A fascinating blend of little known history and compelling fiction.
Convicted by the Puritans in 1660 for being a Quaker, Mary Dyer courageously faced the gallows on the Boston Commons. Often misunderstood by her husband and six children, she turned her back on those who loved her for the higher principle of protesting the anti-Quaker Laws. What must it have been like to stand beneath the gallows and watch a loved one make the ultimate sacrifice for something you do not fully understand? Mary Dyer's sacrifice helped pave the way for our first amendment rights of the freedom of religion and speech and pointed out the need for the separation of church and state. p>
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Boston in Lincolnshire, England, 1633
Martha Clarke lifted her skirts from the mud and trudged toward the city market. The unfamiliar streets confused her, but she did her best to cope with her new environment. One advantage of living here is that I will never get lost. The church spire can be seen for miles throughout the countryside; I can always get my sense of direction by locating the spire. Randall claims the church has control over whoever lives within the view of it, but I do not understand how that can be.
Suddenly, the pounding of horses’ hoofs and the creaking of wheels behind her interrupted her thoughts. She glanced over her shoulder and much to her surprise a passing horse and carriage were heading straight toward her with little regard for her presence. She jumped aside while mud splattered her skirt and sleeves. Are people going to be as rude here as in London? At least in London I had my family and friends. I do not know a soul here. Randall has no idea how lonely this move has been for me.
The number of women and children on the street increased, and the stench of rotting meat indicated the marketplace was nearby. Trying to avoid the jostling of the crowd, Martha went from booth to booth examining the vegetables and inquiring about the prices. I try to cook the best meals possible for Randall, but with limited money, market day is extremely difficult. With any luck, I will find a good, inexpensive chicken and cauliflower for supper tonight that will please him. He is working too hard trying to set up his woodworking shop, but I am afraid he is also getting discouraged. Good food always seems to lift his spirits.
Still having mud on her skirt from the last horse and wagon, she heard the thundering of hooves and creaking wheels approaching her once again. Martha whirled toward the sound. Horror gripped her. Her muscles tightened and a gasp escaped her lips. A curly-haired child had followed a calico cat into the street and had fallen facedown into a puddle in front of a team of draft horses and wagon that had rounded a corner a few feet away.
Martha threw her wicker-shopping basket onto the ground and raced toward the little girl. She grabbed the child’s arm and jerked her aside only seconds before the horses raced by them, casting mud onto their faces and clothing. Picking up the child, Martha hugged her tightly against her chest and patted her on the back to comfort her while the little girl continued to scream with terror. Mud from the sobbing child’s clothing smeared Martha’s dress and apron.
“The Lord be praised,” a woman behind her shouted. “You saved my child.”
Martha turned as a plain woman in a grey dress and bonnet rushed toward her carrying an infant. The woman’s white apron could not hide her expanding waistline.
With her free hand, the mother stroked her older child’s hair and wiped the tears from her eyes while she cradled the infant in her other arm. The little girl reached for her mother, but pulled back and cried louder when she realized her mother could not take her.
“Please, let me hold your baby.” Martha reached for the infant. “I think your daughter needs assurance from her mother and not a stranger.”
Carefully, the two women exchanged children. The frightened toddler clung to her mother and sobbed while her mother rubbed her back and stroked her hair. Gradually, the child relaxed and the sobs became further and further apart until they stopped completely. Martha cradled the infant in one arm while she stooped to retrieve her wicker basket.
“How can I ever thank you for saving my child’s life?” the mother asked. “Let me at least buy you a chicken for supper.”
Without waiting for Martha’s response, the mother stopped at the next booth, handed a coin to the vendor, and placed a freshly plucked hen in her basket. She then motioned for Martha to follow her to a bench in front of the Ox Haven Inn.
Martha sank onto the bench and breathed deeply as the fresh, crisp breeze relaxed the tension in her body. It all happened so fast. If I had had time to think about it, I never could have reached the child in time. I was definitely in the right place at the right time.
The older woman situated the toddler on her lap and smiled. “My name is Anne Hutchinson and this is my daughter, Katherine. The baby’s name is William, Jr. To whom am I indebted?”
The warmth of the infant against Martha’s breast felt natural and fulfilling. She longed to hold a child of her own in her arms, but so far, her prayers had gone unanswered. “Martha...Martha Clarke,” she stammered. “My husband is Randall Clarke. We are new in town. Randall just opened a woodworking shop in an annex to our house at the end of the street next to the Weaver’s.”
Anne balanced her daughter with her left arm, reached for Martha’s hand, and squeezed it. “It is nice meeting you. How can I ever thank you for saving my daughter’s life?” she said once again. Tears of gratitude filled her eyes. “I hope we will become better acquainted through the coming months.” She paused and studied Martha’s youthful face. “I am originally from Alford, but we moved to Boston a few months ago. I will be glad to show you around town and introduce you to the shopkeepers and craftsmen I know. Right now, my husband is at the blacksmith shop with our other children. He should be along soon.”
Martha looked down at the peaceful, mud-stained face of the sleeping little girl. She was amazed at how quickly sobs of terror had subsided into tranquil slumber once she was cradled in her mother’s arms. “Your daughter is very lucky. The horses were so close that my skirt was brushed by the horse’s front leg as I grabbed her.”
“I am going to tell everyone how you saved my daughter’s life. If you hadn’t been there, Katherine would not be alive,” Anne repeated. “The people of St. Botolph's Church will be amazed how once again God has protected my family.”
Martha could feel Anne’s deep, piercing eyes studying her. She squirmed and hesitated. This woman makes me feel as if she is able to read my mind. Yet something is drawing me to her. She seems very ordinary, yet she possesses an air of confidence I have not seen before.
“Have you ever been to St. Botolph’s Church?” Anne asked. “It is the one with the tall steeple you can see for miles.”
“No, I have never attended it, but my husband has talked about it often and is fascinated with its structure.” She studied the grey stone spire in the distance. The windows and secondary spires enthralled her. Something unexplainable was drawing her to the magnificent building, accompanied by a feeling of foreboding.
Anne looked in the direction of the looming tower and smiled with pride. “I love that church. It is named after a seventh century monk who is believed to have founded a monastery at that location. The city name of Boston is just a contraction of St. Botolph.”
Anne looked down at her sleeping daughter, and then shifted the child in her arms to a more comfortable position. “Since you are new in town, you may not have heard about Vicar John Cotton. He is extremely inspiring and thought provoking. People come from all over Lincolnshire to hear him. I cling to every word he preaches.”
Martha nodded. “When I lived in London, I heard of the Reverend John Cotton. People said he can be very controversial at times.”
Anne again looked off into the distance toward the tower of St. Botolph's Church looming over the city and nodded. “Yes, some people do not agree with John Cotton, but that is only because they do not yet understand the truth of God. I agree with everything he says. In fact, a group of women gather in my home every Monday to discuss his sermons.”
“I have never understood what the controversy is about.” Martha said. “I try to avoid any kind of conflict, religious or political. It leaves me too unsettled.”
Anne took a deep breath. “Reverend John Cotton is working extremely hard to purify the Church of England and make it more like the church during Bible times. He speaks a great deal about absolute grace for all who believe in Jesus Christ. The bad thing is most of the other ministers think a person has to work his way to heaven and do not understand what he is talking about. I think it is the most freeing teaching I have ever heard.”
Martha hesitated and tried to keep from wrinkling her brow. I do not like the way this discussion is going. I scarcely know what she is talking about. If the ministers do not understand it or agree, how can I?
She snuggled the baby in her arms closer against her breast as he whimpered in his sleep. “I do not understand theology. I would rather leave religion to the trained ministers. That is what they are hired to do. I like to read my own Bible, pray to God by myself, help my neighbors, and leave the controversy for others.”
“The winds of change and controversy cannot be avoided,” Anne stated confidently. “God expects us to stand firmly for what we believe. Many people do not think the king and his hirelings should control the church. Most of us want the local churches to be able to make their own decisions and to have the church be exactly as it was in Bible times. The Puritans feel so strongly about local control, they are willing to suffer all kinds of torture to be able to have the freedom to practice religion as they see fit.”
Martha shifted her weight nervously. She could feel the roughness of the planks on the back of the bench through her dress. Her palms became sweaty. When Randall and I moved to Boston in Lincolnshire, I thought this would be a peaceful haven. I did not realize there was so much conflict under the surface. I hope Randall does not want to become involved in the Puritan discussion. I want our children to grow up surrounded by peace and tranquility.
Trying to hide her frustrations, Martha chose her words carefully. “Does King Charles know about the activities of the Puritans? I would think he would be angry not having control over what is happening in the Anglican Church. After all, the king is the recognized head of the church in England.”
Anne looked up and down the street. Apparently satisfied no one was listening, she replied, “Right now he is tolerating it, but things are beginning to get tense. I do not know how much longer it will be before something serious happens. The king has been sending his spies out among the people and into the local churches.”
Anne paused, peered into the distance, and waved at a man with four children who appeared between two buildings further down the street. “There is my family. My husband and children will probably be ready to go home soon.” She turned back to Martha. “I believe purifying the church is worth risking one’s entire life. God can speak directly to anyone, not just the ministers, or the king. However, many church officials consider the claim, hearing directly from God, pure heresy. Why don’t you come to the meeting in my house later this afternoon and we will discuss this further?”
Trying to mask her lack of enthusiasm, Martha forced a smile. “Thank you for the invitation, but I really need to be home with my husband. I did not finish all my household chores before I came to market and the hours are passing quickly. Maybe another time.”
Tension filled the Clarke’s small, thatched-roofed house. The fire in the hearth was burning down, and a cold chill filled the room. Martha laid her knitting aside, rose from her straight-back chair beside the fireplace, and faced her husband. “Randall, I absolutely refuse to go with you to St. Botolph's. The minister is crazy and is going to get everyone around him in trouble.”
Randall Clarke scowled. Anger and love intermingled behind his hazel eyes. “Martha, how can you be so fearful? People are flocking from all over Lincolnshire to hear him. An exciting wave of religious understanding is sweeping the land. It is going to change the Anglican Church and purify it from all devilish ways. It is an exciting time. Just you wait and see.”
“I see nothing wrong with the church the way it is,” Martha stated firmly. “When I read from the prayer book and listen to the minister, I feel close to God. We were married within the walls of the Anglican Church with the blessing of the vicar. My parents are buried in the graveyard behind the St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London. Why would anyone want to stir up trouble and tear apart something that has taken centuries to build?”
The pitch in Randall’s voice rose. His facial muscles tightened. “The Church of England must be purified from all influences of the Catholic Church and return to what the apostles had in the beginning of Christianity. We can no longer let the church be controlled by foolish men or the devil.”
Martha’s heart pounded as she planted her hands firmly on her hips. “Why intentionally stir up strife? You know how much I hate conflict. I do not understand why people can’t just live in peace with one another, especially Christians.”
Randall shook his head with frustration. “Martha, you are such an idealist. Did you forget the Bible quotes Jesus as saying, ‘I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword?’ If you can’t cope with conflict, leave the fighting to the men, but don’t be a stumbling block to their work.”
“What if the men are fighting for the wrong thing and it accomplishes nothing?” she grumbled. “Today purification of the church is just an intellectual discussion, but what happens when the Reverend Cotton says something the king does not like? Sooner or later King Charles is going to clamp down on him and his followers, and then what?”
“We can address any resistance if and when it happens. If conflict comes, all thinking Christians realize we have to obey God rather than man.” Randall took his hat from the peg on the wall. “I will be back later.”
The heavy wooden door slammed louder than normal, and his worn boots stomped across the porch.
Martha slumped onto the straight-back chair at the crudely hewn pine table in the center of the room. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed. I rarely disobey or challenge my husband’s wishes. Why did I do it now? My mother taught me from a young age to obey my husband, but this time it was as if I could not help myself. I cannot stand to listen to pointless arguments about religious details and I do not like to go anywhere there will be disagreements and tension. God is going to do what God is going to do. What right do we have to try to change what God plans? What the church officials tell me is in the Bible is sometimes different from what I read myself. I want to be able to think for myself and make my own decisions without listening to long winded arguments. Who cares how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
Randall’s aging grey mare plodded slowly down the street toward Saint Botolph's Church of Boston in Lincolnshire, England, more commonly known as the "Boston Stump" or simply "the Stump." The once proud horse of his youth could now scarcely bear his weight. If only my woodworking business would become prosperous enough for us to retire poor Nell. She has served us well and needs a rest.
The image of his beloved wife flashed before him. He had never seen her so angry until he told her he was going to hear Reverend Cotton speak. I hope Martha never learns that a few years ago militant Puritans damaged this beautiful structure. She will never attend services here if she knows there has been violence at the church. She is so tenderhearted I hope she never has to face the harsh realities of Christian discord.
By the time Randall reached the River Witham, fancy carriages began passing him, all heading in the same direction. Never before had he felt of such low estate. He looked down at the aging mare beneath him and felt the shame of an unprosperous business.
Locating an empty spot on the hitching rail, Randall slid to the ground, and tethered his horse. Wearing his only suit of clothes, he followed a finely dressed family into the church. He marveled at the majestic walls of stone, sculptures, and colored windows. How could there possibly be much conflict contained within the walls of such a beautiful place? How could militant Puritans even consider trying to destroy an exquisitely designed house of God? Randall found a bench in the back row of the sanctuary containing only two other men. He nodded politely and took his place on the end of the bench. He pretended to pray while he scanned the congregation. Women tried to pray while they hushed their children. Men sat stiffly with stern faces, their heads bowed.
A side door opened and a vicar donned in a black robe and gray wig climbed the steps to the pulpit. The congregation followed the order of worship led by the vicar. Randall bowed his head while Vicar John Cotton read from The Book of Common Prayer. In hearing the familiar prayers, Randall felt a twinge of understanding in how his wife received comfort from the formal prayers. Nevertheless, the ritual rang with hollowness within him. People are merely reciting words without paying attention to what they are saying. Will God hear and answer prayers written hundreds of years ago?
When the popular vicar began to preach, it stirred Randall’s interest as no other clergy ever had. The words from the pulpit confirmed many of his thoughts. I wish Martha were here. I think The Reverend Cotton’s interpretation is something that would appeal to her and would remove her fears about the Puritan movement.
As the sermon progressed, the man beside him shuffled restlessly. Randall watched the man’s face redden when the vicar talked about the need to reform the Church of England and give authority to the local congregation. It is obvious he does not agree with the vicar. I hope he is not a spy for the king.
After more than two hours, the Reverend John Cotton gave a benediction and disappeared through the side door of the church. Before the congregation could file from the building, a loud voice echoed from the front. “If anyone is interested in learning more about the ‘City upon a Hill’, please gather in the grove beside the River Haven.” With that, the man beside him nudged Randall aside and rushed to the door before anyone else had time to react.
Mystified, Randall studied the faces of the other men filing out of the church. They exchanged nervous glances and remained silent until they reached the fresh air. The congregation immediately gathered in small groups and began talking about the ‘City upon a Hill.’ Not certain what to do, He stood alone under the oak tree and watched people talking among themselves. I wish Martha were here instead of stubbornly staying at home, working on her knitting. Maybe someday she will understand why it is important to make changes to the Church of England. Surely, The Reverend Cotton could inspire and motivate her. He is the most convincing speaker I have ever heard.
As he hesitated in the churchyard not wanting to leave the glorious structure, a distinguished-looking man approached, followed by a woman whom he assumed was his wife.
“Randall Clarke, I presume,” the man greeted.
“Yes. But how did you know my name?”
The stranger touched the brim of his hat and nodded slightly. “Your wife saved our precious Katherine from being trampled by a team of draft horses this past week. Our entire family will be eternally grateful to her. My name is Will Hutchinson.”
“It is nice meeting you,” Randall said. “It was fortunate Martha was there to help. God definitely had a protective hand around your daughter that day.”
Will Hutchinson surveyed the young man dressed in humble clothing. “I saw your face light up when they announced the meeting about the City upon the Hill. Would you like to join us down by the river?”
Randall hesitated. Surely Martha will not notice if I am a few minutes late. He studied the older man and recognized heart-felt enthusiasm in his eyes he had rarely seen in others. “I am not certain I understand what the Reverend Cotton was referring to when he said ‘City upon the Hill.’ I assumed it was some sort of code.”
Will Hutchinson nodded. “Yes, it is a code. City upon a Hill has become a rallying cry for those who are considering immigration to the New World. The Puritans would recognize the phrase John Winthrop used in a sermon on the way to the New World. He told the future Massachusetts Bay colonists that their new community would be a ‘City upon a Hill’ — a model of how a city could purge itself from evil and be entirely Christian. This city in the New World will become a New Eden. Adam and Eve sinned, and God had to make them leave the Garden of Eden. John Winthrop is certain this time the Puritans will get it right and will not stray from the teachings of God, as the Church of England has. It is an exciting opportunity.”
Randall’s eyes widened. “Hmm. That does sound interesting, but is it realistic? The government and the church definitely need to be changed, but is this the way to do it? I would like to go and hear what it is about.”
Leaving his mare tethered to the hitching post, Randall fell into step alongside Will Hutchinson and the other congregates. His hesitation quickly turned to eagerness.
“Pardon my rudeness,” Will said. “I did not introduce you to my wife, Anne. We have been avid followers of John Cotton for some time. We cannot get enough of his teachings. We would follow him anywhere.”
Randall nodded. “I agree his sermon was extremely thought-provoking and inspiring. I have never heard Scripture interpreted in such a way before. Now I understand why the king’s officials might disapprove.” He studied the couple’s expressions for affirmation of his statement and was not disappointed.
“The Reverend Cotton says we can go to Heaven because of the grace of God and that we don’t have to work for it,” Anne Hutchinson said while Will took her arm to steady her when the path became steep and rocky. “I can scarcely wait for Sundays to come so I can learn more from him.”
“But aren’t you afraid King Charles will send his men to the gatherings and report back what is being said? They could cast us all into prison.” Randall hesitated and sweat dampened his brow. “The man sitting beside me was acting very suspiciously and slipped out as soon as a gathering by the river was announced.”
“We are willing to take that chance,” Will Hutchinson stated with conviction. “We don’t want to be reckless with our plans, so we are meeting by the River Haven instead of in the church.”
“Wouldn’t a king’s spy have considered it treasonous when someone shouted out in church, ‘Whoever is interested in becoming part of the ‘City upon a Hill’, please gather in the grove by the River Haven after the service’?”
A gentle rain began falling upon them while they trudged down the pathway to the clearing on the riverbank. Randall looked back and saw several families climb into their fancy carriages and hurry away while others had left their carriages at the church and continued toward the river with Reverend Cotton. It is understandable that I would be searching for a better way of life, but why would the wealthy?
The path narrowed and forced people to walk in single file. Will lifted low hanging branches for others to pass. “We are a close-knit congregation, regardless of the various social ranks. John Cotton knew everyone who was present today along with his or her views about reforming the church. He must have felt confident he was with like believers. Before he left the pulpit, he nodded to me to make the announcement.”
Randall shook his head. “He must not have seen the three of us sitting on the back row. I have never been in church before so he would have no way of knowing my opinions. If that was a king’s spy beside me, he obviously wouldn’t have recognized him either.”
Wrinkles deepened on Will Hutchinson’s forehead and around his eyes, but he said nothing. They continued their walk in silence. When Randall and the Hutchinsons reached the grove, John Cotton was standing under a large oak tree while the others were taking seats on the grass, boulders, or fallen logs nearby. When the minister began to speak, a man on a rise above the grove shouted, “Three horsemen are turning the bend near the squire’s house and are coming this way. They look like they are a part of the king’s militia.”
Without saying a word to each other, each person ran a different direction and hid behind trees, rocks, or tombstones in the nearby graveyard. Judging by their automatic reactions, Randall assumed this had happened before and everyone knew exactly what to do. Heart pounding, he too crouched behind a tombstone. What if I am arrested? What would happen to my beloved Martha? I wish I had not left her angry.
Randall watched the horsemen dismount and walk around the riverbank. He was amazed so many people could hide in such a close area without making a sound or being seen. He held his breath when they came within yards of where three congregants were hiding. Finally, the leader of the soldiers shook his head, motioned to the others, and turned back before discovering any ones’ hiding places. The congregants waited in silence for several minutes. Did they think we were not on the riverbank, or were they merely trying to frighten us and will return later to arrest us?
After a few minutes, one by one the Puritans reassembled. Reverend Cotton took his place under the oak tree. Randall listened attentively when John Cotton explained the continuing development of the Massachusetts Bay Company. A world of opportunity lay before them, if they but trust God.
Randall listened intently. He thought of his beautiful wife he had left in anger earlier that day. Martha would never consider such an opportunity. Her dream is to raise a family in peace and tranquility, and she would be afraid to take a risk with a group she did not understand. Would she ever realize Boston in the New World was founded on the very same principles as her dreams?
Reverend Cotton’s words echoed throughout the grove. “For those in the process of deciding whether to make the trip or not, passage will take approximately two years pay per person. However, local merchants may be willing to sponsor some; others can go as indentured servants and obtain their complete freedom after five to seven years of work. Woodworkers are in short supply in the new world, so the company itself would be willing to pay their passage if they agree to help with the construction of homes and buildings once they arrive.”
Enthusiasm grew within Randall. This sounds like a dream come true. I am not making a living wage here and my passage could be paid if we would decide to go to Massachusetts. If only I could convince Martha that life would be better and more peaceful in the new Boston as well as come up with the money to pay her passage.
The Puritan’s meeting ended an hour after they had reassembled. The congregation trudged slowly back to St. Botolph's; small groups discussed the possibilities of being able to be a part of the great experiment. When they neared the church, a man in the lead shouted, “All our horses and carriages are gone. The soldiers must have untied them and then swatted them to make them run away.”
Panic and frustration spread throughout the group. From a distance, Randall could see the empty hitching post where he had tied his mare. What will I tell Martha? He trembled as he trudged home. We do not have money to buy another horse. She was afraid of me attending church today and did not want me to come, but I did not listen to her. Now I have lost our only horse.
When he turned the corner onto Elm Street, Martha emerged from the front door of their house and ran as fast as she could into his arms. “You are safe,” she gasped. “I have been so worried. When the mare came home without you, I was certain something dreadful had happened.”
“Praise God.” he shouted and then swooped her into his arms. “I was afraid I had lost our only horse forever. You will never believe what happened.”
Martha touched her fingers to his lips and caressed his hair. “There is no need to explain. I am just glad you are safe.” She squeezed his hand and gazed into his eyes. “I am sorry I did not come with you. I should never have let you leave while we were angry with each other.”
Randall’s mind raced. Is this a good time to tell Martha about the City upon a Hill?
Review by Sandra Cruz
December 29, 2015
Ann Bell is the author of inspirational fiction, children’s books, technology books and historical novels. Her most recent is the biographical novel “The Sister of Mary Dyer: The High Price of Freedom: A Biographical Novel.” This historical novel is the story of Mary Dyer, a colonial American Puritan turned Quaker who was hanged in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1660. She repeatedly defied a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony and became one of four Quakers who were executed. Her story helped paved the way for the first amendment rights of the freedom of religion and speech. It made such an impact that there is currently a Mary Dyer statue at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
“The Sister of Mary Dyer” is a brilliant combination of history and fiction and is told through the point of view of her fictional sister. She and her husband left England for New England in the early 1600s due to growing pressure by the English king against Puritans but during a later trip back to England she became a Quaker. During this time Quakers were considered the worst of heretics and that thought led Massachusetts to pass several laws making it a crime to be a Quaker, own Quaker writings and even holding meetings and providing shelter to them. She was imprisoned as soon as she returned from England and then eventually banished but she kept returning because she felt she had a higher calling to protest these anti-Quaker laws.
History lovers will appreciate this easy to read and well researched book about colonial life and the political and religious struggle between the Puritans and the Quakers. Especially interesting is the extent to which Puritan leaders went to make sure their way of life was not threatened because the Quakers denounced the clergy, refused to support them with tithes and demanded the separation of church and state. It also has little know facts including that during the mile-long march to the gallows the drummers’ role was to cut off communication between the prisoner and his or her followers. Overall “The Sister of Mary Dyer” by Ann Bell is recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about colonial early years and the sacrifice made by regular people to ensure the freedoms that are sometimes taken for granted. for granted.