By John Briggs. Atombank Books, 2014. 102 pages. $6.99/paperback; $2.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 8–12.
If Quakers were predisposed to naming saints, they probably would have included Mary Dyer. She gave her life for religious freedom. On June 1, 1660, Mary Dyer was executed on Boston Commons because she was a Quaker at a time when Puritans had no tolerance for people who did not conform to their religious beliefs.
John Briggs has brought details of Dyer’s life and times to readers. The intended readership for this book is children in grades three through six. Briggs stated on his website that he wanted to write a book about Mary Dyer because his great-grandmother admired her and told him about her.
Mary Dyer’s story is complex and not easily told. To begin to understand it, one must be familiar with colonial New England, seventeenth-century England, the Anglican Church, and the persecution of those who did not accept it. Dyer’s story leads us to stories of the Puritans, the Native Americans, John Winthrop, Roger Williams, the Antinomians, and Anne Hutchinson as well as many others. Briggs attempts to bring the entire story to the reader. The book is packed full of inserts, maps, paintings, and interesting information in boxed sidebars. Most of the sidebars provide pertinent information; some of the additional information is tangential, and a few bits are irrelevant. However, a careful study of the text of this book provides a resource for persons wishing to familiarize young people and adults with the sequence of events that led to Dyer’s death. The intended audience will need adult assistance to read this book.
Briggs writes about Dyer’s search for a religion that supported her beliefs. She was a friend and follower of Antinomian leader Anne Hutchinson, who was banned from Boston and later killed by Native Americans. Both Dyer and Hutchinson had stillborn babies. The Puritans interpreted such births as proof that they were intimate with the devil. Dyer became a Quaker after studying with George Fox when she and her husband returned to England in 1652. Several years later, she came back to New England with many other immigrating Quakers. She was determined to preach the Quaker message, regardless of the danger.
The letters that Dyer and her husband wrote to the General Court and Magistrates are included at the end of the text. Her letters are the only first-hand evidence of her thoughts and the clarity of her thoughts. Dyer is known as a Quaker martyr because she realized that her repeated returns to Boston would lead to her execution. She believed she was doing God’s work by standing up for her right to worship as a Quaker. She likened her position to that of Esther’s with King Ahasuerus (Xerxes), calling upon Puritan leaders to change their laws. Although Dyer was not the only Quaker to be executed in Boston, her death disturbed King Charles II, and he declared that the execution of Quakers must end. This precipitated laws for religious freedom, and eventually led to passage of First Amendment rights in 1791.