Dyer #2693

Mary (Barrett) Dyer (1611-1660)

Born in England.  Arrived in Massachusetts between 1634-1635 and

William Dyer (1609-1672)

Born in England.  Arrived in Massachusetts between 1634-1635.

Dyer 2693

I am descended from Mary Barrett (1611-1660) in more ways than the path illustrated above[1].

There are many books available on Mary Dyer and related topics.  Check out my Recommended Reading List.


Mary Dyer statue (Massachusetts State House, Boston)

Mary Dyer statue (Massachusetts State House, Boston)

Mary Barrett, known to history as Mary Dyer, left almost no record of her early life.  In the absence of facts, speculations abound, which has probably led to the often encountered but totally unfounded tale that she was the estranged daughter of Lady Arabella Stuart by her secret marriage with her cousin, Sir William Seymour.[2]

According to some accounts, Mary‘s husband, William Dyer, is the son of George Dyer (1579 – 1671) of Wincanton, Somerset, England and Dorothy Shirley (1581-1644) of Staunton Harrold, Leicestershire, England.  William was baptized at Staunton Harrold, Leicestershire.  Others identify William‘s birthplace as Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire.  In 1625, while a teenager, he was apprenticed to Walter Blackborne, a fishmonger, and 16 years later, while he was in New England, he was taxed back in England as a member of the “Fishmonger’s Company,” though his profession before leaving there was that of a milliner.

Mary married William Dyer in St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on 27 Oct 1633.  Her maiden name was recorded in the parish record (NEHGR Vol. 94, p. 300, July 1940) as “Barrett”.  Sometime between 1634 and 1635, the Dyers immigrated to Massachusetts, where on 13 Dec 1635 they were admitted to the Boston church.  They were considered to be among the citizens of quality there, being above reproach and above the usual in education and culture.  Mary‘s detractors and defenders alike describe her as “fair” and “comely.”  William became a freeman of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on 3 Mar 1635/36 in which he held many positions of public importance.  In 1638 he was elected Clerk, and he was granted land at Rumney Marsh (Chelsea, Massachusetts) on 14 Dec 1635 and 16 Jan 1637/38.

William and Mary were open supporters of Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson[3] and Rev. John Wheelwright[4] during the “Antinomian” controversy.  Mary and Anne were friends, and when Mary went into premature labor on 17 Oct 1637, Anne, an experienced midwife, was called to her side.  After hours of agonizing labor, Mary‘s body gave forth a stillborn daughter.  The child was badly deformed.  Also present at the stillbirth were the midwife Jane Hawkins and at least one other unnamed woman, who was reputed to be the source of the information later spread about the monstrous birth that, one observer later wrote, was whispered by s[ome] women in private to some others (as many of that sex as[semble] in such a strang business).  William Dyer and Anne agreed that the birth must remain a secret, knowing that the unfortunate birth could play into the hands of the Boston magistrates.  Mary herself could be personally blamed for the malformed baby.

Rev. John Cotton (1585-1652), engraving made in 1856 by H.W. Smith, copied from a painting

While English law permitted a midwife to bury a child in private, a midwife could not lawfully deliver or bury a child in secret.  Anne Hutchinson immediately sought the counsel of Rev. John Cotton about whether the stillbirth should be publicly recorded.  Although he had betrayed her politically, Anne felt she could count on him in this crisis.  Cotton, with a flash of nonconformity, dismissed the ancient folk wisdom that held that infant death was conspicuous punishment for the parents’ sins and advised her to ignore the law and to bury the deformed fetus in secret.

Acting on this special dispensation, Jane Hawkins and Anne buried the stillborn child – exactly as they had always done in old England where custom-imbedded law dictated to the midwife: “If any child be dead born, you yourself shall see it buried in such secret place as neither hog nor dog, nor any other beast may come unto it, and in such sort done, as it may not be found or perceived, as much as you may.”  The birth and burial remained a secret for five months.

In November 1637, William Dyer was disenfranchised and disarmed along with dozens of other followers of Anne Hutchinson.  On 22 Mar 1638, when Anne Hutchinson was excommunicated from the church and withdrew from the assemblage, Mary Dyer rose and accompanied her out of the church.  As the two women left, there were several women hanging around outside the church and one was heard to ask, Who is that woman accompanying Anne Hutchinson?  Another voice answered loud enough to be heard inside the church, She is the mother of a monster!  Governor Winthrop heard this and excitedly questioned Cotton, who broke down and confessed that God, Cotton and Anne Hutchinson had buried a deformed child five months ago.  Although the child had been hburied too deep for dog or hog, it was not too deep for Winthrop who ordered it exhumed.  Winthrop and the clergymen who examined it showed an inordinate interest in the physical characteristics of the “monster.”  According to John Winthrop’s Journal, Mary Dyer, who was notoriously infected with Mrs Hutchinson’s errors, was divinely punished for this sinful heresy by being delivered of a stillborn monster.  Winthrop included gruesome, detailed descriptions in his journal and in letters sent to correspondents in England and New England:

It was a woman child, stillborn, about two months before the just time, having life a few hours before; it came hiplings [breach birth] till she turned it; it was of ordinary bigness; it had a face, but no head, and the ears stood upon the shoulders and were like an ape’s; it had no forehead, but over the eyes four horns, hard and sharp, two of them were above one inch long, the other two shorter; the eyes standing out, and the mouth also; the nose hooked upward all over the breast and back, full of sharp pricks and scales, like a thornback; the navel and all the belly, with the distinction of the sex, were where the back should be; and the back and hips before, where the belly should have been; behind, between the shoulders, it had two mouths, and in each of them a piece of red flesh sticking out; it had arms and legs as other children; but, instead of toes, it had on each foot three claws, like a young fowl, with sharp talons.

The Portsmouth Compact

Excommunicated and banished in their turn, the Dyers followed Anne Hutchinson to Rhode Island where William became one of the founders of Portsmouth.  On 7 Mar 1638 he was one of the eighteen who signed the Portsmouth Compact[5], and he was elected Clerk.  The Dyers ultimately settled at Newport where by 19 Mar 1640 William had acquired 87 acres of land.  He served as Secretary for the towns of Portsmouth and Newport from 1640-47, General Recorder 1647 and Attorney General 1650-1653.

In 1652 William and Mary Dyer accompanied Roger Williams[6] and John Clarke[7] on a political mission to England.  Mary remained for five years, becoming a follower of George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, whose doctrine of the Inner Light was not unlike Anne Hutchinson‘s “Antinomianism.”

George Fox (1624-1691) was an English Dissenter and a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers or Friends. This 19th-century engraving of George Fox was based on a painting of unknown date. Its authenticity is questioned, together with all other supposed portraits of George Fox.

Mary‘s return to New England in 1657 was ill-timed.  John Endicott had succeeded John Winthrop as Governor in 1649, and he was far more intolerant of religious dissention.  He feared that if he permitted the Quakers to express their views in Massachusetts Bay Colony, the whole structure of the Church-State partnership might collapse.

Mary Fisher and Ann Austin were the first Quakers to arrive in Boston.  No sooner did they disembark than they were led to the Boston jail for three weeks before being sent back to England.  On 9 Aug 1656, the port authorities were alerted to search the Speedwell as it entered Boston Harbor before anyone landed.  The passenger list had “Q’s” beside the names of four men and four women, and Endicott ordered these eight brought directly to Boston court.  Christopher Holder and John Copeland led the group, and they dumbfounded Endicott and the local ministers with their familiarity with the Bible.  More irritating to Endicott was Christopher Holder’s knowledge of the law.  When they were marched off to jail, Holder and Copeland made immediate demands for their release, stating that there was no law that justified their imprisonment.

John Endicott (before 1601-1664/5), also spelled Endecott, was an English colonial magistrate, soldier and the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Governor Endicott knew this was true.  There was nothing in the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter which permitted the imprisonment of anyone merely on grounds of their religious beliefs, and so he devised a tactic to get rid of the Quakers.  The Massachusetts General Court met in mid-October of 1656 and 1657 and succeeded in passing several laws against the cursed sect of heretics … commonly called Quakers, gwhich permitted banishing, whipping and using corporal punishment (cutting off ears, boring holes in tongues). On 14 Oct 1656 the Court ordered:

That what master or commander of any ship, barke, pinnace, catch, or any other vessel that shall henceforth bring into any harbor, creeks, or cove without jurisdiction any known Quaker or Quakers, or any other blasphemous heretics shall pay … the fine of 100 pounds … [and] they must be brought back from where they came or go to prison.

After trying to cover all the loopholes in any possible entry to Boston, the Court addressed what it would do with anyone who persisted successfully.  It was decided that such a person should go to the House of Correction and be severely whipped, kept constantly at work and not allowed to speak to anyone.  They set up certain fines: £54 for having any Quaker books or writing concerning their devilish opinions,  £40 for defending any Quaker of their books, £44 for a second offence, and the House of Corection for a third offence … until there be a convenient passage for them to be sent out of this land.  These laws were read on the street corners of Boston with the beat of drums for emphasis.

Christopher Holder and John Copeland sat in their cells where they could hear the rattling of the drums and realized they were going to have to leave on the next available ship departing for England.

Mary Dyer and Anne Burden, unaware of the new laws, arrived on the third ship and were at once arrested.  Despite their protests, they were kept in jail incommunicado in darkened cells with boarded up windows.  Mary‘s books and Quaker papers were confiscated and burned.  Mary finally was able to slip a letter out through a crack to someone outside the jail, but it took a long time to reach William Dyer in Newport.

Two and a half months later, Governor Endicott was startled when William Dyer barged into his home, demanding that his wife should be freed immediately.  While Endicott knew that William had been disenfranchised by Boston, he was still highly respected by the Boston authorities for his prominent position in Rhode Island.  They would have to free Mary Dyer because of William‘s prestige, but only on a condition.  William was put under a heavy bond and made to “give his honor” that if his wife was allowed to return home, he was “not to lodge her in any town of the colony nor to permit any to have speech with her on the journey.”  Under no condition should Mary ever return to Massachusetts.

How galling for Mary to be silenced like a misbehaving child as she returned to her home!  Back in Rhode Island, Mary became a prominent Quaker minister, traveling over the new country.  Preaching “inner light,” Mary rejected oaths of any kind, taught that sex was no determinant for gifts of prophecy, and contended that women and men stood on equal ground in church worship and organization.  In 1658 she was expelled from New Haven for preaching.

Meanwhile, Christopher Holder and the seven other banished Quakers had returned to England.  Christopher wasted no time in getting in touch with George Fox in order to secure a ship for a return trip to New England.  While Mary was being rebuked in New Haven, Christopher Holder and John Copeland were being ordered to leave Martha’s Vineyard.  Hiding in the sand dunes for several days, they met up with friendly Indians who volunteered to help them cross over to Massachusetts.

They landed in Sandwich where they found a community of people unsettled in their religious affiliations and had who had just lost their minister.  Holder and Copeland were received with enthusiasm by about eighteen families, who were ready to become Quakers.  Finding a beautiful dell by a quiet stream in the woods, they called their enchanted hideaway “Christopher’s Hollow,” a name which has remained with the place.  A circle of Friends gathered together and sat on a circle of stones to share their religious convictions.  It was the first real Friends meeting in America, and the start of regular meetings.

Happy with this success, Holder and Copeland moved from Sandwich to Duxbury, from town to town in Massachusetts, leaving fifteen converted Quaker “ministers” in their wake.  Eventually, Governor Endicott got wind of their activities and alerted scouts throughout New England to arrest them, but they remained free until they walked into Salem, Endicott’s home town.

When Holder arrived at the Salem Congregational Church, he listened to the sermon of the day, he then arose from the rear of the church to challenge what had been said and present Quaker alternatives.  One of Endicott’s men seized Holder, hurled him bodily to the floor of the church and stuffed a leather glove and handkerchief down his throat.  Holder turned blue, gagged, and gasped for life.  He was close to death when Samuel Shattuck, a member of the congregation, pushed Endicott’s man aside and retrieved the glove and handkerchief from Holder’s throat and worked hard to resuscitate him.  A lifelong friendship between Shattuck and Holder started at that moment.

Holder, Copeland and Shattuck were all taken to Boston prison.  Shattuck was freed by paying a 20 shilling bond.  Holder and Copeland were brought before Endicott who ordered that each should have thirty lashes.  After several months, they were released from prison, but were soon to return.

On 15 April 1658, Holder and Copeland returned to Cape Code.  Despite a joyous reunion in Sandwich, Endicott’s spies arrested them in the middle of a meeting and marched them to Barnstable where they were stripped and bound to the post of an outhouse.  With the standard three-corded rope, they were each given 33 lashes until the bodies ran with blood.  The Friends of Sandwich stood in horror as “ear and eye witnessses to the cruelty.”

After recovering from the scourging, Holder and Copeland returned again to Boston on 3 Jun 1658, where they were once again arrested.  On 16 Sep 1658, by the order of Governor Endicott, Christopher Holder, a future son-in-law of Richard Scott, had his right ear cut off by the hangman at Boston for the crime of being a Quaker.  Richard’s wife, Katherine Marbury Scott (Anne Hutchinson‘s sister), was present, and remonstrating against this barbarity, was thrown into prison for two months and then publicly flogged ten stripes with a three-corded whip.

On 19 Oct 1658, the Massachusetts authorities during a stormy session had passed by a single vote a law banishing Quakers under pain of death.  In June 1959, Quakers William Robinson of London and Marmaduke Stephenson of Holderness, now in Rhode Island, felt a call to enter Massachusetts.  They were accompanied by Patience Scott, a young girl who later became a sister-in-law of Christopher Holder, and Nicholas Davis.  They were all promptly thrown in jail.  Learning of her Friends’ incarceration in Boston, Mary Dyer went there in the summer of 1659 to visit them and was herself again imprisoned.

William Dyer wrote a letter to the Massachusetts authorities, dated 30 Aug 1659, chastising the magistrates for imprisoning his wife without evidence or legal right.

You have done more in persecution in one year than the worst bishops did in seven, and now to add  more towards a tender woman,” wrote William, “… that gave you no just cause against her for did she come to your meeting to disturb them as you call itt, or did she come to reprehend the magistrates? [She] only came to visit her friends in prison and when dispatching that her intent of returning to her family as she declared in her [statement] the next day to the Governor, therefore it is you that disturbed her, else why was she not let alone.

On 12 September, the Quakers were released from prison and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony under threat of execution should they return.  Nicholas Davis and Mary Dyer obeyed, but Robinson and Stephenson felt it their duty to remain and continue their ministry, deteremined to “look [the] bloody laws in the face.”  Within a month they were again arrested.  When it was learned Christopher Holder was again in jail and threatened with further torture, Mary Dyer, Hope Clifton and Mary Scott (future wife of Christopher Holder and Anne Hutchinson‘s niece) walked through the forest to Boston from Providence to plead for his release and that of others.  Mary Dyer was arrested while speaking to Holder through the prison bars.

There was no mistaking the moves of Holder, Robinson, Stephenson and Mary Dyer.  They deliberately challenged the legal right of Endicott to carry out the death penalty.  Doing what their compatriots were doing in England, they returned to the field as soon as they were released, willing to lay down their lives, if necessary, yet never striking a blow in retaliation.  Passive non-resistance and religious appeals constituted the ammunition and weapons of this Colonial Quaker army.  They had all been banished with the assurance that if they returned death awaited them.

On 19 Oct Mary Dyer was brought before the General Court with Robinson and Stephenson.  Asked why they had returned in defiance of the law, they replied that “the ground and cause of their coming was of the Lord.”  When Gov. John Endicott pronounced sentence of death, Mary Dyer replied, “The will of the Lord be done.”  “Take her away, Marshal,” commanded Endicott. “Yea and joyfully I go,” responded Mary Dyer.

That week in jail, Mary, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson sat in their cells writing pleas to the General Court to change the laws of banishment upon pain of death.

On October 27, the three Quakers were led through the streets to the gallows with drums beating to prevent them from addressing the people.  Robinson and Stephenson were hanged, but Mary Dyer, her arms and legs bound and the noose around her neck, received a prearranged last-minute reprieve as a result of intercession of Gov. John Winthrop, Jr. of Connecticut, Gov. Thomas Temple of Nova Scotia and her son.

Mary Dyer statue in front of Stout Meetinghouse on the campus of Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana (similar to the statue in Boston at the Massachusetts State House)

Back in her cell, Mary composed another letter to the General Court, from which comes the inscription on her statue at the Massuchusetts State House in Boston:

Once more the General Court, Assembled in Boston, speaks Mary Dyar, even as before: My life is not accepted, neither availeth me, in Comparison of the Lives and Liberty of the Truth and Servants of the Living God, for which in the Bowels of Love and Meekness I sought you; yet nevertheless, with wicked Hands have you put two of them to Death, which makes me to feel, that the Mercies of the Wicked is Cruelty.

On 18 Oct 1659, William Dyer (Jr.)’s petition on behalf of his mother to Massachusetts authorities was thus answered: Whereas Mary Dyer is condemned by the General Court to be executed for her offence; on the petition of William Dyer, her son, it is ordered 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 to be executed.

Mary returned unwillingly back to Rhode Island.  She was accompanied by four horsemen, who followed her for fifteen miles south of Boston.  From there she was left in the custody of one man to escort her back to Rhode Island.

Once home, Mary longed for the companionship of other Quakers.  She busied herself across Long Island Sound on Shelter Island where a group of Indians had approached her, asking if she would hold Quaker meetings with them.  Although Mary was out of danger in this environment, she was not content.  She made it known that she must return to Boston to “desire the repeal of that wicked law against God’s people and offer up her life there.”  In late April 1660, in obedience to her conscience and in defiance of the law and without telling her husband, she returned once more to Boston.

It took a week for the news to reach William Dyer that Mary had left Shelter Island.  Quickly, he wrote again to the magistrates of Boston.  You can see a bit of William’s letter —> HERE.

Governor Endicott received the letter and presented it to the General Court.  Too bad if William was having trouble with his wife!  She was giving them trouble, too.  She had no right to come back and defy their orders.  The General Court summoned Mary before them on 31 May 1660.  This is the transcipt of those proceedings, in part:

“Are you the same Mary Dyer that was here before?” Governor Endicott asked her.
“I am the same Mary Dyer that was here at the last General Court,” she replied.
“You will own yourself a Quaker, will you not?”
“I am myself to be reproachfully called so,” Mary said stiffly.
Governor Endicott said, “The sentence was passed upon you by the General Court and now likewise; you must return to the prison and there remain until tomorrow at nine o’clock; then from thence you must go to the gallows, and there be hanged till you are dead.”
Mary Dyer did not flinch. “This is no more than what you said before.”
“But now it is to be executed,” said Endicott. “Therefore prepare yourself tomorrow at nine o’clock.”
“I came in obedience to the will of God to the last General Court desiring you to appeal your unrighteous laws of banishment on pain of death,” said Mary, “and that same is my work now, and earnest request, although I told you that if you refused to repeal them, the Lord would send others of his servants to witness against them.”
“Are you a prophetess?” asked the Governor.
“I speak the words that the Lord speaks in me and now the thing has come to pass.”
Endicott reached his saturation point and, waving to a prison guard, yelled, “Away with her! Away with her!”

Boston Common, the site of Mary Dyer’s execution:

At the appointed time on 1 Jun 1660, Mary was escorted from her prison cell by a band of soldiers to the gallows a mile away.  Apprehensive that a gathering crowd might become uncontrollably compassionate, the Magistrates took every precaution to cut off communication between Mary Dyer and her followers.  Led through the streets sandwiched between drummers, with a constant rat-a-tat-tat in front and behind her, Mary Dyer walked to her death.

Mary Dyer being led to the gallows in Boston, 1660. Painted by Howard Pyle (1853-1911) in about 1905. The picutre was published in McClure's in 1907.

Mary Dyer being led to the gallows in Boston, 1660. Painted by Howard Pyle (1853-1911) in about 1905. The picutre was published in McClure’s in 1907.

Despite these precautions, some of the followers were able to get close enough to appeal to her to acquiesce in banishment.  “Mary Dyer, don’t die.  Go back to Rhode Island where you might save your life.  We beg of you, go back!”  “Nay, I cannot go back to Rhode Island, for in obedience to the will of the Lord I came,” Mary said, “and in His will I abide faithful to the death.”

At the place of execution the drums were quieted and Captain John Webb spoke, trying to justify what was about to happen.  “She has been here before and had the sentence of banishment upon pain of death and has broken the law in coming again now,” he said.  “It is therefore SHE who is guilty of her own blood.”

Mary contradicted him. “Nay, I came to keep blood-guiltiness from you, desiring you to repeal the unrighteous and unjust laws of banishment upon pain of death made against the innocent servants of the Lord.  Therefore, my blood will be required at your hands who willfully do it.”  Mary then turned towards the crowd and continued, “But, for those who do it in the simplicity of their hearts, I desire the Lord to forgive them. I came to do the will of my father, and in obedience to this will I stand even to death.”

Pastor Wilson cried, “Mary Dyer, O repent, O repent, and be not so deluded and carried away by the deceit of the devil.”  Mary looked directly at him and said, “Nay, man, I am not now to repent.”

John Norton stepped forward and asked, “Would you have the elders pray for you?”  Mary responded, “I desire the prayer of all the people of God.”  A voice from the crowd called out, “It may be that she thinks there is none here.”  John Norton pleaded, “Are you sure you don’t want one of the elders to pray for you?”  Mary answered, “Nay, first a child, then a young man, then a strong man, before an elder in Christ Jesus.”

Someone from the crowd called out, “Did you say you have been in Paradise?”  Mary answered, “Yea, I have been in Paradise several days and now I am about to enter eternal happiness.”

Captain John Webb signaled to Edward Wanton, officer of the gallows, who adjusted the noose.  Mary needed no assistance in mounting the scaffold and a small smile lighted her face.  Pastor Wilson had his large handkerchief ready to place over her head so no one would have to see that look of rapture twisted to distortion – only the dangling body.  As her neck snapped, the crowd stood paralyzed in the silence of death until a spring breeze lifted her limp skirt and set it to billowing.  “She hangs there as a flag for others to take example by,” remarked an unsympathetic bystander.  That was indeed Mary Dyer‘s intention – to be an example, a “witness” in the Quaker sense, for freedom of conscience.

Her execution is described by Edward Burrough in A Declaration of the Sad and Great Persecution and Martyrdom of the People of God, called Quakers, in New-England, for the Worshipping of God (1661):

Nay, I came to keep bloodguiltiness from you, desireing you to repeal the unrighteous and unjust law made against the innocent servants of the Lord. Nay, man, I am not now to repent. — Mary Dyer’s last words

After her death a member of the General Court, Humphrey Atherton, is reputed to have said “She did hang as a flag for others to take example by.”  She was buried on Boston Common in an unmarked grave.

Mary Dyer statue at the Massachusetts State House in Boston

Despite all the frantic attempts of the Boston magistrates to rid themselves of the challenging Quakers, they failed.  Mary Dyer‘s death came gradually to be considered a martyrdom even in Massachusetts, where it hastened the easing of anti-Quaker statutes.  In 1959, a bronze statue was erected in her memory on the grounds of the State House in Boston.  The sculpture was created by Quaker sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson in accordance with a bill of the General Court of Massachusetts that authorized “the construction and erection of an appropriate statue of Mary Dyer, who was hanged on Boston Common in the year 1660 because she chose the death penalty rather than abandon the principles of freedom of speech and conscience.”

The words of Mary Barrett Dyer, written from her cell of the Boston jail, are engraved beneath:




An identical sister sculpture at Friends Center of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was erected in 1975 by the Fairmount Park Art Association, in recognition of Philadelphia’s long association with the Religious Society of Friends.

A statue of Mary‘s friend, Anne Hutchinson, stands in front at the other wing of the Massachusetts State House.

Following Mary‘s death, William Dyer remarried and continued his public service, while having some legal entanglements with William Coddington.  He was dead by late 1677, though no record of his death has been found.

While Mary Dyer‘s story is well known, few have commented on the spiritual values of her husband, William.  Christy K. Robinson, the author of Mary Dyer Illuminated, has written elsewhere (http://marybarrettdyer.blogspot.com/2011/12/mary-dyers-husband-anglican-puritan.html):

“He loved his wife and supported her, but didn’t appear to share her doctrines or disciplines at the end of her life.  This timeline indicates that William went along with the majority and probably kept his views to himself, but that he was likely a secular man when it came to organized religion.  His writings acknowledge God, but he doesn’t appear to be as “out there” as most other men of his time. That’s understandable, as you’ll see…”

She then  proceeds to offer the following timeline to fill in the gaps in our knowledge:

1609-1624: William Dyer was born and raised in Lincolnshire, between Sleaford and Boston; Lincolnshire was a hotbed of nonconformist thought, that is, they didn’t conform to Church of England liturgy.  (The Pilgrims of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire were separatists, also nonconformists but not of the same beliefs as other separatists who tended toward puritan and Presbyterian ways, migrated first to the Netherlands, and then to Plymouth, Massachusetts.)

William Dyer’s parents’ church in Kirkby LaThorpe appears to have had puritan or nonconformist-type ministers, though I couldn’t find specific names of their vicars in searches.  During that time, the Sleaford and Boston churches had nonconformist ministers; that is, super-conservative Anglicans who believed that the Reformation from the Roman Catholic church hadn’t gone far enough—they wanted to purify their church of Catholic influences.  England’s puritan minister of Boston St. Botolph’s, Rev. John Cotton, had to go into hiding for a year before he emigrated to Massachusetts, where the town was named after the English Boston.

1624-1633: William was apprenticed in London, and lived with master Walter Blackborne in the St. Martin-in-the-Fields parish of Westminster.  St. Martin’s was not puritan.  One of the responsibilities of the master was to teach apprentices all their trade secrets, as well as bring up the teenage boys in education and spiritual matters.  St. Martin-in-the-Fields had (orthodox) Church of England ministers, not puritan. Thomas Mountford, D.D., vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields from 1602-1633, “is commemorated as ‘genuinus Ecclesiae Anglicanae filius; a true sonne of the Church of England, I meane a true Protestant; he was as farre from popish superstition, as factious singularity, no more addicted to the Conclave of Rome, than addicted to the Parlour of Amsterdam.’” [Parlour of Amsterdam = separatist puritans]

1614-1637: Rev. James Palmer was St. Martin-in-the-Fields curate or deputy under Dr. Mountford.

1632-1644: William Bray (died 1644) was an English clergyman, chaplain to [Anglican] Archbishop William Laud.  Rev. Bray was vicar at St. Martin-in-the-Fields before the Dyers emigrated to America.  Rather than change his “brand” of religion, Rev. Bray lost his job during the Civil War when the puritan Parliamentarians forced him out.

1633: William and Mary Dyer married, with the ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, Westminster.  (This is further evidence that the marriage was Church of England, as puritans married in homes, taverns, or other secular places with judges, with a prayer from clergy, so they wouldn’t be corrupted by Church of England “popish” traditions.)  William Dyer, now working as a master in his guild, lived in this parish, and was taxed here.

1634: The Dyers’ first son was christened, and buried at St. Martin’s churchyard.  In Church of England tradition, Mary would have been “churched” (blessed) 40 days after giving birth.   (This practice was not followed in puritanism.)

1635: Dyers emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts. All of Massachusetts was a puritan enclave.  There were few Anglican ministers, and they were watched—when they met with disapproval, they were sent back to England or out of the colony.  The custom of the puritan churches in Massachusetts was for the elders to examine a person’s life for evidence of salvation (good works and strict keeping of the biblical laws), and to hear the person’s testimony before deciding to admit a member.  Women were not required to testify, but were sometimes allowed. They were admitted to membership with their husbands.

In December, William and Mary Dyer were admitted to membership in (puritan) Boston First Church; their infant son Samuel was baptized there.  Minister was the conservative Rev. John Wilson, teacher was Rev. John Cotton, formerly of Boston in Lincolnshire.  William Dyer and his family had probably visited Cotton’s church in England.

1636-1637: Mary and probably William Dyer were involved with Anne Hutchinson’s home Bible studies and discussions.  They, like the Hutchinsons and others, continued as members of Boston First Church, where services were held all day on Sundays, with a part-day on Thursday, the “lecture” day.  Fast days, at which there were sermons and lectures, were declared to pray for deliverance from various famines, pestilence, plagues, etc.  Church members did not miss services, or they could be fined.

1637: In March, a large group of men signed a Remonstrance/petition about treatment of Rev. Wheelwright, who propounded the Covenant of Grace, in contrast with the other ministers said to be preaching the Covenant of Works.  The puritan theocracy of Massachusetts Bay Colony called Hutchinson’s system of beliefs “antinomian,” which means “against the law (nomos).”  Hutchinson and her followers believed that according to the New Testament of the Bible, the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai were declared obsolete, and that God revealed his will to believers by direct revelation to the heart and mind.

In November, William Dyer and many others were disfranchised as freemen because of the Wheelwright petition.  I don’t think they were excommunicated, though they were under “admonition,” a form of church discipline.

Gov. John Winthrop wrote of William Dyer, “The Father of this Monster [baby], having been forth of the Towne, about a month, and comming home just at this time [mid-November], was upon the Lords day (by an unexpected occasion) called before the Church for some of his monstrous opinions, as that Christ and the Church together are the new Creature, there is no inherent righteousnesse in Christians, Adam was not made after Gods Image, &c. which he openly maintained, yet with such shuffling, and equivocating, as he came under admonition, &c.”

1638: Late March, many members of Boston First Church were banished from Massachusetts, and moved to Pocasset, on Aquidneck Island (later called Portsmouth, Rhode Island).  Anne Hutchinson was definitely excommunicated, but the rest of the group were left on the books of First Church, perhaps in the hope that they could be rehabilitated and brought back into fellowship.  William Dyer was one of the men who signed the Portsmouth Compact, which referred to several verses of scripture regarding sacred covenants.

1638-40: On Aquidneck, there was no organized church group.  As they had done in Boston, and in Lincolnshire before that, Anne Hutchinson and others were at afternoon prayer when the great earthquake struck on June 1, 1638.  It was felt all over New England, and some puritans blamed it on her!  She said that the earthquake was the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Some men at Portsmouth met together to “prophesy,” which group may have included William Dyer. The men included Hutchinson adherents, Baptists, and other dissenters to the puritan leadership in Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies.  Prophesying meant, to them, to share revelations from scripture, not to predict the future.

When Boston sent three men to read a letter from Boston First Church admonishing the heretics, they were treated hospitably but the Rhode Islanders would not hear the letter.  Anne Hutchinson refused to acknowledge that Boston First was even a “church,” as defined by the Bible.  The “church” is a body of believers, not an organization or building.

In 1640, Francis Hutchinson, Anne’s son, asked to have his membership removed from Boston First, but was refused.  Three years later, at age 23, he was killed with his mother and younger siblings in an Indian attack on their Pelham Bay farm. Rev. Thomas Welde wrote of the massacre,

“I never heard that the Indians in those parts did ever before this, commit the like outrage upon any one family, or families, and therefore Gods hand is the more apparently seen herein, to pick out this wofull woman, to make her, and those belonging to her, an unheard of heavy example… Thus the Lord heard our groans to heaven, and freed us from this great and sore affliction…and hath (through great mercy) given the Churches rest from this disturbance ever since; that wee know none that lifts up his head to disturbe our sweet peace, in any of the Churches of Christ among us; blessed for ever bee his Name.”

On March 30, 1640, Rev. John Wilson, senior minister, made the following statement in Boston First Church:

“Brethren you know the Business of the Hand hath been a Long time propounded, it taken by the church into Consideration that now we should draw to some Issue a determination you know the Cases of them there do much slander, some are under admonition that some under excommunication: that some have given satisfaction in part to the church and do hold themselves still as members of the church y do yet hearken to us seek to give satisfaction and others there be that do renounce the power of the church & do refuse to hear the church as Mr Coddington, Mr Dyar and Mr Coggeshall, the 2 first have been questioned in the church and dealt with and are under Admonition and have been so long, yet this add: of the church hath been so far from doing them any good, that they are rather grown worse under the same, for Mr Coddington being dealt withal about hearing of excomunicate persons prophecy, he was sensible of an evil in it, and said he had not before so well considered of it, yet since he hath not only heard such by accident as before. But [Coddington] hath himself and our Brother Diar and Mr Coggeshall have gathered themselves into church fellowship, not regarding the Covenant that they have made with this church, neither have taken our advice and consent herein, neither have they regarded it, but they have joined themselves in fellowship with some that are excommunicated whereby they come to have a constant fellowship with them, and that in a church way, and when we sent messengers of the church to them to admonish them and treat with them about such offences, they were so far from expressing any sorrow or giving any satisfaction that they did altogether refuse to hear the church. . . .” (Keayne, Prince Soc. 21, p. 400.)

1639-1650: Dr. John Clark and Mr. Lenthall held Baptist-type meetings in Newport but there was no church fellowship or building per se for at least eight years.

“Into the midst of these many teachers of diverse religious views, Ezekiel Holliman, the Baptist, came early in 1640. He had in 1637/8 been called before the Massachusetts Court for seducing many with his religious teachings, had in 1638 or 1639 baptized Roger Williams and been baptized by him, and had then removed to Aquidneck. He was in 1640 the only man known to be a Baptist who was then residing on Aquidneck. There has not yet been discovered any evidence to show that any other of the Aquidneck settlers were at that time Baptists or that the Baptist church later founded there had then been established

Callender in 1738 said: “In the mean Time Mr. John Clark, who was a Man of Letters, carried on a publick Worship (as Mr. Brewster did at Plymouth) at the first coming, till they procured Mr. Lenthall of Weymouth, who was admitted a Freeman here August 6, 1640” (p. 62), and “It is said, that in 1644, Mr John Clark, and some others, formed a Church, on the Scheme and Principles of the Baptists. It is certain that in 1648 there were fifteen Members in full Communion.” (p. 63.)

In a footnote Callender gives the names of some of them [not all]: “The Names of the Males were John Clark, Mark Lukar, Nathanael West, Wm. Vahan, Thomas Clark, Joseph Clark, John Peckham, John Thorndon, William Weeden, and Samuel Hubbard.” [NO DYER NAME THERE IN PARTIAL LIST. It may be that William and Mary attended services sometimes but did not become church members.]

There are no (discovered) christening records for the Dyer children (except their firstborn in London, and Samuel in Boston, 1635); the 1637 anencephalic baby was stillborn and therefore could not be baptized; the remaining four children were born in Newport, Rhode Island.  If the children were baptized, they would have been teens of the age of consent to choose baptism by immersion.  I’m not sure of the Dyers’ beliefs as young adults (except William Dyer Jr.’s son, who founded an Episcopalian church in Delaware), but many of their succeeding generations converted to Quaker beliefs.

In Rhode Island records kept by William Dyer Sr., he refers to “Sunday,” “First Day,” and “the Lord’s Day,” interchangeably.  This could reflect that he was reporting the wording of others, or that it was what he called it himself.  Anglicans called the days of the week as we do today, and that’s what William Dyer wrote.  Puritans called Sunday “Sabbath” or “first day.”  Puritans and Quakers referred to the first day, second day, etc., to avoid use of the pagan gods’ names.

1652-60: William Dyer did not convert to the Quaker beliefs of his wife Mary.  For two of the nearly five years she was in England, William was doing what some perceived to be of low morals and deplorable ethics: acting as a privateer (pirate with a license) in the First Anglo-Dutch War.

1657-60: Mary Dyer returns to New England, agitates with Quakers in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and teaches Quaker beliefs on Shelter Island.  She was hanged in Boston for civil disobedience on June 1, 1660, in support of liberty of conscience.  She was protesting the torture and imprisonment of Quakers and their sympathizers—those who had simply offered Christian hospitality and humanitarian relief to traveling Quakers.

1662-63: The royal charter for Rhode Island granted liberty of conscience, including the right not to worship and pay mandatory tithes to churches.  Because William’s name appears on this charter several times, each time last in the list of men, I suggest (but can’t prove) that he was one of the men who drafted the document that was given to Parliament and Charles II to be finalized.  The bold words and phrases show that religious and civil matters were separate, and that each person was free to exercise religious beliefs as they thought best—and that some people cannot in conscience conform to the public exercise of religion, nor should they be punished or persecuted for religious differences that don’t disturb the civil peace.  In other words, the right to participate or not.

…with a full libertie in religious concernements; and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye: Now know bee, that wee beinge willinge to encourage the hopefull undertakeinge of oure sayd lovall and loveinge subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjovment of all theire civill and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loveing subjects; and to preserve unto them that libertye, in the true Christian ffaith and worshipp of God, which they have sought with soe much travaill, and with peaceable myndes, and loyall subjectione to our royall progenitors and ourselves, to enjoye; and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colonie cannot, in theire private opinions, conforms to the publique exercise of religion, according to the litturgy, formes and ceremonyes of the Church of England, or take or subscribe the oaths and articles made and established in that behalfe; and for that the same, by reason of the remote distances of those places, will (as wee hope) bee noe breach of the unitie and unifformitie established in this nation: Have therefore thought ffit, and doe hereby publish, graunt, ordeyne and declare, That our royall will and pleasure is, that noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned;

1670: William Dyer wrote to King Charles II. William was understandably bitter about the conservative puritan government he’d experienced under Massachusetts rule, and how they’d interfered and harassed hundreds of people over the years, driving some to suicide, others to banishment, others to grievous bodily injury and execution.  He wrote of the Massachusetts theocratic government, “The thoughts of which boundless possessions might swell them of the Massathusets Colony into an ambitious concept of being absolute Lords and Proprietors of a Great Empire, and so arrogate to themselves a Liberty of prescribing Laws, and exercising their Dominion over all the Inhabitants of New-England.” [Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.]

1676: William Dyer died at about age 67 in Newport, Rhode Island.  No evidence found (yet) that he participated in church or religious activities.  He was buried in the Dyer burial ground, probably next to the remains of Mary Dyer, their son Maher, and others.

The son of William Dyer and Mary Barrett is Samuel Dyer, who was born 10 Oct 1635 in Newport, Rhode Island and died 1678 in Kingston, Rhode Island.  In 1663 he married Anne Hutchinson in Boston, Massachusetts.  Anne is the granddaughter of Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson[8].  She (the granddaughter) was born 17 Nov 1643 in Boston, Massachusetts and died 10 Jan 1716 in Newport, Rhode Island.  Samuel died early, and on 22 Sep 1679, at the age of thirty-four, Anne married (2nd) Daniel Vernon, and she was not heard from again.  She was buried in Newport, Rhode Island with her second husband.  While otherwise not historically notable, Anne is unique in that she is the convergence of four authenticated royal ancestral lines plus one noble line.  One royal line comes from Edward I, King of England (to Sir Edward Raleigh), another from John, King of England (to Anne Chamberlayne) another from Henry I, King of England (to John Booth and Anne Thimbleby) and the last from Henry II, King of England (to William Marbury).  The noble line is from Sir William de Huntingfield, one of the Magna Charta Sureties (to Anne Chamberlayne).  These connections are laid out in the article “Royal and Noble Lines of Anne (Hutchinson) Dyer, 1643-1716“.

Anne Hutchinson (1643-1718)

Anne Hutchinson (1643-1718)

Click here to read an article on the recovery of the gravestone of Anne Hutchinson, the granddaughter of Anne Marbury Hutchinson.

My lineage continues from Samuel Dyer and Anne Hutchinson through:

  • their daughter Ann Dyer and her husband Carew Clarke.  Not much is known about this couple.  This lineage is continued under the heading of Joseph Clarke (1618-1694).
  • their son Edward Dyer (1670-1760).  This lineage continues below.

[The two lines will reconnect with the marriage of John Clarke to Phoebe Pearce in 1803.]

Edward Dyer (1670-1760), a carpenter according to some sources,  was born in Kingston, Rhode Island.  He died in Noose Neck Hill, Rhode Island.  He may not have gotten along with his stepfather, as one source relates that on 9 Feb 1691, Edward and his brother Elisha were complained of by Daniel Vernon[9], of Kingstown, for taking possession of his farm at Aquidneset, forcing open the door of the cellar, etc., “they both being non residents.”  On 28 Sep 1698, he married Mary Sayles Greene in North Kingston, Rhode Island.  Mary was born 8 Jul 1677 in Warwick, Rhode Island and died 11 Aug 1761 in North Kingston, Rhode Island.

The son of Edward Dyer (1670-1760) and Mary Sayles Greene is Edward Dyer, born 6 Jan 1701 in Kingston, Rhode Island and died 13 Mar 1788 in North Kingston, Rhode Island.  In 1719, he married Freelove WilliamsFreelove was born 1701 in Kingston, Rhode Island and died 1747 in North Kingston, Rhode Island.

The son of Edward Dyer (1701-1788) and Freelove Williams is John Dyer, born 1733 in North Kingston, Rhode Island and died 9 Mar 1791 in North Kingston, Rhode Island.  On 17 Mar 1754, he married Bathsheba Dunn, who was born 11 Jul 1734 in North Kingston, Rhode Island and died 1790 in Kingston, Rhode Island. Both of John’s parents are descendants of Roger Williams and Mary Bernard, who are the g-grandparents of Freelove through their son, Joseph and 2nd g-grandparents of Edward through their daughter, Mary.

The daughter of John Dyer and Bathsheba Dunn is Freelove Dyer, born 28 Mar 1759 in North Kingston, Rhode Island and died 1831 in Sandy Creek, New York.  In January 1777, she married John Pearce, who was born 4 Oct 1756 in East Greenwich, Rhode Island and died 1792 in Kingston, Rhode Island. Both of Freelove‘s parents are descendants of Anne Hutchinson (1643-1716) and Samuel Dyer, who are g-grandparents of John Dyer  through their son, Edward and g-grandparents of Bathsheba through their daughter, Ann.

The daughter of Freelove Dyer and John Pearce is Phoebe Pearce, born 25 Sep 1779 in East Greenwich, Rhode Island and died 28 Sep 1872 in Sandy Creek, New York.  In 1803 she married John Clarke, who was born 22 Sep 1780 in Exeter, Rhode Island and died 29 Jun 1865 in Sandy Creek, New York.  They are known to have been resident in Sandy Creek, New York at the time of the 1850 census.  Their lineage continues under the heading of Joseph Clarke (1618-1694).


Mary Dyer statue, Boston, Massachusetts (photo credit: Darlene Spencer, 26 Dec 2015)

Mary Dyer statue, Boston, Massachusetts (photo credit: Darlene Spencer, 26 Dec 2015)

[1] I am descended from two of Mary’s grandchildren. As a result, she is also my 10th g-grandmother when the lineage is traced as far as possible in the Dyer line, i.e., through Edward Dyer (1670-1760).  Edward is the sister of Ann Dyer, discussed under the heading of Joseph Clarke (1618-1694).

[2] The April 1944 issue of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society Register (Vol. 98) published an article by Alice Eugenie Ortiz entitled “Tradition of Mary Dyer, Quaker Martyr” which had been contributed by Mrs. Harry Clark Boden. Mrs. Borden herself stated that there was no proof whatsoever for her theory – simply that it was one conceivable way to account for Mary’s early whereabouts.  G. Andrews Moriarty refuted this theory quite soundly in his article, “The True Story of Mary Dyer” (NEHGS Register Vol. 104, January 1950).  He states that “no proof is offered that the Lady Arabella ever had issue except a vague statement from Mr. Hardy’s Life of Lady Arabella Stuart of a rumor that such was the case.”  Furthermore, Moriarty points out that “there never was such a tradition [of this lineage] among Mary Dyer’s descendants, but that it was a quite modern story, emanating from an English gentleman, Mr. F. M. Dyer of Macclesfield [sic – s/b F.N. for “Frederick Nathaniel” Dyer who was an American – his father was born in Rhode Island – and who moved to England to do research]…. who, not so many years ago, sent the story of his beliefs to the descendants of Mary Dyer in this country…  This ‘tradition’ does not even have the authority of age…  this being so, the story, without more evidence, is not worthy of serious consideration.”  Moriarty further takes the (then) editor of the Register to task for even accepting the article for publication, as it appeared four years after the July, 1940 issue (Vol. 94) which published the marriage record of Mary and William Dyer from the parish register of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, which clearly identified her as Mary BARRETT.  As for the “legend” itself, Mary was supposedly the daughter of Lady Arabella Stuart, first cousin of King James, by her 3rd cousin, William Seymour.  When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, she left no heirs and the crown shifted to other descendants of Henry VII.  James I was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, a great granddaughter of Henry VII.  King James felt threatened by the equal eligibility of his cousin Arabella, daughter of Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart, James’ uncle. (Charles was also a great grandson of Henry VII.)  Arabella had no desire to be Queen, but aggressive political suitors from England and France hoped that, by marrying her, they would capture the throne and restore Catholicism to England.  King James, made rather anxious by this prospect, prohitited his cousin from marrying anyone. But Arabella fell in love with Sir William Seymour, also a descendant of Henry VII and they were secretly wed in 1610.  Within a year, they had a daughter [unsubstantiated], which disturbed King James further, as this marriage doubled Arabella’s qualifications to the throne.  He order Arabella sent to Highgate and William Seymour imprisoned in the Tower of London.  Arabella tried to flee Highgate, dressed as a man, but although she escaped from prison she was recaptured on board a ship headed to Calais and sent to the Tower of London where she spent the remaining four years of her life.  William Seymour escaped to France and when he eventually returned to England after the death of King James, he became tutor to the eleven-year-old Prince of Wales, the future King Charles II.  The infant daughter was left in the care of Arabella’s lady-in-waiting, Mistress Mary Dyer, who gave her own name to her adopted child and brought her up quietly and reclusively in the country.  King James sent out scouts searching for the child, but was denied information by anyone who was questioned.  When Mary was twenty-two years old, she married her foster mother’s first cousin William Dyer.  [Note: it is not known whether William indeed even had any cousins by the name of Mary.]

[3] My 10th g-grandmother, discussed at length under her own heading.

[4] Husband of my 10th g-grand aunt, Mary Hutchinson, who was Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson’s sister-in-law.

[5] Direct ancestors of mine who were signers of the Portmouth Compact are: William Dyer (husband of Mary Dyer), William Freeborn, William Hutchinson (husband of Anne Hutchinson), Edward Hutchinson, Jr. (eldest son of William and Anne Hutchinson, called “Jr.” to distinguish him from his uncle Edward Hutchinson Sr.), and John Walker, all of whom are discussed under their own headings.  John Clarke and his brother Thomas (my 8th g-grand uncles – brothers of Joseph Clarke), John Coggeshall (father of my 7th g-grand uncle Samuel Rathbun, brother of Thomas Rathbun), Edward Hutchinson Sr. (my 10th g-grand uncle), and Thomas Savage (husband of my 9th g-grand aunt Faith Hutchinson, brother of Edward Hutchinson Jr.) were also signers.

[6] My 10th g-grandfather

[7] My 8th g-grand uncle

[8] Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson (1591–1643), my 10th g-grandmother, was one of the most prominent women in colonial America, noted for her strong religious convictions, and for her stand against the staunch religious orthodoxy of 17th century Massachusetts. She was a Puritan whose religious ideas were at odds with the established Puritan clergy in the Boston area, and her popularity and charisma created a schism in the Boston church which threatened to destroy the Puritan’s holy experiment in New England. Creating the most challenging situation for the ruling magistrates and ministers during her first three years in Boston, she was eventually tried and convicted, then banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony with many of her followers, who joined Roger Williams, our 10th g-grandfather, in Rhode Island.  Both Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson and Roger Williams are discussed under their own headings.

[9] His mother’s second husband.


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