Thursday, June 1, 2017

#OnThisDay, a page from the city of Boston

original page location:

Notes from the Archives: Mary Dyer executed #onthisday in 1660 

Published by: City of Boston Archives and Records Management
On this day in 1660, Mary Dyer was executed on the Boston Common for defying her banishment from Boston. 

Mary’s execution is one story in a larger narrative of frequent religious clashes in Boston's early days. Her death is often linked to the easing of anti-Quaker laws in Boston. 

Mary Dyer was born in England and emigrated to Boston with her husband in about 1635. The Dyers, like many others emigrating to Boston, were fleeing religious persecution in England. Shortly after arriving in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Dyers joined the church in Boston.  Less than a year later, the Dyers became embroiled in a theological controversy called antinomianism. This controversy engulfed the Boston church between 1636 and 1638 and tore it apart. Boston's leaders took dissenting community members to trial for their beliefs. But, dissenters typically refused to change their convictions.
Quaker sculptor Sylvia Shaw Judson created the bronze
statue of Mary Dyer. The statue stands in front
of the Massachusetts State House,
and was photographed by Peter Dyer in 1976.

In the midst of the controversy,  Mary gave birth to a severely deformed stillborn child.  Common cultural beliefs of the time held that physical deformities indicated spiritual unfitness. Boston's church leaders exhumed her child's grave. They declared the child's deformities both a sign and result of Mary's deformed religious beliefs. Shortly after the exhumation, the Dyers left Boston for Rhode Island with other antinomians. These included Anne Hutchinson and John Wheelwright.

In the early 1650s, Mary Dyer returned to England where she was introduced to the Society of Friends. They were widely known as the Quakers. She became a devoted Quaker, committed to spreading her new found spirituality.  Boston’s Puritan establishment did not tolerate Quaker proselytism. When Dyer returned to Boston in 1657, she was immediately imprisoned. Dyer was then banished for both her Quaker beliefs and her attempts to spread her beliefs to others.

Dyer defied the banishment order. She returned to Boston with the intention of spreading her religion. She was again banished, and threatened with execution if she returned. Dyer broke the banishment order a third time. She traveled to Boston in October of 1659 where she was immediately sentenced to death. However, on the date of her execution, she was pulled from the gallows and given a reprieve. She left Boston, but returned again in the spring of 1660. She was again sentenced to execution, and this time, did not receive a reprieve.

On the day of her execution, Mary was given a chance to recant her beliefs and escape execution. She stated, “Nay, I cannot; for in obedience to the will of the Lord God I came, and in his will I abide faithful to the death.”


Continue Mary Dyer's legacy. See: 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Celebrate your connection to Mary Dyer's cause: religious liberty

Honor Mary Dyer’s sacrifice,
or your connection to her,
by giving in her name!
Gifts to

Click the link to go to their secure page.

© 2017 Christy K Robinson  

No one knows Mary Dyer's date or even year of birth. Because of when she married, her husband's birth in 1609, and various life events, genealogists and historians have assumed that it was between 1609 and 1611.

But we do know her date of death: June 1, 1660. That's when, after she deliberately violated her banishment-upon-pain-of-death if she returned to Massachusetts, Mary Dyer was executed by hanging.
The opening sentences of Mary Dyer's handwritten letter to
the Massachusetts General Court.
Mary (and many other Rhode Islanders) had been cast out of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth and New Haven Colonies, when the zealous fundamentalists clashed with people who were coming to terms with other religious concepts and practices. Religion wasn't just an hour of church once a week--it was your short time on earth preparing your soul for eternity in heaven or hell. The fundamentalists (aka the Puritans) outlawed Antinomians, Baptists, Catholics, Quakers, and other groups as they cropped up. They had strained relations with Anglicans because they considered it their duty before God to purify the Church of England of its remnants of Catholicism (therefore the Anglican pejorative name of "Puritan.") And that same hard-line zeal extended to purifying their communities of people (mostly women) they suspected of being witches.

The people who emigrated to MassBay Colony were ultra-conservative zealots, far more fundamental in nature than the English Puritans they left behind: Endecott, Shelton, Winthrop, Dudley, Weld, Shepherd, Cotton, Wilson, and many others in power. Their parishioners followed, and they attempted to build a Puritan utopia--which of course was impossible, because of the oppression they created as a theocracy. 

God has mercy and boundless grace. Theocrats do not.

New England's government was inextricably combined with religion. From the moment they conceived of a new colony in the wilderness of New England, it was going to be a utopia where they lived by the precepts of the Bible's Old Testament law. The voters, called freemen, were members of churches that were very difficult to get membership. The magistrates and governor assistants were often ministers and teachers in the churches. If a tradesman turned in an invoice that seemed to ask too much money, it could be both a religious and civil offense. If a couple had an affair, the offenders could be hanged. Fornication (sex before marriage) could be punished by hanging, flogging, and time in stocks. Observing May Day or Christmas originated in pagan or Catholic tradition, and could be punished by fines, confiscation of goods, and flogging. Having a sharp tongue got Gov. Bellingham's sister hanged.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony banned Catholic priests in 1647 because they were afraid of French-Canadian and Indian converts warring against them, and a Jesuit takeover of the already-theocratic government. The same issues that New England faced in 1647 face America today. That's 370 years. Don't let your guard down, friends. Be vigilant about preserving religious liberty for ALL.

The religious utopia the founders envisioned never existed--it couldn't, flawed people being flawed people. This is how it's always been, for millennia, in all civilizations.

When Anne Marbury Hutchinson was tried for sedition and heresy in 1637 and 1638, her judges were the ministers of the colony. Her crimes: holding Bible studies in her home that included men and women, speaking against the (male) ministers by saying that all but her brother-in-law Rev. Wheelwright, and her friend of two decades, Rev. John Cotton, preached a ministry of salvation, instead of a covenant of grace. She broke the fifth commandment to "honor her father and mother," by disobeying the men in authority over her. Even after she was exiled and moved to Rhode Island, she was hounded and threatened, until at last she moved to the Bronx and was killed by Native Americans who had been incited by the Dutch colonists, who also had a religious government.

So you see, religion plus government equaled fear, judgment, and punishment. Religious fundamentalists can't keep themselves self-disciplined or their own relatives under their thumbs, much less a community or society. They can't create a New Jerusalem or a paradise on earth.

Rather than be sad or critical of the well-meaning theocrats of then, we need to learn from them and apply it today. We cannot legislate morality or impose our beliefs on others, but live our lives kindly, graciously, and justly.

Rhode Island, while William Dyer was a government official (Recorder, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Solicitor General), began under Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson--both of them what we'd consider to be deeply religious people--and it was a secular government that encoded religious liberty, or "liberty of conscience," as they called it. They'd had enough of persecution back in England, then in Massachusetts, in the name of God. They wrote their separation of powers into their first documents, acknowledging God, but keeping religion separate from what Hutchinson called the "magistracy." And they wrote their liberty into charters (like a constitution) that were ratified by successive English governments, even in a time of civil war back in England. The charter of 1663, written by Dr. John Clarke, Rev. Roger Williams, and (I believe because of some of the stipulations) Attorney General William Dyer, became one of the templates for the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The first Quaker missionaries to America arrived in 1656 and immediately clashed with the authorities. Mary Dyer returned from her nearly five years in England in early 1657 and was imprisoned right off the ship for being a Quaker. (She was quite aware of the potential for arrest, and she could have sailed for another port, but she went to Boston anyway.) She was rescued and imprisoned several more times before 1660. Mary witnessed and heard about Baptists and Quaker Friends who had been beaten nearly to death (certainly to a disability), imprisoned without blankets or warmth in New England's severe winters, had property confiscated, had ears sliced off, had two teens condemned to slavery, and other bloody torments. Finally, as she stood ready to die, two male Friends were hanged and she was reprieved. She believed as they did that God had called her to die in order to shock the New England people into forcing governors to stop the torture and death. It didn't work for the two English Quakers, but Mary Dyer, a woman with a high social status, known to be intelligent and beautiful, was the notorious shock needed. Her impassioned letter to the General Court (see tab above this article) was edited into an appeal to King Charles II, who ordered a halt. Shortly after that order, he granted the Rhode Island charter that had been written by Clarke, Williams, and Dyer, which granted  and guaranteed freedom of conscience to worship without interference or support of the government. The document is the first of its kind in the world.

But despite the charter and others like it made in later years, and despite the US Constitution and other laws, religious liberty is under attack. I'm not talking about a War on Christmas or the right to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. But there are numerous attacks on religious liberty for all: a narrow slice of fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, it makes no difference) tries to legislate or force their beliefs and behaviors on the rest of society via bedroom and bathroom laws, women's health, refusal of voting rights or permits to certain groups, Christian-only prayer in government functions or public schools, vouchers for taxpayer-funded religious education--the list is endless. It's growing every day, but it hasn't helped the morals of Americans, so it's obviously not working.

The only way to change America for the better is to teach kindness, mercy, compassion, and justice from home, from your own behavior.

We don't know her birthday, but we do know the day she inherited eternal life. In honor of Mary Dyer's ultimate sacrifice in the cause of religious liberty and separation of church and state on June 1, 1660, I invite you to memorialize her and make a gift in Mary Dyer's name to the nonprofit organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU). <--Click the link for their secure page.
AU, whose vision and mission are below the image, was founded in 1947.

This woodcut does not depict Mary Dyer, but the pikemen and the gallows give you an idea of how it was done.
In Mary's case, the pikemen and musketeers who escorted her from the prison to the gallows, about a mile,
weren't there to keep her from escaping. They were there to protect the magistrates and officials from the
angry, unruly crowd that may have numbered more than 3,000 people. 

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a nonpartisan educational and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure freedom of religion, including the right to believe or not believe, for all Americans.

We envision an America where everyone can freely choose a faith and support it voluntarily, or follow no religious or spiritual path at all, and where the government does not promote religion over non-religion or favor one faith over another.
AU Facebook page
Americans United home page


Christy K Robinson is the author of the books:
Mary Dyer Illuminated Vol. 1 (2013) 
Effigy Hunter (2015) 
Anne Hutchinson, American Founding Mother (2017)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Life sketch of Charles Dyer, 1650-1709

© 2017 Christy K Robinson

Charles Dyer was the last child of Mary and William Dyer. He was born the year after King Charles I was beheaded, at the time when the young Charles II was fighting Cromwell’s forces before he fled to exile in France. To name the Dyer baby after the Anglican (with Catholic leanings) king was a rather bold statement in Puritan, republican-leaning New England!
King Charles I of England

1650: Charles Dyer born in Newport, Rhode Island, the last of Mary Dyer’s six living children. His parents were co-founders of Portsmouth in 1638 and Newport in 1639.

1652: He was about one and a half or two years old when both parents went to England. William went as an agent of Rhode Island, and came home after a short time, with a political charter for the colony that replaced their former charter; but Mary Dyer stayed until 1657.  Mary returned when Charles was about seven, so he probably didn’t recognize her.  He may have been fostered with friends when his father had to leave town on business. (Read "Mary Dyer, the mother.")

The Dyer family probably attended the Baptist church of Rev. Obadiah Holmes, in Newport. There’s no record of Charles in the Friends/Quaker books, which is understandable, considering his mother’s actions as a Quaker.  There’s probably no birth record like a Congregational (Puritan) or Anglican family might have, because Baptists didn’t baptize infants—they waited until the teen or adult years when the person reached an age of accountability.

Was Charles educated as well as his parents had been? Mary had been known for her conversational ability and we know she both read and wrote, which was not the usual attainment of most women of her time. William had probably been educated at a grammar school in Lincolnshire before his elite apprenticeship in London, and he had trained as a surveyor and attorney after he emigrated to New England. It was the custom of hundreds of years that boys were educated and/or apprenticed sometime around age 14, but we don’t know about the Dyer boys. But Charles was a farmer by age 18, so perhaps he learned on his father’s Newport farm.

1660: Mary Dyer, a Quaker, was hanged in Boston for religious liberty, having violated her banishment orders and been imprisoned several times between 1657 and 1660.

1661: William Dyer Sr. married a woman named Katherine and they had one daughter, Elizabeth, by 1661-1662. In her twenties, Elizabeth Dyer married John Greenman, they had several children, and she died in 1755. Though Katherine sued her husband’s children after his death (and lost each of her cases), Charles named his only daughter after his half-sister Elizabeth.

Little Compton, Rhode Island 
Photo by LandVest

1668: Charles married very young, perhaps at age 17-18, for his first child, James, was born in May 1669 in Little Compton, Rhode Island. The village is located across the Sakonnet water to the east of Newport, on the mainland. Even today, it’s a rural setting with green farms and a rocky Atlantic coastline. 

For many years, Charles' first wife has been assumed to be Mary Lippett, and there was a  family of Lippetts in Rhode Island, but Mary is not confirmed to be one of them.  Did the teenage Charles and Mary fornicate and get pregnant, and marry in haste? So how did a teenager come to be a husbandman (a farmer and stock breeder)? Was Charles given the land by his wealthy father, or was the land a dowry of his wife Mary (of whatever surname)? Little Compton is close to Newport as the crow flies (in a sailboat), but they could have farmed in Middletown, between Portsmouth and Newport, or across Narragansett Bay at Kingston. Or perhaps it was the perfect distance to start your family if it came less than nine months after the wedding.

Charles and Mary had children between 1669 and 1687, and Mary must have died between 1687 and 1689,  perhaps in or shortly after childbirth.
Their children were:
1.     James, b. 1669-d. abt 1735
2.     William b. 1671, d. 1719 (executed for murdering his wife)
3.     Elizabeth, b. 1677, m. Tristram Hull 1699, d. 1719
4.     Charles, b. 1685, d. 1726
5.     Samuel, b. 1687, d. 1767. This man raised his brother William’s orphaned children after William was hanged for murdering his wife.
1670: Death of brother Maher Dyer. Maher left a young wife, but no children.

1670: William Dyer Sr. deeds Newport lands to sons Samuel, Henry, and William, but not to youngest son Charles, who was already living in Little Compton with wife and child. Perhaps William Sr. had already provided land to Charles on his wedding.

1676-77: King Philip’s War raged between Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut colonists and Native American tribes.  His oldest brother Samuel evacuated colonists from mainland Rhode Island across Narragansett Bay to Newport.  His brother Henry Dyer supplied horses to the military. Charles, being about 26 years old, would have been very insecure at Little Compton, so he may have moved his family to better-defended Newport during the war. Also, his father’s health may have been failing at this time. Charles moving back to manage the Dyer farm would make sense, but we can’t know. 

1677: Charles’ father, William Dyer Sr., dies in Newport at age 67.
1678: Death of eldest brother Samuel Dyer.
1679: Death of sister Mary Dyer Ward.
1680: Half-sister Elizabeth Dyer receives her £40 inheritance from her father’s estate.
1681: His stepmother Katherine Dyer sues Charles over "trespass" on her land. She loses.
1687: After lawsuits which she lost, Charles buys back Newport land and house from his stepmother Katherine.

Oct. 5, 1687: “Charles Dyre of Newport, Husbandman bought of [nephew] Samuel Dyre of Boston, carpenter, land in Newport RI. Bounded on the East, partly by certain lands in possession Mr. Francis Brinley & Lt . 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 mis Katharin Dyre [his stepmother] by town of Newport 1681 as her Right of Dower. 5 Oct1687.
Witt[nesses]. Weat Clarke, Robert Little, Daniel Vernon. “
Source: Rhode Island Land Evidence 1648-1696 -Abstracts Vol 1 p. 206.

1687: Grants for land in Delaware secured for Charles and Henry, by older brother, Major William Dyre. Neither Charles nor Henry take possession of the land. [WAD]  But it’s very possible that Charles’ oldest son James did, for James died in Bucks Co., Penn.

1687-88?: Death of Charles’ wife Mary. They’d been married for 20 years.

1688: Death of brother Maj. William Dyer in Delaware/Pennsylvania.

Mar. 8, 1690: Charles married Martha Brownell Wait. Martha was a childless widow who was seven years older than Charles. On the same day they married, Martha bought for £20, of her brother Robert Brownell, 30 acres in Little Compton, RI. Charles and Martha did not have children together, but Martha raised his younger children, and perhaps grandchildren. She died in 1744 at age 100. 

From age 40 to his death at 59, I've seen no records of Charles and Martha. But it seems from his will that he owned land at Little Compton and Newport, and Martha owned land in Massachusetts, so they would have been very busy managing farms, or possibly leasing them to others.

1690: Death of brother Henry Dyer. Henry (and possibly his wife) had been buried on the Dyer Farm, but after 199 years, his headstone and remains were moved to the Farewell Cemetery in Newport.

1699: Daughter Elizabeth marries Tristram Hull, the grandson of the Quakers Robert and Deborah Harper of Sandwich, who Mary Dyer would have known. Elizabeth and Tristram had nine children, the first named Mary--perhaps after Mary Dyer the great-grandmother, or after Elizabeth's birth mother. Elizabeth and Tristram were Quakers.

1709: Charles dies, age 59, in Newport. He was buried with his brothers and parents on the Dyer family farm in Newport. He'd owned several farms, livestock, and equipment, and he had a respectable amount of money to leave to his children and widow.
Will of Charles Dyer Sr.
Dated May 9, 1709; proved May 12, 1709 Newport.
Overseers: brothers George Brownell, Thomas Cornell & Benjamin Thayer.
Sons James, Samuel, William & Charles; daughter Elizabeth, now wife of Tristram Hull. 

·       To son James, all land and tenements in Little Compton, which he now liveth on, part of which I had with my wife Martha Dyer.

·       To son Samuel, all my land and homestead that I now live on, with the old end of the dwelling house, barns, stables, &c., to be for him and his heirs unto the third generation, he paying legacies. To him also commonage in Newport and great bible.

·       To son William, £100.

·       To son Charles, £100.

·       To daughter Elizabeth, the now wife of Tristram Hull, £30.

·       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.

·       To wife Martha, the new end of Newport house for life, and then to son Samuel. To her also, all my household stuff, plate, cash, bills, bonds, six of best cows of her choice, twenty ewe sheep, best of flock, and two cows and six sheep to be kept for her winter and summer by Samuel, who is to take a reasonable care of her, as food, firing, &c. without any grudging or grumbling.

·       To four sons James, William, Samuel and Charles, rest of stock.

·       To son Samuel, carts, plows, &c.

·       To overseers, £3 each.

The Dyer Farm burying ground was on the coast of Narragansett Bay. Since the early 20th century, it's under what is now the Naval College hospital or clinic.  William and Mary Dyer were buried there, as well as Charles and Henry. Probably Maher and Charles Dyer’s wife Martha, as well as other Dyer generations, were buried there. But the farm was broken into smaller and smaller parcels from the time of the Revolution. In 1889, workmen came across seven graves with headstones, and moved them to the Farewell Cemetery and Common (meaning the common grazing land) Burying Ground near the center of Newport. Among the seven were stones for Mary’s sons Henry (d. 1690) and Charles (d. 1709).  Other graves, unmarked, probably remain there on the former Dyer property. If you're in Newport, you can drive on Cypress Street, right up to the fence, or you can visit it on Google Maps at this link. Then choose Street View.  
Cypress Street fence. Approximate location of Dyer burying ground.
Photo by Christy K Robinson
Charles Dyer's headstone in Newport's Common Burying Ground
I met Bert Lippincott, Newport Historical Society librarian and genealogist, who marked a map of Common Burying Ground so I could visit the grave of Charles Dyer, 1650-1709. Charles may have been buried first on the Dyer home farm, where he lived after his father and brothers died. His remains were moved to the large cemetery later. (Alternatively, the officials took the headstones but not the skeletons.)
Common Burying Ground
click to enlarge
Common Burying Ground, Newport, with inset of Charles Dyer's headstone.

Dyre Avenue in the CBG cemetery

Lovely ancient tree with old headstones in CBG

Headstone of Charles Dyre:
Here Lyeth Ye Body of Charles Dyre Senior, He Dececed May 15, 1709, Aged 59 Years

Christy K Robinson is the author of this Dyer website and three five-star-reviewed books on the Dyers, available by clicking these links.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

International Women's Day celebrates American founding mothers

© 2017 Christy K Robinson 

For more information on their contributions to our human rights and civil liberties, see the "For Educators" tab above. 
Celebrate International Women's Day, March 8, by honoring Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson. Religious liberty is STILL not settled, even after nearly 400 years of strife. If you're deeply religious, as Mary and Anne were, or a non-believer, religious liberty covers everyone. Everyone.

ANNE HUTCHINSON (1592-1643) was a Puritan woman who stood for grace against legalism, which she called the Covenant of Works. She's best known for being a Bible teacher in Boston from 1634-1637, then being tried twice for sedition and heresy because she taught in public, and taught men--which was contrary to the ultra-zealous Puritan community of the 17th century. She led a large group of men and women to found a new colony in Rhode Island, that was formed as a social democracy standing apart from religious law.

MARY BARRETT DYER (1611-1660) was a Puritan woman who arrived in Boston in 1635, and became a close friend and follower of Anne Hutchinson. Her first pregnancy in the New World terminated in the miscarriage of an anencephalic (no brain) fetus with spina bifida--and the tiny corpse was considered proof of Mary's heresy in associating with Anne. Mary and her husband William went with Anne and the "Antinomians" to co-found Rhode Island. Mary was held in high regard for her beauty, intellect, and marriage to William, the first attorney general in America. In the 1650s, Mary went back to England for a period, and became a Quaker there. When she returned to New England, she was imprisoned without trial before being rescued by her husband. But she was determined to share the Gospel of grace, or at least support fellow Quaker missionaries (there's no record that she actually preached or what she preached), and she was arrested several times. She was banished "upon pain of death" from Massachusetts Bay Colony, but returned more than once to protest the bloody persecutions of other Quakers, which was what we call civil disobedience. Mary was sentenced to hang in October 1659 but was reprieved against her will. She was released, but then entered Plymouth Colony and was jailed there. She spent the winter on Long Island, and then sailed to Providence, Rhode Island, from where she walked the 44 miles to Boston at the time when more people were in the capitol than any other time of year. She was duly arrested. The court was reluctant to execute her because of her high social status and the danger of making her a martyr, but Mary forced their hand. They hanged her on June 1, 1660. Word quickly sailed to England, where King Charles II ordered that further capital crimes for religion be sent to his court, and Quaker persecutions cease.  (This is what Mary Dyer wanted, so she won!) Her husband was part of the team which wrote the Rhode Island charter of liberties that the King granted in 1663, and the charter, which gives religious liberty and secular government, was used as a template for the US Constitution's First Amendment.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Share this link with your friends and family, share it with women and girls for their inspiration, and share with the politicians at state and federal levels who represent you in government.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Well, that wasn’t very nice

© 2017 Christy K Robinson

When the religious dissidents left (or were exiled from) Massachusetts Bay Colony in early 1638, they went first to the small town of Providence Plantations on the Seekonk River to meet with another dissident, Roger Williams, who had helped them negotiate with the Indians. Then they went on another few miles to the beautiful wooded island they’d purchased from the Native Americans during the extremely harsh winter when the Boston women were preparing to move their households (children, servants, household goods, domestic animals), the men were selling properties in Massachusetts and surveying and exploring their new island and Narragansett Bay, Mary Dyer was recovering from her traumatic miscarriage, and Anne Hutchinson was under house arrest in the home of one of the richest, most strict Puritans in New England, Joseph Weld.

The island was called Aquiday or Aquidneck (“the floating mass” or “island”), and the town they founded at the north end was first called Pocasset, the native name for “where the stream widens.” The Narragansett Bay is actually not an ocean bay, but an estuary for several rivers, so it does appear that you cross a river when you drive over the bridge from Massachusetts onto the island. Or in the 17th century, take a ferry or boat ride from the mainland.

Within two years of settlement, the island was The Isle of Rhodes or Rhode Island, and the town officially became Portsmouth.

But because of the heresy of the founders of Rhode Island, Governor John Winthrop called the place “the Isle of Error,” and that name was often used by other New England leaders in letters and journals.

The city and harbor of Newport, Rhode Island were founded and surveyed in 1639 by, among others, William Dyer. The deep-water harbor became the second-largest harbor and commerce center in New England after Boston, and traded in molasses and rum, horses and lumber, ship-building, food for the Caribbean plantations—and slaves. It was a center for smuggling and piracy. Mind you, Boston was no City Upon a Hill when it came to the same trade goods, piracy, and human trafficking, but Rhode Island had a bad reputation from the very beginning because of its religious tolerance and its rejection of a church-state government.

There were other names for the first colony to encode full religious liberty as law:
Rogues Island: This pun was an early name for the colony, used in the time of the Dyers. But its nickname was renewed at the time of the American Revolution, and its popularity continues today in websites, newspapers, and a restaurant name.
Asylum to evil-doers.
The sink into which the other colonies empty their heretics.
The sink-hole of New England, actually a 17th-century reference to the morals of its residents, but now useful as a meme.
That's actually a sinkhole!
The licentious republic.
A modern nickname I found while googling: Rude Island
The receptacle of all sorts of riff-raff people.
In 1657, two Dutch Reformed ministers reported their encounter with Quakers to their religious board in Amsterdam, that “We suppose they [the majority of the Quaker missionaries] went to Rhode Island; for that is the receptacle of all sorts of riff-raff people. … They left behind two strong young women. As soon as the ship had fairly departed, these began to quake and go into a frenzy, and cry out loudly in the middle of the street, that men should repent, for the day of judgement was at hand.”

Caeca latrina. Probably the same two ministers (of the town of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island) sent this report to the Classis of Amsterdam. The Classis was the religious arm of the Dutch West Indies Company (WIC). The WIC appointed the governor to administer the colony’s business affairs, and the Classis provided Reformed, Calvinist ministers to serve the WIC’s towns and outposts. The Reformed doctrines were not far different from Puritan beliefs.

1658, Sept. 24th.
[from] Revs. J. Megapolensis and S. Drisius

Reverend, Pious and Learned Fathers and Brethren in Christ: —
Your letter of May 26th last, (1658,) came safely to hand. We observe your diligence to promote the interests of the church of Jesus Christ in this province, that confusion may be prevented, and that the delightful harmony which has hitherto existed among us here, may continue. At the same time we rejoice that the Hon. Directors have committed this matter to you, and we hope that God will strengthen you in your laudable efforts. Last year we placed before you particularly the circumstances of the churches both in the Dutch and English towns. And as this subject has been placed by your Rev. body before the Hon. Directors, we hope that their honors will take into earnest consideration the sadly destitute circumstances of the English towns. …The raving Quakers have not settled down, but continue to disturb the people of the province by their wanderings and outcries. For although our government has issued orders against these fanatics, nevertheless they do not fail to pour forth their venom. There is but one place in New England where they are tolerated, and that is Rhode Island, which is the caeca latrina of New England. Thence they swarm to and fro sowing their tares.

A 17th-century anatomical illustration seems
to have the man flipping up his belly skin
to look at his own large and small
The letter went on to complain about a Lutheran minister that they didn’t like interfering with their Reformed churches and people.
Source: (Abstract of, in Acts of Deputies, Jan, 13, 1659. xx. 391.)

The Classis, and indeed the Netherlands government, was very tolerant of various religions in their country and colonies. The Reform church was prominent, but they tolerated Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Lutherans, Musselmen (Muslims), and English Separatists like the Pilgrims who came from England and later moved to Plymouth, Massachusetts. And Rev. Megapolensis himself had redeemed a French Catholic missionary who had been captured by the Mohawks of the Hudson River Valley. But it seems they had no tolerance for Quakers (like Mary Dyer) or rogues (like her husband, the privateer)! In the mid-1660s, New Netherland gave over control of their colony to the English and it was named New York, after James Stuart, Duke of York. Who was one of the first mayors of New York City in the 1670s? None other than William Dyer the Younger, the son of Mary and William Dyer. Few of my readers saw that coming!

What did the Dutch Reformed ministers mean by calling Rhode Island a caeca latrina? Caecum, in 17th century anatomy, was the colon or rectum (they used the term interchangeably). Latrina was the public toilet or sewer used by a military barracks. So the epithet of caeca latrina meant, basically, the outdoor toilets for feces, a.k.a. “number two” or “poop.” (One could go on, but surely you’ve heard other slang terms.)

Well, that wasn’t very nice.  

Christy K Robinson is the author of this award-winning blog and books on the notable people of 17th century England and New England. Click the links to find the books.