A dramatisation of the story surrounding the death by hanging of the Quaker Mary Dyer in 1660
The Puritans in Massachusetts
The Colony grows, 1630-61

The Colony of Massachusetts Bay was set up as a Puritan ‘plantation of the religious’ Colony, which eventually, as a partner with other Colonies, played a prominent role in the “revolt” of the 13 Colonies and the emergence of the United States of America.

To the Puritans who founded it in 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Colony represented a great ideal and a godly objective, an attempt to set up a biblical commonwealth with church and state intertwined. In this, there could be no freedom of religious thought; dissenters and non-conformists had freedom – the freedom to stay away, the freedom to have the sense not to enter to propagate their views.

The Pilgrim Fathers, who had landed nine years earlier at nearby New Plimouth, had no record of troubles over religious difference even when their community totalled thousands.

But in a curious, unique period, in the early 1630’s, before the ‘Quaker invasion’, Salem had banished clergyman Roger Williams and Boston one of its clergymen, John Wheelwright.

While Williams outraged the Salem Church with proposed “complete separation of civil and ecclesiastical authority”, the views of Boston’s Wheelwright supported “violation of the civil peace” and threatened “ruin to the whole”.

Dissent “that was disruptive” rumbled on, throughout the mid-1630’s. It came to a head with the trial of the remarkable Anne Hutchinson. She promoted Antinomian beliefs: the precedence of The Lord’s Grace over the Puritan’s Covenant of (Good) Works.

In all about 60 settler families were punished by expulsion from Boston by the ‘intervention of the State’ and ‘temporal power’. When Hutchinson was banished in 1638, Mary Dyer stood up, in church, for her friend and she and her family too were forced out of Boston.

Underlying religious theories, pressuring towards liberty of conscience, and the struggle over the primacy of dissenters ‘first hand’ religious experience over the Puritan ‘second hand’ knowledge, had emerged, and could not be locked away quietly.

(There is faint record that these beliefs, and others held by the early Quakers, had arisen in 1640 in Rhode Island, as the Quaker movement formed in Old England Regular small gatherings, meeting to worship in silence, are said to have been held)

The antinomian outbursts convulsed and caused disruption in the young, growing Colony, yet occurred nearly two decades before the troublesome Quakers started arriving in Boston harbour, and then from the even younger and more tolerant Rhode Island settlements.

What doth it profit, though a man say he hath faith, and hath not works?
Can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works -
Show me thy faith without thy works and I will show thee my faith by my works.

Epistle of James 14, 17-18

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