Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A 17th-century Christmas

© Christy K. Robinson

Governors Winthrop, Dudley, and Endecott
would be apoplectic if they could
see Boston at Christmas today.
(Massachusetts State House)
Mary Dyer was born and lived in London and may have enjoyed the Christmas season's festivities in her youth, when King James and King Charles I reigned over England and Scotland. Even for Church of England adherents, it was rather quiet and sober during the four weeks of Advent, similar to Lenten season, but after the church service on Christmas morning came the feasting. The twelve days that followed Christmas, culminating in Epiphany or Twelfth Night on January 6, were filled with revelry, gift-giving, drinking, dancing, and entertainment such as comedy or drama plays or masques. (Masques were interactive musical plays that often had a theme of humanistic heroism apart from religion.) The rigid Puritans disapproved of all such frivolous activities.

When, at age 24, Mary and her husband William moved to Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, there would have been no celebrations, feasts, gift-giving, decorating with greenery, or singing. Candles were expensive. Under Puritan rule, Christmas celebrations were forbidden for their origins in pagan Germanic and Norse Yule, Roman Saturnalia, the winter solstice and its free-range spirits—and Catholic mass.

The Puritans believed that the early Catholic church had sold its soul for large numbers of tithe-paying converts by placing their festivals of Christmas (winter), Easter (spring/fertility), and saints’ feast days (the six-week intervals between solstice and equinox) in conjunction with pagan astrological and seasonal dates. A fair number of modern fundamentalist Christians feel the same way. They say that Christmas was not Jesus’ birthday, and there’s no evidence that he or anyone else in the Bible celebrated birthdays.

In nearby Plymouth Colony, the celebration of Christmas Day was forbidden, and work went on as usual on December 25. On Christmas and Easter, the churches of Massachusetts often declared fasts, not feasts, wherein they examined themselves for unconfessed sin.

During the Dyers’ Rhode Island years (1638-1660), religious holidays were subdued or nonexistent. In the Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for 1652, there were General Court meetings held in Providence on December 24 and 25, with no mention made of a holiday. It was just business as usual. I suppose that Commissioner Hugh Bewitt/Buit, who was on trial for high treason (if convicted, he faced a death penalty) would remember that date for the rest of his life: Bewitt was acquitted of the charge, and released from confinement, and returned to honorable public service. There was quite a lot of business done on the 25th, according to the record.

In the early 1650s, in England, Mary became a Quaker Friend when the movement was new; there are no statements from George Fox, the founder of the movement, that they considered Christmas differently than any other day of the week or year. Keep in mind that in the 1640s, the Puritan government that had beheaded King Charles I and waged war in England, Scotland, and Ireland, had outlawed holidays like Christmas and Easter, so that when Mary Dyer was in England in the 50s, it must have been an unremarkable day to any religious group.

After she came back to America, the radical Puritans of Massachusetts Bay took another step to enforce the bah-humbug-on-Christmas: Gov. John Endecott and his court passed a law in 1658 that fined offenders five shillings (worth three days of a craftsman’s wages) for Christmas revels. See Jo Ann Butler's article, Christmas-A Sacrilege?  

In Rhode Island, the colonists held a variety of religious beliefs and practices. The Baptist church was gaining members, but their first believers had been a part of Anne Hutchinson’s antinomian movement and probably had no Christmas traditions to long for or rebel over! By royal charter granted to Rhode Island, there was no government-established or sponsored religious denomination. The first Quakers arrived in Rhode Island less than a year before Mary returned from England. One is left to conclude that there were no Christmas celebrations during the early colonial years.

Even so, there was no lack of spiritual fervor in any of the religious groups, whether long-established or among the dozens of sects springing up in the seventeenth century. There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus had grown up, and was no longer “Baby Jesus.”

The idea that Jesus was the “Seed of Abraham” was a key belief to George Fox and the early Quakers, who quoted Galatians 3:16:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.

A few verses along, in Galatians 3:29, the apostle Paul wrote,
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Mary Dyer, in her 1659 letter from prison to Gov. Endecott and the MassBay court, spoke of the Seed as the Friends who belonged to Christ. Because of his death on the cross, believers have inherited the promises of intimacy with God here in this world, and for eternity. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:17

And if you have that assurance, as Mary Dyer did, there is a Light, the Light of the World, that illuminates every corner and banishes the darkness.

A happy Christmas to you (from me, Christy), and may your year ahead be filled with light, love, and peace. I’m sure Mary would hope the same for you! 
For yourself or family, co-workers, the gift exchange, etc.,
these 5-star books make excellent gifts that will be
long-remembered.


Puritans and Christmas

Friends (Quakers) and Christmas

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mary Dyer’s husband: Anglican, Puritan, Antinomian, Quaker—or nothing?


© 2011 Christy K Robinson
Everyone knows that in the end, Mary Dyer was a devout, fervent Quaker, and that the puritans of Boston hanged her. Actually, there’s no record of Mary’s religious practices between 1638 when the Dyers left Boston as members of the (puritan) Boston First Church, and 1657, when she returned from England as a Quaker believer.

However, no one mentions the spiritual values of her husband, William Dyer. He loved his wife and supported her, but didn’t appear to share her doctrines or disciplines at the end of her life. This timeline indicates that William went along with the majority and probably kept his views to himself, but that he was likely a secular man when it came to organized religion. His writings acknowledge God, but he doesn't appear to be as "out there" as most other men of his time. That's understandable, as you'll see. This article is not a judgment on him; rather a discovery of his religious influences and culture. You’re free to make comments about the Dyers at the end of this article.

The St. Denis church in Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire,
where William Dyer was baptized in September 1609.
This church probably had puritan, nonconformist ministers.
1609-1624: William Dyer was born and raised in Lincolnshire, between Sleaford and Boston; Lincolnshire was a hotbed of nonconformist thought, that is, they didn't conform to Church of England liturgy. (The Pilgrims of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire were separatists, also nonconformists but not of the same beliefs as other separatists who tended toward puritan and Presbyterian ways, migrated first to the Netherlands, and then to Plymouth, Massachusetts.)

William Dyer's parents’ church in Kirkby LaThorpe appears to have had puritan or nonconformist-type ministers, though I couldn’t find specific names of their vicars in searches. During that time, the Sleaford and Boston churches had nonconformist ministers; that is, super-conservative Anglicans who believed that the Reformation from the Roman Catholic church hadn’t gone far enough—they wanted to purify their church of Catholic influences. England’s puritan minister of Boston St. Botolph's, Rev. John Cotton, had to go into hiding for a year before he emigrated to Massachusetts, where the town was named after the English Boston.

1624-1633: William was apprenticed in London, and lived with master Walter Blackborne in the St. Martin-in-the-Fields parish of Westminster. St. Martin’s was not puritan. One of the responsibilities of the master was to teach apprentices all their trade secrets, as well as bring up the teenage boys in education and spiritual matters.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields between 1666 and 1721,
when it was rebuilt in a classical style that exists today.
Before 1644, St. Martin's was Church of England, not puritan.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields had (orthodox) Church of England ministers, not puritan. Thomas Mountford, D.D., vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields from 1602-1633, “is commemorated as ‘genuinus Ecclesiae Anglicanae filius; a true sonne of the Church of England, I meane a true Protestant; he was as farre from popish superstition, as factious singularity, no more addicted to the Conclave of Rome, than addicted to the Parlour of Amsterdam.’” [Parlour of Amsterdam = separatist puritans]

1614-1637: Rev. James Palmer was St. Martin-in-the-Fields curate or deputy under Dr. Mountford.

1632-1644: William Bray (died 1644) was an English clergyman, chaplain to [Anglican] Archbishop William Laud. Rev. Bray was vicar at St. Martin-in-the-Fields before the Dyers emigrated to America. Rather than change his “brand” of religion, Rev. Bray lost his job during the Civil War when the puritan Parliamentarians forced him out.

1633: William and Mary Dyer married, with the ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, Westminster. (This is further evidence that the marriage was Church of England, as puritans married in homes, taverns, or other secular places with judges, with a prayer from clergy, so they wouldn't be corrupted by Church of England "popish" traditions.) William Dyer, now working as a master in his guild, lived in this parish, and was taxed here.

1634: The Dyers’ first son was christened, and buried at St. Martin’s churchyard. In Church of England tradition, Mary would have been "churched" (blessed) 40 days after giving birth. (This practice was not followed in puritanism.)

1635: Dyers emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts. All of Massachusetts was a puritan enclave. There were few Anglican ministers, and they were watched—when they met with disapproval, they were sent back to England or out of the colony. The custom of the puritan churches in Massachusetts was for the elders to examine a person’s life for evidence of salvation (good works and strict keeping of the biblical laws), and to hear the person’s testimony before deciding to admit a member. Women were not required to testify, but were sometimes allowed. They were admitted to membership with their husbands.

In December, William and Mary Dyer were admitted to membership in (puritan) Boston First Church; their infant son Samuel was baptized there. Minister was the conservative Rev. John Wilson, teacher was Rev. John Cotton, formerly of Boston in Lincolnshire. William Dyer and his family had probably visited Cotton’s church in England.

Membership granted on December 13, 1635
(December was the tenth month on their calendar),
at Boston First Church of Christ, Massachusetts Bay Colony.
I don't see a line item in later years for their dismissal or excommunication.

Source: Records of the First Church in Boston


1636-1637: Mary and probably William Dyer were involved with Anne Hutchinson’s home Bible studies and discussions. They, like the Hutchinsons and others, continued as members of Boston First Church, where services were held all day on Sundays, with a part-day on Thursday, the “lecture” day. Fast days, at which there were sermons and lectures, were declared to pray for deliverance from various famines, pestilence, plagues, etc. Church members did not miss services, or they could be fined.

William's signature
1637: In March, a large group of men signed a Remonstrance/petition about treatment of Rev. Wheelwright, who propounded the Covenant of Grace, in contrast with the other ministers said to be preaching the Covenant of Works. The puritan theocracy of Massachusetts Bay Colony called Hutchinson's system of beliefs "antinomian," which means "against the law (nomos)." Hutchinson and her followers believed that according to the New Testament of the Bible, the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai were declared obsolete, and that God revealed his will to believers by direct revelation to the heart and mind.

In November, William Dyer and many others were disfranchised as freemen because of the Wheelwright petition. I don’t think they were excommunicated, though they were under “admonition,” a form of church discipline.

Gov. John Winthrop wrote of William Dyer, "The Father of this Monster [baby], having been forth of the Towne, about a month, and comming home just at this time [mid-November], was upon the Lords day (by an unexpected occasion) called before the Church for some of his monstrous opinions, as that Christ and the Church together are the new Creature, there is no inherent righteousnesse in Christians, Adam was not made after Gods Image, &c. which he openly maintained, yet with such shuffling, and equivocating, as he came under admonition, &c."

1638: Late March, many members of Boston First Church were banished from Massachusetts, and moved to Pocasset, on Aquidneck Island (later called Portsmouth, Rhode Island). Anne Hutchinson was definitely excommunicated, but the rest of the group were left on the books of First Church, perhaps in the hope that they could be rehabilitated and brought back into fellowship. William Dyer was one of the men who signed the Portsmouth Compact, which referred to several verses of scripture regarding sacred covenants.

1638-40: On Aquidneck, there was no organized church group. As they had done in Boston, and in Lincolnshire before that, Anne Hutchinson and others were at afternoon prayer when the great earthquake struck on June 1, 1638. It was felt all over New England, and some puritans blamed it on her! She said that the earthquake was the infilling of the Holy Spirit.  

Some men at Portsmouth met together to “prophesy,” which group may have included William Dyer. The men included Hutchinson adherents, Baptists, and other dissenters to the puritan leadership in Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies. Prophesying meant, to them, to share revelations from scripture, not to predict the future.

When Boston sent three men to read a letter from Boston First Church admonishing the heretics, they were treated hospitably but the Rhode Islanders would not hear the letter. Anne Hutchinson refused to acknowledge that Boston First was even a “church,” as defined by the Bible. The “church” is a body of believers, not an organization or building.
1640: A school/church meeting house
in southern Massachusetts

In 1640, Francis Hutchinson, Anne’s son, asked to have his membership removed from Boston First, but was refused. Three years later, at age 23, he was killed with his mother and younger siblings in an Indian attack on their Pelham Bay farm. Rev. Thomas Welde wrote of the massacre,
“I never heard that the Indians in those parts did ever before this, commit the like outrage upon any one family, or families, and therefore Gods hand is the more apparently seen herein, to pick out this wofull woman, to make her, and those belonging to her, an unheard of heavy example… Thus the Lord heard our groans to heaven, and freed us from this great and sore affliction…and hath (through great mercy) given the Churches rest from this disturbance ever since; that wee know none that lifts up his head to disturbe our sweet peace, in any of the Churches of Christ among us; blessed for ever bee his Name.”
Rev. John Wilson

On March 30, 1640, Rev. John Wilson, senior minister, made the following statement in Boston First Church:
"Brethren you know the Business of the Hand hath been a Long time propounded, it taken by the church into Consideration that now we should draw to some Issue a determination you know the Cases of them there do much slander, some are under admonition that some under excommunication: that some have given satisfaction in part to the church and do hold themselves still as members of the church y do yet hearken to us ^ seek to give satisfaction and others there be that do renounce the power of the church & do refuse to hear the church as Mr Coddington, Mr Dyar and Mr Coggeshall, the 2 first have been questioned in the church and dealt with and are under Admonition and have been so long, yet this add: of the church hath been so far from doing them any good, that they are rather grown worse under the same, for Mr Coddington being dealt withal about hearing of excomunicate persons prophecy, he was sensible of an evil in it, and said he had not before so well considered of it, yet since he hath not only heard such by accident as before. But [Coddington] hath himself and our Brother Diar and Mr Coggeshall have gathered themselves into church fellowship, not regarding the Covenant that they have made with this church, neither have taken our advice and consent herein, neither have they regarded it, but they have joined themselves in fellowship with some that are excommunicated whereby they come to have a constant fellowship with them, and that in a church way, and when we sent messengers of the church to them to admonish them and treat with them about such offences, they were so far from expressing any sorrow or giving any satisfaction that they did altogether refuse to hear the church. . . ." (Keayne, Prince Soc. 21, p. 400.) http://www.archive.org/stream/documentaryhisto02chap/documentaryhisto02chap_djvu.txt

Dr. John Clark, Baptist minister,
charter author, physician,
city co-founder. This portrait
was probably made in the 1650s.
He was close in age to William Dyer.
1639-1650: Dr. John Clark and Mr. Lenthall held Baptist-type meetings in Newport but there was no church fellowship or building per se for at least eight years.
"Into the midst of these many teachers of diverse religious views, Ezekiel Holliman, the Baptist, came early in 1640. He had in 1637/8 been called before the Massachusetts Court for seducing many with his religious teachings, had in 1638 or 1639 baptized Roger Williams and been baptized by him, and had then removed to Aquidneck. He was in 1640 the only man known to be a Baptist who was then residing on Aquidneck. There has not yet been discovered any evidence to show that any other of the Aquidneck settlers were at that time Baptists or that the Baptist church later founded there had then been established.
Callender in 1738 said: "In the mean Time Mr. John Clark, who was a Man of Letters, carried on a publick Worship (as Mr. Brewster did at Plymouth) at the first coming, till they procured Mr. Lenthall of Weymouth, who was admitted a Freeman here August 6, 1640" (p. 62), and "It is said, that in 1644, Mr John Clark, and some others, formed a Church, on the Scheme and Principles of the Baptists. It is certain that in 1648 there were fifteen Members in full Communion." (p. 63.)
In a footnote Callender gives the names of some of them [not all]: "The Names of the Males were John Clark, Mark Lukar, Nathanael West, Wm. Vahan, Thomas Clark, Joseph Clark, John Peckham, John Thorndon, William Weeden, and Samuel Hubbard." [NO DYER NAME THERE IN PARTIAL LIST. It may be that William and Mary attended services sometimes but did not become church members.]

There are no (discovered) christening records for the Dyer children (except their firstborn in London, and Samuel in Boston, 1635); the 1637 anencephalic baby was stillborn and therefore could not be baptized; the remaining four children were born in Newport, Rhode Island. If the children were baptized, they would have been teens of the age of consent to choose baptism by immersion. I’m not sure of the Dyers’ beliefs as young adults (except William Dyer Jr.'s son, who founded an Episcopalian church in Delaware), but many of their succeeding generations converted to Quaker beliefs.

In Rhode Island records kept by William Dyer Sr., he refers to “Sunday,” “First Day,” and “the Lord’s Day,” interchangeably. This could reflect that he was reporting the wording of others, or that it was what he called it himself. Anglicans called the days of the week as we do today, and that's what William Dyer wrote. Puritans called Sunday "Sabbath" or "first day." Puritans and Quakers referred to the first day, second day, etc., to avoid use of the pagan gods' names.

1652-60: William Dyer did not convert to the Quaker beliefs of his wife Mary. For two of the nearly five years she was in England, William was doing what some perceived to be of low morals and deplorable ethics: acting as a privateer (pirate with a license) in the First Anglo-Dutch War.

Gov. John Endecott (judge on left)
presides at trial of Quakers in 1658. To
show respect, the Quakers were required
to doff their hats. They refused, which
served to enrage puritans further.
1657-60: Mary Dyer returns to New England, agitates with Quakers in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and teaches Quaker beliefs on Shelter Island. She was hanged in Boston for civil disobedience on June 1, 1660, in support of liberty of conscience. She was protesting the torture and imprisonment of Quakers and their sympathizers—those who had simply offered Christian hospitality and humanitarian relief to traveling Quakers.

1662-63: The royal charter for Rhode Island granted liberty of conscience, including the right not to worship and pay mandatory tithes to churches. Because William’s name appears on this charter several times, each time last in the list of men, I suggest (but can’t prove) that he was one of the men who drafted the document that was given to Parliament and Charles II to be finalized. The bold words and phrases show that religious and civil matters were separate, and that each person was free to exercise religious beliefs as they thought best—and that some people cannot in conscience conform to the public exercise of religion, nor should they be punished or persecuted for religious differences that don’t disturb the civil peace. In other words, the right to participate or not.

…with a full libertie in religious concernements; and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye: Now know bee, that wee beinge willinge to encourage the hopefull undertakeinge of oure sayd lovall and loveinge subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjovment of all theire civill and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loveing subjects; and to preserve unto them that libertye, in the true Christian ffaith and worshipp of God, which they have sought with soe much travaill, and with peaceable myndes, and loyall subjectione to our royall progenitors and ourselves, to enjoye; and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colonie cannot, in theire private opinions, conforms to the publique exercise of religion, according to the litturgy, formes and ceremonyes of the Church of England, or take or subscribe the oaths and articles made and established in that behalfe; and for that the same, by reason of the remote distances of those places, will (as wee hope) bee noe breach of the unitie and unifformitie established in this nation: Have therefore thought ffit, and doe hereby publish, graunt, ordeyne and declare, That our royall will and pleasure is, that noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned;

1670: William Dyer wrote to King Charles II. William was understandably bitter about the conservative puritan government he’d experienced under Massachusetts rule, and how they’d interfered and harassed hundreds of people over the years, driving some to suicide, others to banishment, others to grievous bodily injury and execution. He wrote of the Massachusetts theocratic government, “The thoughts of which boundless possessions might swell them of the Massathusets Colony into an ambitious concept of being absolute Lords and Proprietors of a Great Empire, and so arrogate to themselves a Liberty of prescribing Laws, and exercising their Dominion over all the Inhabitants of New-England.” [Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.]

1677: William Dyer died at about age 67 in Newport, Rhode Island. No evidence found (yet) that he participated in church or religious activities. He was buried in the Dyer burial ground, probably next to the remains of Mary Dyer, their son Maher, and others.

****************************

Like this article? Read my non-fiction book on 17th-century life and times,
The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport, by Christy K Robinson.
Nonfiction, illustrated. The research and recent discoveries behind the novels. The Dyers is a lively nonfiction account of background color, culture, short stories, personality sketches, food, medicine, interests, recreation, cosmic events, and all the "stuff" that made up the world of William and Mary Dyer in the 1600s.  Chapters on John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, John Endecott, and many others. More than 70 chapters, and all-new, exclusive content found nowhere else!

Monday, November 28, 2011

William Dyer, landed gentleman

© 2011 Christy K. Robinson

William Dyer was the son of a prosperous farmer in Lincolnshire. Unlike most farmers of his time, his father was a "yeoman farmer," meaning that instead of leasing land, he owned it. At age 14, William apprenticed to a master milliner in London, an international trader in fashion and leather accessories for men. His master emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1633. William married Mary Barrett, and followed his master and several prosperous friends in 1635. In 1637, he was one of many signers on a Remonstrance that was deemed seditious, and along with many Boston families, was ejected from the colony in early 1638. William was a co-founder of Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island.

In this article, you’ll see how a farmer’s second son became “William Dyre, Gent.,” a landed gentleman.

London, England

1633-35: William Dyer leased his former guild-master’s home on Greene’s Lane near River Thames in Westminster; leased space in the New Exchange market on the Strand, for The Globe, a millinery shop.

Boston, Massachusetts
Modern Boston, with labels of where Hutchinsons, Winthrops, and Dyers lived in mid-1630s.

1635-36: Owns land and home on Shawmut Peninsula (now central Boston) at Milne (now Summer Street) and Cornhill Rd. (now Washington Street), near Fort Hill; and owns 1/14th (seven percent) of Boston’s town dock.
The shoreline of Boston in 1630, overlaid by a modern street plan
that shows where shallow bays were land-filled in the 19th century.
The Dyers lived on Milne Street (now called Summer Street),
from 1635 when they arrived, to March 1638 when they left to
co-found Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island.
Click HERE to see larger, detailed map in another tab. 



Rumney Marsh, Massachusetts
Jan. 1637: William Dyer granted 42 acres at Rumney Marsh, Saugus, Massachusetts, “bounded on the North with Mr. Glover, on the East with the Beach, on the South with Mr. Cole, and on the West with the highway.” Click HERE for more on Rumney Marsh.

From New England’s Prospect, by William Wood, is this description of Rumney Marsh:
Rumny Marsh, which is 4 miles long and 2 miles broad; halfe of it being Marsh ground and halfe upland grasse, without tree or bush: this Marsh is crossed with divers creekes, wherein lye great store of Geese, and Duckes. There be convenient ponds for the planting of Duckcoyes. Here is likewise belonging to this place divers fresh meddowes, which afford good grasse and foure spacious ponds like little lakes, wherein is store of fresh fish: within a mile of the towne, out of which runnes a curious fresh brooke that is seldome frozen by reason of the warmenesse of the water; upon this streame is built a water Milne, and up this river comes Smelts and frost fish much bigger than a Gudgion. For wood there is no want, there being store of good Oakes, Wallnut, C├Ždar, Aspe, Elme; The ground is very good, in many places without trees, fit for the plough. In this plantation is more English tillage, than in all new England, and Virginia besides; which proved as well as could bee expected, the come being very good especially the Barly, Rye, and Oates.

Winter/spring 1638: William sells land—probably all his land—in Massachusetts Bay area before they move to RI, being banished as of the end of March.

Dyer Island in Narragansett Bay

Dyer Island
March 24, 1638: As the purchasers of Rhode Island (including William Dyer) sailed past a small wooded island in Narragansett Bay, William asked to be granted that island; it was named Dyer Island after him. Some small islands were used to contain goats or hogs; as this island has a lagoon, perhaps William used it for bird hunting or fishing. See the depositions below, made in 1669, when he deeded the island to his second son.

Aerial view, Dyer Island
Source: NOAA
Dyer Island is a low-lying 28-acre island situated approximately halfway between Aquidneck Island and the south end of Prudence Island. Despite its small size, Dyer Island's ecological value is significant. It supports one of the last remaining salt marshes without mosquito ditches in Rhode Island and is a nesting area for coastal shorebirds including the locally rare American oystercatcher.
This uninhabited island also provides foraging habitat for a variety of shorebirds and was found to support 47 species of seaweed – a diversity second only to Rose Island in the bay. In September 2001, Dyer Island was acquired for preservation and incorporation into the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve using state and NOAA funds. It will be used in perpetuity for research, monitoring, education, and passive recreation. (Source: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Narragansett_Bay_National_Estuarine_Research_Reserve,_Rhode_Island )

Mar 25, 1639: William’s share of ownership of Boston dock conveyed to merchant (speculation: Walter Blackborne, his former master?).

Portsmouth, Rhode Island 
Founders Brook Park memorials to
Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson,
Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Source: http://www.newportbristol.com/colony/FoundersBrook.html

1638: The purchasers of Aquidneck Island (later called Rhode Island) bought the island and some of the Narragansett Bay islands from Indian sachems (chiefs) Miantonomo and Canonicus for "the full payment of forty fathom of white beads, to be equally divided betweene us." (This was a legitimate purchase. Wampum shell beads were currency that could be traded for furs, foodstuffs, clothing and textiles, etc. Even the English colonists used wampum on occasion, when coin was short.)

Click this link to a copyrighted photo of the lane leading to the Founders Brook where the first settlement was made on Aquidneck Island, on the northernmost tip. The Indians called it Pocasset, and in 1640 its name was changed to Portsmouth. During the year the Dyers lived in Pocasset/Portsmouth, William was a surveyor. With two other men, he measured and laid out land allotments to the freemen of the town.

Land granted [Itt To Mr] Wm Dyre At the Cove by the marsh 6 Acres being [10] pole in bredth by 50 in Length y bounded round by the marsh. 

Newport, Rhode Island

March 10, 1640, William had 87 acres of land recorded to him at Newport. Again, he was on a commission to apportion land and to survey hundreds of acres across the southern half of the island. One payment he received for professional services was 10 acres of land and £19 (a healthy amount of money that would buy three cows or two horses in their economy).
No one knows the exact dimensions of the Dyer farm, but I've
drawn this from the river mouth by Coaster's Harbor, to Dyer
Point (Ft. Greene), to reflect the size of 140 acres. It might have
been longer and thinner, or had an irregular shape
because of the addition of the 30 acres in 1644.

William Dyre having exhibited his bill under the Treasurer's hand unto the sessions held on the 10th of March, 1640, wherein appears full satisfaction to be given for seventy-five acres of land, lying within the precincts of such bounds, as by the committee, by order appointed, did bound it withal, viz.: To begin at the river's mouth, over against Coaster's Harbour, and so by the sea, to run up to a marked stake, at Mr. Coddington's corner, and so down, upon an easterly line to a marked tree over against the Great Swamp, and so two rods within the swamp, at the two deepest corners of the clear land, the one at the southeast corner, and the other upon a straight line in the northeast, marked by stakes, and so down to a marked tree by the river side; the river being his bounds to the mouth thereof. with a home lot and a parcel of meadow and upland lying between Mr. Jeremy Clarke's meadow, and Mr. Jeoffrey's at the north end of the harbour, and north upon the highway, with ten acres allowed by the town order for his travelling about the island, lying within the former bounds, which is his proportion.
“This, therefore, doth evidence and testify, that all those parcels of land before specified, amounting to the number of eighty-seven acres, more or less, is fully impropriated to said William Dyre and his heirs for ever.”
1650 map. Perhaps William Dyer
was one of the surveyors who
reported to the cartographer.

1644: In May, William buys 30 acres adjacent to Dyer farm, and 15 acres in south Newport. Sells 10 acres of land to George Gardner in October, and four acres more in December; the land was in south Newport between the ponds and right on the ocean front. William recorded this about himself:
“Wm Dyers farm [June or January] 20th 1644: Memorandum that the farm of William Dyre of Newport in the Isle of Rhodes consisting of all well the lands that was granted unto him by the said town as also of several purchases that he, said William, made of divers lands that adjoined hereunto amounteth to the number of one hundred forty acres more or less.”

1661: Land in Narragansett, called Misquamokuck (now Westerly), was taken by William Dyer, Sr., Samuel Dyer, and Mahershalalhashbaz Dyre, and articles of agreement between an Indian captain and others were signed by them. William Dyer was appointed to transcribe the deeds, testimonies, ratifications, etc. At a general meeting, February 17th, 1661-2, William Dyer was chosen surveyor of Misquamokuck. At the court held at Aquidneck, near Wickford, May 20th, 1671, the persons inhabiting here being called to give their encasement and desiring; to know whether or no the court, on behalf of the colony, do lay any claim to their possessions which they now inhabit, which persons were Mr. Samuel Dyer and others. To which demand this present court do return unanimously this answer: That on behalf of the colony this court do not lay any claims to their possessions which they now inhabit. (Source: http://www.archive.org/stream/somerecordsofdye00dyer/somerecordsofdye00dyer_djvu.txt )

1668-69: William Dyer surveys New Hampshire and Maine for geology and natural resources before writing proposal to King Charles II. The proposal was printed in London in 1670.

1669: William Dyer may have become ill and put his estate in order, in the event he wouldn’t recover (he lived another seven years). Depositions were made that William owned Dyer Island.
Dyer Island, off Portsmouth:

The affidavits in regard to this gift follow:
“To whome these shall Concern I Testefy that the little Island lying in the bay on the North Side of the wading River was given Mr Dyre by the Purchassers. 31 October 1650 Jno. Sanford.

I Attest that the above written Premisses were by my fathers Order and Comand by me written my father then being very sick and ill witness my hand the 4th of October 1669 John Sanford.

I do afirm also that as wee past along by the afore-said Island the Purchassers gave the said Island to Mr William Dyre. Nov. 1, 1650 John Porter.

This is to Testefy that I Roger Williams being acquainted (by the good Providence of God) with the first Conception Birth and growth of Rhode Island (alias Aquednick) doe Asert and affirme as in the holy Presence of God, that by the  Consent of the first Purchassers of Rhode Island (Dead and liveing) the litle Island Comonly Called Dyres Island was from the first and allways (sometimes in Meriment) but always in Earnest granted to be not only in Name but also in truth and reality the Proper Right and Inheritance of Mr William Dyre of Newport On Rhode Island. Roger Williams Assista:” (R. I. L. E. I, 267., Po. R. 376.)

“Captn Randall Houldon of Warwick in the Province of Rhode Island iff Providence Plantation aged 57 years or thereabouts being Ingaged according to law Testefieth as followith That the Purchassers gave that litle Island Called Dyres Island to Mr William Dyre senior that was then one of us and further saith not. Taken the 24th day of June 1669.”

“I Doe affirm that wee the Purchassers of Rhode Island (my selfe being the chief) William Dyre desireing a spot of land of us as we passed by it, after we had Purchassed the said Island, did grant him Our Right in the said Island and named it Dyres Island. Witness my hand. October 18th 1669 William Coddington.”

“I Richard Carder being a Purchassere doe own the above said writeinge: November: 7th 1669 by me Richard Carder”

“William Cooley aged 66 years or thereabouts being Ingaged Testefieth that in the first year of the setling of this Plantation of Newport he being Master of a boat and Jeffery Champlin and Richard Series being of his company, and stoping at the Island Called Dyres Island mr William Dyre in Presence of them took posession of the said Dyres Island and further saith not. Taken before me this 6th of December 1669. John Green Assistant” (R. I. L. E. I, 267., Po. R. 346.)

1777 map of Newport, RI. The Dyer farm probably extended
from Dyer's Point (now the Battery Park), north to the
land opposite Coaster's Island.
1669: William Dyer sold 12 acres of land to Peleg Sandford.

1670: William deeds northern part of Newport Dyer farm to son Henry in Henry’s 21st year. William directs properties to sons and money to daughters. July 25: Samuel and Henry Dyer bind themselves to their father William Dyer to pay to their sister Mary Dyer Ward, eldest daughter of William, £100 within three years after the death of their father and to Elizabeth Dyer, second daughter of William by his second wife Katherine, the sum of £40 when eighteen years of age [1679].

William Dyre of Newport, ,Gent : granted to my sonn Henry Dyre into that part of my farme lyinge at the northerly and thereof: to witt, from the Stone Ditch. as alsoe from the tree where my sonn Mahers Tobacco house stood, from the Cave to and by that tree upon an Equidistante line from the said Stone Ditch downe unto and through the swamp unto mr. Coddingtons line by the brooke. (the fence is equally devided) percell of Land so bounded with a free Egress ingress and regress to and through the land of my sonn Samuels but in case my sonn Henry should have Issue only Femailes then my sonn Samuell after the death of the said Henry shall Give one hundred and fifty pounds starllinge the eldest to have a double portion the rest an equall dividend of the Residue, but if only one all to her &c besides the Valluation of the houssinge  thereon built the Land to return to Samuell
7th day of July 1670. William Dyre.
Wit The X marke off.
Robert Spinke
John Furnell

August 5, 1670:William Dyre of Newport, gent.,” deeded to “my son William Dyre...my island called Dyre's Island lying and being situated in Narrogansett Bay upon the northern side of Rhode Island over against Prudence Island.

1677: William Dyer dies at age 67-68, and farm is inherited by his sons; his two daughters received financial bequests by 1679-80, as did his second wife Katherine.
Sons:
·         Samuel Dyer b. 1635 d. 1678, resided Kingston, RI with wife Anne Hutchinson Dyer and seven children, on lands granted by her father, Edward Hutchinson. Odd that Samuel, as eldest son, wasn’t deeded the Dyer properties at the same time as his younger brothers. Yet, in 1687, his son Samuel sold his portion of the Dyer farm to his uncle Charles Dyer. Probably Samuel Sr. automatically inherited whatever land his father hadn’t deeded to other sons, when William Sr. died. Samuel Sr. died only a year or two after his father.
·         William Dyer Jr. b. 1640 d. 1688 (Customs official and Mayor of New York), resided Delaware. William bequeaths Dyer Island and large estates in Delaware and Pennsylvania to his son William Dyer and five other children.
·         Maher Dyer, b. 1643 d. before 1670, resided Portsmouth and Newport. He was married for about five years, but his wife had no living children.  
·         Henry Dyer, b. 1647 d. 1689/90, resided Newport. Had two children.
·         Charles Dyer, b. 1650 d. 1709, resided Newport and Little Compton, RI. Charles Dyer moved from his farm in Little Compton to Newport to raise his children. Charles’ will leaves the Newport farm to his son Samuel and the house and its contents to his second wife Martha (who raised his five children after his first wife Mary died); after her death it reverted to Samuel or his heirs. In addition, Charles said, “My earnest will and desire is (that) piece of ground that is now called the Burying Ground, shall be continued for the same use unto all my after generations that shall see cause to make use of it, and I order that it shall be well kept fenced in by my son Samuel Dyre and his heirs forever.”

1679: At the May 12, 1679 court, “upon indictment by the General Solicitor against Katherine Dyre of Newport for misbehavior [apparently she sued Samuel Dyer’s widow, Anne Hutchinson Dyer], she being in court called, appeared: pleads not guilty and refers for trial to God & the country. The Court upon serious consideration of the matter see cause to quash the bill.” Katherine then sued her stepson Charles Dyer in 1682, in a £30 complaint of trespass, in which the jury found for Charles. 


1687: Charles Dyre of Newport, Husbandman, bought of [oldest brother Samuel’s son] Samuel Dyre of Boston, carpenter, land in Newport, Bounded on the East, partly by certain lands in possession Mr. Francis Brinley & Left Collo of Peleg Sanford on the South, by land of Late Mr. Nicholas Easton and Mr. Johnson the West, by the sea on North by land of Henry Dyre.—with house, orchards, Gardens, meadows, woods, swamp--layed out unto mistress Katharine Dyre [his stepmother] by town of Newport 1681 as her Right of Dower. 5 Oct1687. 
Witt. Weat Clarke, 
Robert Little, 
Daniel Vernon.   
(Source: Rhode Island Land Evidence 1648-1696 -Abstracts Vol 1 page 206)

 Click HERE for a view of what used to be the Dyer property of Newport, Rhode Island.

****************************

Like this article? Read my non-fiction book on 17th-century life and times,
The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport, by Christy K Robinson.
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Christian Gives Thanks That America is Not a Christian Nation

This article appeared on Huffington Post religion page on 11/24/11. 
A Christian Gives Thanks That America Is Not a Christian Nation
Parker J. Palmer

  Founder, Center for Courage & Renewal 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
--The Declaration of Independence
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
--First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

These foundation stones of American democracy were laid a century too late to save Mary Dyer's life. Dyer, a middle-aged mother of six, was hanged in 1660 for defying a Puritan law that banned Quakers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Christians who cruelly deprived this woman of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness were dead certain (so to speak) that they were on a mission from God, protecting their "divinely ordained" civic order against Mary Dyer's seditious belief in the Inner Light.

As a spiritual descendant of Mary Dyer, I'm profoundly grateful that America is not a Christian nation. If it were, my Quaker convictions might get me into very deep oatmeal. And as a Christian who does his best to take reason as seriously as I take faith, I find impossible to understand America as a "Christian nation" -- and I believe that there are vibrant possibilities in the fact that it is not.

Whatever America's founders believed about Christianity -- and they believed a wide range of things -- they clearly rejected the idea of an established church. That's strike one against the curious conceit that we're a Christian nation. If being a Christian nation means asking ourselves every day, "What would Jesus do?" about a political issue, then doing it, that's strike two. To take but one example (without forgetting things like slavery, justice for those who can afford it and peace through war):
"If [America] is going to be a Christian nation that doesn't help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we've got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don't want to do it." --Stephen Colbert
If a Christian nation is one whose popular culture is dominated by Christian convictions about what's good and true and beautiful, I'm afraid that's strike three. Just look at the fact that our nation-wide Christmas festivities begin on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a day that celebrates consumerism, our true civil religion. And if anyone wants a fourth swing of the bat in hopes of getting on base, let me pitch this brief theological reflection. If, as Christians believe, God is the Creator and Redeemer of All, then there's no way God favors Americans above people of other nationalities. Strike four.

As a Christian, I'm passionately opposed to American pretensions that we have special standing with God; to political office-seekers who play on our religious differences; and to the religious arrogance that says, "Our truth is the only truth." But I'm equally passionate about the urgency of creating a culture of meaning that responds to the deepest needs of the human soul. This is a task we have been neglecting at great peril, a task that demands the best of all our wisdom traditions, a task on which people of diverse beliefs can and must make common cause.

Viewed from this angle, the fact that America is not and cannot be a Christian nation is very good news. America's freedom of religion, and freedom from religion, offers every wisdom tradition an opportunity to address our soul-deep needs: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, secular humanism, agnosticism and atheism among others. These traditions are like facets of a prism, each of which refracts a different wave length of the Light that overcomes darkness, including the darkness created from time to time by every nation and every tradition.

The philosopher Jacob Needleman has said that "one of the great purposes of the American nation is to shelter and guard the rights of all men and women to seek the conditions and the companions necessary for the inner search." In this society, where religious and philosophical diversity is one of our most precious assets, we can take a big step toward opening our culture to the "inner search" by shaking off the mistaken notion that this is code language for the search for God. Inner-life questions are the kind everyone asks, with or without benefit of God-talk: Does my life have meaning and purpose? Do I have gifts that the world wants and needs? Whom and what shall I serve? Whom and what can I trust? How can I rise above my fears? How do I deal with suffering: my own, that of my family and friends, and that of the larger world? How can I maintain hope? What does any of this mean in the face of the fact that I'm going to die?

These are not questions that yield to conventional answers. They are the big questions that must be "lived" so that we might "gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers" (Rainer Maria Rilke).

Do our schools give young people a chance to wrap their lives around questions of that sort? Do our religious communities listen for the questions that are alive among us instead of answering questions that few are asking? Do we offer spaces of public life that are safe for vulnerable explorations of meaning, spaces that are not Roman arenas where demagoguery slays reflective, rational and factually grounded discourse?

American democracy gives us a chance to do all of that and more, free of ideological restraints. That's why I'm grateful that America is not and cannot be a Christian nation. Of course, we can continue to have pseudo-theological food fights over questions like, "How can we save our nation by making all Americans into God-fearing souls?," or "How can anyone be so ignorant as to believe in God or the soul?" Or we can take advantage of the fact that American democracy offers us an open space in which to pursue questions of personal, communal and political meaning, illumined by multiple sources of light. Which will it be? That's a question worth wrapping our lives around, with gratitude for our political inheritance.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The tragedy of John Winthrop’s widow

John Winthrop’s fourth wife, Martha Rainsborough

© Christy K. Robinson

John Winthrop, 1588-1649
 Why would I steal time from writing my historical novel on Mary and William Dyer, to write an article about the fourth wife of Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts? She had no connection to the Dyers that I’ve ever seen. But in clearing up a (gasp!) mistake I found in a biography of Winthrop, I found a window into New England in 1650s Boston that sheds some light on the environment and culture in which Mary Dyer moved, her last three years of life.

John Winthrop was married four times and had a tribe of children, though more died as infants than lived to procreate. His first wife, Mary Forth, produced most of the surviving Winthrops, but she died in childbirth. His second wife, Thomasine Clopton, died from childbirth complications one year after he married her. His third wife, Margaret Tyndall, was the love of John Winthrop’s life, and though she had a number of pregnancies, only one or two grew to adulthood. John emigrated to Massachusetts in 1630, and Margaret followed about 18 months later. Her last pregnancy miscarried in October 1637 on the eve of Anne Hutchinson’s heresy trial—and Anne, a midwife, attended her! In fact, when Anne collapsed in exhaustion after standing all day at her trial, it was probably because she’d been up the night before, attending Margaret. Margaret was very much loved by her step-children, who were young when she took over their care.

In 1643, John Winthrop’s and Margaret Tyndall’s son, Stephen Winthrop, married Englishwoman Judith Rainsborough (remember that surname) and moved from Boston back to England to eventually attain the rank of colonel in the Parliamentary forces in their Civil War.

Martha Rainsborough (seven years older than her sister Judith) and her husband, Captain Thomas Coytmore, had married in 1635 in England, and emigrated to Boston in 1636. They settled in Charlestown, where Thomas was both a miller—and apparently a sea captain for his father, who was part of the East India Trading Company. In case of his death, Thomas made a trust for his son, which was arranged by Rev. Increase Nowell. In 1644, Captain Coytmore was lost at sea off Cadiz, Spain, in his 200-ton ship, the Trial. The trust, then, provided an inheritance for the Coytmore boy: lands in Charlestown/Marden area, as far as I could determine.

[Winthrop’s biography author had identified Winthop’s widow as Martha Nowell Cotymore, the “sister of Increase Nowell.” I could only find a couple of references tying those names together, and that from highly-suspect, amateur genealogy pages. Besides, I thought, why would her parents and many siblings be surnamed Rainsborough, but she would be surnamed Nowell? That's not logical. So I looked up the scant info on Coytmore and learned from a nineteenth-century Google Books volume that Thomas’s mother had had two children from a first marriage, and his half-sister Parnell married the moderately-famous Rev. Increase Nowell, who was treasurer of Massachusetts Bay Colony. This made Mr. Nowell the half-brother-in-law of Thomas Coytmore, and no blood relation at all to Martha Rainsborough Coytmore, so give her back her true name! Also: the author spelled it Cotymore, which is incorrect.] 
An unknown 17th-century
widow of high status.

Back to Martha. After she was widowed, she moved to Boston, to a house on Cornhill Road. (From 1635-1638, William and Mary Dyer lived on the east of Cornhill Road.) Because the Rainsboroughs were well-known puritans in England, her younger sister had married John Winthrop’s son, and because Cornhill was a major thoroughfare in the small town of Boston, the Winthrops and Martha probably were acquainted.

Margaret Tyndall Winthrop fell victim to the yellow fever epidemic in New England (carried by African slaves via Barbados), and died June 14, 1647. She and John had been married for 29 years, and she was tenderly, devotedly loved.

Six months after Margaret Winthrop’s death, after December 20, 1647, John married, as his fourth wife, Martha Rainsborough Coytmore, a widow with a young son. John was 59, she was 30. At this time, and in their cultural beliefs, Martha became the mother-in-law of her own sister Judith! (Seems creepy today, doesn’t it?!) The Winthrop honeymoon must have lasted at least three months: Martha became pregnant in March.

John Winthrop apparently had several bouts of an unexplained illness in 1648, and he was weak for more than a month in the autumn. His and Martha’s baby son Joshua was christened in Boston’s First Church in December. John succumbed to illness on March 26, 1649, leaving 31-year-old Martha a widow again. John’s properties had already been deeded to his adult sons, but as widow of the high-status Winthrop, and mother of his baby, she would have been treated with respect, and had some sort of settlement.
Col. Thomas Rainsborough,
Martha's eldest brother

Martha’s oldest brother, Col. Thomas Rainsborough, was killed at Pontefract Castle in October 1648; she would not have heard of it until at least February 1649, if a ship braved the winter storms with the news. More likely, the news would have come at about the time of Winthrop’s death in late March.

At some point, Martha’s Coytmore son died, and the Coytmore trust became her property. In 1651, Joshua Winthrop died at about two and a half years old. On March 10, 1652, Martha married John Coggan of Boston, a miller who had known her first husband, and they moved to Malden, Massachusetts. Governor John Endecott presided at the Coggan wedding.


“Among Mr. Coggan's donations to Harvard College was 175 acres of land in Chelsea. He was very wealthy for the times he lived in. Among his property was one farm in Chelsea, valued at £450, beside other parcels in that locality. He had mills in Charlestown and in Maiden, also 500 acres of land in Woburn, and two stores in Boston, with other property beside his residence. All in all, he was one of Boston's chief pillars, both in Church and State. He died in Boston, April 27, 1658.”  --The Story of the Irish in Boston
Coggan left Martha a widow for the third time with no children, at age 41. (Being married and having children was a core belief of puritans, and now Martha was bereaved and alone, and her siblings were home in England.)

The next record I found of Martha was an account from Rev. John Davenport. The woman who had been the sister of military officers, and the widow of two prosperous millers and a famous governor,
was “discontented that she had no suitors, and that she encouraged her farmer [either her farm manager, or a tenant on her lands], a mean man, to make a motion to her for marriage, which accordingly he propounded, prosecuted, and proceeded in it so far that afterwards, when she reflected upon what she had done, and what a change of her outward condition she was bringing herself into, she was discontented, despaired, and took a great quantity of rats bane, and so died. Fides sit penes auctorem (Faith is the responsibility of the author)" [author meaning the sinner].
Rats bane, native to New England

On October 24, 1660, aged 43, Martha Rainsborough Coytmore Winthrop Coggan committed suicide. Rats bane is arsenic trioxide, and its use in homicide or suicide was primarily a woman’s preferred, nonconfrontational method. It might have been available to Martha through patent medicines (which John Winthrop and his son John Winthrop Jr. were known to concoct and sell), or as a common treatment for syphilis. Or, most obviously, as a rat poison, to keep the vermin out of their stored food supplies.

An article on The Chirugeon's Apprentice site describes the agonizing death from ingesting arsenic.

One author called poisoning “the mark of lethal and treacherous intimacy, the most extreme violation of domestic order.” Poor Martha. She couldn’t stand living alone, but she wouldn’t suffer such a fall as to be the childless, aging wife of a lowly farmer of poor regard, who only wanted her for her property.

Lastly, we hear another word about Martha, a mere footnote in 8-point type in the Massachusetts Archives.
"Petition of Margaret Sheaffe to the General Court, in 1662, for a title to the house and land of Martha, widow of John Coggan (we suppose the Albion lot, on the corner of Tremont and Beacon streets), for which Mrs. Sheaffe had paid the purchase money to Mrs. Coggan before the latter, having been left by the Lord to Sathan’s temptations, which was too strong for her, made away with herself.”

That’s the final judgment of the General Court under Governor John Endecott, then: Martha Rainsborough Coytmore Winthrop Coggan was unworthy to be called the widow of the great Governor John Winthrop; and she was not of the Elect who would be saved in the kingdom of God, it being obvious to the Church members that the Lord had left her to Satan.

I don't know the disposition of Martha's fortune, which was certainly considerable. She died intestate, by the looks of the petition above. The Massachusetts Bay Colony's general court was probably the executor, and they were known to distribute properties amongst themselves as rewards for service.



 Like this article? Check out my non-fiction book on 17th-century life and times, The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport, by Christy K Robinson.
Nonfiction, illustrated. The research and recent discoveries behind the novels. The Dyers is a lively nonfiction account of background color, culture, short stories, personality sketches, food, medicine, interests, recreation, cosmic events, and all the "stuff" that made up the world of William and Mary Dyer in the 1600s. More than 70 chapters, and all-new, exclusive content found nowhere else!