Mary Dyer

Mary Dyer
Mary Barrett Dyer

Dyer being led to the gallows in Boston in 1660
Born Mary (Marie) Barrett
c. 1611[1]
Died June 1, 1660(1660-06-01)
Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony
Cause of death Hanging
Nationality English
Known for Religious martydom
Religion Quaker
Spouse William Dyer (Dier, Dyre)

Mary Barrett Dyer (c. 1611[1] — June 1, 1660) was an English Puritan turned Quaker who was hanged in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony (now in present-day Massachusetts), for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony.[2] She is one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs.


Early life

Dyer's origins are unverified, but tradition has it that she was the daughter of Lady Arbella Stuart and Sir William Seymour.[3][4][5] However, because her maiden name was Barrett, this would be a ludicrous assumption and obviously wrong. On occasion she was a guest of the royal court of King Charles I as a youngster. The ballgown worn for these visits was brought with her to Colonial America and pieces are said to be in the possession of her descendants.[6]

When she was 22,[6] Mary (Marie) Barrett's marriage to William Dyer (Dyar, Dier, Dyre) was recorded in church records at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, on October 27, 1633.[7]

Colonial America

William Dyer took the Oath of a Freeman at the General Court in Boston on March 3, 1635 or 1636, and they were admitted to the Boston Church on December 13, 1635.[3]

In 1637, she supported Anne Hutchinson,[8] 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,"[9] 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. After she helped her friend, she followed her to the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

She had given birth on October 11, 1637, to a deformed stillborn baby, who was buried privately. After Hutchinson was tried and the Hutchinsons and Dyers banished from Massachusetts in January 1637–8, the authorities learned of the "monstrous birth", and Governor John Winthrop had it exhumed in March 1638, before a large crowd. He described it thus[10]:

"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, Dyer and her husband 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.[3] William Dyer signed the Portsmouth Compact along with 18 other men.

She and her husband traveled to England with Williams and John Clarke in 1652, where she 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.[3] 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.[3] (Her husband, who had not become a Quaker, was not arrested.)

"Mary Dyer led to execution on Boston Common, 1 June 1660", by an unknown 19th century artist

Dyer continued to travel in New England to preach Quakerism, and was arrested in 1658 in New Haven, Connecticut. After her release, she returned to Massachusetts to visit two English Quakers, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson, who had been arrested. She was also arrested and then permanently banished from the colony. She traveled to Massachusetts a third time with a group of Quakers to publicly defy the law, and was again arrested, and sentenced to death. After a short trial, two other Quakers were hanged, but she was spared at the last minute because her son interceded on her behalf against her wishes.[11]


She was forced to return to Rhode Island, traveled to Long Island, New York to preach, but her conscience led her to return to Massachusetts in 1660 to defy the anti-Quaker law. Despite the pleas of her husband and family, she again refused to repent, and she was again convicted and sentenced to death on May 31.[3]

The next day, escorted to the gallows by Captain John Evered of the Boston military company, Captain Evered said to her "...that she had, previously been found guilty of the same charge, and been banished, that she now had one last chance to repent and be banished again." To which she replied that she would not. He then told her she was condemned to death for violating the law and then she was hanged.[3]

She died a martyr, as she was hanged on Boston Common for the crime of being a Quaker in Massachusetts. 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."[12]

She was buried in Newport, Rhode Island.


A bronze statue of her by Quaker sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson stands in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston; a copy stands in front of the Friends Center in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and another in front of Stout Meetinghouse at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.

Anne Hutchinson/Mary Dyer Memorial Herb Garden at Founders' Brook Park, Portsmouth, Rhode Island

In Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Mary Dyer, the Quaker Martyr, and her friend, Anne Hutchinson, have been remembered at scenic Founders Brook Park with the Anne Hutchinson/Mary Dyer Memorial Herb Garden, an educational botanical garden, set by a scenic waterfall and historical site of the early colony of Portsmouth. The garden was created by artist and herbalist Michael Steven Ford, who is a descendant of both women.

Notable descendants

Notable descendants of Dyer include Rhode Island Governors Elisha Dyer[6] and Elisha Dyer, Jr.,[6] and U.S. Senator Jonathan Chace.[6]


  1. ^ a b Her Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article says "of whom all that is known of her parentage is her maiden name". It is reasonable to surmise that her date of birth was around 1611.
  2. ^ Rogers, Horatio, 2009. Mary Dyer of Rhode Island: The Quaker Martyr That Was Hanged on Boston Common pp. 1–2. BiblioBazaar.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Notable american women: a biographical dictionary", Edward T. James, Janet Wilson James. Harvard University Press, 1974. ISBN 0674627342, 9780674627345. p. 536
  4. ^ "Character Counts: The Power of Personal Integrity", Charles H. Dyer. Moody Publishers, 2010. ISBN 0802439098, 9780802439093. p. 208
  5. ^ "Mary Dyer: biography of a rebel Quaker", Ruth Talbot Plimpton. Branden Books, 1994. ISBN 0828319642, 9780828319645. p. 12
  6. ^ a b c d e "Mary Dyer: biography of a rebel Quaker", Ruth Talbot Plimpton. Branden Books, 1994. ISBN 0828319642, 9780828319645. p. 13, 16
  7. ^ New England Historical and Genealogical Register Vol. 94, p. 300, July 1940).
  8. ^ The Journal of John Winthrop 1630–1649, Dunn, Savage, Yeandle, Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1996, p. 255.
  9. ^ ODNB article by Catie Gill, "Dyer , Mary (d. 1660)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [1], accessed November 27, 2007.
  10. ^ The Journal of John Winthrop 1630–1649 [Cambridge, 1996], p. 254.
  11. ^ Mayo, Lawrence. John Endecott. Harvard University Press (1936). p. 243.
  12. ^ Quaker Book of Discipline, 1927 printing, p. 32.

Further reading

External links

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