A dramatisation of the story surrounding the death by hanging of the Quaker Mary Dyer in 1660

Arrival of the Quakers - 1656 onwards

The Puritan ‘near-theocracy’ became alarmed by the reports of increasing numbers of Quaker ‘spiritual confrontations’ in Old England, though a distant 3,000 miles away. Their early fears foresaw a threat of contamination from religious heresies and possible sedition and rebellion in the thriving Boston community.

And their forebodings proved accurate. For a start, the invading Quakers, from 1656, saw no need for the Puritan Minister to lead worship (which naturally totally antagonised the Colony’s ecclesiasts). The Quakers wanted just the silence of group worship, in which to hear directly the Word and the leadings of God, according to each individual’s spiritual capabilities.

Governor Endecott and clergymen, remembering the dissenters of the 1630’s in the Colony, were in the main implacable foes to the Quakers, who were harassed and harried, their books burned, even as they tried to step ashore.

In the face of this ‘invasion’, the Puritan leadership sought to retain their view of the great religious experiment, their spiritual adventure, a passionate calling to build a “Citie upon a Hill”... in Salem, Boston, other parts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Not for them was George Fox’s words to his Quaker brothers and sisters: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully all over the world”.

These early invading Quakers drove Boston’s religious and civic leaders (a near theocracy) to desperation. The Quakers were outspoken and controversial, but offered no retaliation to abuse or physical injury; neither did their unshakeable religious beliefs persuade them to instigate violence in conspiracies against others.

Under these pressures, the Colony’s leadership, dogmatic in its theology, eschewed the tolerance needed, and displayed the mirror-face of the intolerance in Old England from which they had originally moved.

Often supported by just a few votes in General Council, the leadership persecuted all Quakers without quarter. Only 350 or more in the Colony’s thousands (population guestimates vary from 12,000 to 20,000) were actual authorised “Members” of the theocracy and qualified to vote.

At first there were no laws in the Bay Colony against the Quakers, but they were introduced, and intolerance intensified into cruelty and savagery.

The two ‘sides’ were each firm in their visions. Prompted by the original founding vision, the Colony’s church and civil powers strove to silence false teaching and prevent false worship. The Quakers aimed to force repeal of unjust laws which allowed them no freedom of conscience nor worship.

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