Saturday, March 16, 2024

Mary Dyer was NOT hanged for “being a Quaker”

© 2012, 2024 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. 

This nonfiction e-book 
by Christy K Robinson 
(author of this blog) is an
anthology of  research
on the Dyers, Anne Hutchinson, 
John Winthrop, the cultures they 
lived in and shaped, and the 
civil liberties issues they 
raised which affect us today.
I know, that’s what most of the genealogy websites—and Wikipedia, and Ruth Plimpton's book, and countless opinions and feature articles say (actually, it's a wide circle of quoting one another). Recently, I learned that has quoted those sources, and that they plagiarized this very article despite its copyright notice. 

But it’s not true that Mary Dyer was hanged for "being a Quaker." 

Thanks to the Quaker missionaries from England, there were hundreds of Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) converts in New England in the late 1650s and early 1660s. They were subject to persecution and physical torture (imprisonment in wet or freezing jail cells, topless whipping for men and women, branding, having ears notched or sliced off, tongues bored through, being dragged from town to town, put in stocks, fined heavily and/or their possessions confiscated, banished) because they represented anarchy to the church-state government formed by the Massachusetts Bay founders. Quaker persecution also happened in England, and for the same reason—fear of anarchy to established traditions and government. 

Not one person was hanged for religious beliefs in their hearts and minds for "being a Quaker," but because they were intentionally disobedient to anti-Quaker laws. You can see by Mary's 1659 letter to the Massachusetts court that she was ready for heaven, that she was appalled at their cruelty and wickedness, and that she chose to die. 

When she left Shelter Island (now in the state of New York) in the spring of 1660 and walked from Providence, Rhode Island to Boston, Massachusetts, it was her intention to defy the anti-Quaker laws and be executed, specifically to bring attention to the cruelty of the theocratic governor and magistrates and their unjust laws, and raise public outcry against them. According to a Quaker observer, she believed 'it was required of her once more to visit Massachusetts, to finish, as she expresses it, "her sad and heavy experience in the bloody town of Boston."' 

Today, we call this civil disobedience. She broke Puritan and Anglican societal rules of women remaining silent before men's authority. She defied her legal banishments by the rulers of Massachusetts Bay Colony. She provided comfort care to already-incarcerated Quakers. 

Mary was re-tried on May 31, and hanged on June 1, 1660.  

By the way, it is incorrect grammar to say that Mary was "hung." People are hanged, objects are hung. 

This is one of many articles I've seen over the years, that repeats the error that Mary Dyer was hanged for "being a Quaker."

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)