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

John Norton

John Norton, a heavy Reverend, is 54 and a learned divine "but with a narrow technical mind". He stands weightily on the stage, uses his mind and learning sharply, often uses more words than anyone else. He will not entertain concepts promoting freedom of religion, individual conscience, the Quaker stillness, silence, communing with God. To his mind, there is no democracy in the one true system of religion, Puritanism; the Minister has to fulfill a demanding leadership role - one for which he is very well equipped (more than so many of the deputies and magistrates).

The Minister offers his often lengthy and high class education, his skills in using the Bible to interpret, guide, direct the individual's and the community's spiritual (and in New England their secular) lives. He has a hard voice, a cool even cold manner, is moved to anger in dispute, and has a long memory if his religious and personal authority is opposed or denied.

He married twice but had no children. Since his arrival in 1635 - incidentally on the same vessel as the Dyers - he has in parts served the Colony well. His depth of learning and his output is impressive, and he is aware of his leadership. He had been influential during the Wheelright and Anne Hutchinson disputes of the ''Thirties' and helped draw up the famous Cambridge Platform in the 'Forties'. He is a "prolific writer whose pen is at the service of the authorities" - often writing in Latin.

As is his nature, he writes an "extremely technical exposition of the Puritan system of theology" in 1654 and in 1659 The Heart of New England Rent - a "bitter attack on the Quakers written by order of the General Court." Others fear these peculiar people the Quakers, not through any direct experience until now, but by hearsay, allegation and prejudice.

Norton sees the attractions of simplicity and humility, the (quite possible) dangers of delusion and error, and also the underlying power to dissolve the position, role (and power) of the Minister. Norton's cool rationality has no "humane outlook and breadth of vision'" comparable to other of the divines in the Colony.

In his persecution of the Quakers he shows himself "bigoted, narrow-minded and tyrannical." Rising popularity for tolerance of the Quakers does not move him - he is among the few "who hold out firmly for the passage of laws inflicting the Death Penalty."

In 1662, he and the agent Bradstreet present a petition for a new Royal Charter for the Bay Colony to Charles II which is refused. "It signally fails owing in no small part to the Quaker persecution." Norton lost popularity and prestige. It might have affected his health and disposition. He dies in the Spring 1663 "of apoplexy" after preaching a (rousing) sermon. In many matters he served the Colony well - and'was well rewarded. He left a large estate.

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