Excerpts from Mary Dyer and Companions, Martyrs
This excerpt from http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/FOX/V1/dyer.txt
shows how Quakers were persecuted throughout the 1650's and 1660's by Puritans, with a particular focus on the Quaker woman, Mary Dyer.
Although many Quakers in the British Isles were imprisoned under severe and life-shortening conditions, and some died in prison, none were actually sentenced to death for their beliefs. However, in the colony of Massachusetts, there were executions.
William and Mary Dyer, of Somerset, England, moved to Massachusetts in 1635. In 1638, when Anne Hutchinson was expelled from the colony for religious dissent, they went with her to Rhode Island, a colony founded on the principle of religious liberty. In 1650 they returned to England and there became Quakers.
In 1656 two women Friends arrived at Boston with boxes of Quaker literature. They were Ann Austin, mother of five children, and Mary Fisher, twenty two years old. The colonists, who had heard wild rumors from England about the Quakers, were alarmed. The boxes of literature were seized to be burned, and the women imprisoned. They were searched for marks of witchcraft at the order of the Deputy-Governor, whose own sister-in-law had been hanged as a witch a few months earlier. After five weeks, they were put on an outbound ship. Two days after they left, nine more Quakers came.... In 1657 the Dyers returned to New England. Also in 1657, two male Quakers, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, were arrested for trying to speak to the congregation after the regular Sunday service. They were imprisoned for nine weeks and whipped twice a week and then banished. A law was passed, levying a fine of 100 pounds for bringing a Quaker into the colony, and two pounds per hour for concealing or harboring a Quaker. Any Quaker who returned from banishment was to lose an ear each of the first two times he returned, and to have his tongue bored through with a hot iron the third time.
Mary Dyer visited Quakers in prison, and was banished from the colony.
In 1658 Robinson and Stevenson returned. At this, returning after banishment was made a capital offense. In 1659, Mary Dyer returned, and was sentenced to be hanged. On 27 October 1659, she watched as Robinson and Stevenson were hanged, one after the other. Then she was placed on the scaffold, and the noose was fastened about her neck. She was then released and banished from the colony, with a warning that she would be hanged if she returned. She returned, and was arrested and sentenced to be hanged, but was offered her life if she would promise to leave the colony and not return. She refused, and said, as she walked to the scaffold:
This is to me the hour of greatest joy I ever had in
this world. No ear can hear, no tongue can utter, and no
heart can understand the sweet incomes and the refreshings
of the spirit of the Lord, which I now feel.
She was hanged on Boston Common, 1 June 1660. A bystander remarked, "She hangs there like a flag." The modern composer Ned Rorem has written an organ piece called "Mary Dyer did hang like a flag" in her memory (one of 11 pieces in his organ suite A QUAKER READER). Mary Dyer was the only woman to die for the cause of religious freedom in the American colonies.
On 14 March 1661 one more Quaker was hanged. William Leddra, in a small dark cell, chained to a log, wrote on the last day of his life:
The sweet influences of the Morning Star like a flood,
distilling into my habitation, have so filled me with the
joy of the Lord in the beauty of holiness that my spirit is
as if it did not inhabit a tabernacle of clay, but is wholly
swallowed up in the beauty of eternity from whence it had
its being.... As the flowing of the ocean doth fill every
creek and branch and then retires again toward its own being
and fulness, leaving a savor behind, so doth the life and
power of God flow into our hearts, making us partakers of
the Divine nature.
At the very moment when sentence was being pronounced on Leddra there strode into court Wenlock Christison, who also had been banished. Seeing him thus defy death, the magistrates were "struck with a great damp." A few days later, when he too was sentenced, he said:
Do not think to weary out the living God by taking away
the lives of His servants. What do you gain by it? For the
last man you put to death, here are five come in his room.
And if you have power to take my life from me, God can raise
up the same principle of life in ten of his servants and
send them among you in my room.
The magistrates, whether overawed by Christison's words or fearing intervention from England, set Christison free, together with other imprisoned Friends. Meanwhile, Quakers in England pointed out to the King that the Massachusetts courts were disallowing appeals to the Crown, and this smacked of rebellion. Moved by their arguments, the King sent a Royal Mandamus to Massachusetts, ordering that the imprisonments, executions, and floggings should cease, and that the accused should be sent to England for trial. The letter was given to Samuel Shattock, a Quaker banished from Massachusetts and under sentence of death should he return. The story of his arrival is told in the poem, "The King's Missive," by John Greenleaf Whittier. (To read the poem, link to www.kimopress.com
and go to Whittier.) After this there were no more hangings, but, despite the Royal decree, the floggings continued for several years. Any convicted Quaker was to be tied to a cart's tail, and made to walk behind the cart all the way to the border of the colony, being whipped at every step. In 1665 the London government forbade further molesting of the Quakers in Massachusetts.
In June 1658 Mary Fisher (mentioned above as one of the first two Quakers who tried to preach in Massachusetts) visited Adrianople in Turkey, and was granted an audience with the Sultan (the 17-year-old Mohammed IV), to whom she preached at length. He listened courteously, and invited her to stay and speak with him further, but she went on to Constantinople, and eventually back to England. (It is tempting to speculate on how the course of history might have been different if she had stayed, and if the Sultan and his family had become Quakers.)
(courtesy of http://elvis.rowan.edu/~kilroy/JEK/FOX/V1/dyer.txt