I am a regular reader of a Quaker blog called Quaker Quaker. On a recent posting by Mac Lemann I learned a little about Mary Dyer. Here are some of his words from that post:
I had recently re-learned, at Pendle Hill from Marcelle Martin, the story of Mary Dyer and the other Quaker martyrs hung on Boston Common. Mary was a follower of Anne Hutchinson (see the Antinomian Controversy) who preached that every Christian believer could read, interpret, and preach the word of God and that the Grace of God is freely given. Mary was later convinced by George Fox in England of the Truth and power of Friends. Because of her conviction that God’s law is love and tolerance and despite the fact that the Massachusetts government, essentially the Puritan church, had passed a law banning Quakers from their colony, she returned to Massachusetts again and again in defiance of the worldly law and was martyred for her beliefs.
After gazing at the statue for a few minutes I turned and strode to the center of Boston common where Mary was hung and buried in an unmarked grave. I stomped my foot and jumped up into the cool air and sunny sky. I felt myself slam down onto the land forbidden to Quakers in the 17th century and I thought, “Goddamn it! I am a Quaker on Boston Common!”
When we think of Christian martyrs we most often think of the Inquisition or as I do the post-Constantine era of Christianity. We don’t often relate it to what later became the USA. Most of us remember hearing stories of the Salem witchcraft trials but not many know about the hangings on the Boston Common for heresy. We don’t often remember that even though we have a separation of Church and State in our constitution that wasn’t so of the thirteen colonies that initially formed our country. Many including Massachusetts, Road Island, and Pennsylvania were made up of primarily the same religious sect and not very tolerant of other beliefs.
Can you imagine one Christian colony putting to death a citizen because they believed that all Christians can have opinions of biblical text or that God will eventually grant salvation to everyone? Thank heavens for those like Thomas Jefferson who had a more tolerant view of religious sects.
For a little more information here is what Wikipedia says about the Boston Martyrs:
The Boston martyrs is the name given in Quaker tradition to the three English members of the Society of Friends, Marmaduke Stephenson, William Robinson and Mary Dyer, and to the Friend William Leddra of Barbados, who were condemned to death and executed by public hanging for their religious beliefs under the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659, 1660 and 1661. Several other Friends lay under sentence of death at Boston in the same period, but had their punishments commuted to that of being whipped out of the colony from town to town.
“The hanging of Mary Dyer on the Boston gallows in 1660 marked the beginning of the end of the Puritan theocracy and New England independence from English rule. In 1661 King Charles II explicitly forbade Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism. In 1684 England revoked the Massachusetts charter, sent over a royal governor to enforce English laws in 1686, and in 1689 passed a broad Toleration act.”