One of the Quaker martyrs who died for the cause of religious freedom, Mary Dyer was born Mary Barrett in England. The circumstances of her upbringing are unknown, though it seems likely she came from a family with money and received a good education.
Mary Barrett married William Dyer, a milliner, at St. Martin’s-in-the Field Church in London in 1633. The couple crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Boston in 1635, where they immediately joined the Puritan church.
Mary Dyer soon showed herself to be a “freethinker.” A friend and follower of Anne Marbury Hutchinson (see no. 26), Mary was supposedly the only person to rise and accompany Hutchinson out of the church when she was banished in 1638. Subsequently, Mary Dyer and her husband were also banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The Dyers accompanied Hutchinson to Rhode Island, where he became a colonial officer and they raised five sons. They lived a routine life until 1652, when William and Mary went on a trip to England. He returned within a year, but Mary stayed in England until 1657. During that time she joined the Society of Friends— the Quakers. When she returned to New England, Mary was a true Quaker evangelist, preaching about the “Inner Light.”
In 1658, During that same year, the Massachusetts legislature passed, by one vote, an ordinance that banished all Quakers on pain of death. Rather than putting fear into the Quakers, the new law seemed to summon up even stronger resistance.
In 1659, Mary Dyer went to Boston tocomfort two Quakers being held in the Boston jail. She was banished along with them. All three of the Quakers soon returned to Boston and were sentenced to die. On October 27, 1659, Dyer was led to the gallows and watched as her two co-believers were hanged. She received a last minute reprieve, and was sent away for the third time.
Mary returned to Boston in May, 1 660 and began to preach once more. She said she wished to “offer up her life” in protest of a “wicked law against God’s people.” This time there was no reprieve. Mary Dyer was tried and executed on June 1, 1660. To the very end, she was calm, as if she welcomed whatever trials came to her in the practice of her faith.
Soon after Marys death, King Charles II sent an order to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, requiring that all Quakers be sent to England for trial. No more executions took place. In 1959, the Massachusetts legislature voted that a statue of Mary Dyer be placed on the grounds of the Massachusetts State House.