About William Dyre (Dyer)
MAJOR WILLIAM DYRE, OF NEW YORK.
BY COLONEL J. GRANVILLE LEACH, LL. B.
Major William Dyre was the son of Captain William and Mary Dyre. Captain William Dyre, a London milliner, emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts, and with his wife joined the First Church there, in December, 1635. Two years later he was among those who offended the Massachusetts authorities by signing the historic remonstrance against the action of the General Court toward the Rev. John Wheelwright. Summoned before the Court for "the said seditious writing," he defended the same; nevertheless, he was disfranchised November 15, 1637. He then removed to Rhode Island and was one of "the eighteen " who signed the first compact of government for that province, March 7, 1638, and was elected Secretary on the same day. He filled the office of Secretary several years; was General Recorder, 1648; Attorney-General, 1650-1653; Member of the General Court, 1661, 1662, 1664-1666; General Solicitor, 1665, 1666 and 1668; and Secretary to the Council, 1669. In 1653 Captain Dyre was commissioned Commander-in-Chief upon the sea of an expedition fitted out in Rhode Island against the Dutch.
Major Dyre's mother was the famous Mary Dyre of Quaker persecution—the only woman to suffer capital punishment in all the oppression of the Friends the world over. She accompanied her husband in 1653 on his mission to England with Roger Williams and John Clark, to obtain a revocation of Governor Coddington's power in Rhode Island, and, during her stay abroad, became a convert to Quakerism and a minister of that Society. On her arrival at Boston in 1657 she was imprisoned, on account of her religious proclivities, but was released upon the mediation of her husband, and permitted to go with him to Rhode Island. She, however, returned to Boston, where, October 18, 1659, she, William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson, were tried and convicted for "theire rebelljon, sedition & presumptuous obtruding upon us, notwithstanding theire being sentenced to banishment on payne of death, as underminers of this government." The sentence of death was pronounced by Governor Endicott, and Robinson and Stevenson executed. The life of Mary Dyre was, however, saved through the intercession of her son William, an account of which is thus given in the minutes of the General Court:
"Whereas Mary Dyer is condemned by the Generall Court to be executed for hir offences, on the petition of William Dier, hir sonne, it is ordered, that the sajd Mary Dyer shall haue liberty for forty eight howers after this day to depart out of this jurisdiction, after which tjme, being found therein, she is forthwith to be executed, & in the meane time that she be kept close prisoner till hir sonne or some other be ready to carry hir away wthin the aforesajd tjme; and it is further ordered, that she shall be carrjed to the place of execution, & there to stand vpon the gallowes, with a rope about hir necke, till the rest be executed, & then to retourne to the prison & remajne as aforesajd."
After her reprieve, she wrote: "Once more to the General Court assembled in Boston, speaks Mary Dyer even as before; my life is not accepted neither availeth me in comparison of the lives and liberty of the truth, and servants of the living God," etc. She left the province according to command, but appeared in Boston the following May, and on the thirty-first of that month was again brought before the Court and condemned to death. The next morning she was escorted to the gallows by a company of soldiers, and executed, her body hanging, as one of the judges remarked, "a flag for others to take example by."
This notable woman is described by Governor Winthrop, in his Journal of 1638, as "a very promp, and fair woman of a very proud spirit," and by Gerard Croese, in his History of the Quakers, as " a person of no mean extract or parentage, of an estate pretty plentiful, of a comly stature and countenance, of a piercing knowledge in many things, of a wonderful sweet and pleasant discourse."
An English writer has said: "The most important fact concerning Mary Dyre is that of her murder having been the motive of the wonderfully liberal charter granted by Charles II. to the province of Rhode Island, making it the first spot whereon religious toleration and absolute freedom of worship were established by law."
Major Dyre first comes into prominence in 1673. Of his life prior to that time little is known, but from his title of Captain and the action next mentioned, it is conjectured that he had somewhere been in military service under the Crown. Shortly after the recapture of New York by the Dutch [July, 1673] Major Dyre memoralized His Majesty's Government, urging the recovery of the lost possessions, and proposing a plan of action in the following words:
"And in regard his Mat1es affairs at this Juncture of Time can ill spare any great number of ships or Quantityes of men to Reduce yc place, I humbly propose a ffacil expedition to effect ye same, Craving of his Ma'1c only a considerable fforce of ffrigotts with what ffire ships shall be necessary for the design, man'd suff1ciently for defence till they arriue in New Engld where men may be had to supply his Mat1es occasions; who being acquainted with the Countery and ffresh ffor seruice, one may be capable to perform as much as two Tyered with a long Voyage.
"Therefore to raise men I presume this course would be proper; ffirst having ample power and instructions ffrom his Matie so to doe, proclaim y' it is his Mat1e's RoyalI pleasure to will and require all his Louing Subjects, of their volentary motions to demonstrat their obedience by Lending speedy aid and assistance ffor y" Retrivall of New York.
"So composing a small land army of about 2000 men horse and ffoot and w"1 them besiege the town, thereby debaring ye Enemy of all supplys out of yc Countery, and then immediately Block up ye harbour wth ye ships of warre, wch will unavoidably compell the Dutch to surrender, or else expose them selves to the inconvenience and Terrour of ffire and sword, wch must be executed by storming the Town, and Burning their ships in the Rhoad.
"If the premises be speedily undertaken they may Easily be accomplished, but if deferr'd will proue more difficult, and in all probability the benefitt accrewing ffrom yc prizes to be taken in y6 port, will defray ye charg and bring some money into his Ma')"5 coffers, also the same adventure giuing safe conduct to the V1rginia ffleet out and home."
While the treaty of peace between England and the Netherlands, signed February 9, 1674, made such expedition unnecessary, Major Dyre's memorial doubtless served to establish him in the favor of the Duke of York, who appointed him to the high office of Collector of Customs of his territories in America, under a commission dated July 2, 1674.
About this time Major Dyre took up his residence in New York, purchasing several acres of land between Maiden lane and Wall street, which he afterwards sold to Thomas Lloyd, Lieutenant-Governor of Pennsylvania. In 1674, and several subsequent years, he was a member of the Governor's Council, and in 1680 was elected Mayor of the city. The records of that day throw no light upon his administration of the mayorality; but while in this office he became seriously involved in a controversy arising out of the collectorship. In 1674 the Duke of York promulgated the customs duties to be levied in his possessions for three years. In 1677 the Duke, in a letter to Governor Andros, arbitrarily directed the latter "to continue the same rates and other dutyes for three yeares longer, to commence from ye end of these now running." This limitation expired in November, 1680, when the merchants of New York refused to pay duties and discharged their cargoes without regard to customs officials. In some cases the Collector obtained the tax, and in others detained the goods for non-payment. In this confusion the merchants caused Dyre's arrest on the charge of high treason, under this indictment:
"William Dyre standeth charged and accused by the name of Wm- Dyre late of the Citty of New Yorke gentl. for that hee the sd Wm Dyre severall times since the first of May anno 1680 att the Citty aforesaid as a false Traytour to our Soveraigne Lord the King hath trayterously, maliciously and adwsedly used and exercised Regall Power and Authority over the King's Subjects for the better support and upholding whereof hee the sd \Vm Dyre hath truiterously, maliciously and advisedly plotted and contrived Innovacons in Governm' and the subversion and change of the known Ancient and Fundamental! Lawes of the Kealme of England, by virtue of which arbitrary and unlawfull power hee the said W"1 Dyre (together wth other some false Traytours unknowne) hath many times since the fir.-t of November last past Establisht and imposed unlawfull Customes and Imposicons on the goods and merchandise of His Ma)1'" Liege People tradeing in this Place,by force compelling them to pay the same and hath Implored and made use of Sould" to maintaine and defend him in these his ujust and unlawfull practices contrary to the great charter of Libcrtyes, Contrary to the Peticon of Right, and contrary to other statutes in these cases made and provided and contrary to the honour and peace of our most Soveraigne Lord the King that now is, his crowne & Dignity. Samuel Winder."
At the Special Court of Assizes, held July 2, 1681, the Grand Jury met to consider the indictment. Twenty-one witnesses were examined, and on the following day the jury, returned a "true bill," upon which the Sheriff brought the Collector before the Court, where he was informed of the action of the juryand that "hee was the King's prisoner." The seal of the city and his commission as Mayor were then demanded by the President Judge, and refused by the defendant, who declared he had "received them from the Governor." The trial was postponed for two days, when the prisoner appeared and pleaded "not guilty." Twenty witnesses were then examined for the prosecution. The defendant being called to make his defense, demanded "to know by what lawe they proceeded against him, and the authority and commission by which the Court sate, saying if they proceeded by his Majties letters Patents to his Royall Highnesse, hee had the same authority, and one part could not try the other." This ingenious defense was evidently a surprise to the august judges, who withdrew for consultation, and, after some debate, returned and announced their decision in these words:
"That Captain William Dyre having questioned the Power and Authority of this Court alledging hee was commissionated from his R'" H's as they were, be sent home in the Pincke Hope, George Heathcolt Ma- now bound for London to the Secretary of State to be proceeded against as his Majne and Councill shall direct. And Samuel Winder his accuser pursuant to his Recognizance of Five Thousand Pounds taken before the Councill is to prosecute him in England accordingly."
On his arrival in London, Captain Dyre attended before the Privy Council, and, upon giving security for his appearance at the trial, was admitted to go at large. After waiting some months, Winder failing to prosecute the case, Dyre petitioned the Council, urging that he be given his liberty. His appeal was referred to the Lords of Trade, who made a favorable report, and the Council, September 30, 1682, entered the following order:
"Captain William Dyre having complied with the Order of Council dated the 3d of August last in reference to Samuel Winder by whom hee has been accused at New York of high Treason for levying of Customes there. And the said Winder having not, since that time, made his appearance in order to a prosecution; the Lords of the Committee of Plantacons are humbly of opion: That the Bond wherein the said Cap' Dyre stands bound for his appearance at the Council Board may bee now delivered up to him, to th' end hee may take his Remedy at Law against the said Winder at New York or elsewhere, as hee shall thinke fitt. Read in Council 26 Octob 1682."
Prior to the arrest of Captain Dyre, the Duke of York had dispatched his agent, John Lewen, to America to investigate Governor Andros's administration. Lewen charged many shortcomings against both the Governor and Collector. These were fully answered in person during Dyre's stay in England, and Sir John Churchill, Attorney-General to the Duke, to whom the matter was referred, found that such officials "had behaved themselves very well in their several stations."
Just how long Major Dyre remained abroad is uncertain; but in his absence Cornelius Steenwyck succeeded him in the mayoralty.
Whatever the estimation in which the Collector was held by his fellow New Yorkers, he certainly stood in high favor at Court, which is shown in his advancement by King Charles II., January 4, 1682, from the Collectorship, under the Duke of York, to the Surveyor-Generalship "of His Majesty's customes in his severall colonies and plantations in America." This office, which placed him at the head of the customs service in America, he held until his death.
He was subsequently further commissioned King's Collector of Customs for Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and the story of the presentation of his credentials to the Governor and Council of that Province is best told in the language of the minutes of the Council:
"Majr. Dyer Came to ye Councill, and tould y' he presented himselfe before them according to bis Instructions to take an oath, as that had directed him to doe before he Entered into his Office of y= King's Collecr of his Customes in Pennsil vania, and turned to y' Clause in his Instructions & ye Secretary read it to ye Councill, with his Comission from y" Comissrs of ye Customes, and yc Coppy of y* Lords to them to grant it, Coppys of wch both were left.
"The Councell tould him it was against their methods to take an Oath, but if he pleased to be attested, according to y= Laws of the Province, they would attest him: he made answer, he understood that before, and Expected no otherways, for it was what he had done in East Jarsey. Then he was attested thus:
"Thou dost Solmnly declare in yc Presents of God, and before this board, that thou will truly and Justly perform yc office of yc King's Collectr of his Customs in yc Province of Pennsilvania, according to y" Instructions he Received from y*5 Commissrs of his Majesty's Customes.
"Majr. Dyer produced a Coppy of j* King's Proclamation Concernin the Plantion trade, wch was read and left with yc Councill.
"His Commission for Surveyr Genii of his Majts Collonys and Plantations in America was read, and yc Coppy Left.
"Then was Read Majr. Dyer's Instructions both for Surveyr Genall of all his Majts Colloneys & Plantations in America, & for Collect of Casaria, Pennsilvania and New Jarsey. In one Paragraph of his Instructions for Collector, he was directed to leave the Coppy of them wth ye Govr, for which he desired at present to toe excused, he being in great haste going to New Yorke, and they would take up much lime Coppying, but Intended shortly here againe, then would present them with one."
For unknown reasons, Major Dyre was moved to quit New York and settle in Penn's Province. Purchasing large tracts of land in Sussex county, now in Delaware, he there established his residence.
In 1687 he was elected a member of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, from Sussex county, for a term of three years; but, having given some offense in his administration as collector, the council arbitrarily refused him admission to their body.
He did not long survive his settlement in Pennsylvania. His death occurred in Sussex county, between February 20, 1688, and June 5, following, the former being the date and the latter the probate of his Will, in which he is described as " William Dyre of the County of Sussex in the territories of the Province of Pennsylvania Esq." The document was also proved in London, September 4, 1690, and names his former "honored Governor," Sir Edmund Andros, as trustee.
Major Dyre was possessed of a large estate and left surviving him wife Mary, and children William, Edmund, James, Sarah and Mary. Among his bequests were an estate of 2500 acres in Sussex county, together with Dyre's Island " lying between Prudence and Rhode Island," deeded to him by his father, and "two islands called Clabbord Islands in Casco Bay," to his wife, and "Rumbly Place," an estate of 2000 acres in the same county, to his son William.
The son, William, was a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1699, and one of the founders of the Episcopal church at New Castle, Delaware.
William Dyre's Timeline
Newport, Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Newport, RI?
Boston, Suffolk, MA
February 17, 1669
Boston, Suffolk, MA
September 4, 1673
Lynn, Essex, MA
October 23, 1681
Lynn, Essex, MA