12. Mary Dyer was banished for birthing a stillborn and then hanged for being a Quaker
Mary Dyer and her family left London for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635. As early arrivals in the colony, the Dyers were influential in shaping the “holy commonwealth.” Common with most women of the era, Mary spent most of her adult life pregnant. Not all births concluded with the birth of a healthy baby. Some were stillborns, deformed, premature, or died soon after being born. Puritan leaders called these “monstrous births” caused by acts committed by the mother that God found to be in defiance of Puritan ideology.
In October 1637, Mary Dyer gave birth to a deformed stillborn. Upon the advice of a minister, Mary buried her dead infant and did her best to forget and move on. While attending the church trial of Anne Hutchinson, Governor Winthrop had been informed of Mary’s monstrous birth. He ordered that the infant be exhumed and examined. He wrote that Mary’s deformed infant, that had been buried for five months, had “three claws” along with “two mouths” that each held “a piece of red flesh.” Mary was banished from the colony for giving birth to a deformed stillborn.
By 1651 Mary had returned to England. There she converted to the Society of Friends and as was the custom, she began traveling to convert others to Quakerism. She returned to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and was quickly arrested. By this time, it was illegal for any Quaker to set foot in the colony. Mary was sentenced to hang for being a Quaker.
In September 1660, Mary made the walk to the Elm tree, climbed the ladder, and had a noose placed around her neck. As she prepared to take her last breath a stay of execution was received delaying her hanging. Mary demanded that she hang for her crime of being a Quaker. On 1 October 1660, Mary once again climbed the ladder under the Elm tree. At 9 am the ladder was removed and Mary hanged until she was dead. When King George II found out about Mary Dyer’s death, he forbade Massachusetts Bay Colony from executing people for being Quakers. This became a turning point in Puritan authority in the colony.