Mary Barrett Dyer
Mary Barrett Dyer (c. 1611 – June 1, 1660) was an English Puritan turned
Quaker who was hanged in Boston, Massachusetts for repeatedly defying
a law banning Quakers from the colony. She is one of the four executed
Quakers known as the Boston martyrs.
Mary (Marie) Barrett's marriage to William Dyer (Dier, Dyre), was recorded
in church records at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on 27 October 1633
William Dyer took the Freeman's oath at the General Court in Boston on
March 3, 1635 or 1636. In 1637 Mary Dyer supported Anne Hutchinson,
who preached that God "spoke directly to individuals" rather than only
through the clergy. Dyer joined with Hutchinson and became involved in
the "Antinomian heresy," where they worked to organize groups of women
and men to study the Bible in contravention of the theocratic law of the
Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Mary had given birth on October 11, 1637 to a deformed stillborn baby,
which was buried privately. After Anne Hutchinson was tried and the
Hutchinsons and Dyers banished from Massachusetts in January
1637-8, the authorities learned of the “monstrous birth,” and Governor
Winthrop had it exhumed in March 1638, before a large crowd. He
described it thus:
“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 [i.e., a skate or ray],
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.”
Winthrop sent descriptions to numerous correspondents, and accounts
were published in England in 1642 and 1644. The deformed birth was
considered evidence of the heresies and errors of Antinomianism.
In 1638, Mary Dyer and her husband William were banished from the
colony along with Hutchinson. On the advice of Roger Williams the group
that included Hutchinson and the Dyers moved to Portsmouth in the
colony of Rhode Island. William Dyer signed the Portsmouth Compact
along with 18 other men.
Mary Dyer and her husband traveled to England with Roger Williams and
John Clarke in 1652, where Mary Dyer joined the Religious Society of
Friends (Quakers) after hearing the preaching of its founder George Fox
and feeling that it was in agreement with the ideas that she and Hutchinson
held years earlier. She eventually became a Quaker preacher in her own right.
William Dyer returned to Rhode Island in 1652. Mary Dyer remained in
England until 1657. The next year she traveled to Boston to protest the
new law banning Quakers, and she was arrested and expelled from the
colony. (Her husband, who had not become a Quaker, was not arrested.)
In St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on 27 October 1633, Mary
married William Dyer, a milliner in the New Exchange, a member
of the Fishmongers' Company, and a Puritan. Mary's maiden name
was recorded as "Barrett" in the parish record (NEHGR Vol. 94,
p. 300, July 1940). In late 1634 or early 1635, the Dyers emigrated to
Massachusetts where, on December 13, 1635, they were admitted to
the Boston church. They were numbered among the intelligent citizens,
being above reproach and above the average 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 March
1635/6 and he held many positions of public importance. In 1638 he was
elected clerk, and on 14 Dec 1635 and 16 Jan 1637/8 William was granted
land at Rumney Marsh (Chelsea, MA).
William and Mary were open supporters of Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson and
the Rev. John Wheelwright during the Antinomian controversy. Mary and
Anne were friends, and when Mary went into premature labor on October
17, 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.
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 was disenfranchised and disarmed along with
dozens of other followers of Anne Hutchinson. On March 22, 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 was 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 buried "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.
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 March 1638 he was one of the eighteen who signed the
companct and he was elected Clerk. The Dyers ultimately settled in Newport
where by 19 March 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; Attorney General 1650-1653.
In 1652 William and Mary Dyer accompanied Roger Williams and
John Clarke 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 Mrs.
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 August 9, 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
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" which permitted banishing, whipping, and using corporal
punishment (cutting off ears, boring holes in tongues). On October 14,
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 severly whipped, kept constantly at work,
and not allowed to speak to anyone. They set up certain fines: 54
pounds for having any Quaker books or writing "concerning their devilish
opinions," 40 pounds for defending any Quaker of their books, 44 pounds
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
When Holder arrived at the Salem Congregational Church, he listened
to the sermon of the day, 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 April 15, 1658, Holder and Copeland returned to Cape Code. Despite
a joyouse reunion in Sandwich, Endicott's spies arrested them in the
middle of a meeting and marched them to Barnstable where they were
stipped 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 horr as "ear and eye witnessses" to the cruelty."
After recovering from the scourging, Holder and Copeland returned again
to Boston on June 3, 1658 where they were once again arrested. On
September 16, 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 October 19, 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
August 30, 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 September 12, 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
On October 19 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
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.
Back in her cell, Mary composed another letter to the General Court, from
which comes the inscription on her statue at 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 October 18, 1659, William Dyer, Jr.'s petition on behalf of his mother to
MA 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 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. 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 May 31, 1660.
"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
Endicott reached his saturation point and, waving to a prison guard, yelled,
"Away with her! Away with her!"
At the appointed time on June 1, 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.
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 bloodguiltiness 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 wilfully 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 delued 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 dont' want one of the elders to pray for you?" Mary
answered, "Nah, 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 signalled 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.
Despite all the frantic attempts of the Boston magistrates to rid themselves of the
challenging Quakers, they failed. Mary's death came gradually to be considered
a martyrdom even in Massachusetts, where it hastened the easing of anti-Quaker
statutes. In 1959 by authority of the Massachusetts General Court, which had
condemned her nearly 300 years before, a bronze statue was erected in her
memory on the grounds of the State House in Boston. A statue of her friend,
Anne Hutchinson, stands in front at the other wing. The words of Mary Barrett Dyer,
written from her cell of the Boston jail are engraved beneath:
My Life not Availeth Me
In Comparison to the
Liberty of the Truth
Children of William & Mary (Barrett) Dyer:
William, bapt. 24 Oct 1634; buried 27 Oct1634, London, England
Samuel, bapt. 20 Oct 1635, Boston, MA; d. 1678, Kingstown, RI; m. abt 1660,
Anne Hutchinson, granddaughter of Anne (Marbury) Hutchinson
Stillborn daughter, 17 Oct 1637, Boston, MA
William, b. abt 1640, Newport, RI; d. 1687/8; m. Mary Walker
Mahershallahasbaz, b. abt 1643, Newport, RI; d. bef 1670; m. Martha Pearce
Henry, b. abt 1647, Newport, RI; d. Feb 1690; m. Elizabeth Sanford
Mary, b. before 1650, Newport, RI; d. aft 26 Jan 1679, DE; m. by 1675,
Charles, b. abt 1650, Newport, RI; d. May 15, 1727; m. (1) Mary (___);
m. (2) Martha (Brownell) Wait
William Dyer's Letter of 30 August 1659 to Boston Magistrates for release
of Mary Dyer from prison
Having received some letters from my wife, I am given to understand
of her commitment to close prison to a place (according to description)
not unlike Bishop Bonner's rooms ... It is a sad condition, in executing
such cruelties towards their fellow creatures and sufferers ... Had you
no commiseration of a tender soul that being wett to the skin, you cause
her to thrust into a room whereon was nothing to sitt or lye down upon
but dust .. had your dogg been wett you would have offered it the liberty
of a chimney corner to dry itself, or had your hoggs been pend in a sty,
you would have offered them some dry straw, or else you would have
wanted mercy to your beast, but alas Christians now with you are
used worse [than] hoggs or doggs ... oh merciless cruelties.
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 ... 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.
[What] house entered she to molest or what did she, that like a
malefactor she must be hauled to [prison] or what law did she
transgress? She was about a business justifiable before God and
all good men.
The worst of men, the bishops themselves, denied not the visitation
and release of friends to their prisoners, which myself hath often
experienced by visiting Mr. Prine, Mr. Smart and other eminent
[men] yea when he was commanded close in the towne, I had
resort once or twice a week and [I was] never fetched before
authority to ask me wherefore I came to the towne, or Kings bench,
or Gatehouse ... had there not been more adventurours tender
hearted professors than yo'selves many of them you call godly
ministers and others might have perished ... if that course you take
had been in use with them, as to send for a person and ask them
whe'fore they came thither. What hath not people in America the
same liberty as beasts and birds to pass the land or air without
Have you a law that says the light in M. Dyre is not M. Dyre's rule,
if you have for that or any the fornamed a law, she may be made a
transfresso', for words and your mittimus hold good, but if not, then
have you imprisoned her and punisht her without law and against
the Law of god and man ... behold my wife without law and against
Law is imprison' and punished and so higly condemned for saying
the light is the Rule! It is not your light within your rule by which you
make and act such lawes for ye have no rule of Gods word in the
Bible to make a law titled Quakers nor have you any order from the
Supreme State of England to make such lawes. Therefore, it must
be your light within you is your rule and you walk by ... Remember
what Jesus Christ said, 'if the light that be in you is darkness, how
great is that darkness.'
[illegible] ... conscience, the first and next words after appearance is
'You are a Quaker' see the steppes you follow and let their misry be
your warning; and then if answer be not made according to the ruling
will; away with them to the Cobhole or new Prison, or House of
Correction ... And now Gentlemen consider their ends, and believe it,
itt was certaine the Bishops ruine suddenly followed after their hott
persuanes of some godly people by them called Puritans ... especially
when they proceeded to suck the blood of Mr. Prine, Mr. Burton and
Dr. Bostwicks eares, only them three and butt three, and they were
as odious to them as the Quakers are to you.
What witness or legal testimony was taken that my wife Mary Dyre
was a Quaker, if not before God and man how can you clear yourselves
and seat of justice, from cruelty persecution ye as so fair as in you lies
murder as to her and to myself and family oppression and tiranny. The
God of trust knows all this. The God of truth knows all this. This is the
sum and totals of a law title Quakers: that she is guilty of a breach of
a tittled Quakers is as strange, that she is lawfully convicted of 2
witnesses is not hear of, that she must be banished by law tittled
Quakers being not convicted by law but considered by surmise and
condemned to close prison by Mr. Bellingham's suggestion is so absurd
and ridiculous, the meanest pupil in law will hiss at such proceeds in Old
Lawyers ... is your law tittled Quakers Felony or Treason, that vehement
suspicion render them capable of suffering ... If you be men I suppose
your fundamental lawes is that noe person shall be imprisoned or
molested but upon the breach of a law, yett behold my wife without law
and against law is imprisoned and punished.
My wife writes me word and information, ye she had been above a
fortnight and had not trode on the ground, but saw it out your window;
what inhumanity is this, had you never wives of your own, or ever any
tender affection to a woman, deal so with a woman, what has nature
forgotten if refreshment be debarred?
I have written thus plainly to you, being exceedingly sensible of the
unjust molestations and detaining of my deare yokefellow, mine and
my familyes want of her will crye loud in yo' eares together with her
sufferings of your part but I questions not mercy favor and comfort
from the most high of her owne soule, that at present my self and
family bea by you deprived of the comfort and refreshment we might
have enjoyed by her [presence].
Newport this 30 August 1659
Mary Dyer's First Letter Written from Prison, 1659
Whereas I am by many charged with the Guiltiness of my own Blood: if
you mean in my Coming to Boston, I am therein clear, and justified by
the Lord, in whose Will I came, who will require my Blood of you, be sure,
who have made a Law to take away the Lives of the Innocent Servants of
God, if they come among you who are called by you, 'Cursed Quakers,'
altho I say, and am a Living Witness for them and the Lord, that he hath
blessed them, and sent them unto you: Therefore, be not found Fighters
against God, but let my Counsel and Request be accepted with you, To
repeal all such Laws, that the Truth and Servants of the Lord, may have
free Passage among you and you be kept from shedding innocent Blood,
which I know there are many among you would not do, if they knew it so
to be: Nor can the Enemy that stirreth you up thus to destroy this holy
Seed, in any Measure contervail, the great Damage that you will by thus
doing procure: Therefeore, seeing the Lord hath not hid it from me, it lyeth
upon me, in Love to your Souls, thus to persuade you: I have no Self Ends,
the Lord knoweth, for if my Life were freely granted by you, it would not
avail me, nor could I expect it of you, so long as I shall daily hear and
see, of the Sufferings of these People, my dear Brethren and Seed, with
whom my Life is bound up, as I have done these two Years, and not it is
like to increase, even unto Death, for no evil Doing, but Coming among
you: Was ever the like laws heard of, among a People that profess Christ
come in the Flesh? And have such no other Weapons, but such Laws,
to fight with against spiritual Wickedness with all, as you call it? Wo is
me for you! Of whom take you Counsel! Search with the light of Christ in
you, and it will show you of whom, as it hath done me, and many more,
who have been disobedient and deceived, as now you are, which Light,
as you come into, and obey what is made manifest to you therein, you
will not repent, that you were kept from shedding Blood, tho be a Woman:
It's not my own Life I seek (for I chose rather to suffer with the People of
God, than to enjoy the Pleasures of Egypt) but the Life of the Seed, which
I know the Lord hath blessed, and therefore seeks the Enemy thus
vehemently the Life thereof to destroy, as in all ages he ever did: Oh!
hearken not unto him, I beseech you, for the Seed's Sake, which is One
in all, and is dear in the Sight of God; which they that touch, Touch the
Apple of his Eye, and cannot escape his Wrath; whereof I having felt,
cannot but persuade all men that I have to do withal, especially you who
name the Name of Christ, to depart from such Iniquity, as SHEDDING
BLOOD, EVEN OF THE SAINTS OF THE Most High. Therefore let my
Request have as much Acceptance with you, if you be Christians as
Esther had with Ahasuerus* whose relation is short of that that's
between Christians and my Request is the same that her's was: and
he said not, that he had made a Law, and it would be dishonourable
for him to revoke it: but when he understood that these People were
so prized by her, and so nearly concerned her (as in Truth these
are to me) as you may see what he did for her: Therefore I leave these
Lines with you, appealing to the faithful and true Witness of God,
which is One in all Consciences, before whom we must all appear;
with whom I shall eternally rest, in Everlasting Joy and Peace,
whether you will hear or forebear: With him is my Reward, with whom
to live is my Joy, and to die is my Gain, tho' I had not had your
forty-eight Hours Warning, for the Preparation of the Death of Mary
And know this also, that if through the Enmity you shall declare
yourselves worse than Ahasueras, and confirm your Law, tho' it were
but the taking away the Life of one of us, That the Lord will overthrow
both your Law and you, by his righteous Judgments and Plagues
poured justly upon you who now whilst you are warned thereof, and
tenderly sought unto, may avoid the one, by removing the other; If
you neither hear nor obey the Lord nor his Servants, yet will he send
more of his Servants among you, so that your End shall be frustrated,
that think to restrain them, you call 'Cursed Quakers' from coming
among you, by any Thing you can do to them; yea, verily, he hath a
Seed here among you, for whom we have suffered all this while, and
yet suffer: whom the Lord of the Harvest will send forth more
Labourers to gather (out of the Mouths of the Devourers of all sorts)
into his Fold, where he will lead them into fresh Pastures, even the
Paths of Righteousness, for his Name's Sake: Oh! let non of you
put this Day far from you, which verily in the light of the Lord I see
approaching, even to many in and about Boston, which is the
bitterest and darkest professing Place, and so to continue as long
as you have done, that ever I heard of; let the time past therefore
suffice, for such a Profession as bring forth such Fruits as these
Laws are, In Love and in the Spirit of Meekness, I again beseech
you, for I have no Enmity to the Persons of any; but you shall know,
that God will not be mocked, but what you sow, that shall you reap
from him, that will render to everyone according to the Deeds done in
the Body, whether Good or Evil, Even so be it, saith
*Mary here referred to the Old Testament, comparing Gov. Endicott to King
Ahasuerus and herself as Esther. Esther seduced the King to release the
Jews and Mary wanted Endicott to change the laws and free the Quakers.
Mary Dyer's Second Letter Written from Prison, 1659 After the Hanging
of Marmaduke & Stephenson
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. I rather chuse to die than to
live, as from you, as Guilty of their innocent Blood. Therefore, seeing my
Request is hindered, I leave you to the Righteous Judge and Searcher of all
Hearts, who, with the pure measure of Light he hath given to every Man to
profit withal, will in his due time let you see whose Servants you are, and of
whom you have taken Counsel, which desire you to search into: But all his
counsel hath been slighted, and, you would none of his reproofs. Read your
Portion, Prov. 1:24 to 32. 'For verily the Night cometh on you apace, wherein
no Man can Work, in which you shall assuredly fall to your own Master, in
Obedience to the Lord, whom I serve with my Spirit, and to pity to your Souls,
which you neither know nor pity: I can do no less than once more to warn you,
to put away the Evil of your Doings, and Kiss the Son, the Light in you before
his wrath be kindled in you; for where it is, nothing without you can help or
deliver you out of his hand at all; and if these things be not so, then say,
There hath been no prophet from the Lord sent amongst you: yet it is his
Pleasure, by Things that are not, to bring to naught Things that are.'
When I heard your last Order read, it was a disturbance unto me, that was
so freely Offering up my life to him that give it me, and sent me hither to do,
which Obedience being his own Work, he gloriously accompanied with his
Presence, and Peace, and Love in me, in which I rested from my labour, till
by your Order, and the People, I was so far disturbed, that I could not retain
anymore of the words thereof, than that I should return to Prison, and there
remain Forty and Eight hours; to which I submitted, finding nothing from the
Lord to the contrary, that I may know what his Pleasure and Counsel is
concerning me, on whom I wait therefore, for he is my Life, and the length
of my Days, and as I said before, I came at his command, and go at His
William Dyer's Letter of 27 May 1660 petitioning Boston Magistrates to
spare Mary Dyer's life
It is not little greif of mind, and sadness of hart that I am necessitated to
be so bold as to supplicate you' Honor self w' the Honorable Assembly
of yo' Generall Courte to extend yo' mery and favo' once agen to me and
my children, little did I dream that I shuld have had occasion to petition
you in a matter of this nature, but so it is that throw the devine prouidence
and yo' benignity my sonn obtayned so much pitty and mercy att yo'
hands as to enjoy the life of his mother, now my supplication yo' Hono'
is to begg affectioinately, the life of my deare wife, tis true I have not
seen her aboue this half yeare and therefor cannot tell how in the frame
of her spiritt she was moved thus againe to runn so great a Hazard to
herself, and perplexity to me and mine and all her friends and well wishers;
so itt is from Shelter Island about by Pequid Marragansett and to the
Towne of Prouidence she secrettly and speedyly journyed, and as secretly
from thence came to yo' jurisdiction, unhappy journy may I say, and woe
to theat generatcon say I that gives occasion thus of grief and troble (to
those that desire to be quiett) by helping one another (as I may say) to
Hazard their lives for I know not watt end or to what purpose; If her zeale
be so greatt as thus to adventure, oh lett your favoure and pitty surmount
itt and save her life. Let not yo' forwanted Compassion bee conquared by
her inconsiderate maddnesse, and how greatly will yo' renowne be spread
if by so conquering yo' become victorious, what shall I say more, I know
yo' are all sensible of my condition, and lett the reflect bee, and you will
see whatt my peticon is and what will give me and mine peace, oh Lett
mercies wings once more sore above justice ballance, and then whilst I
live shall I exalt yo' goodness butt other wayes twill be a languishing
sorrow, yea so great that I shuld gladly suffer thie blow att once much
rather: I shall forebear to troble yo' Hn' with words neythe am I in capacity
to expatiate myself at present; I only say that yo'selves have been and
are or may bee husbands to wife or wiues, so am I: yea to once most
dearely beloved: oh do not you deprive me of her, but I pray give her me
once agena nd I shall bee so much obleiged for ever, that I shall endeavor
continually to utter my thanks and render you Love and Honor most
renowned: pitty me, I begg itt with teares, and rest you.
Most humbly suppliant
Portsmouth 27 of [May] 1660
Most honored sires, let thse lines by yo' fauo' bee my Peticon to your
Honorable General Court at present sitting.
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