Friday, March 9, 2012

Mary Dyer and the First Amendment, 1660-1791

© 2012 Christy K. Robinson

The sacrifice of Mary Dyer’s life in 1660 had direct bearing on the Rhode Island Charter of 1663 which legally granted liberty of conscience, and eventually on the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, and in the 20th century, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Biographical novel of Mary Dyer and husband William,
available in paperback and Kindle.
New research blows apart 350-year-old myths!

In an article on Major William Dyre (son of William and Mary Dyer), by Colonel J. Granville Leach, LL.B., is this paragraph:
An English writer has said: "The most important fact concerning Mary Dyre is that of her murder having been the motive of the wonderfully liberal charter granted by Charles II to the province of Rhode Island, making it the first spot whereon religious toleration and absolute freedom of worship were established by law."  Source: American historical register monthly gazette: historical, military, patriotic-hereditary societies, United States of America  (various authors)  

Whoever that English writer was, I agree with his assumption. Mary Dyer’s choice to die a shameful death in order to shock and outrage the Massachusetts public into understanding that her brothers and sisters in the faith were only carrying out the gospel commission (visiting the sick and imprisoned, treating the “least” members of society as they would treat their Lord, and proclaiming the Light of the world), was described in a booklet that was sent to King Charles II of England, their monarch. Edward Burrough wrote A Declaration of the Sad and Great Persecution and Martyrdom of the People of God, called Quakers, in New-England, for the Worshipping of God, which you can download here. The immediate effect of the King reading the booklet was his directive to stop the hangings entirely. It also slowed and lessened the other torture on religious dissenters for a few years.

After civil wars in England and two decades of parliamentary (puritan) rule, Charles had been restored to the English throne in 1660, and was crowned in London two days before Mary was hanged in Boston. Although nominally the head of the Church of England, his beliefs were inherited from his French Catholic mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, and further formed during his exile in Catholic France.

The Puritan English Parliament during the interregnum would not grant a charter that included religious liberties, and Charles II was not very keen on it, either—until, with the combination of Mary’s death as described by Edward Burrough, and Dr. John Clarke’s persistence, he granted the Rhode Island charter in 1663. (I prefer to think he was more high-minded and sympathetic with Rhode Islanders, than punitive to the Puritans who had beheaded his father--and might now be harboring the regicides in New England, but it could have been both!)

Dr. John Clarke, architect of the
1663 Rhode Island charter
Having read several pieces written by Attorney General William Dyer (Mary’s husband), I believe that some of the provisions of the 1663 charter of liberties granted by King Charles II to Rhode Island and Providence Plantations were not only the invention of Dr. John Clarke (architect and primary author of the charters) and Rev. Roger Williams (founder of Providence Plantations, governor, and respected thought-leader of Rhode Island colony), but pet issues of William Dyer’s, particularly after the repeated imprisonment and eventual execution of his wife, Mary. (Dyer is mentioned twice in the charter, along with two dozen other men who were purchasers, founders, and principal men of Rhode Island.)
  • Freedom of conscience to worship (or not) as they thought best.
  • Dissent from Church of England beliefs, without penalty, is allowed. 
  • Settlers/pioneers left England for religious freedom and to work hard for a new life (risking lives and fortunes), but were ejected from Massachusetts for religious reasons and had to start over again in perilous circumstances.
  • Shipping and Newport’s seaport trade.
  • Right of free passage through New England colonies (this nullifies the banishment orders of Massachusetts).
1663--Rhode Island's
royal charter (click to enlarge)
This is the portion of the 1663 Charter (constitution) for Rhode Island Colony that grants a separation between civil and religious matters, and the liberty to believe and practice religion as they believed best. Though framed by Dr. Clarke, Rev. Roger Williams, and Attorney General William Dyer, it’s written in the “voice” of King Charles II, as he was granting the rights to his colony.

And whereas, in theire humble addresse, they have ffreely declared, that it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted), to hold forth a livlie experiment, that a most flourishing civill state may stand and best bee maintained, and that among our English subjects. with a full libertie in religious concernements; and that true pietye rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye: Now know bee, that wee beinge willinge to encourage the hopefull undertakeinge of oure sayd lovall and loveinge subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjovment of all theire civill and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loveing subjects; and to preserve unto them that libertye, in the true Christian ffaith and worshipp of God, which they have sought with soe much travaill, and with peaceable myndes, and lovall subjectione to our royall progenitors and ourselves, to enjoye; and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colonie cannot, in theire private opinions, conforms to the publique exercise of religion, according to the litturgy, formes and ceremonyes of the Church of England, or take or subscribe the oaths and articles made and established in that behalfe; and for that the same, by reason of the remote distances of those places, will (as wee hope) bee noe breach of the unitie and unifformitie established in this nation: Have therefore thought ffit, and doe hereby publish, graunt, ordeyne and declare, That our royall will and pleasure is, that noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned; they behaving themselves peaceablie and quietlie, and not useing this libertie to lycentiousnesse and profanenesse, nor to the civill injurye or outward disturbeance of others; any lawe, statute, or clause, therein contayned, or to bee contayned, usage or custome of this realme, to the contrary hereof, in any wise, notwithstanding.

Rhode Island became a sanctuary for people who had been persecuted elsewhere for their convictions. One hundred thirty years after the charter, America’s “Founding Fathers” (actually, I prefer the first colonials to have that title, but it’s not my call!) framed a constitution and the amendments to it called the Bill of Rights, based in part on the Magna Carta, the Rhode island charter, the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, other documents, and some very creative, brilliant thinking.

The first amendment to the US Constitution is: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 

Whether or not you believe in God or a higher power, when you hear the words “First Amendment rights,” remember Mary Dyer, and that her cause and her death were the motive for separation of church and state in America, and freedom to worship (or not) and speak according to your conscience. Not the conscience of the government, or of morality groups, a church, or any others. The government cannot establish or prohibit your religious beliefs and activities.

Related story on Mary Dyer: The Anniversary of our Civil Rights
How and why did Mary Dyer die? Click: Top 10 Things You May Not Know About Mary Dyer 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Did education drive Miss Yale crazy?

© 2012 Christy K. Robinson

When asked how much educated men were superior to those uneducated, Aristotle answered, 
'As much as the living are to the dead.' 
~Diogenes Laetius

1645--Lady Mary Fairfax,
with her tutor. Her father, General Thomas Fairfax,
was third Baron Fairfax of Cameron.
Stunning statements about education have come to light in the last few election cycles. One presidential candidate said that America needs “a leader, not a reader.” Another said that the desire to educate more Americans is snobbery and "There are good, decent men and women … that aren't taught by some liberal college professor, trying to indoctrinate them. Oh I understand why he wants [you] to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image." A radio commentator who flunked out of college after two semesters said that a female “authorette” with a recent BA degree and a journalism award for her first book was "over-educated." 

At the state level, we see groups rewriting history to make it align with a rosy utopia that is itself taken out of context or simply invented. And state legislators and governors have slashed public education funding by the billions, and/or diverted public education money to for-profit charter schools.

In the 1600s, higher education was prized, and boys and young men were trained in science, mathematics, literature, history, religion, and liberal arts. After the home-schooled Anne Hutchinson defended herself so eloquently and bested the magistrates in debates at trial in November 1637 and March 1638, Massachusetts established Harvard College to train its teen boys to the ministry.

New England women guided the household, but remained subject to their fathers’ or husbands’ authority. Men believed women had the mental capacity to manage large households, many children and servants, and often a cottage industry like brewing beer, seamstressing, or cooking, but apparently not to be formally-educated women who discussed theology, as did Anne Hutchinson and later, Mary Dyer.  
1630--Old Woman Reading a Bible,
Gerrit Dou, Netherlands

A few women were well-educated from their early years in England, as a result of tutors or fathers guiding their learning. They were the exception, not the rule. Most Puritan women could read well enough to get through their Bibles, but that was all. In the first decades of colonial New England, schools were only for boys.

Ann Yale Hopkins, the wife of Governor Edward Hopkins of Connecticut, was believed to have gone insane not because she inherited madness or was driven to it by illness, injury, fear, or unbearable hardships of first-generation settlers, but because of her scholarship and the resulting mental exhaustion.

Massachusetts Bay Gov. John Winthrop wrote:  
“Mr. Hopkins, the governor of Hartford upon Connecticut, came to Boston, and brought his wife with him, (a godly young woman, and of special parts,) who was fallen into a sad infirmity, the loss of her understanding and reason, which had been growing upon her divers years, by occasion of her giving herself wholly to reading and writing, and had written many books. Her husband, being very loving and tender of her, was loath to grieve her [about spending too much time in reading and writing]; but he saw his error, when it was too late. For if she had attended her household affairs, and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, etc., she had kept her wits, and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her.” ~John Winthrop's Journal

The Hopkins' house
Edward Hopkins (born 1600) and Ann Yale Hopkins (born 1615) were among the co-founders of New Haven, Connecticut in 1637, but after only two months, moved to Hartford and set up a 120-acre farm and merchant trade with Turkey. Edward was elected governor or deputy governor for many one-year terms. The house they lived in from 1640, still exists on Popieluszko Court in Hartford.

It was at that time seen as a judgment from God that a woman was barren. Ann had no children, which was a huge disappointment to Puritans. As Winthrop wrote, “such things as belong to women," and "the place God had set her.” Coming from an education-minded family, reading and writing may have been a consolation to her, just as people in our day sometimes bury themselves in a creative pursuit or work. Ann exhibited signs of insanity beginning at about age 32 in 1647. Because men disapproved of women exhausting their brains, it is highly probable that her books and writing materials were removed from her at that time.

Interestingly, her husband survived an Indian assassination attempt in 1646, the year before Ann’s illness was observed. It’s possible that fear helped push Ann past the threshold of reason.

Edward and Ann returned to England permanently in 1652, perhaps because of Ann’s condition. He was engaged by Parliament as a naval commissioner (at the same time Sir Henry Vane was on the ruling council), but died in 1657. Ann was cared for until her death by her Yale relatives in north Wales.

Edward's large bequests helped fund a New Haven, Connecticut school named in his honor. ‘Hopkins is the third oldest independent school in the country. The School has been operating since 1660, and has retained as its historic mission, ‘the breeding up of hopeful youths...for the publique service of the country in future tymes.’ Congressmen, doctors, lawyers, Yale Presidents, and civil activists all had their start at Hopkins and are the embodiment of Hopkins' mission,” says a fundraising site. Another generous bequest by Edward Hopkins benefited Harvard College in Boston.

In the next generation, Elihu Yale, born in Boston in 1649, was one of the major benefactors of Yale University. Elihu is entombed at Wrexham, Wales, where there’s a Yale College, founded in 1950. Both the Welsh college and Connecticut university were named after Elihu Yale, Ann’s nephew. Wrexham's Yale College changed its name to Coleg Cambria, after the university threatened to sue.

A French asylum
Other New England women suffered mental illness, which was sometimes charged as witchcraft or being possessed by Satan. Several women killed or attempted murder on their children, and were hanged. One woman flung her child into a pond, and when the toddler crawled out and returned to its mother, the mother threw her child back in the water. A witness saved the child and reported the mother, who said that she wanted to spare her child from “further misery.” Yet another delusional mother wanted to save her baby from going to hell, so she killed it. The magistrates granted latitude to people who committed lesser crimes but were known to be seriously disturbed, but when it came to murder, the insane were executed for that crime. There were no asylums, but family members or hired help became caretakers of the insane.

That Ann Yale Hopkins was the wife and then widow of a wealthy man who was a governor probably lent to her long life in the care of family members instead of an insane asylum. Anne lived until 1698, and died at age 83, near Wrexham, Wales. Knowing the love of learning in the Yale family, perhaps Ann was permitted to read during times of lucidity, or be read to.

We can thank our 17th-century forefathers and foremothers for their deep commitment and personal sacrifices to improving their own minds and the minds of their children, and setting a tradition of pursuit of first-class education. Because they knew that with education comes prosperity in virtually every aspect of human life.

The foundation of every state is the education of its youth
~Diogenes Laetius