Sunday, December 22, 2019

“Purifying” the customs and fun of Christmas

Why our ancestors didn’t celebrate the holiday

© 2019 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.

Even as I finish out my 50th year as a church musician, playing keyboards for church preludes and choir parties, and accompanying vocalists and congregations during Advent and Christmas, I remember how our ancestors responded to holiday events in the 17th century.

Brueghel the Younger: Adoration of the Magi, late 16th century.

For a thousand years, European ancestors had celebrated Christ’s “birth” at midwinter with religious services, fasts and feasts (Advent was a four-week modified fast leading up to the Christmas feast and then 12 days of feasts and parties). It was during the religiously stringent mid-17th century that Christmas took a punch to the gut in Protestant England and New England.

The Christian church had adopted many pagan seasonal customs and co-opted their celebrations while proselytizing and building their culture and governments. The Yule, the holly and mistletoe, gift-giving, festivals of light and feasting, saint miracles, and much more originated thousands of years ago. But as Puritans, Separatists, and other non-conformists saw it, the “Christ-mass” was a bastardization of pagan revels with Roman Catholicism. Puritans (a.k.a. Congregationalists) had a mission to purify and purge Christianity of its sinful ways and prepare people for the imminent second advent of Christ.

The banning of Christmas celebrations has often been attributed to Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth from 1553 to 1558.  The Parliamentary bans, however, occurred while he was a general, fighting decisive battles in the first English Civil War. 
Cromwell didn't outlaw or ban Christmas,
but it makes a fun meme!
1644, England 
“Whereas some doubts have been raised whether the next [regularly scheduled last Wednesday of every month] Fast shall be celebrated, because it falleth on the day which heretofore was usually called the feast of the Nativity of our Saviour [Christmas]. The Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled doe order and ordaine that publique notice be given that the Fast appointed to be kept on the last Wednesday in every moneth ought to be observed untill it be otherwise ordered by both Houses of Parliament: And that this day in particular is to be kept with the more solemne humiliation, because it may call to remembrance our sinnes, and the sinnes of our forefathers, who have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ into an extreame forgetfulnesse of him, by giving liberty to carnall and sensuall delights, being contrary to the life which Christ himselfe led here upon earth, and to the spirituall life of Christ in our soules for the sanctifying and saving whereof Christ was pleased both to take a humane life, and to lay it down againe.”

1647, England and Wales 
“All Festivals and Holy Days abolished; …  Forasmuch as the Feasts of the Nativity of Christ, Easter and Whitsuntide [Pentecost], and other Festivals commonly called Holy-Dayes, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed Be it Ordained, by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, That the said Feast of the Nativity of Christ, Easter and Whitsuntide, and all other Festival dayes, commonly called Holy-dayes, be no longer observed as Festivals or Holy-dayes within this Kingdome of England and Dominion of Wales, any Law, Statute, Custome, Constitution, or Cannon to the contrary in any wise notwithstanding[.] “

New England Separatists (Pilgrims) and Puritans were more zealous, more fundamentalist, more strict than their friends and brethren in England. Christmas was not celebrated in Plymouth Colony in 1621, as noted in my article HERE, and celebrations were much-frowned-upon by the theocracies of Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Haven in the 1630s and 1640s even while under the authority of King Charles I. As in England, people were encouraged to tattle on their neighbors who brought greenery into the house or held a Christmas feast or gave gifts.

1651, Massachusetts Bay Colony
When it comes to assigning “blame” for the banning of Christmas celebrations in New England, we could choose among several members of the theocratic government: Rev. John Cotton, Rev. John Wilson, Gov. Richard Bellingham, Sec. Edward Rawson, or Gov. John Endecott (Endecott is my suggestion for instigator because of his fanatical leanings, and his persecution of Baptists, Quakers, and others who would not conform to his narrow beliefs).
Source: The Charters and General Laws of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts.

Satanical practices! Woe, woe!

The ordinance about Christmas is invariably listed between ordinances on gaming, dicing, and games of chance (bad, very bad!), so it might be reasonable to assume that one of the chief detractions of Christmas observance was not going to labor, not praying at home, and instead, getting intoxicated and gambling at the ordinaries. Ordinaries were licensed to sell beer and entertain travelers, and sometimes served as a community meetinghouse while church buildings were constructed. Gambling there was punishable by the same 5-shilling fine as celebrating Christmas. 

Were they dour and austere all the time?
As I researched history and sociology for my own books, I saw that Puritans had fun, drank alcohol (not to drunkenness), danced (not mixed sexes), had competitions like shooting and sword play, cooking and needlework, top skills or speed in building and construction, etc. They had after-church potlucks particularly for the people who had come to the city from smaller towns. They held concerts. They held harvest festivals and spring planting parties, and when they slaughtered their stock in November, that was hard work in smoking/cooking/drying the meat, as well as preserving the hides and using the bones and tallow—followed by food and music. They had wedding celebrations. They did like to party, but it was always with a religious, moral aspect to it because that was a shared belief.

Rhode Island charter of 1663
But in Rhode Island?
How did William and Mary Dyer, or William and Anne Hutchinson, or all their colleagues, friends, and family celebrate religious holidays? They almost certainly did not. They came from a Puritan background in the 1620s and 1630s, when they emigrated from England to Massachusetts, which was a Puritan theocracy.  They founded a secular democracy (a non-religious government) in Rhode Island in 1638, and though they were dissenters to Puritanism, their culture still did not include what they would have considered pagan or Catholic-origin celebrations. In the 1640s, the Rhode Island Assembly, to which William Dyer was secretary and recorder, met on December 25 to conduct quarterly business. There was no mention of a holiday—it was just another winter day on which to conduct colonial business.

Holy-day celebrations were restored in 1660, when King Charles II was restored to the throne of Great Britain and the colonies, the Anglican church and its Book of Common Prayer were accepted once more, and soon after, Rhode Island was given its religious liberty in a new charter obtained from King Charles. Along with their permission to worship (or not) as their conscience dictated, there was a flowering of religious traditions: Anglican, Congregational, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Quaker, Baptist, Antinomian, and soon, Methodism and the many denominations of the 19th century.

It would take many years for the stigma of paganism or Roman Catholicism to be cast off of Christmas and Easter. Even in the 1970s, when I was a teenager, my denomination, which originated in New England, frowned upon Christmas trees and decorations in churches and homes, because of pagan origins that had been adopted by other Christian denominations. We had Christmas hymns in the hymnals, and choral performances of Handel’s Messiah because of its biblical libretto, but choir anthems were few.

It’s only been in the last few decades that Christmas has been embraced by most denominations as a family occasion where the gospel can be presented to non-believers.

Whatever your traditions and beliefs are, religious or secular, I wish for you peace, joy, health, and fulfilling relationships in the year to come.

And now for a little Quaker humor in honor of Mary Barrett Dyer: 

shortened link for this article:

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)

Monday, December 9, 2019

Anne Marbury Hutchinson's church at Alford

© 2019 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.

Anne Marbury (m. William Hutchinson of Alford) is the ancestor of millions of people over the last 400 years. She's also a pioneer of religious liberty in America, which makes her an honored "founding mother" to much of Western society.

Her father, Francis Marbury, was vicar of Alford's St. Wilfrid church (in northeastern Lincolnshire) in the late 1500s, and when he was silenced for his non-conforming preaching, he taught school to the boys of Alford. His daughters were educated at home, and Anne was the recipient of his teachings in justice, logic, and spiritual matters, which she carried with her in the Bible classes she led in England, on the ship Griffin in 1634, and in New England. She defended herself in two trials: the first for sedition in the autumn of 1637, and the second in March 1638 for heresy. Anne Hutchinson was the catalyst for a large group of families who left Massachusetts Bay Colony and founded a new, civil body politick (a secular government) in Rhode Island.

Two Facebook friends of mine, historian Adrian Gray, and Rev. Ros Latham, have provided photos of the church and schoolroom at Alford. 

Inside the old school room above the church porch at Alford. It is claimed that Captain John Smith of Virginia fame spent part of his education here, possibly in the care of Francis Marbury - who was the father of the very famous (in America) Anne Hutchinson, whose radical religious views caused some chaos in Massachusetts. Anne certainly benefited from her father's education and was unusually well educated for a woman of her day....hence the trouble!

Photo and caption by Adrian Gray, a Cambridge University historian, author, and manager of
Pilgrims and Prophets Heritage Tours. Used by permission.

St. Wilfrid church is the center of the community in Alford, Lincolnshire, where Anne and William Hutchinson baptized their large brood of children, and where three of their children were buried. Many other Marbury and Hutchinson relatives lived and died at Alford over several generations.
Church photos by Rev. Ros Latham, Priest in Charge, Alford group of churches.

St Wilfrid Church of England, south face of the church in Alford, Lincolnshire. The classroom is located over the south door at the center of the photo.
Photo by Rev. Ros Latham, used by permission.

The south porch and entrance door to St. Wilfrid's, with the classroom over the arch.
The south and west windows would have provided light for reading and writing.
Photo by Rev. Ros Latham, used by permission.

"The C16 gabled south porch is surmounted by a parvise room. [Parvise is derived from "paradise" and means the space outside and around a church, particularly a room over a church porch.]
It has moulded plinth, stepped corner buttresses, moulded parapet with pinnacles. The continuously moulded outer arch is 4 centred with moulded hood. The upper chamber is lit by single 3 light windows to the south and west, both with deep chamfered reveals. In the porch is a cambered doorway in the west wall leading to the parvise. The inner south doorway has engaged angle shafts with floriate capitals and a filleted roll moulded head, moulded hood with C19 stops. The door is contemporary with a design of panel tracery to the upper part, and an ogee headed wicket with early lock plate and latch."

Church interior, facing east into the chancel, which was built starting in about 1289AD.
It would be fascinating to know who was buried beneath the tiles of this church, and how many
thousands of people were buried in the churchyard during various waves of plagues and epidemics.
Photo by Rev. Ros Latham, used by permission.

Learn more about Anne Hutchinson's extraordinary life and legacy
in this contemporary biography by Christy K Robinson.

Click this link to the book at Amazon:
Anne Marbury Hutchinson: American Founding Mother

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)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Breaking News! Author hawks own books for holidays!

You know that I've written four books on the Dyers and Hutchinsons, and that I regularly post up-to-date research in my history websites that have enlightened you about the lives of those families, as well as their friends, foes, and culture.
If you've already read the five-star-reviewed books, may I ask that you purchase copies for your relatives and friends as gifts? They're available on Amazon at <>

Thank you for your support, which is much appreciated--and much needed.

Two more gift ideas! 
High resolution prints of letters written by William Dyer and Mary Barrett Dyer available singly or together, are here:

Christy K Robinson is author of these books (click the colored title):
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013)  
Effigy Hunter (2015)  

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

#OnThisDay in 1605: The Gunpowder Plot

© 2019 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.

William Dyer and his father by the same name had nothing to do with the Gunpowder Plot discovered on 5 November 1605. Indeed, William the son would not be born for another four years, and William the father was a young farmer whose first son would be born in 1607 in the village of Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire, located 100 miles north of all the action in London. 

If you're a descendant of William and Anne Marbury Hutchinson, they would have been teenagers living in London, and would have witnessed the civic unrest with their own eyes.

Mary Barrett (later Dyer) and Katherine Marbury (later Scott), born in 1610 or 1611, and would have also witnessed the celebrations on the 5th of November as they grew up in London.

The conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, from a contemporary artist.
But there are a few things we can learn about the culture from the story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot to kill King James I and many members of Parliament, that relate to the Dyers. Guy Falkes was one of the conspirators in the plot, but not the ringleader. But his name has become the most famous over the past four centuries because of his confession given under torture, the hideous traitor's execution denied to the huge crowd by his last-minute suicidal leap from the platform, and the celebratory bonfire night that bears his name.

Notice in the image above how all of the conspirators appeared: a tall hat with a floppy brim, large collars and multiple layers of heavy fabrics, and every man had a short, narrow beard (a goatee), a mustache, and hair that covered their ears and reached down to the their collars. I don't know if the artist drew from life, or if the faces were his own conception, but I suspect the latter. The treasonous conspirators all have a sharp weasel profile! But in clothing and hairstyle, the elder William Dyer surely would have appeared much as those men did.

King Henry VIII, and his children who became monarchs: Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I.

Religious strife
After decades of religious upheaval under King Henry VIII, his son Edward VI, daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I, and now King James I, England had been torn to bits. On top of that, James had recently published the book Daemonologie that told how to identify witches and related them to Roman Catholic believers. The Gunpowder Plot was planned to kill King James and his family, and put his Catholic-leaning daughter on the throne instead.

Nominally, the churches of England were Anglican, but the Separatists that included those who would become the Pilgrims (who moved first to the Netherlands and then to Plymouth, Massachusetts), and those who wanted to purify the Anglican Church of Catholic practices, who were called Puritans. My research indicates that William Dyer the younger was probably educated at what is now called Carre's Grammar School in Sleaford, several miles from his home. The school's charter called for teachers and a headmaster who had been educated at Oxford or Cambridge, in the Church of England tradition. But the church of St. Denys in Kirkby LaThorpe may have had a Puritan-leaning minister.

Climate change in the first decade of the 17th century
All over the world, the climate was cooling rapidly, but even more quickly in the first decade of the 1600s because of volcanic ash in South America. It happened in the middle of the Little Ice Age that ran from the 1300s to the late 1700s. Millions of people died in Russia, Europe, England, China, Africa, and elsewhere because of crop failure and famine which left people and animals weakened and susceptible to plagues that included the Black Death, diphtheria, smallpox, cholera, and dysentery. The odds were that William Dyer's crops were probably blighted by cold temperatures and flooded (or frozen) fens, and many of his domestic stock would have been slaughtered because they were too expensive to feed or keep warm in winter. On the other hand, country people usually fared better than those in towns and cities because they had better access to food and fuel.
Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night
On 5 November 1605, Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King's escape from assassination by lighting bonfires, provided that "this testemonye of joy be carefull done without any danger or disorder." An Act of Parliament designated each 5th of November as a day of thanksgiving for "the joyful day of deliverance."

The Act required church ministers to hold a special service of Thanksgiving annually on 5 November, during which the text of the Act was to be read out loud. Everyone was required to attend, and to remain orderly throughout the service, although no penalties were prescribed for breach.

"Many malignant and devilish Papists, Jesuits, and Seminary Priests, much envying and fearing, conspired most horribly, when the King's most excellent Majesty, the Queen, the Prince, and the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, should have been assembled in the Upper House of Parliament upon the Fifth Day of November in the Year of our Lord One thousand six hundred and five, suddenly to have blown up the said whole House with Gunpowder : An Invention so inhuman, barbarous and cruel, as the like was never before heard of... where sundry necessary and religious Laws for Preservation of the Church and State were made, which they falsely and slanderously term Cruel Laws, enacted against them and their Religion, both Places and Persons should all be destroyed and blown up at once; which would have turned to the utter Ruin of this whole Kingdom, had it not pleased Almighty God, by inspiring the King's most excellent Majesty with a Divine Spirit, to interpret some dark Phrases of a Letter showed to his Majesty, above and beyond ordinary Construction, thereby miraculously discovering this hidden Treason not many Hours before the appointed Time for the Execution thereof."
The face mask we've often seen as a symbol of anarchy, resistance to authority, and political hackers is a depiction of Guy Fawkes. In England, the celebration of Bonfire Night is a civic holiday, with fireworks, and the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes on the bonfire. Toasted marshmallows and sausages cooked campfire-style are traditional foods. 

And that is what we know that William Dyer, both father and son--and all their countrymen in old England and new--would have heard and experienced from November 5, 1606, to the ends of their lives. 

So there you have it: a slice-of-life for our English ancestors of the 17th century.


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)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

#OnThisDay, 27 Oct 1659, Mary Dyer’s friends were hanged

© 2019 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.

Perhaps because Mary Dyer had countless descendants in North America, her sacrifice for religious liberty is better known than the Quakers who were hanged as she stood nearby with a noose around her neck. Even in this website that features the friends and enemies and culture surrounding William and Mary Dyer, there’s been scant mention of the two innocent young men who went to the gallows on Oct. 27, 1659.
Photo: Lancashire Telegraph

William Robinson (no relation to this author) and Marmaduke Stevenson were men who left their comfortable, happy lives in England to come to New England because they believed God asked them to share their faith and endure persecution or even death to secure justice, security, and peace for others. Knowing that Massachusetts Bay Colony had viciously persecuted Baptists and Quakers, and had begun to write laws about beating, imprisoning, banishing, and executing for religious reasons, these men set their faces toward Boston to commit civil disobedience and call attention to religious barbarism.

One might say that had they stayed in England another few years, they faced prison, beatings, epidemic plagues, and the Great Fire of London anyway. But to people of the seventeenth century, life was short, difficult, and uncertain, but it could be borne bravely with faith; and eternal life was both a state of mind and a future certainty to be eagerly grasped.

William Robinson was a London merchant, a young man of education, successful in his affairs, and possessed of a fine and lofty spirit, ready to endure to the death for his soul’s vision of truth. Died by hanging with Yorkshire plowman, Marmaduke Stephenson, October 27, 1659, at Boston.

Robinson had been one of the first Quaker missionaries to come to America, having sailed on the Woodhouse in 1657 with at least 11 or 12 others, for the purpose of evangelizing the American colonies. As you see from his letter below, he traveled and preached in Virginia and Maryland before focusing efforts on the zealously Puritan New England.

While a prisoner in Boston’s “common jail,” William Robinson wrote a letter to George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement, in England. The letter was dated 12 July 1659.
George Fox, Quaker founder, as a
young man.

G. F.
Oh! beloved of God, and highly honored and esteemed among the children of the Lord, who has made you a father unto thousands; and has given you the spirit of wisdom and of understanding. I was refreshed when I was constrained to write, to give you an account of our travels and labors in these countries. I who am one of the least among my brethren, having been for some time in Virginia with Robert Hodgson and Christopher Holder, where there are many people convinced; and some that are brought into the sense and feeling of Truth in several places. We left Thomas Thurston a prisoner in a place called Maryland; his sentence was to be kept a year and a day.

We came lately to Rhode Island where we met with two of our brethren, named Peter Pearson and Marmaduke Stevenson, in whom we were refreshed. Friends on the island were glad to see us, and the honest-hearted were refreshed.

Peter Pearson and one William Leddra, are prisoners in this country, at a town called Plymouth, as I did understand by a letter I received from my brother Christopher Holder, who was in service at a town called Salem, last week, some fifteen miles from Boston, where I am now a prisoner, (with my brother Marmaduke Stevenson) for the testimony of Jesus.

Soon after I came to Rhode Island, the Lord commanded me to pass to Boston, to bear my testimony against their persecution and to try their bloody law which they have made, with laying down of my life, if they have power to take it from me. For truly I am given up in my spirit into the hand of the Lord to do with me as He sees fit; for verily, my life is laid down, and my spirit is freely given up for the service of God, where he has called me.

The rulers, priests, and people, boast much in their hearts, that they have caused some to flee, for they have banished six Friends upon threat of death from their outward homes, which was at Salem, and they have stooped to them in fleeing the cross in their departures. Three of them have gone towards Barbados, and intend for England, it may be for London, whose names are Samuel Shattock, Nicholas Phelps, and Josiah Southwick; Josiah's father and mother [Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick] are passed to a place called Shelter Island, which belongs to a Friend, one Nathaniel Silvester, who is a fine, noble man; and the other of the six have gone to Rhode Island.

Oh! God knows how near this went to me, when I heard that they had departed, and the Lord soon laid it upon me to try their law; yes, on the same day that I heard of their departure was I constrained, and soon made willing to give up my life in order to try Boston's bloody laws. I was given up frequently in my spirit into the Lord's will, even to finish my testimony for the Lord, against the town of Boston. I was not aware of any Friend to go with me at that time, but the Lord had compassion on me, seeing how willingly I was given up to do his will, not counting my life dear to me, so that I might finish my course with joy; and on the day following, the Lord constrained my brother, Marmaduke Stevenson, to go along with me to Boston, who is freely given up to suffer with me for the seed's sake, who does dearly salute you.

Oh! my dearly beloved, you who are endued with power from on High; who are of a quick discerning in the fear of our God; Oh! remember us—let your prayers be put up unto the Lord God for us, that his power and strength may rest with us and upon us; that, faithful, we may be preserved to the end. Amen.

William Robinson
From the Common Jail in Boston, the 12th of the Fifth Mo. 1659 [12 July 1659].

Robinson wrote a paper to the Boston court which he was not allowed to read, though he left his paper on a table there. In a letter he wrote to his Quaker Friends, he said,

The streams of my Father's love run daily through me, from the Holy Fountain of Life, to the seed throughout the whole creation. I am overcome with love, for it is my life and length of my days; it is my glory and my daily strength.— "

I am full of the quickening power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and my lamp is filled with pure oil, so that it gives a clear light and pleasant smell; and I shall enter with my beloved into eternal rest and peace, and I shall depart with everlasting joy in my heart, and praises in my mouth, singing hallelujah unto the Lord, who has redeemed me by his living power from among kindreds, tongues, and nations. And now the day of my departure draws near. I have fought a good fight. I have kept the holy faith. I have near finished my course; my travailing is near at an end. My testimony is near to be finished, and an eternal crown is laid up for me, and for all whose feet are shod with righteousness, and the preparation of peace, even such whose names are written in the book of life, wherein I live and rejoice with all the faithful for evermore.

Written by a servant of Jesus Christ,
William Robinson
The 23rd of the Eighth Month (October 23], 1659.

Marmaduke Stevenson was a plowman from Shipton, Yorkshire, about five miles northwest of York. He became “convinced” of the Quaker ideology, and left his family (his “dear and loving wife and tender children”) to the care of the Lord. He followed the call to go first to Barbados in June 1658, and then to Massachusetts to share the Light. Only 16 months later, he would die on the Boston gallows, but joyfully, as an ordained “prophet to the nations.”

This is his “manifesto” letter, probably dictated to William Robinson in the Boston jail:

In the beginning of the year 1655, I was at the plough, in the east parts of Yorkshire, in Old England, near the place where my outward being was, and as I walked after the plough, I was filled with the love and presence of the living God, which did ravish my heart when I felt it; for it did increase and abound in me like a living stream, so did the love and life of God run through me like precious ointment, giving a pleasant smell, which made me to stand still; and as I stood a little still, with my heart and mind stayed on the Lord, the word of the Lord came to me in a still small voice, which I did hear perfectly, saying to me in the secret of my heart and conscience,—I have ordained you a prophet unto the nations.—And at the hearing of the word of the Lord, I was put to a stand, being that I was but a child for such a weighty matter.

So at the time appointed, Barbados was set before me, unto which I was required of the Lord to go, and leave my dear and loving wife, and tender children; for the Lord said unto me immediately by his Spirit, that he would be as a husband to my wife, and as a father to my children, and they should not want in my absence, for he would provide for them when I was gone. And I believed that the Lord would perform what he had spoken, because I was made willing to give up myself to his work and service, to leave all and follow him, whose presence and life is with me, where I rest in peace and quietness of spirit, (with my dear brother), under the shadow of his wings, who has made us willing to lay down our lives for his own name sake, if unmerciful men are allowed to take them from us; and if they do, we know we shall have peace and rest with the Lord forever in his holy habitation, when they shall have torment night and day. So, in obedience to the living God, I made preparation to pass to Barbados in the Fourth month [June], 1658.

So, after I bad been some time on the said island in the service of God, I heard that New England had made a law to put the servants of the living God to death, if they returned after they were sentenced away, which did come near me at that time; and as I considered the thing, and pondered it in my heart, immediately came the word of the Lord unto me, saying, “You know not but that you may go there." But I kept this word in my heart, and did not declare it to any until the time appointed.

So, after that, a vessel was made ready for Rhode Island, which I passed in. So, after a little time that I had been there, visiting the seed [other Quakers] which the Lord has blessed, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 'Go to Boston with your brother William Robinson.' And at his command I was obedient, and gave up myself to do his will, that so his work and service may be accomplished: for he has said unto me, that he has a great work for me to do; which is now come to pass. For yielding obedience to, and obeying the voice and command of, the ever-living God, who created heaven and earth, and the fountains of waters, do I, with my dear brother, suffer outward bonds unto our death.

And this is given forth to be upon record, that all people may know, who hear it, that we came not in our own wills, but in the will of God. Given forth by me, who am known to men by the name of

Marmaduke Stevenson, 
But having a new name given me, which the world knows not of, written in the Book of Life.
Written in Boston prison, in the 8th Month [October], 1659.

By the words and tone of their letters, you can see that Robinson and Stevenson were kind and loving people, whose devotion to God and commitment to their cause (pushback against the theocratic laws about Quakers) was bone-deep. As is often the case, persecution brings about a sense of pity in on-lookers, and an examination of why the persecuted people are so willing to be flogged, fined, imprisoned, and even killed. The persecution of Quakers was driving interest in their faith and their ability to patiently endure suffering. See my article, They delight to be persecuted, in this site.

Robinson, Stevenson, and Mary Dyer had been arrested and imprisoned more than once, and through the advocacy of Mary's husband William, they'd been released with a sentence of banishment-on-pain-of-death if they returned to the colony. They defied that sentence, knowing their deaths could be the catalyst of religious freedom for others, and conspicuously returned to Boston. 

The day of the execution
According to a Quaker prisoner, on the morning of Thursday, October 27, the execution day, a large crowd assembled at the prison where Robinson and Stevenson (and numerous other Quakers) were being held. Robinson preached through his barred window, encouraging Quakers and exhorting Puritans. Captain Oliver, in charge of public security, could not control the crowd outside, so he went inside the prison, yanked Robinson and Stevenson down, and threw them into a “hole,” presumably a tiny and remote dungeon cell. Mary Dyer was collected from the House of Correction, a separate prison from where many of the other Quakers were held. See my article, Boston's prison during the Dyer years.

Pikes (long spears) and muskets.
Photo by Colin Howley on Flickr  Licensing by Creative Commons
Once order was restored, with more than a hundred pikemen and musketeers (militia with spears and muskets) guarding them, the three prisoners were marched over the rough ground of the Common (an animal pasture at the time—not a lovely park like it is today) because the streets were clogged with people who potentially could free the prisoners or harm the officials in a riot. They walked “with drums and colors, and halberds, guns, swords and pikes, besides many horsemen.'' (Interesting site about pike warfare HERE.)

Drums beat loudly to drown the voices of the Quakers as they walked the mile from the center of the town to the gallows at the narrow isthmus outside the Boston town gate. In a show of mutual support, Mary took the hands of Robinson and Stevenson as they walked, something she had done in 1638 in Boston, when her friend and mentor, Anne Hutchinson, had been declared a heretic and banished from the colony. Again, Mary Dyer was reviled for her support, and for the intimacy of physical touch, by the marshal.

"Are you not ashamed to walk thus between two young men?" (Mary was about 48 years old, a respectable wife and mother of six, and the young men were probably in their twenties.) "No,” answered Mary, "This is to me an hour of the greatest joy I ever had in this world. No ear can hear, no tongue can utter, and no heart can understand, the sweet incomes and the refreshments of the Spirit of the Lord, which I now feel."

Notice the two posts and crossbeam gallows on the far left of the image.
That's the execution site outside the fortified gate to Boston, on Boston Neck.
Orange Street was the north-south road between Boston and Roxbury.
When the parade of militia, condemned prisoners, magistrates and ministers reached the gallows, Rev. John Wilson, senior minister of Boston First Church, taunted the Quakers, and by his words and actions there, almost danced with excitement. One historian noted that Wilson made a song about the two dead Quakers.

As many followers of this site know, Mary Dyer was reprieved of her death sentence after standing on the gallows ladder with her hands and feet bound and the noose on her neck, and she was returned to the jail.

Robinson’s and Stevenson’s bodies were cut down from the high crossbeam, and they fell to the ground below, where Robinson’s skull was fractured on impact. In the custom of the time, their bodies were stripped naked and they were thrown into a pit to decompose or be torn by animals or birds. One of the Quakers left back at the prison had brought fabric for shrouds, but this dignity was not afforded the hanged men. The land of Boston Neck being only a few feet above sea level and surrounded by marshes, the pit filled with tidewater, which hastened decomposition. The public display of their nude bodies was meant to be a warning and lesson to travelers who passed by, that sedition and heresy were not tolerated in the Holy City.

When the crowd of thousands returned to their homes after the grisly spectacle, they passed over a drawbridge to the north of Boston. I discovered in a court record that some months earlier, the infrastructure of roads and bridges was reported to be in dangerous condition, but the Boston magistrates refused to fund the repairs. Instead, they awarded land grants to some of their members. (Not to be too political, but this still happens today!)

On that day, October 27, as a large crowd of people were walking on the drawbridge,
“one end of it fell upon some, and several were hurt, especially a wicked woman, who had reviled both Quakers that were hung; but now she was so bruised, that her flesh rotted from her bones, which made such a noisome stink, that people could not endure to be with her; in which miserable condition she remained till she died. But the magistrates, instead of taking notice of this, grew more hardened.”

Despite all the persecution, oppression, and torture the early Quakers endured (and sometimes sought, to clear the way for others), Quaker historian William Sewel wrote:
For the more you strive with the Lord, and oppress his People, the more will they multiply and grow stronger and stronger, and you shall wax weaker and weaker, and your Works all be your heavy Burden,  for Life and Immortality is risen, and the Power of God is stirring in  the Hearts of Thousands, and Light, Understanding (the excellent Spirit which was in Daniel) is breaking forth like the Lightning.

Jones, Rufus M., The Quakers in the American Colonies, London 1911. 
Bowden, James, The History of the Society of Friends in America, London 1850. 
Sewel, William, The history of the rise, increase, and progress, of the Christian people called Quakers: intermixed with several remarkable occurrences, Philadelphia 1728.

Christy K Robinson, wearing a scarf
she had made from an image of
of Mary Dyer's handwriting
from Oct. 26, 1659.
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)