Hanged for Being a Quaker
During the late 1650s, the government of colonial Massachusetts felt deeply threatened by the Quaker religion. Puritan leaders thought it could destabilize society by undermining their culture and religion. Laws were passed that outlawed Quakerism. Being a Quaker, meeting with or aiding a Quaker, or publishing Quaker material was punished by banishment from the territory, on pain of death.
The first Quakers to break the laws were Marmaduke Stevenson, William Robinson, Mary Dyar, and Nicholas Davis. On September 12, 1659, they were banished from Massachusetts, and if any of them returned, they would be put to death. Dyar and Davis left Massachusetts. Stevenson and Robinson ignored the ruling, and went to Salem, MA to spread their gospel. The pair were quickly apprehended and imprisoned in Boston. Dyar left Massachusetts but was compelled to return, and she was also locked up.
On October 27, 1659, Stevenson, Robinson, and Dyar were paraded by 200 armed men through the town of Boston to the place of execution at Boston Neck. They tenderly hugged each other, and each cheerfully climbed the gallows-ladder while praising the Lord. Stevenson and Robinson were executed, but Dyar received a reprieve. She demanded to be hanged like her brethren, but was not executed. Dyar was banished once again, and was eventually hanged in 1660 for returning to the colony.
Governor John Endicott had pronounced a death sentence on Marmaduke Stevenson in September, 1659. While in jail awaiting trial in August, Stevenson wrote the following letter that he gave to someone in court (it was unlikely Endicott would have allowed Stevenson to read the letter aloud at sentencing):
"In the beginning of the year 1655, I was at the plough, in the east part of Yorkshire, in Old England, sear the place where my outward being was, and as I walked after the plough, I was filled with the love and presence of the living God, which did ravish my heart when I felt it; for it did increase and abound in me like a living stream, so did the love and life of God run through me like precious ointment, giving a pleasant smell, which made me to stand still; and as I stood a little still, with my heart and mind stayed on the Lord, the word of the Lord came to me in a still small voice, which I did hear perfectly, saying to me, in the secret of my heart and conscience, 'I have ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.'
And at the hearing of the word of the Lord, I was put to a stand, being that I was but a child for such a weighty matter. So at the time appointed, Barbadoes was set before me, unto which I was required of the Lord to go, and leave my dear and loving wife, and tender children: for the Lord said unto me immediately by his spirit, that he would be as a husband to my wife, and as a father to my children, and they should not want in my absence, for he would provide for them when I was gone. And I believed that the Lord would perform what he had spoken, because I was made willing to give up myself to his work and service, to leave all and follow him, whose presence and life is with me, where I rest in peace and quietness of spirit (with my dear brother) under the shadow of his wings, who hath made us willing to lay down our lives for his own name sake, if unmerciful men be suffered to take them from us; and if they do, we know we shall have peace and rest with the Lord for ever in his holy habitation, when they shall have torment night and day.
So, in obedience to the living God, I made preparation to pass to
Barbadoes, in the fourth month, 1658. So, after I had been some time on
the said island in the service of God, I heard that New England had made
a law to put the servants of the living God to death, if they returned
after they were sentenced away, which did come near me at that time; and
as I considered the thing, and pondered it in my heart, immediately came
the word of die Lord unto me, saying, 'Thou knowest not but that thou
mayest go thither.' But I kept this word in my heart, and did not
declare it to any until the time appointed.
So, after that, a vessel was made ready for Rhode Island, which I passed in. So, after a little time that I had been there, visiting the seed which the Lord hath blessed, the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, 'go to Boston with thy brother William Robinson.' And at his command I was obedient, and gave up myself to do his will, that so his work and service may be accomplished: for he hath said unto me, that he hath a great work for me to do; which is now come to pass: and for yielding obedience to, and obeying the voice and command of the everliving God, who created heaven and earth, and the fountains of waters, do I, with my dear brother, suffer outward bonds near unto death. And this is given forth to be upon record, that all people may know, who hear it, that we came not in our own wills, but in the will of God. Given forth by me who am known to men by the name of
But have a new name given me. Which the world knows not of, written in the Book of Life."