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

Resident-settlers grow restive

The Quakers, moving among the resident-settlers, were at first treated with suspicion, even feared, but this changed as whippings increased, in all parts of the Colony.

Many resident families, dissatisfied with “a lifeless ministry and dead forms of religion”, secretly agreed with the outspoken views of these “sincere seekers after heavenly riches”.

Many residents, as the Colony enlarged and prospered, were not overly-religious. Those who supported the leadership’s religious views were God-fearing people “who never forgot that there were souls to be saved.” Others saw that this kind of God-fearing overall “cast gloom, lost the brightness of hope, and made lives comparatively joyless”.

From the early years of the Quaker ‘invasion’, there were many residents who rallied to provide the noisy, disruptive but non-retaliating Quakers with food, shelter and clothing.

Increasingly the Bay Colony community grew more restive as the persecutions increased in severity, and more ‘saw the light’ about freedom of religious expression.

Before and after the hangings, the whippings continued, and ordinary residents spoke out in growing numbers and were themselves punished.

The reaction of the Colony’s leadership, to the behaviour of the Quaker extremists, was considerably modified by the non-extremist behaviour of those residents who became quiet converts to the sect.

Their local commitment – home, family, continued service to the community and, with only a few troublesome exceptions, their relative quietism over their new beliefs – allowed a measure of local community control, and caused the most dogmatic of the leaders to think again in broader terms.

Yet it would be a lengthy period before there was, with the albeit grudging force of law, “the full and free liberty of religious opinion, beliefs, and worship, according to the dictates of conscience”.

Were the persecutors of the Quaker foursome (Robinson, Stephenson, Dyer and Leddra who all went to the gallows-tree) justified in their actions? Or were they, the civil and ecclesiast leaders cruel, harsh and obsessed fanatics, as they claimed she and others were - fanatics? Could they, the Puritans too claim to be acting by the light of conscience?

After the hanging of the fourth Quaker, one historian noted the Quaker failure as “carrying the seeds of future triumphs”.

This period, some say, was among the first prominent and successful of demonstrations of the power of non-violence to move the hearts of ordinary people – and leaders – against abuse of power and oppression.

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