Monday, April 21, 2014

William and Mary Dyer co-found Newport, RI in 1639

And for the first time anywhere, learn who the 
FEMALE co-founders of Newport were!

© 2014 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.

Newport Compact -- click to enlarge
William Dyer was 28 years old when he co-founded Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1638. (It was called by its native American name, Pocasset, at the time.) His name appears on the Portsmouth Compact with the other men who bought Aquidneck Island from the natives, and it's his handwriting at the top of the document.

He was 29 years old on April 28, 1639, when he co-founded the city of Newport, Rhode Island and signed the Newport Compact. As clerk of the town, and later Secretary of the colony, it's almost surely William Dyer's handwriting that headed the compact that the founders signed.
Portsmouth Compact, 1638.
Click to enlarge.

Battery Park in Newport, formerly Dyer's Point, is on land
where Mary and William Dyer had their farm.
Newport from the northwest. The small island in the
foreground, Native Americans sold to
Newport in the 1650s. The Dyer land and burial site
were just beyond Coaster Island, and southward past
the Pell Bridge at the extreme right of the image.
After the town was legally incorporated came the distribution of community, home, and farm land parcels, and, of course, the streets and highways. William Dyer was one of the small commission that surveyed and apportioned the lots and boundaries. The following records are scanned from Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, Vol. 1, 1636-1663. (I added the modern dates.)

For a modern map of the city of Newport,
with labels for its harbor walk which would take you
along the western edge of 17th-century Dyer land,
click here.

Historical records mention only the men who attended assembly meetings, voted, held court, or signed documents, but the women should be remembered for their many sacrifices in moving the household, servants, small children, livestock, and possessions, and starting in a new, rugged place where they lived in wigwams while their first houses were being built. It was the Little Ice Age, and winters were longer and more severe than we experience now. They had just settled in Boston for a few months to four years when they were exiled and had to start again in the wilderness of Rhode Island. A year later, some of the settlers at Portsmouth began again at Newport.

Unidentified English family circa 1640.

Newport's female co-founders were:
  • William Coddington and Mary Mosely Coddington
  • Nicholas Easton  (widowed, 2 sons, married widow Christiana Beecher later in 1638)
  • John Coggeshall and Mary ___ Coggeshall, 7 children
  • William Brenton and Dorothy ____ Brenton
  • John Clarke and Elizabeth Harges Clarke
  • Jeremy Clarke and Frances Latham Dungan Clarke, 4 Dungan children
  • Thomas Hazard and Martha Potter Hazard, 5 children
  • Henry Bull and Elizabeth ___ Bull, 1 child
  • William Dyer and Mary Barrett Dyer, 1 child
This list is a snapshot of families taken in 1639. Some of the founding women died and were replaced by a later wife who managed the household and bore more children. The families who settled Portsmouth and Newport were young and strong, and in their 20s and 30s when they migrated from England to Boston, then settled around New England. They had even more children once settled in Rhode Island. The nine families listed as the first founders were joined by hundreds of other pioneering families within a few months and years. 
Entrance bricks to the Newport Historical Society shop.
Photo: Christy K Robinson 2016

The attraction of Rhode Island was its dedication to living virtuous, responsible lives in a secular democracy, where people of many beliefs (Puritan, Anglican, Antinomian, Catholic, Baptist, Seeker, Quaker, Jewish) or no belief, lived in safety from religious persecution. The exception was that their first, leading members among the co-founders of Portsmouth, Anne and William Hutchinson, were hounded by the Boston theocratic government (ministers, magistrates, and governors) to the point that they moved to the Dutch colony of New Netherland to try to found a new settlement, only to be massacred by Native Americans in 1643. As I learned while researching my book, Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother (see below), the massacre carried out by the tribe may have been sanctioned by the Boston theocrats. 

Update: article on 380th anniversary of the town's founding: 

 Christy K Robinson is author of two biographical novels on William and Mary Dyer, and a collection of her nonfiction research on the Dyers, as well as a 2018 biography of Anne Marbury Hutchinson. Key figures are Anne Hutchinson, Edward Hutchinson, John Winthrop, Katherine and Richard Scott, Roger Williams, Dr. John Clarke, Nicholas Easton, John Endecott, Henry Vane, and others.


Christy K Robinson is author of these books:

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)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bronx street named after Dyer son, mayor of NYC

© 2014 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.

In the borough of Bronx, New York, a street is named for Mary and William Dyer’s son, Maj. William Dyre (as his father and he spelled it), mayor of New York City in 1680-81. This William was born in Newport, Rhode Island, possibly about 1640, and died in the spring of 1688.

North-South streets in the area were named in honor of New York state governors and mayoralty, so William Dyre probably did not own land here. He owned several acres of property in the 1670s between Maiden Lane and Wall Street (the wall having much to do with his father, Capt. William Dyer!) on Manhattan Island for a few years. William also owned Dyer Island by deed from his father, and he purchased land in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and large tracts of land in the Delaware area.
Dyre Avenue in the borough of Bronx, New York, is marked with the A pin.
It's very close to the Hutchinson farm where Anne Marbury Hutchinson and her younger children
were murdered in 1643.

Dyre Avenue is half a mile from where Anne Hutchinson was murdered by Siwanoy Indians in 1643, near Split Rock at Pelham Bay. (The green land to the right of the A marker on this Google map.) One of the photos at this website shows that a train line runs on a Siwanoy Indian path. Surely there’s no connection between the Hutchinson farm site, the Hutchinson River Parkway, and the naming of Dyre Avenue at some point many years later. But from the comfort of our home computer chairs, it’s a fascinating coincidence to consider along with the deep connections between the Hutchinson and Dyer families.  

Dyre Avenue signpost, screenshot from Google Maps


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)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The English fens in William Dyer’s blood

Plus a wonderful guest article, The Fenland Riots, by Dr. Ann Swinfen!

© 2014 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.

 Many of my readers do family history and genealogy. If you're from Pilgrim or Puritan stock, chances are great that you have ancestors who farmed, fished, hunted, and puddle-jumped in the English fens before emigrating to America. I learned that 10% of Boston, Lincolnshire population moved to Boston, Mass., following their minister, Rev. John Cotton. He had preached at St. Botolphs for about 20 years when King Charles I’s republication of The Book of Sports forced Puritan ministers to comply or be silenced. Rev. Cotton hid for about a year (avoiding prison), then sailed to the new Boston in 1633, where he had a standing offer of employment.

William Dyer was born in 1609 in Kirkby LaThorpe, a village between Sleaford and Boston in Lincolnshire. His father, William Dyer, was a yeoman farmer (owned his property, not a tenant) and church warden. 
Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire is built along
Church Lane. The Anglican church of St. Denis,
where William Dyer's father was church warden, is
the largest edifice, and is at the top left corner.
Some of the fields around the village would have
been fens before the draining corporations took over.
The ditches and banks may be from Saxon or early-medieval
house platforms, clay-lined drainage ditches, and pits.
There's no record of why or when his family moved out of the area, were taxed out of business by the king, or if they died there. If the Dyer clan remained in the area, William's siblings and nephews and nieces would have been affected by the events Ann Swinfen describes in her novel Flood.

In researching my novels, I read in 19th-century geographical surveys that the villages and farmlands around Kirkby LaThorpe were laid out in Ice Age alluvial strips of higher ground and the lower elevations were often seasonal marshes and wetlands called fens. A look at a Kirkby map bears this out. Church Lane, running north and south, is the only street, and the medieval church is at the highest elevation.

I drove through the region one Friday, from Norwich to Lincoln, and saw only a little of the area, because at the time, April, the fens were very wet. Side roads were closed because of flooding. The main highway (it’s called that because it’s elevated above the watery fields and ponds) was jammed with noontime weekend getaway traffic trying to get around a roadworks blockage. I was stuck for two hours with no escape. Isn’t that the way of construction? Arrgh!

The captivating scenery at Fosdyke,
where I was stuck in a miles-long traffic jam.
 Our William Dyer was sent to London in 1624 and apprenticed with a haberdasher/milliner under the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. The Fishmongers had many alumni who were city leaders and London mayors. William only practiced as a milliner for a few years, emigrated to the new Boston, then became a farmer, trader, and held government court positions. Among his holdings were marshland at Chelsea, Mass., and Portsmouth, Rhode Island, some marsh on his Newport farm, and a small island in Narragansett Bay (Dyer Island). Both Chelsea and Dyer Island are water bird sanctuaries today, so you see the fens were in his blood and he was well aware of their value in agriculture, fishing, hunting, and ecological management.

Recently, I read Flood, a new novel by Dr. Ann Swinfen, set in the English fens in the 1640s, and was, um, "swept away" by her vivid and beautiful descriptions of the area and the occupations of our ancestors and their near relatives. Ann has graciously provided an article about the fens. I hope you’ll enjoy the article, and trot off to her website or to Amazon to buy her book (paperback or Kindle). I’m reviewing and rating it five stars for the subject matter and the high quality of the writing. See my blog, Editornado, for the review and an excerpt of Flood.

The Fenland Riots
Guest article © 2014 Ann Swinfen

Kirkby LaThorpe is west of Boston,
in the Lindsey Level.
 My new novel Flood takes place in the seventeenth century in a very distinctive area along the east coast of England, known as the Fens. Once a remote, slightly mysterious region of marshes and hidden villages, it attracted the attention of men greedy to get their hands on land by fair means or foul, never mind the consequences for the local inhabitants. They used the notorious method of ‘enclosure,’ but in the Fens they were up against a formidable people who could not easily be bullied into submitting. When I discovered their story, I knew I had to write about it. 

I had always known about enclosures, of course. From roughly Tudor times to the nineteenth century in England, land was stolen by large landowners or groups of speculators by semi-legal means. This stolen land was ‘common land’, that is, land held in common by a group of people, often the free villagers of a parish who were peasant farmers or yeomen. They had ancient rights to cultivate arable land on a shared basis, to graze their flocks and herds on local meadows, and to gather firewood and feed their pigs in neighbouring woods. 

The enclosers fenced off the commons, expelled the commoners – sometimes even seizing their animals – and took possession of the land for themselves. The local people rarely had any means of redress or compensation. If they went to law, almost invariably they lost their cases, at considerable financial cost, when opposed by those with influence and deep pockets. The result is that there are very few common lands left today. Port Meadow in Oxford still has common grazing for a few Freemen who can claim ancient rights granted by Alfred the Great. The New Forest has privileges for those who are eligible. 

This was a massive injustice, carried out under the guise of land improvement, or in order to create large wool-producing businesses. And in some cases it may have led to more efficient farming methods, but nevertheless it resulted in poverty, starvation and dispossession for many of its victims. The Highland Clearances in Scotland had a similar effect, although in their case small tenants were cleared off land already owned by a wealthy landowner in order to produce a larger income from sheep.

The Fens of East Anglia (stretching along the east coast of England from Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk to Lincolnshire) were from ancient times an area where land, water and marsh combined to form a rich tapestry with unique problems and rewards. The natural phenomenon of the area is the annual deposit by winter rains of rich silt from higher ground inland on to the lower arable fields of the fenlands. This produced some of the richest soil in England. Floods would cover these fields in winter, then drain away, leaving land ready for cultivation. Between these arable fields lay a network of ancient peat bogs and waterways – some natural, some man-made over the centuries by local people who understood their special environment and the behaviour of their annual floods. They lived by arable farming, stock-rearing, fishing and water-fowling. The peat bogs provided fuel as well as absorbing excess water, and the rushes and willows growing along the waterways furnished materials for everything from thatch to sheep hurdles and eel-traps.

Then, in the early seventeenth century, the ‘adventurers’ came – adventurers because they invested their money in a speculative venture. They would drain this boggy land, which they mistakenly believed to be poor and unprofitable, seize control of it, and install settlers from Holland and France as rent-paying small farmers. The return on their money would be phenomenal – it was a fool-proof investment. There were plenty of Protestant refugees from Catholic persecution on the Continent who would be only too glad of a chance to start a new life on the reclaimed lands. 

And what of the local people? Many held charters of ancient rights. These were ignored in the law courts. Some tried to obtain compensation, but often found themselves imprisoned or fined instead, for attempting to oppose the speculators. 

But they were a tough people, the fenlanders. They fought for their rights, destroying the drainage ditches and pumping mills, attacking the drainage workers and settlers. The unrest spread throughout the Fens and was one of the underlying causes of the English Civil War (1642-46 and 1648-51). The war itself brought a temporary halt to the drainage, but in the lull between the two phases of the war, it began again. And whereas the first period of drainage and enclosure had been financed by the aristocracy and the king, the new speculators were the men who had risen to power under the new government, and included Oliver Cromwell himself, who, in the past, had declared that he would protect the fenlanders.

I was drawn to the period and the events in the Fens by the persistent courage of the local people in defending their land and their customary way of life. I was also fascinated by discovering that the women fought alongside their men, some of them even being accused of being witches because of their unwomanly behaviour. Yes, this was the very period when the infamous ‘witch-finder general’, Matthew Hopkins (c.1620-1647), was roaming over this same area, instigating witch-hunts and hounding hundreds of innocent men and women to their deaths. Mostly women. But some men too. Because of the imposition of strict and unforgiving Puritan rules by Cromwell’s government, clergymen who continued to practice the established ceremonies of the Anglican church – such as baptism and church weddings – were attacked and in some cases tried and executed for witchcraft. 

The more I read about the Fenland Riots, as they came to be known, the more I wanted to tell the story of these persecuted people. In my novel Flood, Mercy Bennington and her family and friends provided the voices of those forgotten seventeenth century forebears of ours.

 And the irony of it all? Because the engineers brought in to drain the Fens did not understand the local terrain, their works resulted in uncontrollable floods. Water which would once have been absorbed by the marshland was pumped out into new ditches which overflowed and flooded villages and homes. Not until the nineteenth century was efficient drainage carried out, and it destroyed the peat bogs which by the present day have withered and shrunk, so that in many places the rivers are now higher than the surrounding lands, a dangerous and unsustainable situation. In recent years it has come to be realised that the marshes along the sea coast of the Fens in the past used to provide a buffer against that other source of floods – floods from the sea. As a result, some coastal farmlands are now being allowed to revert to salt marsh, to protect the land.

I wonder what Mercy Bennington would have had to say about that?

 Dr. Ann Swinfen ( published three novels with Random House, but her three latest – The Testament of Mariam, Flood, and The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez – she has published herself under the imprint Shakenoak Press. Loving the whole independent publishing process, and the control it offers to authors, she thinks it unlikely she would ever return to conventional publishing. Some of her short stories which previously appeared in magazines and on BBC radio are now published on Kindle. She has also reissued her backlist titles as paperbacks and Kindles.