Dyer, Mary Barrett (c. 1591–1660)

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Dyer, Mary Barrett (c. 1591–1660)

American Quaker and religious martyr who was a companion of Anne Hutchinson. Name variations: Dyar. Born Mary Barrett in England around 1591; hanged on June 1, 1660, in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony; married William Dyer (date unknown); children; six survived infancy.

Mary Barrett Dyer and her husband William emigrated from England and settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, becoming members of Boston's First Church. Dyer's delivery of a stillborn and deformed child in 1837 was cited by authorities as evidence of the unfitness of both Dyer and her midwife, Anne Hutchinson , in the eyes of the Lord. When Hutchinson was excommunicated and exiled from the colony in 1639, Mary Dyer followed her out of the church in a show of support. Dyer was also excommunicated and banished, and she and her family moved to the Rhode Island (Newport) area.

In 1652, the Dyers returned to England with Roger Williams, the founder of the Rhode Island Colony, and other Rhode Island leaders in order to secure a formal charter. When her husband returned to America in 1652, Dyer stayed in England for four more years, during which time she was converted to membership in the Society of Friends, or the Quakers. She returned to America in 1657 and set about trying to change the attitude of the Congregationalist Church about the role of women as missionaries and voices of the spirit. Enroute to Rhode Island, she was imprisoned in Boston along with her companion, Ann Burden , another Quaker.

In response to specific Boston and Massachusetts Bay laws about Quakers, Dyer was exiled from Boston in 1657 and from New Haven in 1658. When she returned to Boston in 1659 to visit two Quakers imprisoned there, she was arrested and, in September, was banished to Rhode Island. Dyer quickly returned to Boston where she was imprisoned again and sentenced to hang for being a Quaker. Her two Quaker friends were hanged, and Dyer, due to her husband's intervention, was reprieved at the gallows on October 27, 1659. Spending the winter in Rhode Island, she returned to Boston in the Spring of 1660. Arrested and sentenced to death, she was hanged on June 1, 1660.


Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith. NY: Harper & Brothers, 1959.

Plimpton, Ruth Talbot. Mary Dyer: Biography of a Rebel Quaker. Boston: Branden, 1994.

suggested reading:

Crawford, Deborah. Four Women in a Violent Time: Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), Mary Dyer (1591?-1660), Lady Deborah Moody (1600-1659), and Penelope Stout (1622-1732). NY: Crown Publishers, 1970.

Rogers, Horatio. Mary Dyer of Rhode Island the Quaker martyr that was hanged on Boston Common, June 1, 1660. Providence: Preston and Rounds, 1896.

Amanda Carson Banks , Lecturer, Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, Tennessee