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)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Video--Mary Dyer's letter of October 26, 1659

© 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.

The episode where I record my first video for the Dyer website.

On the 26th of October, 1659, Mary Barrett Dyer was kept in solitary confinement in a Boston prison cell, condemned to die by hanging because she had repeatedly defied the banishment-on-pain-of-death orders from the Boston theocracy headed by Gov. John Endecott, Gov. Richard Bellingham, Rev. John Norton and Rev. John Wilson of Boston First Church, colonial secretary Edward Rawson, and others. She had been visited, in an attempt to "save her soul," by the unfriendly, cold and fundamentalist ministers Zechariah Symmes and John Norton she had known since the 1630s, when they prosecuted her beloved friend and mentor, Anne Hutchinson.

Mary didn't know that the next day, the 27th, she would be reprieved from death because of the intervention of her husband (Rhode Island attorney general William Dyer), her son William, the governor of Acadia, Connecticut Gov. John Winthrop Jr., and the Massachusetts theocracy who feared insurrection.

Mary was executed on June 1 the next spring, after she forced the hand of the Boston government. But in late October, 1659, she fully expected to go to her death to call attention to the cruel persecution of Quakers and Baptists who refused to bow to the Puritan masters of Massachusetts. So, in the custom of some Quakers and condemned prisoners, Mary Barrett Dyer sat down to write a letter (a manifesto) about how the authorities weren't killing her--she was laying down her life to call attention to the plight of those oppressed by state religion.

Photo by Christy K Robinson

This video describes Mary's letter written the night before she thought she would be hanged, and the way that it was used after her death to stop religious executions in New England.

You may purchase high-resolution reproductions of William Dyer's and Mary Dyer's
handwritten letters here in this site: 


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)

Friday, October 18, 2019

#OnThisDay 18 October 1659

© 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.

“She is to be forthwith executed.”

It was a fix.  

Many books and articles have been written that say that Mary Dyer was to be executed by hanging on the 27th of October, 1659. That’s what she believed, and that’s what her husband William believed. When their son, William Dyer the younger, perhaps 18 or 19 years old at the time, arrived with a reprieve at the moment Mary stood on the gallows ladder, it was a moment of dramatic theater.

But it was staged.

On Tuesday, the 18th of October, a small group of leaders of the Boston government had decided Mary’s fate and how it would all play out for the thousands of spectators who came out for the hanging of three Quakers. We know this from the Colonial Records of 18 October 1659, which I have modernized for spelling and to correct scanning blips.

“It is ordered that the said Mary Dyer shall have liberty for forty-eight hours to depart out of this Jurisdiction, after which time, being found therein, she is to be forthwith executed. And it is further ordered that she shall be carried to the place of execution and there to stand upon the Gallows with a rope about her neck until the Rest be executed; and then to return to the prison and remain as aforesaid.”

Gov. Endecott and his court had no intention of hanging Mary at this time, since her freedom had been urgently sought by the governor of Nova Scotia and Acadia (Maine), by Gov. John Winthrop Jr. of Connecticut ("as on his knees"), her teenaged son William Dyer, and her husband William Dyer, the attorney general of Rhode Island.

Making a martyr out of this lovely, educated, well-connected woman would be a terrible mistake, and the officials knew it well. Executing the two young men, repeat offenders with their defiance of banishment orders and their proselytizing of beliefs up and down the cities of the Bay, might be justified, and could serve as a deterrent to those who would stand up to authority; but a woman who almost certainly did not preach, but supported her Quaker friends as called to do in the Gospel of Matthew (chapter 25)—no, that would be a disaster of public relations and could bring violent protest and political insurrection. They really, really, really wanted Mary Dyer to go back to Rhode Island and shut up. As they later wrote in a lengthy tract trying to justify and vindicate their actions, the magistrates believed that “the sparing of Mary Dyer upon an inconsiderable intercession, will manifestly evince [that] we desire their life absent rather then their death present.”

So the court came up with this little morality play by which they hoped to frighten Mary Dyer into her predetermined subjugated-woman role, most proper in their Calvinist eyes. Let’s hang her friends, and pretend we’re about to hang her, then we’ll be seen to show tender mercy to the little woman so her boy can take her home.

“It is ordered, that Wm Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, & Mary Dyer, Quakers, now in prison for their rebellion, sedition, & presumptuous obtruding themselves upon us, notwithstanding their being sentenced to banishment on pain of death, as underminers of this government, &c, shall be brought before this Court for their trials, to suffer the penalty of the law, (the just reward of their transgression,) on the morrow morning, being the nineteenth of this instant. Wm Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, & Mary Dyer, banished this jurisdiction by the last Court of Assistants on pain of death, being committed by order Robinson of the General Court, were sent for, brought to the bar, acknowledged themselves to be the persons banished. After a full hearing of what the prisoners could say for themselves, it was put to the question, whither Wm Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, & Mary Dyer, the persons now in prison, who have been convicted for Quakers, & banished this jurisdiction on pain of death, should be put to death according as the law provides in that case. The Court resolved this question on the affirmative; and ye Governor [John Endecott], in open Court, declared the sentence to Wm Robinson, it was brought to ye bar:

“Wm Robinson, you shall go from hence to the place from whence you came, & from thence to the place of execution, & there hang till you be dead.”

The like sentence the Governor, in open Court, pronounced against Marmaduke Stephenson & Mary Dyer, being brought to ye bar one after another, in ye same words.

"Whereeas Wm Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, & Mary Dyer are Order require sentenced by this Court to death for their rebellion, &c, it is ordered, that the secretary [Rawson] issue out his warrant to Edward Michelson, marshal general, repairing to the prison on the twenty seventh of this instant October, & take the said William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, & Mary Dyer into his custody, & then forthwith, by the aide of Capt James Oliver with one hundred soldiers, taken out by his order proportionably out of each company in Boston, completely armed with pike, & musketeers, with powder & bullet, to lead them to the place of execution, & there see them hang till they be dead, and in their going, being there, & return, to see all things be carried  peaceably & orderly.”

Warrants issued out accordingly.

It is ordered, that the Reverend Mr Zechariah Symmes & John Norton repair to the prison, & tender their endeavors to make the prisoners sensible of their approaching danger by the sentence of this Court, & prepare them for their approaching ends.

Rev. Zechariah Symmes had emigrated on the Griffin with Anne Hutchinson’s family in 1634, had publicly criticized Anne, and he had been one of the inquisitors at the Hutchinson trials for sedition and heresy in the fall and spring of 1637-38. Symmes was well-acquainted with Mary Dyer, the mother of a “monster” miscarriage that proved God’s judgment on Mary’s heresy in following Anne Hutchinson. Symmes was sure to look on Mary Dyer with distaste and disapproval, even 21 years later.

Rev. John Norton had arrived in Boston just as Anne Hutchinson was tried for heresy, and Mary Dyer had taken Anne’s hand in support, which exposed Mary to the community as the woman who had given birth to the “monster,” a premature fetus with no brain, and spina bifida. In 1652, on the death of Rev. John Cotton, he succeeded as the Teacher of Boston’s First Church.

“Tendering their endeavors” would not have been at all tender, as we know it in modern terms.

Whereas Mary Dyer is condemned by the General Court to be executed for her offences, on the petition of William Dyer, her son, it is ordered, that the said Mary Dyer shall have liberty for forty-eight hours after this day to depart out of this jurisdiction, after which time, being found therein, she is forthwith to be executed, & in the meantime that she be kept close prisoner till her Son or some other be ready to carry her away within the aforesaid time; and it is further ordered, that she shall be carried to the place of execution, & there to stand upon the gallows, with a rope about her neck, till the rest be executed, & then to return to the prison & remain as aforesaid.

It is ordered, that thirty-six of the soldiers be ordered by Capt. Oliver to remain in & about the town as sentinels to preserve the peace of the place while the rest go to the execution.

The magistrates feared an insurrection by the citizens of Massachusetts Bay Colony, of whom thousands of people were in the city for the quarterly court business and legislative matters. Thirty-six soldiers were ordered to remain in the town of Boston to keep order while the prisoners and execution officials were taken by 100 pikemen and musketeers to the gallows on Boston Neck, just outside the fortified gate to the town. The plan to guard Boston—and the magistrates themselves—required advance orders.

Source for the colonial records above:

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)