1611 - 1660
Quaker Martyrby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
“Was ever the like laws heard of among a people that profess Christ come in the flesh? And have you no other weapons but such laws to fight against spiritual wickedness withal, as you call it? Woe is me for you! Of whom take ye counsel? Search with the light of Christ in you, and it will show you of whom, as it had done with me and many more…”1 Mary protested with these words from her jail cell before she was to be hanged.
Around this time, the government of the first colonies was quite hostile toward Quakers. Many were disturbed by the Quakers’ rejection of most churches. People could tell that Quakers were different, and they opposed this. They were openly hostile toward many Quakers, and even murdered some. Many Quakers were arrested in England for not pledging an oath of allegiance to the Crown (it is against their beliefs to take oaths). 2
Mary Dyer did not leave much of a record of her early life’s story for us to follow. She was married to a man named William Dyer in London in 1633. They then immigrated to Massachusetts. They were among the more educated people, and held the position of clergy. Mary and her husband were friends and supporters of Anne Hutchinson, who was an activist who believed that “God could be communicated directly (without the assistance of a minister) and that salvation could be assured.”2
Mrs. Dyer had a still born child in the year of 1637. Anne, who was an experienced midwife, helped her in labor. In those days, it was believed that if a woman had a still born child, it was a reflection of her great sinfulness. Anne Hutchinson buried the child in secret in order to stop the spread of rumors. The birth of the baby, and its burial were only kept secret for five months. When Anne was excommunicated from the Church of England, because of her beliefs in antinomianism – the belief previously explained-, Mary stood by her side, and walked her out of the church. When someone in the crowd asked who the woman with Anne was, another said “the mother of a monster!”3 This aroused suspicion, and the secret was leaked.
After this, Mary and William were also excommunicated from the church. They went to Rhode Island, and settled In Newport. Around this time, a law was passed in Boston stating:
“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.”3
Mary Dyer and Anne Burden, another friend and Quaker, came to Boston on a ship soon after that. They had no knowledge of the laws just passed. They were arrested and put in jail. Mary was able to get a letter to her husband, and because of his high status, she was allowed to be freed. However, Mary would never be able to return to Massachusetts.
A man named Christopher Holder was in prison for preaching in Boston. Mary and others went to plead for his release. She was arrested while speaking with Holder. Mary was brought before the court on October 19, 1659. She was questioned about her return to Boston even though it was forbidden by law, and she said that she came because of the Lord.3 The governor then pronounced her sentence - death. And her rely was “Yea and joyfully I go”3.
She was led to the gallows, along with a few others, and was amazing saved by the pleas of Governor John Winthrop of Georgia. She was given forty eight hours to leave Boston, and did so reluctantly. Mary was not content just being safe, she was a woman of action, and she wanted to get rid of the awful law in Boston. So, without telling anyone, she went back again to Boston.
When once again called upon by the court, this time with no one to help her escape, a dialogue between her and the Governor of Massachusetts went something like this:
“ “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!” ” 3
On the day of June 1, 1660, Mary Barrett Dyer was taken to the gallows to be hanged for her religious boldness, and breaking of the law. When pleaded with by some followers to return to Rhode Island, she said: “Nay, I cannot go back to Rhode Island, for in obedience to the will of the Lord I came, and in His will I abide faithful to the death.” So the crowd watched as she was hung from the gallows in Boston, Massachusetts. From her cell she had written, “My life not availeth me in comparison to the liberty of the truth.” 3
In 1959, the State House in Boston erected a memorial statue of Mary Dyer. The very place that she was condemned to death by nearly three hundred years earlier, gave her a place where all could look upon her and be encouraged as they fight for freedom of religion and the expression of it.
Though she may not have held the beliefs of many modern people, Mary Dyer was one whom many can look to for inspiration. She held true to her beliefs no matter what the authorities of this world said. She held firm her convictions, and was willing to die for Christ. Though, so many times, stories are told of horrendous martyrdoms in under-developed countries, and regions without a very good moral code, this murder was commenced upon the very ground which was established for freedom of religion!
1. What is the main thing that Mary Dyer stood for?
a) Religious freedom
c) They had the best writing system
d) They were greatly from a Christian worldview
2. All of the following scientists were Christians except for:
3. What is the main cause (according to this document) of the different
advancements of science?
a) only atheists are truely scientific
c) communication and writing skills
d) wealth and power
4. Each of the following statements inaccurately depict the changes in
scientific advancement except for:
a) China was the most advanced nation until their self-imposed isolationism just prior to Europe's "Age of Discovery" which left China behind.
b) The region with the correct religious worldview is always the most advanced.
c) Europe has always been the greatest scientific contributor.
d) All nations have always contributed equally; some just have not been recognized.
Answers = d, a, b, c
1 Law Buzz. Trials without Justice. Mary Dyer. Chapter 8. http://www.lawbuzz.com/justice/mary/laws.htm
2 Smith, Michael Scott. Mary Dyer, Quaker Martyr. September 1, 1999.
3 RootsWeb. Mary Barrett Dyer. http://www.rootsweb.com/~nwa/dyer.html