Mary Barrett Dyer (c. 1611 — June 1, 1660) was an English Puritan turned Quaker who was hanged in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony (now in present-day Massachusetts), for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony. She is one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs.
In late 1634 or early 1635, the Dyers emigrated to Massachusetts, where William Dyer took the Oath of a Freeman at the General Court in Boston on March 3, 1635 (or 1636). They were admitted to the Boston Church on December 13, 1635.
In 1637, the Dyers became open supporters of Anne Hutchinson, who preached that God “spoke directly to individuals” rather than only through the clergy. Dyer joined Hutchinson and the Rev. John Wheelwright during the “antinomian heresy” period, in which they worked to organize groups of women and men to study the Bible in contravention of the theocratic law of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Mary also followed Hutchinson to the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
In 1638, the Dyers were banished from the colony, and followed Hutchinson to Rhode Island. On the advice of Roger Williams, the group moved to Portsmouth, where William Dyer signed the Portsmouth Compact in March 1638 along with 18 other men. The Dyers ultimately settled in Newport, where by 1640, William had acquired 87 acres of land. He flourished in Rhode Island, serving as Secretary for the towns of Portsmouth and Newport from 1640 to 1647, General Recorder, and ultimately Attorney General from 1650 to 1653.
Mary was dissatisfied with Rhode Island life, and traveled alone to England in 1650, where she joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) after hearing the preaching of its founder, George Fox. She eventually became a Quaker preacher in her own right.
William briefly joined her but returned alone to Rhode Island in 1652; Mary remained in England another five years. Her 1657 return to New England was ill-timed; John Endicott had succeeded Winthrop as Governor in 1649, and was far more intolerant of religious dissension. When Mary’s ship landed in Boston, she was immediately arrested. Her husband secured her release nearly three months later, on account of his prominent social status in Rhode Island, on the condition that William “give his honor” that Mary would never return to Massachusetts.
Dyer continued to travel in New England to preach Quakerism, and was arrested in 1658 and expelled from New Haven, Connecticut for preaching “inner light” and the notion that women and men stood on equal ground in church worship and organization. After her release, she illegally returned to Massachusetts to visit two imprisoned English Quakers, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson. When she traveled to Massachusetts a third time with a group of Quakers to publicly defy the law, she was arrested and sentenced to death. After a short trial, two other Quakers were hanged, but Dyer was spared at the last minute because her son interceded on her behalf against her wishes.
She was forced to return to Rhode Island, and traveled to Long Island, New York to preach, but her conscience led her to return to Massachusetts in April 1660 to “desire the repeal of that wicked [anti-Quaker] law against God’s people and offer up her life there.” Despite her husband’s and family’s pleas, she refused to repent, and was again convicted and sentenced to death on June 1.
The next day, as she was escorted to the gallows by Captain John Evered of the Boston military company, Evered said to her “…that she had, previously been found guilty of the same charge, and been banished, that she now had one last chance to repent and be banished again.” Dyer refused and was then hanged.