Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Story from church history: Mary Dyer (ca. 1611-1660)

Convinced that the intolerant law of Massachusetts Colony banishing Quakers violated God’s law, Mary Dyer would not stay quiet or stay away. Mary was a Quaker, and Quakers believed that God could communicate directly to us and that salvation could be assured. This was considered heresy by the Puritans in Massachusetts, so they banished her from the colony.

Mary challenged that law with a persistence that finally led authorities to a critical decision: Agree with Mary and change the social structure of the colony, or silence her. Mary Dyer died on the gallows on June 1, 1660, affirming her stand against the government that persecuted her Quaker faith. “Nay, man,” she said at the last, “I am not now to repent.”

Mary had other alternatives. For one, she was married to a respected colonial official, William Dyer, who more than once had rescued her from a Massachusetts jail through his political connections. For another, Mary had the testy patience of Massachusetts Governor John Endicott on her side. Finally, Mary had a mission to Native Americans of Shelter Island, teaching and converting them to the Quaker faith. Had she been content with her work and obedient to the law, she might have seen the last of her eight children reach adulthood. But she was neither content nor submissive.

In April 1660, Mary returned to Boston, led by her conscience and fully aware of her danger. On May 31, the General Court of Massachusetts summoned Mary Dyer and convicted her of willful violation of the banishment decree. Replied Mary, “I came in obedience to the will of God, desiring you to repeal your unrighteous laws, and that is my work now and earnest request.”

The next morning she was escorted to the gallows, a troop of drummers in front and behind to keep Mary from preaching to the gathering crowd. She left behind engraved on the wall of her jail cell: “My Life not Availeth Me / In comparison to the Liberty of the Truth.”

In 1959, on the 300th anniversary of her death sentence, the Massachusetts General Court decreed that a bronze statue of Mary Dyer be erected in her memory on the grounds of the State House in Boston, recognizing the truth and social value of Mary Dyer’s “earnest request.”

Excerpted from Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs, a collection of stories about Christian martyrs from the dawn of Christianity to the modern times. In Canada, you can order this book from our online resource catalogue or by contacting our office.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. I've copied the link to the Facebook profile for Mary Barrett Dyer, https://www.facebook.com/mary.b.dyer1 (In case you wonder where the views/hits referrals are coming from!)

    If your readers are interested in further information on Mary and William Dyer, you're welcome to visit the blog about them and their culture. http://marybarrettdyer.blogspot.com/

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