A word needs to be put in for poor old William Dyer, the man who loved and tried to protect his strong-willed and determined wife. He is overshadowed by his dramatic wife, but nonetheless played an important part in the history of early Massachusetts and Rhode Island colonies.
William Dyer was the son of William Dyer of Kirby Lathrope, Lincoln, England
He married Mary Barrett 23 October 1633 at St. Martin-in-the-fields, London, England
William died after 1669 in Newport, Newport, RI
William was probably born in Kirby Lathrope, Lincolnshire, England that is now a tiny town with an old ancient church, a pub and not much more. William’s father was very prosperous yeoman and Churchwarden at the old church. William probably had a good education as he prospered himself being a “milliner” who sold imported goods from Milan, Italy and other artistic areas. In 1624/5 he was apprenticed to William Blackborne of London for a term of nine years. Mr. Blackborne was a fishmonger. It is not known how William became the apprentice to Mr. Blackborne but it may well have been through his Hutchinson relatives in Alford, Lincolnshire, England who had London connections. Eight years later in 1632, William signed a lease to rent space in the New Exchange which had been formally used by Mr. Blackbone. The lease was for two and a fourth years. It is not known exactly when William and Mary Dyer left for the colony of Massachusetts but interestingly enough they were there by 1635, which would have been at the end of the lease.
“Willyam Dyer milliner and Marie his wife” were admitted into the Boston church on 13 December 1635. In March of the next year, William became a freeman of Boston. They joined the church two years later on 15 November 1637 when the Rev. John Wilson was the pastor. Shortly after that, the lives of the Dyers, the Wheelwrights and the Hutchinsons would change forever. The Dyers choose to follow Anne Hutchinson’s teaching. The Boston church, feeling threatened by Mrs. Hutchinson’s theology, disenfranchised and disarmed her followers on 15 November 1637. William Dyer was among the men who were disarmed.
The Hutchinsons and Dyers are considered the founders of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, buying land from the local Indians. William Dyer remained active in the governing of the new colony, acting as Clerk of the Assembly in 1648, Attorney General in 1650-3 and Deputy to the General Assembly from Newport, Rhode Island in 1655 and 1662. He was Commander in Chief of the Naval Forces of Rhode Island, which was formed in order to combat against the Dutch in 1653.
William and Mary Dyer made their fateful trip to England in 1651. John Clarke, Roger Williams and William Dyer traveled along with Mary, to England in an attempt to revoke William Coddington’s governorship of Rhode Island. The attempt was successful and William Dyer returned to Rhode Island in 1653 with the news, leaving Mary behind to further her Quaker education. Interestingly enough, Coddington later became a Quaker as well.
William Dyer probably sat at the feet of George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers, along with Mary. He was a devote Quaker but not the zealot that Mary was. His life must have been roller-coaster ride of emotions, being on one hand proud of his dear wife’s determination and on the other fearful for her and what her dramatic nature would bring about. William’s letter of 30 August 1659 shows a loving husband who cared for his willful wife. He wrote: “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.”
William’s letter continues with much grief at the treatment of his wife and her fellow Quakers but also questions her persecutor’s own theology. “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.' “
William continued on for several paragraphs. If nothing else, William was a sound defender of his wife and of their faith. It is a letter of a man who holds his beliefs strongly and loves his strong-willed wife with conviction. He stood beside her in the battle between Boston and Anne Hutchinson’s teaching. He stood beside Mary again as Boston railed against her Quaker teachings.
William survived his wife by nearly ten years. He was left to raise his youngest children by himself. There must have been grief in the Dyer household, but there must also have been a pride in their wife and mother’s martyrdom and conviction.
My Dyer line:
William Dyer of Kirby Lathrope, Lincoln, England born about 1580
William Dyer 1609 – 1670s married Mary Dyer the Quaker Martyr
Samuel Dyer 1639 – 1677 married Anne Hutchinson 1643-1717
Samuel Dyer 1665-1724 married Mary Cotta 1668-1729
Samuel Dyer born 1695, wife unknown
John Dyer 1726-1784 married Mary Hickey 1735-1784
James Dyer 1756-1835 married Mary Marcy 1766-1844
James Dyer born 1781, wife unknown
Sarah Dyer 1808-1893 married Joel Chubb
1. Internet Frank E. Dyer www.familytreemaker.com/users/d/y/e/Frank-E-Dyer/GENES-0004.html
2. New England Marriages Prior to 1700 by Clarence Almon Torrey
3. New England Historical and Genealogical Register July 1940 page 300
4. "William Dyer, a Rhode Island dissenter---- from Lincoln or Somerset" by William Allan Dyer
5. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vol. CIV Jan 1950 "The True Story of Mary Dyer"
6. Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island by John Osborne Austin, 1982
7. Little Compton, Rhode Island by Benjamin Franklin Wilour, Vol. I
8. The Great Migration, Vol. II, C-F by Robert Charles Anderson and George Sanborn Jr. and Melinde Lutz Sanford, NHGS