Anniversary Post: the Martyrdom of Mary Dyer

Mary Dyer - Howard PyleOn this day in 1660, Mary Dyer was hanged in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This was in the days before the good Puritans were afraid of witches. (Just kidding! They were hanging witches then too.) Dyer was hanged because the Puritans were afraid of Quakers. I always find this fascinating, because in modern America, different sects of Christians hardly know what separates them. Of course, maybe that was true of the Puritans and the Quakers in 17th century Massachusetts. Maybe then as now, it was just “us” versus “them.” Of course, we can look to Pennsylvania Colony for a much more ecumenical approach to governance. But it wasn’t founded for over two decades after Dyer was put to death.

The other side of the issue is that Mary Dyer really did want to die. The Puritans just wanted to get rid of her. It had taken years for them to get to the point of killing her. In fact, in 1659, Dyer literally had the noose around her neck when her sentence was commuted. But again: she refused to leave. She wasn’t just being difficult. She was trying to get the colony to change its laws regarding Quakers. The day before her execution, she said, “I came in obedience to the will of God the last General Court, desiring you to repeal your unrighteous laws of banishment on pain of death; and that same is my work now, and earnest request, although I told you that if you refused to repeal them, the Lord would send others of his servants to witness against them.” And in a sense, she and the other Boston martyrs succeeded, because in 1661, King Charles II put a stop to the executions. Still, the Puritans would — like all good Christians — continue to oppress the Quakers and anyone else who didn’t completely agree with their interpretation of the Bible.

Still, I’m sure that Dyer went to death happy — knowing that the Kingdom of God was coming. From my perspective, she was right to die happy. She lived a noble life — one of purpose and commitment. “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” Christianity can be a beautiful thing if you view it metaphorically. I’m sure Mary Dyer did not do that. But she might as well have.

Happy anniversary for the martyrdom of Mary Dyer!

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