Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Found! More 17th-century documents in William Dyer's hand

© 2014 Christy K Robinson
A series of 17th-century documents were discovered in the Newport Historical Society (NHS) vault on February 4, 2014. The document shown here dates from 1642.

Same photo, but rotated 135 degrees for your comfort.

Ruth Taylor, Executive Director at Newport Historical Society, wrote: “This is likely a transcription of a boundary setting-agreement. The document features the names of Roger Williams, Benedict Arnold, and Miantonomi, but none appear to be original signatures. It is interesting that the transcriber copied not just Miantonomi's name, but also the small boat pictograph he used when signing.
signature mark.
Rhode Island
Hist. Society calls it
a bow & arrow, not
a boat.

In 1636, Rev. Roger Williams was the founder of the township of Providence Plantations, which added Portsmouth in 1638, and Newport in 1639, to form the Colony of Providence Plantations and Rhode Island. Benedict Arnold, one of Providence's first 13 settlers with Williams, was one of the wealthiest landowners there, and was the ancestor of the infamous General Benedict Arnold of the American Revolution. Miantonomi was a Narragansett Indian sachem (chief) who was executed by approval of the United Colonies in 1643.

The handwriting on the discovered document shown in the photo is almost surely that of William Dyer, Mary Barrett Dyer's husband. He was appointed Secretary of the colony from 1639-1647, when he became Recorder. Those d's with the back loop are much like William's. I have a number of images of his handwriting to compare with.  

NHS photo again, enlarged. Notice the backward-looped d's, and the W on Roger Williams' name,
which looks like the W on William Dyre's signature.
1638: Portsmouth Compact of founders of Rhode Island, in William Dyer's hand.
Notice the W at the beginning of the paragraph.
1643: William Dyer's informal memo regarding the physically abusive John Hicks and his wife Herodias Hicks (soon to be) Gardner.
“Memo John Hicks of Nuport was bound to ye pease by ye Govr [Coddington] & Mr Easton
in a bond of £10 for beating his wife Harwood Hicks and prsented [at this]
court was ordered to continue in his bond till ye next C[ourt] upon which his wife
to come & give evidence concerning ye case”
1660: Portion of William Dyer's letter to Massachusetts General Court
appealing his wife's death sentence. Notice the backward loop on the d's at the ends of words.
Document courtesy of  Massachusetts State Library

1659: William Dyre (Dyer)'s signature.
The W is drawn in four continuous strokes.

You can purchase a high-resolution, ready-to-frame reproduction of William Dyer's May 27, 1660 letter to the Massachusetts Bay Court, pleading for the life of Mary Dyer. Click the "letters" tab above this article.


  1. Thank you for sharing these Document pictures written in the hand of my 12th Great Grandfather

    1. Thank you, Steve. I hope you'll navigate around this blog and find more insights and facts about William and Mary Dyer!


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