It was one thing for a man in those days to stand up to the church; it was something else for a woman . Women were expected to be seen but not heard. They belonged to their husbands; they were propertychattel. A husband could sell his wife's labor and keep the wages. If she ran away, she was accused of stealing herself and her clothing.
But some people, especially those known as the Quakersor Friendshad different ideas. Quakers called their church services "meetings." In a Quaker meeting everyone is equal, there are no ministers, and anyone may speak outincluding women . Like the Puritans they were convinced they followed the "true" religion, and they wanted to spread the word to others. Some Quakers seemed determined to be martyrs, and a woman named Mary Dyer was one of them. Even when the Puritans shipped her off to Rhode Island, she broke the laws and returned to Boston to preach her religion anew. Finally, in 1660, the Puritans hanged her. Her last words were a final refusal to save herself by leaving Boston. She said, "In obedience to the will of the Lord God I came and in his will I abide faithful to death."
Most Puritans thought they had done everything they could to be fair to Mary Dyer. It was a different world then, a world just leaving the Middle Ages. The whole world believed in witches in the seventeenth century. People thought that if you wanted to make a bargain with the devil you could do it, and then torment people and fly through the air on a broomstick, or become invisible and squeeze through keyholes. People often blamed witches for inexplicable natural disasters. Those accused of being witches were sometimes whipped, hanged, or drowned . But what happened in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, was different from that, as the Reverend Cotton Mather described: "An army of devils is horribly broke in upon … our English settlements: and the houses of the good people … are fill'd with the doleful shrieks of their children and servants…. We have with horror seen such witchcraft ."
Twenty innocent people were put to death as witchesalong with two dogs . These cruel episodesthe witchcraft crisis in Salem, the hanging of Mary Dyer, the expulsion of Roger Williams, and the persecution of many who were thought to have "sinned"seemed to clash with goodness and purity at the heart of puritanism. Their children and grandchildren began asking questions for which there were no good answers. The old, intolerant ideas would not survive in the new land.