MARY BARRETT DYER
“Hung as A Flag”
by Margaret Bridge
Mary Barrett Dyer and her husband William left England for Massachusetts in 1635. Upon arrival they became members of the Rev. Mr. Wilson’s Puritan church. They also met Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, whose theology was similar to that of George Fox, and they adopted like belief. The Dyers found they had left behind one persecutor only to gain another.
Mary was the mother of six children, all apparently normal. However, the New England Memorial reported her deformed female stillbirth. The Puritans used this in an attempt to discredit and defame the outspoken Mary. When Mrs. Hutchinson was banished from Massachusetts, the Dyers went to Rhode Island.
In 1652 Mary and William journeyed to England. William returned in 1653, but Mary remained until 1657. She returned to Boston a Quaker minister and was immediately arrested. Released to the custody of her non-Quaker husband, she was forced to return to Rhode Island, with an order to speak to nobody while in the state.
Puritan persecution of Quakers was rigorous and rampant at this time. The Quaker practice of women ministering was particularly offensive to them. In June, 1659 Mary went to Boston with several of her Quaker friends to “bear witness against the persecuting spirit”.(39) The two men who went with her were hanged, but Mary, after standing bound with a noose around her neck, was banished from Massachusetts.
In May of 1660, Mary again went to Boston, where she was arrested, tried and hanged on June 1, 1660. Her “crime” -- following the leading of the Holy Spirit.
What did Mary Dyer say?
“It’s not my own Life I seek … 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:” (86)
What was said about her?
William Dyer, her husband: '“Lett not yo” forwonted compassion bee conquered by her inconsiderate madness…'(sic) (95,96)
George Bishop, Quaker chronicler: “one of a good report … fearing the Lord” (30)
Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts: “very censorious and troublesome…Much addicted to revelations.” (30)
Gerard Croese, Dutch writer: “of a piercing knowledge in many things …” (31)
General Atherton, one of her persecutors: “She did hang as a flag for others to take example.” (67)
Mary Dyer was determined to stand before God as He intended . She indeed “hung as a flag”: - a flag for freedom in Christ - a flag for the right of all Christians to fulfill their God-given destiny and calling - a flag for others to take example.
For Further Reading:
Hyatt, Susan C. In the Spirit We’re Equal. Hyatt Press, 1998 p. 121
Tucker, Ruth A. and Liefeld, Walter. Daughters of the Church. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1987, pp. 228, 229
Rogers, Horatio. Mary Dyer of Rhode Island the Quaker Martyr that Was Hanged on Boston Common, June 1, 1660. Providence, Preston and Bounds, 1896.
Women in American History by Encyclopedia Britannica