Mary Barrett Dyer, born in England, challenged the religious persecution of Quakers in the American colonies. She and her husband, William Dyer, emigrated to Massachusetts in 1635, just 2 years after they married in London. She sympathized with Anne Hutchinson's religious views and moved to Rhode Island in 1638. Anne Hutchinson died in 1643. Mary and her husband William had a daughter Elizabeth in 1645.
Mary Dyer returned to England, where she remained from 1650 to 1657. While there, she actually became a Quaker; and on her return to the colonies, she was arrested several times by Massachusetts authorities and warned to keep out of that colony because of her new faith.
Mary Dyer ignored these warnings and returned to Massachusetts in 1659 to visit friends. She was apprehended, jailed, and finally hanged on June 1 of 1660. Her death as a martyr led to the easing of anti-Quaker laws in Massachusetts.
Letters Between Mary Dyer, who was in jail, and her husband, who was trying to gain her release:
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 examination?
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, y ou 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 Dyar.
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 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 command.
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 humble 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.
Mary Dyer was hanged 1 June 1660.