Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Grandparents-in-law: the Quaker connection

© 2012 Christy K. Robinson
 This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  

All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

Petition of imprisoned Quakers to be released from Boston's House of Correction, 24 Dec 1660.
From the center placement of Robert Harper's name, and the formation of letters,
I believe the petition was written in Robert's hand.
Photocopy of a holograph in Massachusetts Archives.
(transcript follows)
**** general court where as it is reported yt ye prison doors are set open
***** that wee may have our liberty of this is spoken both in towen
and country in so much yt one of our relations which came to see us questioned
****** shee should find us at the prison: as touching our liberties it is yt wee
***** thing if it be granted wee are ready to be one cop* if yt wee may get to our
**** children from whch Margaret Smith hath been detained about ten monthes
and her husband three monthes Mary Traske about 8 monthes Robert Harper
and his wif now about two monthes
and whether yeat will [hurt? hand?] may our libertys wee desire to have an answer
from you
                    from ye house of correction in boston ye 24 of ye 10th mo 1660 [24 Dec. 1660]
                                                     Robert Harper                   John Smith
                                                     Deborah Harper                 Margaret Smith
[possibly Wenlock Christison]    

[carried by?] William Salter [jailer]
Ben Gillam

In the late 1650s, Robert Harper of Sandwich in Plymouth Colony, had been heavily fined as much as £44 over time, for attending Quaker meetings and repeatedly refusing to take the fidelity oath (taking an oath was contrary to Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:33-35 not to swear at all.); he was whipped 15 stripes with a 3-knot gut scourge (that's at least 45 wounds); he and his wife Deborah Perry Harper were set in Boston prison with no food unless an outsider paid for it, hard labor, and with no heat during winter in the Little Ice Age. 

Their fellow members in the Friends, and co-signers of the document above, were John and Margaret (Thompson) Smith of Salem, Massachusetts, parents of several children, at least three of whom grew up to marry and have families of their own. In a letter to Governor John Endecott, their former neighbor, in spring 1660, John Smith wrote: "O governour, governour, do not think that my love to my wife is at all abated, because I sit still silent, and do not seek her ... freedom, which if I did would not avail.... Upon examination of her, there being nothing justly laid to her charge, yet to fulfil your wills, it was determined, that she must have ten stripes in the open market place [where her clothes were torn off before her whipping], it being very cold, the snow lying by the walls, and the wind blowing cold ... it being snowy, wet weather, not fit for a woman to travel in, putting her into the prison again, all wet with the cold snow, a most cruel thing, and there kept her in the winter season, not regarding her if she had been frozen to death. ... My love is much more increased to her, because I see your cruelty so much enlarged to her."

It's highly likely that the other women of this group were also stripped in public and whipped. In Salem, several Quaker women were whipped nearly to death, after which they were supposed to be dragged over stumps and rocks 15 miles through the frozen forest to be left to die and be torn by animals. Apparently the carters had some measure of mercy, for somehow the women survived. Perhaps they were left with farmers or Indians, or the carters sneaked the women back to people who would help.

What earned  prison for the people in this petition? In October 1660, they went to Salem to visit other Quakers under persecution—the same thing that Mary Dyer had done several times and was hanged for the previous June 1, 1660. One of their number, Mary Southwick Trask, had Quaker family in Salem who had suffered banishment, fines, prison, and an attempt to sell her brother and sister as slaves. The entire group knew exactly what might happen to them, and they purposely set out to defy “the bloody law.” They committed civil disobedience in the cause of religious freedom.

The Harpers were no strangers to heavy fines (which seemed to be repeated several times a year, probably as a lucrative business for the magistrates) or arrests. Though they were subject to Plymouth Colony courts, they were incarcerated at Boston, in Massachusetts Bay Colony, probably for trespassing in the Bay to preach or visit other Quakers.  

The Boston laws passed by Governor John Endecott and his assistants stated that Quakers were to be whipped at their entrance to the prison. It was later amended to whipping them several times a week. The jailer was sometimes told to whip the prisoners harder, while Deputy Governor Bellingham stood by to be sure the scourge was properly applied. The following points are some of the incidences of fines, whippings, and incarcerations of Robert Harper:

·         1 June 1658 – Robert was fined £10 at Plymouth for failure to take the “oath of fidelitie.” (Ten pounds could purchase a calf or colt, so it was a considerable penalty in that economy.)
·         July 1658Robert's property seized: Two oxen, al he had fit to work, one heifer, one bull  £14; five cows, all the cattle he had, and his house and land, £30. The marshal left him with one cow "so poor that she was ready to die, and that was all they left him for the relief of himself and family."
·         2 Oct 1658 – Robert was fined £5 for refusing to take the “oath of fidelitie,” along with twelve others of Sandwich.
·         7 Jun 1659 – Robert and other Quakers appeared before the Plymouth court for failure to take the “oath of fidelitie,” and fined £5.
·         6 Oct 1659 – Robert appeared before the court for failure to take the “oath of fidelitie,” and fined £5 at Plymouth. A month later, Mary Dyer visited Sandwich.
·         8 or 13 June 1660- Robert was fined £5 for refusing to take the “oath of fidelitie.”
·         2 Oct 1660 – Robert was convicted for refusing to take the “oath of fidelitie,” at the General Court in Plymouth; fined £6 at Plymouth.
·         2 Oct 1660 – Robert and Deborah Harper were fined £4, “for being att Quakers meetings.”
·         13 Oct 1660 – Robert and Deborah Harper and others visit Quaker friends in Salem’s jail, arrested and committed to Boston’s House of Correction. They petitioned for release on 24 Dec 1660, but no record is noted of their disposition at that time.
·         24 Mar 1661 – Robert, who must have been recently released from Boston prison, “stood under the scaffold and caught in his arms the body of his friend William Leddra, the martyr preacher,” when Leddra’s hanging rope was cut. For this, he and his wife were banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony (different jurisdiction from Plymouth Colony). In late June/early July 1661, an order from King Charles II arrived in Massachusetts that stopped executions for religion's sake. It also had the effect of reducing (though not stopping) persecution of the Quakers.
       1663 – Robert was sentenced to be "publickly whipt for his intollerable insolent disturbance, both for the congregation of Barnstable and Sandwich."  
·         1670 – Again the same sentence was passed upon Robert Harper "for reviling Mr. Walley," minister of Barnstable.

Mary Dyer was reprieved from hanging in October 1659, and taken away to Newport. But a week to ten days later, in November, she showed up in Sandwich, Plymouth Colony, for a Thomas Greenfield was sentenced to pay for her lodging in prison and her transportation back to Rhode Island. Surely she would have met with the Sandwich Quakers, of which Robert and Deborah Harper were pioneer members. Mary purposely returned to Boston in May 1660, was retried and condemned for disobeying her banishment, and hanged on June 1, 1660. 

Bishop, in New England Judged by the Spirit of the Lord, wrote: “Several of Salem friends ye committed, and have continued them long prisoners at Boston, as Mary [Southwick] Trask, John Smith, Margaret Smith, Edward Wharton, and others. Robert Harper, of Sandwich, and Deborah ye committed likewise, and these were in your prison, the 13th of the 10th month [13 Dec], 1660. Several ye banished upon pain of death, as Wenlock Christison, and William King of Salem, and Martha Standley, a maid belonging to England, and Mary Write [Wright], of Oyster Bay, in Rhode Island, who gave her testimony against you for your cruelty in putting Mary Dyer to death, whose blood ye also thirst after because of it.”

When were the Quakers of the petition released from Boston’s House of Correction? Wharton was kept in the freezing cold prison all winter. Leddra likewise, and he was hanged on March 24, 1661. It seems that the group were released sometime between Christmas, when they made their petition, and early March; that they went home briefly, and came back to Boston to defy Governor Endecott and Deputy Governor Bellingham at Leddra's execution. Wenlock Christison was granted release on March 11 if he would leave forever, but he turned down his clemency. He was sentenced to hang in a few months, but the royal order to cease religious executions came just before his day, and he was reprieved and released.

Robert and Deborah Harper had two young children at the time of their Quaker activism and persecution. Mary Harper was born 25 Dec 1655, and Experience was born Nov 1657. Possibly the little girls were kept by their Perry grandparents. They grew up to marry and bear a tribe of Quakers. Deborah Perry Harper, their mother, died shortly after giving birth to a baby in December 1665. Robert married six months later, in 1666, and had more children by Prudence Butler.
A Quaker meeting, undated art

Experience Harper married Joseph Hull in 1676 (the year before William Dyer died in Newport). Their first son, born 1677, was Tristram Hull, who married William and Mary Dyer’s granddaughter (through son Charles Dyer), Elizabeth Dyer in 1699. Thus we see that 39 years after Mary Dyer’s death in Boston, which Robert and Deborah Harper probably attended and certainly protested, the Dyers and Harpers united their family lines. They became grandparents-in-law. Robert Harper, age 74, was still alive in 1704. So he alone of the grandparents was still alive, and intimately knew the deep connection between the families. Elizabeth and Tristram’s first four children had been born by 1704, and the firstborn was named Mary. While Mary was a common name and it was Elizabeth's mother's name (Elizabeth was raised by her stepmother Martha), it could be that great-grandfather Robert Harper suggested the name to honor Mary Dyer.

Other than an interesting historical factoid, perhaps the lesson we can take away, 300 years later, is to be kind and supportive of the people in our circles. We never know who our grandchildren will “hook up” with in 40 years, and combine genes!

William & Mary (Barrett) Dyer                                                  Robert & Deborah (Perry) Harper
Charles and Mary (Lippett) Dyer                                               Joseph & Experience (Harper) Hull
                                   Elizabeth Dyer.................................Tristram Hull 

 More great anecdotes about mid-17th century England and New England, supported by research, can be found in the nonfiction paperback and ebook The DYERS of London, Boston, & Newport, by Christy K Robinson. It's the third in a series about Mary Dyer, Anne Hutchinson, Sir Henry Vane, Roger Williams, and John Winthrop. 

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)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Jewish settlement of Newport in 1658: Fact or Fiction?

And you thought this blog was about Mary and William Dyer, and Puritans and Quakers! So it is. But it’s also about their culture, politics, religion, natural history, neighbors, influences, and everything around them.
Many Portuguese Jewish refugees fleeing the Inquisition went first to the Netherlands or Brazil, then to New Amsterdam (now called New York), where they had a measure of religious freedom under the Dutch Reformed Church; and others went (via Brazil and Barbados) to Newport, Rhode Island, because of the Rhode Island charters granting religious freedom--and for Newport's commercial trading opportunities (sugar, rum, African slaves). If the Jewish refugees and traders came to Newport in 1658, it’s very likely that they crossed paths or did business with William Dyer, who died about 1677.

The Jewish settlement of Newport in 1658: Fact or Fiction?

Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, finished in 1763.

 ©2012 by Patricia O’Sullivan (used by permission)

When fellow author and antiquarian, Christy K. Robinson, asked me to write a guest blog about the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, in the 17th century, I imagined writing the first draft in an hour. However, I got stuck immediately because I couldn’t pin down a primary source document for the establishment of the Newport Jewish community in 1658. It turns out this settlement date hinges on a mysterious letter found in an attic trunk in the 19th century.

A more detailed series on the controversy surrounding this date will appear in my blog, in the coming weeks. What follows is a summary of my research on the 1658 Jewish settlement date.

The Jewish settlement of Newport in 1658 is often stated as common knowledge by trusted institutions and historians. However, the 1658 settlement was not common knowledge until the twenty-first century. In fact, up until 1853, no one wrote about a Jewish settlement in Newport almost two hundred years earlier. Not even Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who published a poem about the Jews of Newport on the two-hundredth anniversary of the 1658 settlement date mentioned it. Up until 1853, Jewish settlement in Newport was difficult to pin down. There are records from the Rhode Island General Assembly from 1684 and 1688 recording the presence of Jews in the colony. But there was not an actual Jewish community until the mid-eighteenth century when the Jews of Newport built a synagogue.

So what happened in 1853 that pushed the ‘common knowledge’ settlement date back one hundred years?

It began with a death, that of Hannah Hull of Connecticut in 1839. As her nephew and executor, Isaac Gould, sifted through her effects, he found an old, coverless trunk in her attic. Isaac’s son, Nathan Gould, claimed years later his father found in that trunk a letter concerning the Freemasons of Newport. According to Nathan Gould, the letter, compromised by time and weather, read:
“Ths ye (day and month obliterated) 1656 or 8 (not certain which, as the place was stained and broken: the three first figures were plain) Wee mett att y House of Mordecai Campunnall and affter Synagog Wee gave Abm Moses the degrees of Masonrie.”
Memorial stone at entrance to Newport's Jewish cemetery.

In 1853, another Gould of Connecticut, James L. Gould, (whose relationship to Isaac and Nathan Gould is unclear) wrote a history of the Freemasons of Newport, citing the letter found in the trunk as evidence the masons were active in Newport in 1658.

Masonic leaders in Rhode Island and Massachusetts dismissed the letter as a fabrication after pressing the Goulds for further evidence of their claims. None of the Goulds could produce the original letter, claiming it had been misplaced.

However, a local historian, Edward Peters, cited the discredited letter in his History of Rhode Island published in 1853. Almost twenty years later, another historian, Charles P. Daly, cited Peterson’s History of Rhode Island when he claimed in “The Settlement of the Jews in North America” Jews came to Newport in 1658. In 1897 Max J. Kohler cited both Peterson and James Gould when he presented the 1658 settlement date as fact in his book, The Jews of Newport.

In the next one hundred years various historians accepted the 1658 settlement date, disputed it, or ignored it as not worthy of a scholarly discussion. Accounts of the 1658 settlement vacillated widely between fabrication, fact, and unsubstantiated tradition. However, most histories of the Jews in North America and of Newport published since 2000 present the 1658 settlement date as a longstanding fact. It has now become tradition to date the settlement of the Jews in Newport at 1658.

It is disturbing how discredited historical evidence has been repeated enough times to be valued as a tradition. It suggests that some historians are either sloppy in their research or so eager to write history in a particular way they are willing to overlook shoddy evidence.

The Newport Jewish community was enormously important in the history of the United States. Men like Aaron Lopez and Jacob Rodrigues Riviera spent their fortunes aiding the Patriot cause while Isaac Touro steadfastly supported Britain and thus saved Newport’s synagogue for posterity. And Moses Seixas’s correspondence with George Washington has been enshrined in our national consciousness as one of the strongest statements of religious freedom made by our Founding Fathers. (For more information, click the highlighted links.)

However, Newport’s Jewish community did not achieve this greatness until the middle of the eighteenth century. And following the British occupation of Newport from 1776-1779, the Newport Jewish community never recovered its former numbers. By 1812 it was a memory, not a congregation. When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his famous poem, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport”, there were but a handful of living Jews in that city. The Newport Jewish community of lore comprised of a single generation. What they achieved is not diminished by their short tenure. Indeed, the fact they accomplished so much in a 35-40 year period is all the more impressive.

Facts matter. We cannot make something true by wishing it so. In addition, we need to ask ourselves: Why do we want something to be so? Does the date of Jewish settlement in Newport, be it 1658 or 1748, matter when we consider the importance of Jews in the history of this nation?

The promise of America is that it is a country for everyone no matter when they arrived or what their religion is. If that is not the reality, the problem is not when a people settled here but a disconnect between what America promises and what she is. 

 Patricia O’Sullivan is author of Hope of Israel,* a novel about the readmission of the Jews to England, and an instructor of Religion and Ethics at the University of Mississippi.

Thank you, Patti, for sharing your research, and enlarging our knowledge of what life was like in the 17th century—and how the same issues are relevant today. I’m currently reading and enjoying Hope of Israel, and look forward to the release of your next book, Legend of the Dead. (I heard its subject is connected to the Newport Jewish community!)

*Hope of Israel synopsis: In 1656, a small community of Spanish Catholic merchants lived in London bound by a sacred secret: they were Portuguese Jews. This is the story of one of them, Domingo de Lacerda, who learns early on that survival in seventeenth-century Europe requires both deceit and conformity. But then he meets Lucy, who has secrets of her own and who challenges Domingo to question everything he has been taught to value. The political and spiritual conflicts that characterized the Iberian Inquisition, the English Civil War, and the English Interregnum provide a backdrop against which Domingo must choose between his obligation to the Jewish community that protects him and the Catholic woman who loves him.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A peek at Mary Dyer's handwriting

Transcript below of the fragmentary image of Mary Dyer's letter to the Boston court, 26 October 1659.
Image courtesy of Massachusetts Archive.
from marie dire to the generall court now this present 26th of the 8 moth 59
assembled in the towne of boston in new Ingland greetings of grace mercy
and peace to every soul that doth well : tribulation anguish and wrath to all that doth evell. 
Whereas it is said by many of you that I am guilty of mine owne death by my
coming as you cal it voluntarily to boston: I therefore declare unto every one
that hath an eare to hear: that in the fear peace and love of god I came and in weldoing
did and stil doth commit my soul and body to him as unto a faithful creator
and for this very end hath preserved my life until now through many trialls and
temptations having held out his royal scepter unto mee by wch I have accesse
into his presence and have found such favoure in his sight as to offer up my
life freely for his truth and peoples sakes : whom the enimie hath moved you against...

Yes, I have the scan of the entire document, front and back, which I'll be transcribing in my historical novel (now published, see ).

Mary came to the end of the large sheet of textured paper, and turned it over to write six more lines, the ghost image you see behind the words in the middle of this fragment. On the right vertical edge of the paper are water stains which smeared the ink. Perhaps it was raining when the messenger carried her letter from the jail to the Massachusetts General Court, presided over by Governor John Endecott. The letter was folded at some point, and the paper has flaked away at some folds and edges, but for the most part, it's legible, even after more than 350 years!

For a look at William Dyer's handwriting, visit this link: a plea to Massachusetts General Court to redeem Mary Dyer from the death penalty. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Top 10 Things You May Not Know About Mary Dyer

© 2012 Christy K. Robinson 

This article is copyrighted. Copying, even to your genealogy pages, is prohibited by US and international law. You may "share" it with the URL link because it preserves the author's copyright notice and the source of the article.  
All rights reserved. This book or blog article, or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

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17th-century painting of Catholics
hanging Protestants in the 30 Years War.
This is the type of gallows
used in Mary Dyer's time.
Mary Barrett Dyer, 1611-1660, is commonly known as the subject of a statue outside the Boston statehouse in Massachusetts, and that she was hanged by the puritan government there in 1660. Countless thousands living today claim her as their ancestor. And that's generally all they know. Here are some tidbits to expand your horizons—or perhaps pump up the history paper your teacher assigned (be sure to read the archived articles in this site, and click the links for more details).

10. Mary Dyer's death bought your constitutional freedom.
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 (religious freedom), and eventually on the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights, ratified in 1791, and used as a model for many governments around the world. When you hear the words “First Amendment rights,” remember Mary Dyer, and that she and her cause were the motive for separation of church and state in America, and freedom to worship (or even not worship!) and speak according to your conscience. Maybe you think a religion-based or morals-based government would be good to take us back to the good ole days. If so, remember the religious governments of Islam (Iran, Taliban and Al-Quaeda, Iraq, ISIS, Saudi, and many others), the English Bloody Mary, the Catholic Inquisition and conquest of the Americas, the Puritan slaughter and enslavement of Irish Catholics, the European and American trials and executions of "witches" who weren't witches, the mass migrations away from sectarian persecution, the Holocaust of the Jews, the Bosnian genocide... Government and religion must be kept separate, and religious beliefs must not determine laws. Mary and William Dyer knew that.

9. Mary Dyer was hanged, but not for “being a Quaker.”
This nonfiction e-book
by Christy K Robinson
(author of this blog) is an
anthology of  research
on the Dyers, Anne Hutchinson,
John Winthrop, the cultures they
lived in and shaped, and the
civil liberties issues they
raised which affect us today.
I know, that’s what most of the genealogy websites—and Wikipedia, and Ruth Plimpton's book, and countless opinions and feature articles say (actually, it's a big circle of quoting one another). But it’s not true that Mary Dyer was hanged for "being a Quaker." Thanks to the Quaker missionaries from England, there were hundreds of Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) converts in New England in the late 1650s and early 1660s. They were subject to persecution and physical torture (imprisonment in wet or freezing jail cells, topless whipping for men and women, branding, having ears notched or sliced off, tongues bored through, being dragged from town to town, put in stocks, fined heavily and/or their possessions confiscated, banished) because they represented anarchy to the church-state government formed by the Massachusetts Bay founders. Quaker persecution also happened in England, and for the same reason—fear of anarchy to established traditions and government.
 Not one person was hanged for religious beliefs in their hearts and minds for "being a Quaker," but because they were intentionally disobedient to anti-Quaker laws. You can see by Mary's 1659 letter to the Massachusetts court that she was ready for heaven, that she was appalled at their cruelty and wickedness, and that she chose to die. When she left Shelter Island in the spring of 1660 and walked from Providence, Rhode Island to Boston, Massachusetts, it was her intention to defy the anti-Quaker laws and be executed, specifically to bring attention to the cruelty of the theocratic governor and magistrates and their unjust laws, and raise public outcry against them. According to a Quaker observer, she believed 'it was required of her once more to visit Massachusetts, to finish, as she expresses it, "her sad and heavy experience in the bloody town of Boston."' Mary was re-tried on May 31, and hanged on June 1, 1660. By the way, it is incorrect grammar to say that Mary was "hung." People are hanged, objects are hung. 

8. Not hanged on Boston Common.
The gallows in Boston were located
to the left of the fortification,
at the narrowest part of Boston Neck.
This drawing is from 1728.
Note the post-and-lintel gallows.
Nearly all accounts of Mary’s and other “criminal” hangings say they were hanged on an elm tree on Boston Common, and their bodies were buried in a common grave (of Indians, thieves, paupers, etc.) now lost. This belief started more than a hundred years after Mary's 1660 execution.  In M.J. Canavan’s speech to the Boston Historical Society, published in the book, Where were the Quakers hanged in Boston?, he makes the case that executions in the 17th century were made just outside the fortification on Boston Neck, the isthmus that connected the Shawmut Peninsula to the Massachusetts mainland. It was about a mile’s walk from the prison, as described by the Quaker historians, but the Common was only a fraction of a mile. Further, from 1630, Boston was intended to be the New Jerusalem which would be the City on a Hill, filled with godly men whose strict keeping of the Old Testament law would hasten the second coming of Christ. From biblical times, criminals were executed outside Jerusalem's gates to symbolically keep their corruption or "uncleanness" from the Holy City. The place of crucifixion was outside the city. Boston authorities seem to have modeled their gallows on that, by putting the gallows outside the city gate. Where was Mary Dyer buried? Probably not in the criminals' open pit of the Neck's marshes. Researcher Johan Winsser believes that because Mary was a high-status woman, her body was taken home to the Dyer farm's burial plot at Newport, Rhode Island.

7. Mary Dyer committed civil disobedience. 
The four Quakers who were hanged, including Mary Dyer, actually chose to die, rather than agree to permanent exile from Massachusetts and their preaching and religious support there.  They were given the opportunity to leave—and live—and chose instead to take a stand for liberty of conscience in the hope that their deaths would be so shocking that the persecution would end. They were hanged for civil disobedience. Mary Dyer’s letter to the Boston magistrates shows that she was opposed to their “bloody” laws of religious intolerance and persecution, and that she rejected their conditional offer of release. 

6. Mary was educated, intelligent, beautiful, wealthy.
What did she look like? She was described as a woman “of no mean extract or parentage, of an estate pretty plentiful, of a comely stature and countenance, of a piercing knowledge in many things, of a wonderful sweet and pleasant discourse, so fit for great affairs, that she wanted [lacked] nothing that was manly, except only name and sex.” Another writer said of Mary: "a Comely Grave Woman, and of a goodly Personage, and one of a good report, having a Husband of an Estate, fearing the Lord, and a Mother of Children."

5. Mother of a “monster.”  
Mary Dyer’s third pregnancy ended in the premature stillbirth of a girl with anencephaly (having only a brain stem) and spina bifida deformities. Six months after it was buried, Governor John Winthrop ordered the exhumation and examination of the baby, calling it a monster, and proof of God’s judgment on Mary’s heresy to the puritan beliefs and lifestyle. In 1644, he published a book in England about Anne Hutchinson's heresy trial that described the Dyer baby’s appearance. In the mid-1600s, there was an urban legend that women who preached, or even listened to a woman preacher, bore monsters. Mary bore eight children, six of whom lived to adulthood.

4. Mary Dyer was co-founder of two American cities.
Many people believe that Mary Dyer was a Pilgrim who came to America on the Mayflower. Untrue! Stop it now! Though her name is not on the documents because as a woman she wasn’t a “freeman” who could vote, Mary came to Boston in 1635 with her husband. In 1638, she was a pioneer who walked from Boston to Providence, Rhode Island, with her husband, small child, and other families connected with Anne Marbury Hutchinson. Mary’s husband William Dyer signed the Portsmouth Compact that united the founders of the new colony, and he was among the purchasers of Rhode Island from the Indian sachems. One year later, Mary and William and others established the town of Newport, Rhode Island. The other women who co-founded Newport are listed in this blog and nowhere else, which is a shame, because it was easy to find out!

3. Mary’s husband was a milliner, surveyor, farmer, politician, militia captain, sea captain, and trader.
 William’s apprenticeship in London had been to the professional guild, the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, which had London mayors and council members among its alumni, but his first profession was milliner. A milliner was not a maker of fancy hats and bonnets, but a supplier of leather goods and accessories from Milan, Italy (Milan-er). William’s apprenticeship in foreign trade, imports and exports, and merchandizing was probably the equivalent of a modern Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree! And it's probable that like a university student or intern, in his nine years of apprenticeship, William would have learned much about commercial fishing and its inspections and regulation. In New England, he was quickly put to work as a surveyor, trader, and administrator.

2. Mary was married to a man of “firsts.”
Mary’s husband, Captain William Dyer, was the first Secretary of State of Rhode Island, first Attorney General of Rhode Island (1650), and first Commander-in-Chief Upon the Seas for New England (1652-53). He was also commissioned to take military action against the Dutch colonists of New England, by the Council of State in England.

A Dutch trading ship at House of Good Hope,
a fort near Hartford, Connecticut
Captain William Dyer (Commander-in-Chief Upon the Seas) and Captain John Underhill (Commander-in-Chief Upon the Land) were commissioned, during the Anglo-Dutch War in 1652-53, to harass the Dutch traders and settlers occupying what’s now known as Long Island, Manhattan, New York, and Connecticut. William’s job was to take “prizes” of ships and their cargos, and split the profits with the English Council of State and the colony. As a result of the Dyer/Underhill ship and farm “takeovers” (or at least the imminent threat of them), the Dutch governor ordered a defensive wall built across the southern part of Manhattan Island. The wagon road that ran alongside the wooden palisade was called Wall Street. Wall Street is still the domain of raiders, 350 years later…  Mary was staying in England during the time William performed these controversial acts.

1. Mary Dyer heard God’s voice.
In her twenties, Mary was a close friend and student of Anne Marbury Hutchinson, who claimed divine revelation and visions, and by doing so, incited the fury of the Boston Puritan leaders who believed that God only communicated in that way with men. Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop said that Anne and Mary were “much addicted to revelations.” When Mary studied Quaker beliefs in the 1650s, she learned that they called divine revelation the Inner Light. Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians today would recognize it as the Holy Spirit speaking to one’s heart. Secular people would term it a conscience.

Henry VII of England,
absolutely NOT the ancestor
of Mary Dyer.
Bonus thing you may not have known: Mary Dyer was not the secret child of Arbella Stuart and William Seymour.   
That's what many genealogy pages (and Ruth Plimpton's book) say about Mary's ancestry. If you've copied that to your records, it's WRONG. No researcher has found proof of Mary's parents or her birth or christening record. The legend was created in the 1800s by a Dyer descendant. The false story is that she was the child of Lady Arbella Stuart (3x great-granddaughter of Henry VII), aged 35 in 1610, and William Seymour (4x great-grandson of Henry VII), aged 22 at time of their secret and illegal marriage. Age 35 was very old for first-time pregnancy in those days. If Arbella had been pregnant and borne a baby, it would have been noticed by servants, royal household personnel, Anglican clergy, or any of the hundreds of Lambeth Palace or Tower of London employees--it was impossible to hide something like that, especially since Arbella was under a royal-watcher microscope! But according to legend, the newborn Mary was spirited out of the Tower of London (a prison, remember, with tight security) and raised by her nurse, the original Mary Dyer, and hidden from King James I while he searched for the child who had a better claim to the throne. What a crock of snooty bias! There's also a false rumor that Arbella Stuart was killed by King James in 1615 in the Tower of London. Arbella actually died--childless--from a self-imposed hunger strike. And William Seymour's children were born to a later wife, years afterward. Face it, it's impossible for Mary Dyer to have been the Stuart-Seymour daughter. Really, isn't it MORE remarkable that Mary Dyer was brilliant and accomplished on her own, without a privileged background? Read more about this easily-busted myth HERE.

All three Dyer books are here:

To join hundreds of friends and descendants of Mary and William Dyer in a discussion of their culture and experiences, join the Facebook page called "William and Mary  Barrett Dyer Descendants," and/or follow this blog (see margin).
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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)