Saturday, October 26, 2013

London as the Dyers saw it (video)

© 2013 Christy K Robinson

Using maps and drawings from the British Library, a team of DeMontfort University students created a three-dimensional animation of what London was like during William and Mary Dyer’s lifetime, in the mid-1600s. (Except that the designers didn't put in enough filth, dead animals, and rubbish to make it more realistic.) The model focuses on the area around Pudding Mill Lane and the bakery of Thomas Farriner, where the Great Fire of 1666 started. This was in the old walled city.

The footprint of London's Great Fire of 1666.
The video shows the area around Pudding Lane,
near London Bridge.

They show streets, alleys, markets, a blacksmith forge, carcasses hanging from eaves at a butcher shop, the riverside warehouses, pub signs, and rooftops. A pall of coal smoke hangs over the city. The buildings are crowded so close that the sun never reaches the cobblestones in some places.  

There were outbreaks of plague every few years, including 1615, 1625, 1630, 1635… The epidemics seemed to hit harder at five-year intervals, but they never really went away. A mortality table from 1632 shows that there were eight deaths from plague, but the worst were in 1635, the year the Dyers sailed to America, and of course in 1665, the year before the Great Fire. In 1635, about 30,000 Londoners died of plague, but in 1665, about 100,000 died. After the Great Fire, the huge epidemics did not recur.

Mary Barrett may have been born in the London area in 1610-11, and she was certainly a resident before she married in 1633. William Dyer, though born in Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire, apprenticed in London for nine years in the 1620s and 30s. He and Mary were living in the borough of Westminster and were members of the St. Martin-in-the-Fields parish before they emigrated to Massachusetts.

Both William and Mary visited London again in the 1650s: William twice, on Rhode Island charter business, and obtaining his commission as commander in chief upon the seas in the First Anglo Dutch War; and Mary for almost five years until about January 1657.

Of course, Mary had been executed in Boston in 1660, and William was living in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1666. The flames of the Great Fire didn’t quite reach Westminster, where they had lived, though the area was threatened because of the heavy gale and resulting fire tornados.

Their second-eldest son, William Dyer the Younger, did visit England several times on business, and lived there for a year while his treason case was decided in courts (he was acquitted). The younger William is mentioned in the diary of Samuel Pepys.

Christy K Robinson is the author of two biographical novels (paperback and Kindle) on William and Mary Dyer, and a nonfiction anthology of her research into their culture: Mary Dyer Illuminated, Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This, and The Dyers of London, Boston, and Newport.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The William Dyer who wasn’t Mary Dyer’s husband

© 2013 Christy K Robinson

Over the last several years that I’ve researched William and Mary Dyer for the two novels* and nonfiction e-book* I’ve written about them, I’ve read through countless thousands of images and files, websites, books, PDFs, and sifted both scholarly papers and amateur genealogy pages. Multiply those factors by all the possible spellings of Dyer, Dyre, Diar, Dyar, Dire… and countless times countless equals some discernment and the beginning of knowledge about the Dyers and the culture they were part of.

This is NOT Mary Dyer's husband.
Notice he is identified as "Preacher
of the Gospell, 1662," which was not the
occupation of William Dyer, Gent.,
of Newport, Rhode Island.
 When my eyes lit upon a 17th-century publication written by William Dyer, my heart beat faster—for a moment. I had discovered “a” William Dyer, but not “the” William Dyer who was married to Mary Barrett in 1633 and widowed in 1660 when she was executed for intentionally and repeatedly disobeying her banishment orders. (I take this opportunity to remind you that she was not killed “for being a Quaker.”)

This other William Dyer was born in 1632 in England (23 years after our William), and would have been twenty, perhaps still at seminary, when our Dyers visited England after the Civil War, when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of the realm. Young Reverend Dyer took up the nonconformist, Puritan, Calvinist mantle when he began his gospel ministry in Chesham and then Cholesbury in Buckinghamshire in the 1650s.

In 1662, with the Act of Uniformity that restored the Church of England to the state religion, thousands of Puritan ministers were expelled from their pulpits in the Great Ejection. The Book of Common Prayer was again used in church liturgy. Reverend Dyer likely lost his employment then and perhaps turned to writing instead of preaching. His best-known work is A Cabinet of Jewels, or a Glimpse of Sion’s Glory, published in 1663.  

After the 1665 bubonic plague epidemic killed 100,000 or more Londoners and continued ravaging the rest of the country, there was a massive fire that consumed the old, rickety, closely-built neighborhoods of London. Even St. Paul’s Cathedral, with its ancient monuments and tombs inside, fell to the fire.

In 1665, Rev. Dyer preached at St. Anne’s, Aldersgate Street, London, less than a thousand feet northwest of St. Paul’s. He claimed in his sermons that the plague was God’s punishment on wicked, licentious London, and the next year, obviously before the September 1666 fire, he published the sermons with the title Christ’s Voice to London. (The rest of the sermon was biblically based, logical and persuasive, I thought. What follows, though, is an excerpt where Rev. Dyer must have broken forth with shouting and tears.)
"Oh, London, London! God speaks to you by his judgments, and because you would not hear the voice of his Word, he has made you to feel the stroke of his rod! Oh, great city! how has the plague broke in upon you, because of your abominations! "They provoked the Lord to anger by their wicked deeds—so a plague broke out among them!" Psalm 106:29. Oh, you of this city! how is the wrath of God kindled against you, that such multitudes of thousands have died within your borders, by this severe plague, God's immediate sword! London! how are your streets thinned, your widows increased, and your cemeteries filled, your inhabitants fled, your trade decayed! Oh! therefore lay to heart, you who are yet alive, all these things, and turn from your wicked ways, that the cry of your prayers may outcry the cry of your sins, and be like the city of Nineveh, who believed Jonah's message from God, who humbled themselves, and fasted, and cried mightily unto the Lord, "The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust!" Jonah 3:5-6 Oh, let not the heathen outstrip professing Christians! Did Nineveh repent and turn from their wicked ways—and shall not London?"
What must he have felt when the 1665 plague was followed by a 1666 fire that burned 70,000 people out of their homes and incinerated several square miles of the teeming city.

A Puritan website describes Rev. Dyer as “a godly pastor” of “great piety, and a serious fervent preacher.” They’ve posted the text of some his sermons.

Reverend Dyer’s book Christ’s Famous Titles and a Believer’s Golden Chain (1678) has this paragraph that rings true today. One could apply it to anything that keeps them “busy” and distracted from what is truly important.   
“It is the great unhappiness of our age, that the greatest part of men busy themselves most in that which concerns them least. Look into the world among rich and poor, high and low, young and old, and see whether it appear not by the whole scope of their conversations, that they set more by something else than Christ and salvation. So they may have but some of the earth in their hands, they care for nothing of heaven in their hearts, though gold can no more fill their hearts than grass their purses.”

Other books followed, and Reverend Dyer died in 1696, aged about 64. He was buried in a Quaker cemetery in Southwark (London metro area south of the River Thames), so he may have embraced Quaker beliefs at the end.

The moral of my story here is that when you turn your attention to researching historical figures or ancestors, keep in mind that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who have the same surname, who are probably not closely related, or not related at all. Do some addition and subtraction and decide if dates are logical, or if a woman has given birth to her own grandfather when she was only three years old. (Yes, I found that in a genealogical page!) Until you’ve sorted them out and confirmed dates and locations, you should not make assumptions that this guy must be the same as that guy. 

Christy K Robinson is the author of two biographical novels (paperback and Kindle) on William and Mary Dyer, and a nonfiction anthology of her research into their culture: Mary Dyer Illuminated, Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This, and The Dyers of London, Boston, and Newport.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The 17th century: World without end

© 2013 Christy K Robinson

Who was Mary Dyer? Very little has been known for sure, except that Mary was a 17th-century educated Englishwoman who married at St. Martin-in-the-Fields parish in Westminster; she gave birth eight times, including to an anencephalic fetus that was called a monster; she emigrated to New England’s wilderness and cofounded America’s first democracy, and she eventually was hanged in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1660 for her intentional civil disobedience to Boston’s theocratic government.
From 1607, the appearance of Halley's Comet
(before Halley's name was associated with it).
Note the total and partial eclipses, the comet,
soldiers, and death (probably plague).

While we don’t find much direct evidence of Mary’s life and thoughts, we can look at the culture, politics, religions, natural history, sociology, genealogical records of her associates, and journals and letters, of the friends and family—and enemies—surrounding her. All those pieces, when placed in parallel timelines and looked at with logic, create a painting of the woman only glimpsed in the journals of others or in court records of the day.

My two-part novel of the Dyers is not written for the religious or inspirational genre. It’s historical/biographical fiction based in fact. But because of the highly-charged atmosphere of the 17th century, the reader will understand that religious beliefs were paramount to every Western culture at that time. Such a thing as separation of church and state had been thought of, but not realized. Of the governments of that era, the Dutch showed the most tolerance for minority beliefs and practices, but their Reformed church (somewhat similar to Puritanism and Presbyterianism) was still state-sponsored.

·         The Separatists who became the Pilgrims fled the Anglican repression under King James I, first to the Netherlands and then to America.
·         The Great Migration of the 1630s from England to Massachusetts and Virginia was years in the making, but its crux was King Charles I’s re-publication of The Book of Sports which forced the Puritans to break with Anglicans, resulting in 21,000 people moving to Massachusetts and thousands more to Virginia Colony.
·         The English Civil Wars of the 1640s and ’50s were begun over Anglican (royalist)-versus-Puritan (Parliamentary) issues.
·         The Thirty Years War, between Catholics and Protestants, raged across Europe carrying plague and famine with it.
·         The Jews of the Iberian peninsula, even if they converted to Catholicism, were still burned as heretics if they couldn’t escape Spain and Portugal.
·         The Dutch West Indies Company which colonized the Caribbean, Brazil, and parts of New England provided their settlers and military forts with Dutch Reformed ministers.

In every comet, eclipse, earthquake, or plague, the priests, ministers, and rabbis in Europe and America saw the hand of God and they preached it to their congregations. There was no secular or sacred demarcation: all was one fabric, and that was sacred fabric. They believed that the short years they were on earth were a preparatory time for eternity. Religious issues and morals weren’t lifestyle choices, fairy tales, or myths, but eternal matters. Strict adherence to biblical law and punishment of heretics concerned the entire community. Religious dogma was worth killing for, and religious liberty was worth dying for.

While researching my Dyer novels, I found references to
·         Great earthquakes (approximately 7.0-magnitude quake in New England on June 1, 1638, and another great quake with tsunami in April 1658)
·         The largest hurricane ever to strike New England made landfall between Plymouth and Boston in August 1635
·         Hurricanes which caused tsunami-like tidal surges in southern New England
·         Comet (May 29-30, 1630 visible over Europe in daylight at time of Charles II’s birth)
·         Annular and total solar eclipses (April 1652 “Bugbear” eclipse in British Isles put the rich in fast coaches out of London and stopped the laborers at their work; also annular eclipse in November 1659 in Massachusetts)
·         A blood-red lunar eclipse in June 1638 was reported by my book’s characters (very satisfying to this researcher!)
·         Clouds of pigeons that darkened the sky ate both seed and sprouts of Massachusetts corn planting
·         A plague of black caterpillars seemed to fall from the clear sky, and destroyed crops and orchards in Massachusetts and Connecticut
·         The Little Ice Age was at its coldest in the 1640s and 1650s, freezing harbors in Boston, Iceland, and London’s River Thames, and ruining crops in summer
·         The Leonid meteor shower of November 1636 was an every-33-year spectacular fireworks show that was considered a sign of Christ’s imminent return
·         Unexplained booming noises that were probably meteorites

The people of the 17th century, of every social or economic stratus, believed that these signs and wonders were directly from the hand of God and that they were precursors to further disaster. A New Testament verse says that all these terrifying things were the beginning of birth pangs, leading to the end of the world. Yes, more to come! Even the Narragansett tribe of Rhode Island believed that earthquakes would be inevitably followed by hurricanes, blizzards, epidemics, failed crops, and other disasters. Art from Germany shows comets in the sky, with war and bubonic plague victims dying below.
From 1517: Comets, cities broken by war, bubonic plague
victims, a two-headed monster, and blood raining
from sky.

Most of those events, because of their importance to our ancestors who experienced them, were resurrected in my novels. I didn’t even have to make them up!

What do we think today of natural events? Storm chasers follow tornados and stand outside with microphones in hurricanes. We take lawn chairs out in the middle of the night to see meteor showers or the faint glow of a comet (did you know there’s a spectacular comet predicted for November 2013?), and we don protective lenses and we photograph crescents for a solar eclipse. We moan and groan at the “snowpocalypse” or rain deluge. People of faith celebrate the Creator. Others celebrate nature. But only suicidal cultists think that we’re riding off the planet on a comet’s tail.

Whether you practice a religion or denominational affiliation, or you believe that there is a universal spirituality, or you believe there is no god, you can thank Mary Barrett Dyer for giving her life to win religious liberty for all—the right to exercise your beliefs, and (perhaps surprisingly) the right not to practice religion or to have it forced upon you. You can thank her husband, William Dyer, the first attorney general in America, for codifying that right. These liberties are still under attack today, all over the world. When organizations seek to blend religion with politics or government, repression will inevitably be the result. That has been the case in every society, for thousands of years. It’s up to you to continue the struggle to allow but not require religious expression.

Next time you see a special event in nature (I’m partial to desert lightning shows), just enjoy it. No need to flee the city, start a holy war, or form a new nation. Neither Jehovah nor Zeus is hurling disaster after you! 

This article appeared first on Andrea Zuvich's blog, 17th Century Woman, on Sept. 26, 2013.  

Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title): 

Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

And of these sites:  
Discovering Love  (inspiration and service)
Rooting for Ancestors  (history and genealogy)
William and Mary Barrett Dyer (17th century culture and history of England and New England)
Editornado [ed•i•tohr•NAY•doh] (Words. Communications. Book reviews. Cartoons.)