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The subject of the following sketch, a Quaker
Martyr, may appear to the fair holiday readers of
souvenirs, a very unfit personage to be introduced
into the romantic and glorious company of lords and
ladye loves; of doomed brides; and all-achieving
heroines; chivalric soldiers; suffering outlaws; and
Ossianic sons of the forest. But of such, it is not now
“our hint to speak.” Neither have we selected the
most romantic heroine that might have been found in
the annals of the sober-suited sect. A startling tale
might be wrought from the perilous adventures of
Mary Fisher, the maiden missionary, who, after being
cast into prison, for saying “thee” instead of “you,” was
examined before a judicial tribunal, and “nothing found
but innocence;” who, released from durance, travelled
over the continent of Europe, to communicate her faith;
visited the court of Mahomet the Fourth, then held at
Adrianople; was presented by the Grand Vizier to
the Sultan, who listened to her with deference, and was,
or affected to be, persuaded of her truth. A guard to
Constantinople was gallantly offered her by Mahomet,
which she refused; and safe and unmolested, in
her armous of innocence, she proceeded to that city,
receiving everywhere from the Turks the gentle usage
that was denied her by those professing a more generous

A tale of horrors, of cowled monks, and instruments
of torture, might be framed from the “hair breadth


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scapes” of Catharine Evans and Sarah Chevers, the
Quaker heroines who suffered with constancy, in the
Inquisition at Malta. We have passed by these tempting
themes, to tell a briefer story, and present a character
in its true and natural light, as it stands on the
historic page, without the graces of fiction, or any of
those aids, by which the romance writer composes his
picture—exaggerating beauties, placing them in bright
lights, and omitting or gracefully shading defects.
There are manifestations of moral beauty so perfect
that they do not require the aids of fiction, as there are
scenes in the material world, that no illusion of the
imagination can improve.

Mary Dyre belonged to the religious society of
“Friends;” a society, that, after having long resisted
the tempest of intolerance and persecution, is melting
away under the genial sun of universal toleration, and
the ignoble, but no less resistless influence, of the
tailor's shears, and the milliner's craft. As Voltaire
predicted, some sixty years since, “Les enfans enrichis
par l'industrie de leurs peres veulent jouir avoir des
honneurs, des boutons, et des manchettes

Mary Dyre was among those, who, in 1657, sought
in New England an asylum from the oppression of
the mother country. But the persecuted had become
persecutors; and, instead of an asylum, these harmless
people found a prison, and were destined, for their
glory and our shame, to suffer as martyrs in the cause
of liberty of conscience.

Sewal, the historian “of the people called Quakers,”
to whom we are indebted for most of the following
particulars, has given very slight notice of Mary Dyre's
private history. “She was,” he says, “of a comely and
grave countenance, of a good family and estate, and
the mother of several children; but her husband, it
seems, was of another persuasion.” From another
document, which we have been so fortunate as to obtain,
it appears that this defect of religious sympathy,


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had, in no degree, abated the affection and confidence
of her husband.

Thus she possessed whatever comes within the aspiration
of a woman's ambition or affections;—beauty,
for this is no violent paraphrase of the Quaker historian's
stinted courtesy, rank, fortune, conjugal and
maternal happiness; yet she counted all these but loss,
believing that her obedience to the inspirations of God
required their sacrifice.

The Pilgrims, finding the penalties of fine, imprisonment,
scourging with the “three-corded whip,” cutting
off the ears, and boring the tongue with a red-hot
iron, ineffectual in extirpating the “cursed heresy of
the Quakers,” or “preventing their pestilent errors and
practices,” proceeded to banish them from their jurisdiction,
on pain of death.

This violence was done under a statute enacted in
1658. Mary Dyre, with many others, sought a refuge
from the storm in Rhode-Island. Christian liberty, in
its most generous sense, was the noble distinction of
that Province; and there Mary might have enjoyed
her inoffensive faith, and all the temporal distinctions
it permitted, for her husband filled one of the highest
offices in the Province. But she could not forget her
suffering brethren in the Massachusetts Colony. She
meditated on their wrongs till she “felt a call” to return
to Boston. Two persons, distinguished for zeal
and integrity, accompanied her; William Robinson,
and Marmaduke Stevenson. Their intention and
hope was, to obtain a repeal or mitigation of the laws
against their sect. Their return was in the autumn of
1659. On their appearance in Boston, they were immediately
seized, and committed to prison, and a few days
subsequent, after a summary and informal examination
before Governor Endicot, and the associate Magistrates,
they were sentenced to suffer the penalty of
death, which had been already decreed to such as, after
being banished, should return.


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Mary's companions replied to the annunciation of
their sentence, in terms that savoured strongly of human
resentment, which, alas for human weakness! is
often betrayed in the anticipation of the judgments of
Heaven. “Give ear, ye magistrates,” said Stevenson,
“and all ye who are guilty, for this the Lord hath
said concerning you, and will perform his word upon
you, that the same day ye put his servants to death,
shall the day of your visitation pass over you, and ye
shall be cursed forevermore.” The passions of our
infirm nature are sometimes confounded with the
religion that accompanies them, as the cloud is, to an
ignorant eye, identified with the prismatic rays it

Mary's pure and gentle spirit dwelt in eternal sunshine;
its elements were at peace. When the fearful
words were pronounced, “Mary Dyre, you shall go to
the prison whence you came, thence to the place of
execution, and be hanged there till you are dead,” she
folded her hands, and replied, with a serene aspect,
“The will of the Lord be done.”

Her friends have described her demeanour at this
moment, as almost supernatural, as if the outward
temple were brightened by the communications of the
Spirit within. They say, the world seemed to have
vanished from her sight; her eyes were raised, and
fixed in the rapture of devotion; her lips were moved
by the ecstasy of her soul, though they uttered no articulate

Governor Endicot seems to have felt an irritation
at her tranquillity, not more dignified than a child's
when he vents his wrath in blows on an insensible

“Take her away, Marshal,” he said harshly.

“I return joyfully to my prison,” she replied; and
then turning to the Marshal, she added, “You may
leave me, Marshal, I will return alone.”


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“I believe you, Mrs. Dyre,” replied the Marshal;
“but I must do as I am commanded.”

The prisoners were condemned on the twentieth of
October. The twenty-seventh was the day appointed
for the execution of the sentence. With a self-command
and equinimity of mind rare in such circumstances,
Mary employed the interval in writing an
“Appeal to the Rulers of Boston;” an appeal, not in
her own behalf, not for pardon, nor life, but for a redress
of the wrongs of her persecuted brethren. “I
have no self-ends, the Lord knoweth,” she says, “for
if life were freely granted by you, it would not avail
me, so long as I should daily see or hear of the sufferings
of my people, my dear brethren, and the seed
with whom my life is bound up. Let my counsel
and request be accepted with you to repeal all such
laws, that the truth and servants of the Lord may have
free passage among you, and you kept from shedding
innocent blood, which I know there be many among
you would not do, if they knew it so to be.”—“In
love and in the spirit of meekness, for I have no enmity
to the persons of any
, I again beseech you.”
There is not, throughout this magnanimous appeal the
slightest intimation of a wish that her sentence should
be remitted, no craven nor natural shrinking from
death, no apologies for past offences, but the courage
of an apostle contending for the truth, and the tenderness
of a woman feeling for the sufferings of her
people. Could it matter to so noble a creature,
where, according to the quaint phrase of her sect, her
“outward being dwelt,” or how soon it should be dissolved?

On the evening of the twenty-sixth, William Dyre,
Mary's eldest son, arrived in Boston, and was admitted
to her prison. He came in the hope of persuading
his mother to make such concessions in regard to her
faith, as to conciliate her judges, and procure a reprieve.
All night he remained with her. The particulars of


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this interview have not been preserved. Mary's enemies
have not been scrupulous in the record of her
virtues, and her friends appear to have considered the
affections of her nature scarcely worth a memorial,
amidst the triumphs of her faith. We know the temper
of woman, the tenderness and depth of a mother's
love. We may imagine the intense feelings of the
son, on the eve of his mother's threatened execution,
pleading for the boon of her life; we may imagine the
conflict between the yearnings of the mother, and the
resistance of the saint; and we may be sure that we
cannot exaggerate its violence, nor its suffering. The
saint was triumphant, and on the following morning,
Mary was led forth, between her two friends to the
place of execution. A strong guard escorted the prisoners,
and, as if to infuse the last drop of bitterness
in their cup, Mr. Wilson, “the minister of Boston,”
attended them. There were coarse and malignant
spirits among the spectators. “Are you not ashamed,”
said one of them tauntingly to Mary, “are you not
ashamed to walk thus hand in hand between two young

“No,” she replied, “this is to me an hour of the
greatest joy I could have in the world. No eye can
see, nor ear hear, nor tongue utter, nor heart understand
the sweet incomes and refreshings of the spirit
of the Lord, which I now feel.” Death could not appal
a mind so lofty and serene. Man could not disturb
a peace so profound. Her companions evinced a like
composure. They all tenderly embraced at the foot
of the scaffold. Robinson first mounted it, and called
on the spectators to witness for him that he died, not
as a malefactor, but for testifying to the light of Christ.
Stevenson, the moment before the hangman performed
the last act, said, “This day we shall be at rest with
the Lord.”

Mary was of a temper, like the intrepid Madame
Roland, to have inspired a faltering spirit by her example;


Page 157
far more difficult she must have found it, to
behold the last quiverings and strugglings of mortality,
in the persons of her friends. But even after this, she
was steadfast, and ascended the scaffold with an unblenching
step. Her dress was scrupulously adjusted
about her feet, her face covered with a handkerchief,
and the halter put around her neck.

The deep silence of this awful moment was broken
by a piercing cry. “Stop! she is reprieved!” was
sent from mouth to mouth, till one glad shout announced
the feeling of the gazing multitude. Was
there one of all those gathered to this fearful spectacle,
whose heart did not leap with joy?—Yes—the
sufferer and victim, she, to whom the gates of death
had been opened. “Her mind,” says her historian,
“was already in heaven, and when they loosed her
feet and bade her come down, she stood still, and said
she was willing to suffer as her brethren had, unless
the magistrates would annul their cruel law.”

Her declaration was disregarded, she was forced
from the scaffold, and reconducted to prison. There
she was received in the arms of her son, and she
learnt from him that she owed her life to his prolonged

Fortitude, the merit of superior endurance, has often
been conceded to woman. One of our most celebrated
surgeons had the magnanimity to say to a patient on
whom he had just performed an excruciating operation,
“Sir you have borne it like a man, you have done
better than that, you have borne it like a woman.”
But the most devoted champions of the weaker and
timid sex, must concede, that they are inferior to man
in courage to brave circumstances, and encounter
danger; yet among all the valiant hearts in manly
frames, that have illustrated our race, we know not
where we shall find a more indomitable spirit, than
Mary Dyre's. The tribunal of her determined enemies;
the prison; the scaffold; the actual presence of


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death; the joy of recovered life; and, more potent
than all, the meltings of maternal love, did not abate
one jot of her purpose. On the morning after her
reprieve, she dispatched from her prison a letter to
her judges, beginning in the following bold, and, if
the circumstances are considered, sublime strain;—

“Once more to the General Court assembled in
Boston, speaks Mary Dyre, even as before. My life
is not accepted, neither availeth me, in comparison of
the lives and liberty of the truth, and servants of the
living God, for which, in the bowels of meekness and
love I sought you.” She proceeds to charge them,
most justly, with having neglected the measure of light
that was in them, and thus concludes; “When I heard
your last order read, it was a disturbance unto me,
that was freely offering up my life to Him that gave
it me, and sent me hither so to do; which obedience
being his own work, he gloriously accompanied with
his presence, and peace, and love in me, in which I
rested from my labour.”

The minds of the magistrates must have been wonderfully
puffed up, and clouded with an imagined infallibility,
and their hearts indurated by dogmatical
controversy, or they would at once have perceived,
that Mary Dyre was maintaining a righteous claim to
the same privilege for which they had made their
boasted efforts and sacrifices;—the privilege of private

Whatever intimations they may have received from
their conscience, they were not made public; no answer
was returned to Mary's letters, and no concessions
made to her sect; but it was thought prudent to
commute Mary's sentence into banishment, with penalty
of death in case of her return, and she was accordingly
sent, with a guard, to Rhode Island.

The sympathies of the good people of Boston had
been awakened by the firmness of the prisoners in
their extremity. The tide of feeling was setting in


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favour of their cause, murmurs of dissatisfaction with
the proceedings of the magistrates were running
through the little community, and it was thought best
to allay the ferment, by a manifesto, which is throughout
a lame defence, and which concludes in a manner
worthy of the style of Cromwell and the school of the
Jesuits. “The consideration of our gradual proceedings,”
say they, “will vindicate us from the clamorous
accusations of severity; our own just and necessary
defence calling upon us, other means failing, to offer
the point which these persons have violently and wilfully
rushed upon, and thereby become felones de se,
which, might it have been prevented, and the sovereign
law, salus populi, been preserved, our former proceedings,
as well as the sparing Mary Dyre upon an
inconsiderable intercession, will evidently evince we
desire their lives absent, rather than their deaths

Would the tragedy had ended here! But the last
and saddest scene was yet to be enacted. We who
believe that woman's duty as well as happiness lies
in the obscure, safe, and not very limited sphere of
domestic life, may regret that Mary did not forego the
glory of the champion, and the martyr, for the meek
honours of the wife and mother. Still we must venerate
the courage and energy of her soul, when, as she
said, “moved by the spirit of God so to do,” she again
returned to finish, in her own words, “her sad and
heavy experience, in the bloody town of Boston.”

She arrived there on the twenty-first of May, 1660,
and appears to have remained unmolested, till the
thirty-first, when she was summoned before the General
Court, which had cognizance of all civil and
criminal offences. In this court, Governor Endicot
was the presiding officer. He began her examination
by asking her, if she were the same Mary Dyre that
was there before.

It appears that another Mary Dyre had made some


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disturbance in the Colony, and the Governor, probably
pitying the rashness of our heroine, was willing
to allow her an opportunity of evasion, but she replied
unhesitatingly, “I am the same Mary Dyre that was
here at the last General Court.”

“Then you own yourself a Quaker, do you not?”

“I own myself to be reproachfully called so.”

“I must then repeat the sentence once before pronounced
upon you.”

After he had spoken the words of doom, “This is
no more,” replied Mary calmly, “than thou saidst before.”

“But now it is to be executed; therefore prepare
yourself for nine o'clock to-morrow.”

Still steadfast in what she believed her divinely
authorised mission, she replied, “I came in obedience
to the will of God, to the last General Court, praying
you to repeal your unrighteous sentence 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.”

“Are you a prophetess?” asked Endicot.

“I spoke the words which the Lord spoke to me;
and now the thing is come to pass.”

“Away with her!” cried the Governor; and Mary
was reconducted to prison. We lament the imperfection
of human intelligence, and the infirmity of
human virtue, for “perfection easily bears with the
imperfections of others;” but we rejoice, that, in the
providence of God, the vice of one party elicits the
virtue of another; that bigotry and persecution bring
forth the faith and heroic self-sacrifice of the martyr.
The fire is kindled and burns fiercely, but the Phœenix
rises; the furnace, heated with seven-fold heat, does
not consume, but purifies.

Mary Dyre's family was plunged into deep distress,
by her again putting her life in jeopardy. As her


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husband's religious faith did not accord with her own,
he could not of course perfectly sympathize with her
zeal in behalf of her persecuted sect, but the following
letter, addressed to the Governor, which has not,
we believe, before been published, bears ample testimony,
that his conjugal affection had borne the hard
test of religious disagreement.

“Honoured Sir—It is with no little grief of mind
and sadness of heart, that I am necessitated to be so
bould as to supplicate your honoured self, with the
honourable assembly of your General Court, to extend
your mercy and favour once again, to me, and my
children. Little did I dream, that I should have occasion
to petition in a matter of this nature; but so it
is, that through the divine providence and your benignity,
my sonn obtayned so much pity and mercy at
your hands, to enjoy the life of his mother. Now my
supplication to your honours is, to begg affectionately
the life of my dear wife. 'Tis true, I have not seen
her above this half yeare, and cannot tell how, in the
frame of her spirit, she was moved thus againe to run
so great a hazard to herself, and perplexity to me and
mine, and all her friends and wellwishers.

“So it is, from Shelter Island, about by Peynod,
Narragansett, &c., to the town of Providence, she secretly
and speedily journeyed, and as secretly from
thence came to your jurisdiction. Unhappy journey,
may I say, and woe to that generation, say I, that
gives occasion thus of grief (to those that desire to be
quiett), by helping one another to hazard their lives
to, I know not what end, nor for what purpose.

“If her zeal be so great, as thus to adventure, oh!
let your pitty and favour surmount it, and save her
life. Let not your love and wonted compassion be
conquered by her inconsiderate maddness, and how
greatly will your renoune be spread, if by so conquering,
you become victorious. What shall I say more!
I know you are all sensible of my condition—you


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see what my petition is, and what will give me and
mine peace.

“Oh! let Mercy's wings soar over Justice's ballance,
and then whilst I live, I shall exalt your goodness;
but otherways't will be a languishing sorrow — yea,
so great, that I should gladly suffer the blow at once,
much rather. I shall forbear to trouble you with
words, neither am I in a capacity to expatiate myself
at present. I only say this, yourselves have been,
and are, or may be husbands to wives; so am I, yea
to one most dearly beloved. Oh! do not deprive me
of her, but I pray give her me once again. I shall be
so much obliged forever that I shall endeavour continually
to utter my thanks and render you love and
honour most renouned. Pitty me! I beg it with tears,
and rest your humble suppliant,

W. Dyre.”

It does not appear what answer, or that any answer
was vouchsafed to this touching appeal. It is enough
to know that it was unavailing, and that on the very
next day after her condemnation, the first of June,
Mary Dyre was led forth to execution.

Some apprehensions seem to have been entertained
that the mob might give inconvenient demonstrations
of their pity for the prisoner, for she was strongly
guarded, and during her whole progress from her
prison to the place of execution, a mile's distance,
drums were beaten before and behind her.

The seaffold was erected on Boston Common.
When she had mounted it, she was asked if she would
have the Elders to pray for her?

“I know never an Elder here,” she replied.

“Will you have none of the people to pray for you?”
persisted her attendant.

“I would have all the people of God to pray for
me,” she replied.

“Mary Dyre! O repent! O repent!” cried out Mr.
Wilson the minister; “be not so deluded and carried
away by the deceits of the devil.”


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“Nay, man,” she answered, “I am not now to

She was reproached with having said she had
already been in paradise.

To this she replied, “I have been in paradise many

She spoke truly. Her mind was the paradise of
God. The executioner did his office. He could kill
the body, demolish the temple, but the pure and glorious
spirit of the martyr passed unharmed, untouched,
into the visible presence of its Creator.

The scene of this tragedy was the Boston Common;
that spot, so affluent in beauty, so graced by the peace,
and teeming with the loveliness of nature, was desecrated
by a scaffold! stained with innocent blood! We
would not dishonour this magnificent scene by connecting
with it, in a single mind, one painful association.
But let those send back one thought to the Quaker
Martyr, who delight to watch the morning light and
the evening shadows stealing over it; to walk under
the bountiful shadow of its elms; to see the herds of
cattle banqueting there; the birds daintily gleaning
their food; the boys driving their hoops, flying their
kites, and launching their mimic vessels on the mimic
lake; whilst the little faineants, perhaps the busiest
in thought among them, are idly stretched on the
grass, seemingly satisfied with the bare consciousness
of existence. The Boston Common, as it is, preserved
and embellished, but not spoiled by art, still retaining
its natural and graceful undulations, shaded by trees of
a century's growth, with its ample extent of uncovered
surface, affording in the heart of a populous city, that
first of luxuries, space; trodden by herds of its natural
and chartered proprietors; encompassed by magnificent
edifices, the homes of the gifted, cultivated, and
liberal; with its beautiful view of water (Heaven forgive
those who abated it!) and of the surrounding,


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cultured, and enjoyed country; crowned by Dorchester
Heights, and the Blue Hills;—Boston Common,
has always appeared to us one of the choicest of
nature's temples. The memory of the good is worthy
such a temple; and we trust we shall be forgiven, for
having attempted to fix there this slight monument to a
noble sufferer in that great cause, that has stimulated
the highest minds to the sublimest actions; that calls
its devotees from the gifted, its martyrs from the moral
heroes of mankind; the best cause, the fountain of all
liberty — liberty of conscience!