When it comes to strong women in my lineage, there is no shortage of good choices. All of the women of my line that I have been honored to know, are strong – and the ones that came before endured hardships and trials and felt joys and blessings that I can only imagine.
However, one of the strongest women is my 11th great-grandmother, Mary Barrett. She was born sometime in 1612 in London, England – her parents have been lost to history. On October 27, 1633, at St. Martin’s in London, she married William Dyer (1609-1672) a milliner.
On October 24,1634, she had a son, William who was born in London – and only lived three days, dying on her first wedding anniversary.
Her next son, Samuel, was born on October 20, 1635 (my 10th gr.grandfather). He was either born in either England or Massachusetts. They arrived in New England in the early 1630’s and joined the Boston church in December of 1635 – so it is likely that Samuel was born in the colonies. He was baptized at the Boston Church on Dec 20, 1635. A stillborn daughter was born on October 17, 1637 in Massachusetts. Children Mary (1639), Henry (1647) and Charles (1650) were born after.
“Like most members of Boston’s church, they soon became involved in the Antinomian Controversy, a theological crisis lasting from 1636 to 1638. Mary and William were strong advocates of Anne Hutchinson and John Wheelwright in the controversy, and as a result, Mary’s husband was disenfranchised and disarmed for supporting these “heretics” and also for harboring his own heretical views. Subsequently, they left Massachusetts with many others to establish a new colony on Aquidneck Island (later Rhode Island) in Narraganset Bay. Before leaving Boston, Mary had given birth to a severely deformed infant that was stillborn. Because of the theological implications of such a birth, the baby was buried secretly. When the Massachusetts authorities learned of this birth, the ordeal became public, and in the minds of the colony’s ministers and magistrates, the monstrous birth was clearly a result of Mary’s “monstrous” religious opinions.
More than a decade later, in late 1651, Mary Dyer boarded a ship for England, and stayed there for over five years, becoming an avid follower of the Quaker religion that had been established by George Fox several years earlier. Because Quakers were considered among the most heinous of heretics by the Puritans, Massachusetts enacted several laws against them. When Dyer returned to Boston from England, she was immediately imprisoned and then banished. Defying her order of banishment, she was again banished, this time upon pain of death. Deciding that she would die as a martyr if the anti-Quaker laws were not repealed, Dyer once again returned to Boston and was sent to the gallows in 1659, having the rope around her neck when a reprieve was announced. Not accepting the reprieve, she again returned to Boston the following year and was then hanged to become the third of four Quaker martyrs.” – Wikipedia
While the parents of Mary Dyer have not been identified, Johan Winsser made a significant discovery concerning a brother of Dyer, which he published in 2004. On 18 January 1633/4, a probate administration was recorded in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury for a William Barret. The instrument granted administration of Barret’s estate “jointly to William Dyer of St Martin-in-the-Fields, fishmonger, and his wife Marie Dyer, otherwise Barret.” The fact that the estate of a brother of Mary Dyer would be left in the hands of Mary and her husband strongly suggests that William (and therefore Mary) had no living parents and no living brothers at the time, and also suggests that Mary was either William Barrett’s only living sister, or his oldest living sister. The other facts that could be drawn from the instrument are that William Barrett was unmarried and that he died somewhere “beyond the seas” from England.
That Mary was well educated is apparent from letters that she wrote. Quaker chronicler George Bishop described her as a “Comely Grave Woman, and of a goodly Personage, and one of a good Report, having a husband of an Estate, fearing the Lord, and a Mother of Children.” The Dutch writer Gerard Croese wrote that she was reputed to be a “person of no mean extract and parentage, of an estate pretty plentiful, of a comely stature and countenance, of a piercing knowledge in many things, of a wonderful sweet and pleasant discourse, so fit for great affairs…” Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop described her as being “a very proper and fair woman…of a very proud spirit, and much addicted to revelations”.
Mary was hanged on June 1, 1660.