Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Educators, librarians, and students take note

Recommended BY educators, FOR educators.
And their students.

Two biographical/historical novels on the birth of America’s democracy and civil rights have used primary historical sources in American and British archives to retell the story of the Great Migration from England to New England through the eyes of Gov. John Winthrop, Anne Hutchinson and her son, and Mary and William Dyer. These books, even though they’re part fiction, correct the mistakes of previous accounts of Mary Dyer, and add little-known documented facts to the 350-year-old story. Mary’s sacrifice of her life to bring liberty of conscience to Western cultures would not have been possible without the people in her life, who you’ll meet in this series. This is no mere recital of facts and dates: it’s a narrative of real peoples’ lives.

Target audiences: history and historical fiction readers, civil and Constitutional rights activists, Anglophiles, teachers, colonial America, genealogy enthusiasts, religious history students, women’s studies and social studies students, homeschool teachers, book groups, librarians, readers who appreciate freedom and a heritage of nobility of character.

Charles Barber, retired high school history, civics, and English teacher, and Don Keele, Jr., minister, youth director, and high school religion teacher, reviewed and recommended the series of books called The Dyers.

Charles Barber wrote: “For those of you wish to have a better understanding of the struggles that led to our religious freedoms, Christy K. Robinson has written a two volume set of historical novels about Mary Dyer. Mary and William Dyer, Anne Hutchinson, and Roger Williams are largely responsible for us having true religious liberty and not just the right to practice the state religion freely. Christy brings to life all the major players as she tells Mary's story. It is a story of the struggles both the women and the men as a new civilization is created in New England.

“Like the best writers of historical fiction, Christy has thoroughly researched her material and creates dialogue based the letters and diaries of her characters. I must confess that I am a partial reviewer. Christy graded papers for me when she was a student at Thunderbird Academy. I could not be more proud of what she has accomplished. Go to Amazon.com and order Mary Dyer Illuminated, vol. 1 and Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This, vol. 2.”

Don Keele wrote: “Mary Dyer Illuminated is an absolutely amazing book! Once I had a grasp of the context, I couldn't put it down. As I finished this one and read the notes at the end, I began to fathom the full depth of research and how many hours/years the author has put into this story. The book reaffirmed that history indeed repeats itself, and people today, while pretending to be more sophisticated than those of Boston in the 1600s, can be just as vicious with their words and actions towards those with whom they disagree. The book not only entertained me, but moved me deeply."

☼☼☼☼☼  5.0 out of 5 stars
Christy [the author] weaves in excellent explanations of the nuances of the theological
By Grandpa B
Christy has done an incredible job of bringing life in 1600s England and New England to life in her historical novel Mary Dyer Illuminated. I wish that she had written this book years ago when I was still teaching high school history classes. The depth of information that she weaves into her story-telling makes it easier for us to understand the struggles of life nearly five hundred years ago. Christy's gift includes bringing the issues of religious freedom and the rights of women to the center of her story.

For most of us, if we knew anything about Mary Barrett Dyer, our knowledge was limited to the fact that she was a Quaker who was hung in the Puritan-controlled Massachusetts Bay Colony. Her story is so much more than that, and Christy brings Mary's full story to life. Along the way, Christy weaves in excellent explanations of the nuances of the theological, political and economic issues of the day. She helps us understand the difficulties in creating a new civilization in New England. But none of this interferes with her telling Mary Dyers' story.

For those of us who have ancestors from the seventeenth century New England, Christy brings these people to life and gives us a chance to understand the issues that they faced daily. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the issues of religious freedom and the rights of women. Those who want a better understanding of founding of the colonies in New England will also be satisfied.

☼☼☼☼☼   5.0 out of 5 stars
An Historical Novel That Will Keep You Turning the Pages
By Don Keele  
An excellent read looking into the lives of the early Puritans, especially at the life of Mary Dyer. Christy Robinson has created a page-turning novel based on some of history's little known characters. She has done meticulous research into the life and times surrounding Mary Dyer, including many actual journal entries. If you like historical novels, this is a must read!

☼☼☼☼☼   5.0 out of 5 stars
Clear, accurate, fascinating!
By Rondi A.
As a high school English teacher, I am always looking for books to add to my reading lists—for myself and my students. Back in the 90s I was teaching in a Boston suburb and found a collection of essays about the history of intolerance in America that included the story of Mary Dyer. My students were fascinated by the first story particularly—“The Silencing of Mary Dyer”—since many of them lived in Boston where the story takes place. I've been including it in my "Beginnings" unit every since.

Now, I teach clear across the country and have brought Mary’s story to my students in Arizona. Again, they found the story interesting, but recently, it became all the more real to them when an alumna of our school published two books about Mary Dyer!

I immediately contacted Ms. Robinson and asked her to come share Mary’s story along with the research and writing process involved in writing a historical novel. I then bought and read the books and proceeded to be impressed at the turn of each page. This well-researched, well-written two-volume story of an amazing and inspiring woman, her husband and family, along with a large cast of supporting characters, acquaints the reader with those who contributed substantially to the freedom of religion that every American citizen enjoys, regardless of their belief. Ms. Robinson has brought to life a time and place that I, as a long-time student of American literature and history, enjoyed thoroughly, and enjoyed even more sharing with my students, who responded with interest as well. They didn’t have to grow up in Boston to be able to see and understand Puritan Boston’s terrain—geographical or theological. Ms. Robinson painted the picture clearly and accurately, on every level. She even corrects some long-held misconceptions about Mary Dyer. We all came away with a deeper appreciation for those who lived so long ago but whose life-actions had far-reaching consequences.

Good reads for every age, Ms. Robinson’s books can now be found on this teacher’s American Literature book list. I will recommend them with enthusiasm and pleasure for years to come.

☼☼☼☼☼ 5.0 out of 5 stars
History that Impacts Everyone Now
In Book Two, Author Christy K. Robinson once again breathes life into the characters of William and Mary Dyer as she expands the story of the start of religious liberty in the United States. Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This, is a fascinating historical novel that brings to light the horrible persecution of people who didn't subscribe to the exact religious beliefs of those in power in the colonies of the 1630's. The Puritans, then in power in Boston, were quick to jail, whip and even destroy those who were Baptist, Quakers and/or even people of no religious beliefs. Mary Dyer's life and subsequent death shed light on their persecution and caught the attention of the Crown in England, resulting in those persecutions being ended, as well as opened the door for the subsequent separation of the powers of church and state in the Colonies, which, a hundred years later were written into our Constitution. Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This is a must read for anyone wanting to know more about the history of the freedoms that we enjoy in the United States.

☼☼☼☼☼  5.0 out of 5 stars
I heartily recommend both volumes for readers from junior high on up,
By Grandpa B -
In her second volume about Mary Dyer, Christy focuses on Mary's personal struggles with her faith and marriage. For those of us who have lived in the 20th and 21st centuries, it is difficult to understand how Mary could be so committed to her religious evolution. Among Christy's gifts in telling the story is her ability to put us inside Mary's mind as she gives up her roles of wife and mother as her religious convictions become the sole focus of her life. Her descriptions of the oppressive policies of the colonial leadership should make us all thankful for what the Dyers and Roger Williams created and defended in Rhode Island.

I heartily recommend both volumes for readers from junior high on up. Social studies teachers should read these books so that they can better explain the struggles that created and preserved our freedoms. Our understanding of this era, its leading figures and the challenges that they faced is forever enriched by what Christy presents in these books.

 The author, Christy K Robinson, is an alumna of Thunderbird Academy, Loma Linda University (BA in Communications, print media) and La Sierra University (16 units of graduate English). Her short bio is available at http://ChristyKRobinson.com .

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Are you a descendant of William and Mary Dyer?

Beware the genealogy sites: there are many false (and funny) notions out there

© 2014 Christy K Robinson
Click on the highlighted words or phrases to open a new tab about that subject. 

The blog author's paternal and maternal pedigree charts
mounted on a wall.
Genealogy websites are only as good as the information that people paste into them. Sometimes data is put there by professional genealogists and historical researchers, but more often, it's a stone soup of copy-pastes from other genealogy and Wiki pages that also have it wrong.

Many people who research their ancestry look at only the member of a family who is their direct ancestor. If they’re professional genealogists or historians, they like to see a family record. And before I wrote my three books on Mary and William Dyer, I had to know what happened to their children, who their associates were, and their children, where they were born, what properties they owned, who they married, their professions, their religious and political affiliations… 

The place to start is not necessarily with names in the past (start with the grandparents you know and work backward one step at a time). Certainly you would not start with a famous name that you’d like to have for an ancestor, but can’t prove! For instance, though my mother was a kick-butt ancestry researcher in the 1960s through 1980s (without internet, obviously), and she maxed out Personal Ancestral File v.1.0 in 1985 and had to call the techies in Salt Lake City to increase the memory, she made a few mistakes in equating a name and a locality with “how it must have been.” Later, better, more complete records have since corrected the data, but alas, I can’t claim those certain people as my ancestors. I can’t bend the facts to fit my known ancestors just because they have the right surname in the right city. Someday, I might find the missing link, but for now, I have to stop with what is known. It's very difficult to do that when you're *this close.*

 There were hundreds or even thousands of Dyers in England in the 1600s before the Great Migration to colonial America. It would be silly to think they were all siblings or close cousins. The origin of the Dyer name was probably wool dying, and when surnames came into more frequent use in medieval times, that industry took place in several places around the country. Here a Dyer, there a Dyer. As our William Dyer the Elder spelled it, Dyre, or Mary Barrett Dyer spelled it, Dire, it might have meant fear, trouble, or calamity. Most people of the 17th century spelled phonetically because there was no dictionary standard as there is today.

Another truth about names is that the custom, over thousands of years and countless cultures, was to name children after parents and grandparents. In the space of a hundred years, you could have five Williams—or more! If a baby or child died, parents would name subsequent children that same name. That’s what the Dyers did. Their first baby, born in 1634, died after being christened William, and they used the name again a few years later.

But our people were not the only Dyers or even William Dyers in New England at this time. There were Dyers in Maine and Cape Cod, and in Maryland—probably all the colonies. They had children who were, as the custom dictated, named after their fathers. William Dyer begat William Dyer begat William Dyer. And none of them were Mary Dyer’s husband or sons!

Mary and William emigrated to Boston, and their next child was born in October 1635, named Samuel. Two years later, in October, the anencephalic girl, called Mary’s “monster,” was stillborn. She had no name because they didn’t christen or baptize the dead. (Yet some websites omit the stillborn girl, and call her Mary, which would make Mary Jr. an old maid, age 28, at her marriage to Henry Ward!)

The Dyers’ fourth child was William—again. Based on events of his parents’ co-founding of Portsmouth and Newport, Rhode Island, and of his later life, it’s very probable that William Jr. was born in the fall of 1640. (Several of his siblings were born late in the year, so it’s reasonable to guess this about William Jr. also.) When he carried the previously-agreed-upon reprieve to his mother’s execution site, he was still just a teenager. He wrote, in his thirties, that he had been at sea for more than 20 years.

Mary gave birth to eight children (William the infant, Samuel, stillborn girl, William Jr., Maher, Henry, Mary, and Charles), and she may have had miscarriages that were never recorded. I’ve seen recent statistics that even in the 21st century, up to 40 percent of embryos will spontaneously miscarry because of defects—imagine what it might have been like 370 years ago! Further, one must consider that the mothers were nursing babies for a year or two, and lactation sometimes suppresses fertility.

After Samuel and the anencephalic girl who were born in Boston, and the parents moved to Rhode Island in 1638, there are no birth records or baptisms for Dyer children. There are two reasons for this: the vital records of Newport were lost at the bottom of New York harbor in the Revolutionary War, and/or the Dyers, like the Baptists and Antinomians of Rhode Island, didn’t baptize infants or children, but would have waited for them to reach an age of accountability when they could make their own decisions about eternal salvation.

The other Dyer children can be approximately dated by subsequent life events. Maher was probably born in the fall of 1643, because he’s named after the terrible deaths of Anne Hutchinson and her younger children. Henry Dyer was born about 1647, Mary about 1648, and Charles in 1650. The birth and weaning of Charles meant that Mary Dyer couldn’t have sailed to England in 1650, as some websites have written. There’s a 1652 letter from Governor William Coddington to John Winthrop Jr. that says Mary had sailed on the “first ship.”

I’ve also seen references in 19th century books that Coddington wrote letters to John Winthrop Sr., years after the Bay Colony founder, Winthrop Sr., had died. No, Coddington was writing to Winthrop Jr. 

And I read that King Charles II, who wasn’t even born until 1630, made Massachusetts land grants to the Dyers in 1636—but in reality, the land grants were made for financial and service considerations by the colonial governor and assistants under their charter. Their corporation bought the land in their "patent" or charter, so they were the ones who granted deeds. People will put anything they like in genealogy pages, and other people come along and trust that the poster has diligently done their research.  

Poster of Mary Dyer's
handwriting, and a photo
of the Dyer statue in Boston.
 I've read Mary Dyer's handwriting for myself, and learned that her words and the words of the letters we read in history and genealogy sites are not the same—her words were rewritten in London, after her death.

So before you jump to a conclusion, you have to know life spans of your people, in birth, death, marriages, and children. You have to be realistic about travel times and modes of transport, climate, pirate or criminal threats, pregnancies, newborns and nursing babies, ongoing international politics and conflicts or wars. You have to look at maps, for goodness' sake. One website says that the Dyers were married at a church in Leicestershire. Excuse me, that would be in London, 100 miles to the south!

I’ve studied the family of Sir Henry Vane the Younger, after whom I believe Henry Dyer was named because there aren’t Henrys (that we know of) in the Dyer relatives. Vane named a daughter Mary, which was not a family name among his or his wife’s relatives. Katherine Marbury Scott, Anne Hutchinson’s younger sister, had no Marys in her relatives, so I think she named her daughter after Mary Dyer, too.

After Mary Dyer was executed on June 1, 1660 (one website called it May 32, 1660—think about that), her husband William married a woman named Catherine in about 1661, and they had one daughter, Elizabeth, in 1661 or 62. I’ve actually seen a website that wrote that Elizabeth was Mary and William’s daughter, born two years after Mary Dyer died.  

Elsewhere in this blog, I’ve written that people have confused William Dyer Sr. with a Puritan minister of the same name in London, who was born 23 years too late to be our man.

And there’s the persistent myth that Mary Dyer was the daughter of Arbella Stuart and William Seymour—but if you plot out the events from Arbella’s biography based on her letters and papers, you’d see that the timing of who was where and when (never mind the fantastic illogic) proves that there was never a Stuart-Seymour child.

Timelines, people! Do the math. Use your logic. Put it in context. “If it doesn’t fit—you must quit!” (to paraphrase from an infamous trial of the 1990s).

 If you’d like to see the research that does not repeat the mistakes, legends, and hyperbole of the Victorian era (as immortalized in the books of Horatio Rogers and Ruth Plimpton), you need to read the nonfiction book, The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport. It’s written in short chapters and sorted by topics (Mary Dyer, William Dyer, their associates/friends/enemies, the culture they lived in, and cosmic events). The accounts of the early Quaker historians are balanced or supplemented by discoveries in New England colonial annals, archives of the British Library, the Massachusetts Archive and State Library, Winthrop journal and papers, scores of out-of-print books, and a considerable bookshelf full of recent research.

To read it in an in-depth story-telling style, read both novels: Mary Dyer Illuminated; and Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This. Readers say that these are not light, fluffy stories. They're meaty. They're chewy. They use easy language, but require some thinking. And you'll remember them for a very long time. There’s even a timeline at the end of the second book that resolves the lives and events of the Dyer family through the end of the first generation.

Knowing what happened to the Dyers and what made them who they were, and knowing how they met and overcame those challenges, will change you whether or not you're the recipient of their DNA. You'll see how they were among the foundation stones that built America.  

"It is not the glorious battlements, the painted windows, 
the crouching gargoyles that support a building, 
but the stones that lie unseen in or upon the earth. 
It is often those who are despised and trampled on 
that bear up the weight of a whole nation."

JOHN OWEN, English Puritan minister

1616 – 1683