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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Vantage Point: Mary Dyer Strikes a Blow for Religious Freedom

By Ken Horn
March 20, 2011

In my Feb. 27 Vantage Point I mentioned my ancestor Anne Hutchinson’s fight for religious freedom. Hutchinson mentored a young woman, 20 years her junior, named Mary Dyer, who was also my ancestor.

Mary, too, would strike a blow for religious freedom.

When Hutchinson was banished from the Massachusetts colony, Dyer and her husband moved with her to what later became Rhode Island, a colony founded by Roger Williams based on religious liberty.

Later, back in England, the Dyers became Quakers, a sect led by George Fox that criticized the institutional church and emphasized the need for an individual experience of faith.

John Winthrop and the other Massachusetts Puritan leaders considered the Quaker faith a dangerous heresy, even more so than Hutchinson’s. Laws invoked the death penalty on Quakers and punished those caught aiding them.

In 1657 the Dyers returned to New England, the same year Quakers William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson were arrested in Boston. When Mary visited them in jail, she was promptly arrested. All three were expelled and warned to never return to the city.

But return they did, prompted by what they considered God’s direction. All three were sentenced to hang.

On Oct. 27, 1659, Boston Common was alive with solemn fanfare as the three were marched to the gallows by some 200 guards. Drummers accompanied the procession to be sure the trio could not be heard if they tried to “preach” to the crowd, thus being denied even the freedom of last words.

Robinson and Stevenson held their beliefs firm as they died, one after the other. Then the noose was placed around Mary’s neck and tightened. Her husband pled for her to be spared.

She was, but only to be hanged seven months later.

Mary Dyer’s stand and martyrdom resulted in freedoms you and I experience today. The Massachusetts Constitution enshrined this need for tolerance and freedom, and eventually became the model for the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Dyer, like Anne Hutchinson, has a statue at the Boston State House — the very place where she was condemned to death.

Ken Horn

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