William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

Home
Letters
 
Back
 

Mary Dyer Notes


The "Tradition" of Mary Dyer & Lady Arabella Stuart

The April 1944 issue of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society's
Register (Vol. 98) published an article by Alice Eugenie Ortiz entitled
"Tradition of Mary Dyer, Quaker Martyr" which had been contributed by Mrs. Harry
Clark Boden. Mrs. Borden herself stated that there was no proof whatsoever for
her theory - simply that it was one conceivable way to account for Mary's early
whereabouts.

G. Andrews Moriarty refuted this theory quite soundly in his article, "The True
Story of Mary Dyer" (NEHGS Register Vol. 104, January 1950). He states that "no
proof is offered that the Lady Arabella ever had issue except a vague statement
from Mr. Hardy's Life of Lady Arabella Stuart of a rumor that such was the
case." Furthermore, Moriarty points out that "there never was such a tradition
[of this lineage] among Mary Dyer's descendants, but that it was a quite modern
story, emanating from an English gentleman, Mr. F. M. Dyer of Macclesfield [sic
- s/b F.N. for "Frederick Nathaniel" Dyer who was an American - his father was
born in Rhode Island - and who moved to England to do research]....who, not so
many years ago, sent the story of his beliefs to the descendants of Mary Dyer in
this country. ... This 'tradition' does not even have the authority of age ...
this being so, the story, without more evidence, is not worthy of serious
consideration." Moriarty further takes the (then) editor of the Register to task
for even accepting the article for publication, as it appeared four years after
the July, 1940 issue (Vol. 94) which published the marriage record of Mary and
William Dyer from the parish register of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, which
clearly identified her as Mary BARRETT.

As for the "legend" itself, Mary was supposedly the daughter of Lady Arabella
Stuart, first cousin of King James, by her 3rd cousin, William Seymour. When
Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, she left no heirs and the crown shifted to other
descendants of Henry VII. James I was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, a great
granddaughter of Henry VII. King James felt threatened by the equal eligibility
of his cousin Arabella, daughter of Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart,
James' uncle. (Charles was also a great grandson of Henry VII.)

Arabella had no desire to be Queen, but aggressive political suitors from
England and France hoped that, by marrying her, they would capture the throne
and restore Catholicism to England. King James, made rather anxious by this
prospect, prohitited his cousin from marrying anyone. But Arabella fell in love
with Sir William Seymour, also a descendant of Henry VII and they were secretly
wed in 1610. Within a year, they had a daughter [unsubstantiated], which
disturbed King James further, as this marriage doubled Arabella's qualifications
to the throne. He order Arabella sent to Highgate and William Seymour imprisoned
in the Tower of London.

Arabella tried to flee Highgate, dressed as a man, but although she escaped from
prison she was recaptured on board a ship headed to Calais and sent to the Tower
of London where she spent the remaining four years of her life. William Seymour
escaped to France and when he eventually returned to England after the death of
King James, he became tutor to the eleven-year-old Prince of Wales, the future
King Charles II.

The infant daughter was left in the care of Arabella's lady-in-waiting, Mistress
Mary Dyer, who gave her own name to her adopted child and brought her up quietly
and reclusively in the country. King James sent out scouts searching for the
child, but was denied information by anyone who was questioned. When Mary was
twenty-two years old, she married her foster mother's first cousin William Dyer.
[Note: it is not known whether William indeed even had any cousins by the name
of Mary.]

William Dyer's Letter of 30 August 1659 to Boston Magistrates for release of
Mary Dyer from prison

Gentlemen:

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].

her husband

W. Dyre
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 Dyar

*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 command.
Mary Dyar


William Dyer's Letter of 27 May 1660 petitioning Boston Magistrates to spare
Mary Dyer's life

Honor S',

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
W. Dyre

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.
W.D.



 

Promoting a Greater Understanding of the Discovery of the Americas