Vol 1 page 206)

 Click HERE for a view of what used to be the Dyer property of Newport, Rhode Island.


Like this article? Read my non-fiction book on 17th-century life and times,
The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport, by Christy K Robinson.
Nonfiction, illustrated. The research and recent discoveries behind the novels. The Dyers is a lively nonfiction account of background color, culture, short stories, personality sketches, food, medicine, interests, recreation, cosmic events, and all the "stuff" that made up the world of William and Mary Dyer in the 1600s.  Chapters on John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, John Endecott, and many others. More than 70 chapters, and all-new, exclusive content found nowhere else!

1 comment:

  1. Jo Ann Butler said:
    Christy, your latest post about William Dyer is superb! Great documentation and graphics, and an entertaining story.

    Christy K Robinson said:
    Thanks, Jo Ann. If and when I find other transactions (I'm expecting a book in the mail), I'll edit them in. Surely you noticed the Porter reference in there! :)


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