Feast of William Robinson, Mardaduke Stephenson, and Mary Dyer (June 1)   4 comments

Above:  Mary Dyer, June 1, 1660

Image in the Public Domain

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WILLIAM ROBINSON (CIRCA 1620-OCTOBER 27, 1659)

MARMADUKE STEPHENSON (DIED OCTOBER 27, 1659)

MARY DYER (1611-JUNE 1, 1660)

English Quaker Martyrs in Boston, Massachusetts, 1659 and 1660

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Therefore, seeing my Request is hindered, I leave you to the Righteous Judge and Searcher of all Hearts, who, with the pure measure of Light he hath given to every Man to profit withal, will in his due time let you see whose Servants you really are, to of whom you have taken Counsel, which desire you search into….

–Mary Dyer, writing to the General Court from prison, 1659, after the execution of William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson; quoted in G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006), 247

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Those who claim that most Puritans who settled in what became the United States sought religious freedom either lie or labor under a misconception.

The majority of Puritans, whether in the old country or on this side of the Pond, created and maintained theocracies when they had the opportunity.  Religious toleration was not a dominant Puritan value; religious persecution was.

Quakers, with their pacifism, egalitarianism, and mysticism, threatened the hierarchical Puritan social order by merely existing.  Being a Quaker in Puritan colonies in New England was illegal, therefore.  In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, prior to 1659, penalties included:

  1. Expulsion,
  2. Lashing behind a cart,
  3. Abandonment deep in a forest,
  4. Branding with an “H” for “heretic,”
  5. Branding of the tongue, and
  6. Cutting off of the ears.

Some Quakers, convinced that their Inner Light told them to preach the Friends gospel despite the risks, returned anyway.  From 1659 to 1661, in the Massachusetts Bay colony, the list of penalties expanded to include death by hanging.  Four Quakers became martyrs.

Mary Dyer had been a Puritan.  She and her husband, William Dyer, were Puritans when the married in England in 1633.  They moved to Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 1635, and joined First Church.  The Dyers befriended Anne and William Hutchinson, whom they followed to Rhode Island.  The Dyers traveled with Roger Williams to England in 1643, when he went to secure a colonial charter (1644) for Rhode Island.  William Dyer returned to Rhode Island, to bring news of the charter.  Many remained in England for years.  She met George Fox and became a Quaker.

Dyer returned to New England in 1657.  Then her legal problems started.  The ship docked in Boston.  Our saint would have passed through the Massachusetts Bay colony to Rhode Island without incident except for her arrest for being a Quaker.  William, without consulting his wife, secured her release without consulting his wife; he promised on her behalf that she would return to Rhode Island immediately and never return to the Massachusetts Bay colony.  Dyer had other ideas.

Marmaduke Stephenson and William Robinson were English Quakers living in Rhode Island in 1659.  Stephenson was a former plowman from Yorkshire.  Robinson had been a merchant in London.  Stephenson, Robinson, and Dyer returned to Boston in 1659 to protest anti-Quaker laws.  Authorities arrested then banished them.  Stephenson and Robinson returned again.  Dyer returned to visit them in jail in Boston.  Authorities arrested her.  Governor John Endecott ordered the execution of the three Quakers in October 1659.

Stephenson and Robinson died by hanging in Boston on October 27, 1659.  Dyer, spared that day, received banishment instead.  On May 21, 1660, she returned to Boston, to preach.  She, arrested, met her fate on June 1, 1660.

William Leddra became the last of the four Quaker martyrs in Boston the following year.

In May 1661, Puritan authorities received new orders from King Charles II forbidding any more executions for alleged heresy.  This order arrived in time to prevent a fifth execution for being a Quaker in the Massachusetts Bay colony.

I use absolute terms, such as “never,” sparingly, so take note, O reader.

Freedom is never absolute; life in society requires the surrender of some individual freedom from everyone for the common good.  Consider a practical, generally non-controversial example, O reader; we must, for the sake of all, obey traffic laws.  Freedom of religion should be as broad as possible, with sensible restrictions.  One should never, for example, get away with child abuse or endangering public health on the grounds of freedom of religion.  And, if one’s religion mandates an honor killing, a court should define that act as murder.  Law is easy at the extremes.  On the opposite extreme, the mere refusal to conform to theocracy or a dominant form of faith should never constitute a crime, and law should bend over backward, so to speak, to allow for a wide variety of peaceful expressions of religion, within reasonable limits.  Life in a free society requires much mutual toleration.

Quakers, with their theology of the Inner Light, affirmed that God spoke to everyone.  The most germane question, from that perspective, was if one was listening.  This doctrine called into question the Puritan spiritual hierarchy, with the ministers at its heart.  Quakerism constituted an existential threat to the Puritan social order.

Authorities tend to go to great and frequently morally unjustifiable lengths to protect the social order.  If morally unjustifiable lengths prove necessary to preserve that social order, perhaps it should fall, so that a just society may emerge.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 18, 2020 COMMON ERA

SATURDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF ROGER WILLIAMS, FOUNDER OF RHODE ISLAND; AND ANNE HUTCHINSON, REBELLIOUS PURITAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIA CONNELLY, FOUNDRESS OF THE SOCIETY OF THE HOLY CHILD JESUS

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA ANNA BLONDIN, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT ANNE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MURIN OF FAHAN, LASERIAN OF LEIGHLIN, GOBAN OF PICARDIE, FOILLAN OF FOSSES, AND ULTAN OF PERONNE, ABBOTS; AND SAINTS FURSEY OF PERONNE AND BLITHARIUS OF SEGANNE, MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROMAN ARCHUTOWSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1943

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Almighty God, who gave to your servants

Marmaduke Stephenson, William Robinson, and Mary Dyer

boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world,

and courage to die for this faith:

Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us,

and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

2 Esdras 2:42-48

Psalm 126 or 121

1 Peter 3:14-18, 22

Matthew 10:16-22

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 713

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4 responses to “Feast of William Robinson, Mardaduke Stephenson, and Mary Dyer (June 1)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of William Leddra (March 24) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. Pingback: Feast of Obadiah Homes (October 15) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  3. Pingback: Feast of John Clarke (October 4) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  4. Pingback: God’s Case Against Israel, Part II: Divine Disappointment | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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