William was baptized at Kirkby Laythorpe, Lincolnshire, England on September 19, 1609. On August 20, 1625, at age 16, he was apprenticed as the son of William Dyer, yeoman, of Kirkby to Walter Blackborne, fishmonger for nine years from midsummer 1624. On August 19, 1641 William Dyer "millyner", "now in New England" was taxed as a member of the Fishmonger's Company. A milliner was one who sold small wares and he was so styled because he imported goods chiefly from Milan in Italy. The trade of Milliner was a branch of the Haberdasher's trade. Milliners imported such articles as "pouches, broches, agglets, spurs, capes, glasses, French and Spanish gloves, French cloth of frizard (Frieze), daggers, swords, knives, Flanders-dyed kersies, Spanish girdles, dials, tables, etc." Milliners often became wealthy and important persons.
The privilege of becoming a member in one of the London Companies was obtained in three ways: by patrimony, apprenticeship, and redemption. Apparently William became a member by the second method. That he was in the Fishmongers Company, though a Milliner, is explained by the fact that the right of membership was also hereditary. "All lineal descendants of a freeman had a right to become freemen. Hence, in course of time all the freemen may in no way be connected with the trade which the name of the fraternity bears." Walter Blackborne, to whom William was apprenticed, though a member of the Fishmongers Company, probably had no connection with the fishing industry. He, too, was doubtless a Milliner.
The apprentices of the Fishmongers Company were kept very strictly and the rules stated that "vicious and unruled apprentices, and using dice, cards, or any such games, or haunting, resorting to taverns, or for other misbehaving" should be punished. In addition to his apprenticeship to Walter Blackborne, William's repeated appointment as clerk or recorder of various jurisdictions in New England demonstrated a high level of education.
On October 27, 1633, William married Mary Barrett at St. Martin-In-The-Fields, London, Middlesex, England. In this connection, it should be noted that Samuel Dyer, son of William and Mary, named his sixth son Barrett, obviously for his mother's family.
William must have been free of the Fishmongers Company by 1633 or 1634 at latest, and he at once started business as a milliner in the New Exchange and late in 1634 or early in 1635 he and Mary emigrated to Boston. On December 13, 1635, William and Mary joined the Boston church of which Rev. John Wilson was pastor. It was this same Rev. Wilson who reviled Mary Dyer when she went to her execution. William became a freeman March 3, 1635/6.
At a Boston Town Meeting held 23rd of the 11th month 1635, William Dyer was chosen Clerk of a special commission for the fortification of Fort Hill. At this meeting it was, "agreed yt, for ye raysing of a new Worke of fortification upon ye Fort Hill, about yt which is there alreddy begune, the whole town would bestowe fourteene dayes worke a man. For this end, Mr. Deputie (Bellingham), Mr. Harry Vane, Mr. John Winthrop, senr., Mr. William Coddington, Mr. John Winthrop, junr., Captain John Underhill and Mr. William Brenton are authorized as Commissioners."
They were directed to "sett downe how many dayes worke would be equall for each man to doe, and what money such should contribute beside their worke as were of greater abilities and had fewer servants, that therewith provision of tooles and other necessaryes might bee made, and some recompence given to such of ye poorer sort as should be found to bee overburdened with their fourteene dayes worke; and Mr. John Coogan in chosen Treasurer, and Mr. William Dyer, Clarke, for ye furtherance of this worke."
At a meeting of January 8, 1637/8 it was recorded that "whereas att a Generall Meeting the 14th of the 10th month (December) 1635, it was by generall Consent agreed upon for the laying out of great Allottments unto the then Inhabitants, the same are now brought in." Among these "great allotments" were those of Rumney Marsh and Pullen Point, within the town of Boston, on the north and northeast side of the harbor. "Mr. William Dyar" received 42 acres, "bounded on the North with Mr. Glover, on the East with the Beach, on the South with Mr. Cole, and on the West with the highway."
Rumney Marsh and Pullen Point were part of what later became the town of Chelsea, and were north and northeast of the town proper of Boston, though at the time included in the boundaries of Boston. As Rumney Marsh and Pullen Point were apportioned to the dwellers in Boston for farm lands, good water communication with that town was essential. This probably explains why William Dyer had part-ownership in a Dock in Boston. Eight of the fourteen owners of the Dock were land holders at Rumney Marsh across the harbor. This Dock was conveyed on March 25, 1639 to Richard Parker, merchant.
William Dyer's "house-plot" was in the vicinity of what is now Summer Street in the present business district of the city. Evidently William did not hold his Rumney Marsh land long. On September 23, 1639, Elizabeth Glover, widow, sold the 49 acres allotted to her husband, they abutted on the lands of Samuel Cole, towards the South. Thus Cole must have acquired the Dyer allotment, which on January 8, 1637/8, was Glover's southern boundary.
By the time the bounds of the Rumney Marsh and Pullen Point allotments were finally described and recorded, January 8, 1637/8, the religious controversy in Boston had reached its climax. Rev. John Wheelwright was called into Court for opinions expressed in a sermon preached on a special day of Fast, and was adjudged guilty of sedition and also of contempt. The Governor, Henry Vane, and a few others protested against the decision of the Court. The Church of Boston tendered a petition in behalf of Rev. Wheelwright. On March 15, 1637, William and others signed a remonstrance, affirming the innocence of Rev. Mr. Wheelwright, and that the Court had condemned the truth of Christ. Seeing he had so many and such strong friends, the Court concluded to suspend sentence until the next Court. In the end, after a delay of some months, he was sentenced to banishment from the jurisdiction of Boston. Wheelwright's followers persisted in their opinions and the Court decided to proceed against the persons who had signed the petition in his favor. Singly, and in groups, they were called before the Court. William was summoned with three other of the "principal stirring men." He had little to say for himself, the account says. William Coddington was a member of this Court, which may explain in part the antipathy shown later by William Dyer toward Coddington when they were settled on Rhode Island.
On November 15, 1637 William was disfranchised for signing the above remonstrance. Five days still later, on November 20, 1637, by order of the General Court, he and fifty or more others of the petitioners were warned to give up all guns, pistols, swords, powder, shot, etc. "because the opinions and revelations of Mr. Wheelwright and Mrs. Hutchinson have seduced and led into dangerous errors many of the people here in New England." Several people were dismissed peremptorily by Governor Winthrop in his aristocrat fashion as "very apt to meddle in public affairs beyond their calling and skill." Among them was William Dyer, the milliner and husband of Mary whose recent grotesque stillbirth and near-death still haunted Anne Hutchinson. Governor Winthrop in his Journal thus alludes to William and his wife: "The wife of one William Dyer a milliner in the New Exchange, a very proper and fair woman, and both of them notoriously infected with Mrs. Hutchinson's errors, and very censorious and troublesome."
"All were ordered to deliver their arms at Mr. Keayne's house in Boston, before the 30th of November, under penalty of £10 for every default; guns, pistols, swords, powder, shot and match; and they were forbidden to buy or borrow" more.
Upon the banishment of Anne Hutchinson and Rev. Wheelwright and the disfranchisement and disarming of their adherents, William Dyer joined eighteen others in the settlement of the Island of Aquidneck (Island of Peace), afterwards named Rhode Island. The deed for the purchase from the Indians was made to William Coddington, John Clarke and their associates, and bears the date of March 24, 1636/7. It was witnessed by Roger Williams and Randall Holden.
The parcel of land William had been allotted at Rumney Marsh and Pullen Point was soon acquired by Samuel Cole. Prior to leaving Boston, a compact was drawn up on April 28, 1639 William and eighteen others. This Portsmouth Compact was officially signed in Portsmouth on , March 7, 1638. William was elected clerk this same day. On May 20, 1638, William was granted "at the cove by the marsh 6 acres," in Portsmouth.
A disagreement among these members was followed by the settlement of some of the Portsmouth families into the new town of Newport. William was chosen clerk when the agreement for the settlement of Newport was drawn up on April 28, 1639. He was made General Recorder of the Colony in 1647 when the government of "Providence Plantations in Narragansett Bay" was set up under the first charter.
William was a very active member of the Colony. There are many references to him in Colonial Records of Rhode Island. On January 5, 1639, he and three others were to proportion the land. On March 10, 1640, he had 87 acres of land recorded to him at Newport. William was on the list of freemen in Newport, March 16, 1640/1 and again in 1655. He was Secretary for the towns of Portsmouth and Newport in 1640 and for six consecutive years thereafter. When in 1647 the government of Providence Plantations in Narragansett Bay was set up under the first charter, William Dyre was chosen General Recorder of the Colony. On May 16, 1648, he acted as Clerk of the assembly. In May, 1650, the office of Attorney-General for the Colonies was created which he filled until 1653. In 1653, he received a commission from the Assembly to act against the Dutch by sea. He was named Captain and Commander-in-Chief upon the land. In 1661 William was chosen surveyor of Misquamicut. William served as Commissioner in 1661-62 and General Solicitor 1665-66-68. William was on a Committee for "taking care that the state's part of all prizes be secured, and account given," May 17, 1653.
William served as a Deputy to the Rhode Island General Assembly from Newport, June 28, 1655, May 22, 1662, and June 17, 1662. He served as a Deputy for Warwick on May 21 and May 27, 1661. He served on a Rhode Island grand jury May 26, 1649 (foreman), October 13, 1663 (foreman), October 19, 1664, December 10, 1663 (foreman), May 8, 1665, and May 6, 1667 (foreman). He served on the Portsmouth committee "appointed for the venison trade with the Indians" on November 16, 1638 and on a Committee to lay out land, January 2, 1638/9.
William did not get along with the Governor of Portsmouth, William Coddington. In describing the bounds of certain highways laid out by himself and two others, William complains on February 15, 1654 of encroachments upon the highway by Mr. Coddington and Richard Tew, closing with the following language: "Let them therefore that know any injury in this kind put it down under their hands, as I now have done, and be ready to make it good as I am, so shall we avoid hypocrisy, dissimulation, backbiting and secret wolvish devourings, one of another, and declare ourselves men, which, how unmanlike the practice of some sycophants are, is and may safely be demonstrated. Therefore let us all that love the light come forth to the light and show their deeds."
On May 22, 1649, it is "ordered that the suits presented unto this Assembly by Mr. William Dyre against Governor William Coddington, be deferred until the General Court of Trials to be holden for this colony in October next at Portsmouth." It was another matter when he sued William Coddington for the princely sum of £500 in March of 1655/6 in a case that would struggle on through the courts for more than a decade. The court commented that the "case hath been much debated and the result of the court is that they have taken full cognizance of the matter and if it shall be proceeded in yet upon consideration 5 menÉare desired to see if they can compass the matter." They couldn't. Despite pretending to agree, as late as September 19, 1664, in an action of trespass, William was still seeking redress, but lost. Bad feelings caused trouble out of court. On March 27, 1666, execution was ordered by the Assembly to proceed in a case brought against William by Coddington for killing a mare. On May 7, 1666, William Dyer again sued William Coddington, this time for "uttering words of contumacy &c."; once again Dyer lost.
On May 22, 1661, William was chosen one of seven finalists to be chosen as colony agent in England. He made two trips to England in 1651 and 1653 at his own expense with Roger Williams and John Clarke, to obtain a revocation of Governor Coddington's power. He left his wife, Mary abroad, where she became converted to the Quaker faith.
In 1648 William Dyer was called "Lieutenant." On May 18, 1653, William received a commission from the General Assembly to act against the Dutch. The officers were to be "Captain John Underhill, Commander in Chief upon the land and Captain William, Dyer, Commander in Chief upon sea." He was named in the charter of 1663, and on September 7, 1664, was one of a committee sent upon the arrival of the Royal Commissioners at New York with the congratulations and thanks of the colony. In October, 1664, he was one of a committee "to ripen the matter about the peoples votting by proxces."
William was involved in several land transactions throughout Rhode Island.
On September 29, 1643, John Vaughan, husbandman, sold to "William Dyre of Nuport" land on the east side of Newport which Vaughan had purchased of Robert Bennett. On March 1, 1642/3, Mr. Samuel Wilbore of Portsmouth sold to "William Dyer of Nuport" six acres in Newport once owned by John Lawrence.
On September 29, 1643, Thomas Roberts of Newport, carpenter, described his purchase of Newport lands given to Henry Knolls and Lambert Woodard and the intervening purchases and sales "all neglecting records;" record was then made that Roberts sold these lands to James Rogers, who then sold them to William Dyer.
On May 5, 1644, Thomas Applegate of Newport sold to William Dyer thirty acres adjacent to Dyer's farm. On December 20, 1644, William Dyer of Newport sold to George Gardiner a ten-acre neck of land which Dyer had bought of Thomas Applegate.
In a marginal note, William Dyer (who was the recorder), described his lands:
Wm Dyers farm
[June or January] 20th 1644
On October 18, 1669, testimony was given in his behalf by Governor Coddington: "I do affirm that we the purchasers of Rhode Island (myself being the chief), William Dyer desiring a spot of land of us, as we passed by it, after we had purchased the said island, did grant him our right in the said island, and named it Dyer's Island." Others so testified also.
On February 18, 1669/9, "William Dyre of Newport...Senior and Kathrin Dyre his wife" sold to Peleg Sanford of Newport "a tract or parcel of land containing twelve acres."
On July 7, 1670, "William Dyre of Newport..., gent.," deeded to "my son Henry Dyre...that part of my farm lying at the northerly end thereof...but in case my son Henry should have issue only females then my son Samuell...after the death of the said Henry shall give one hundred and fifty pounds sterling the eldest to have a double portion the rest an equal divident of the residue...the land to return to...Samuell."
On July 25, 1670, "Samuell Dyre & Henry Dyre both of Newport," bound themselves in £300 to "our father William Dyre of Newport," they to pay "unto their sister Mary Dyre the eldest daughter of...William Dyre" £100 within three years after William's decease, and to "Elizabeth Dyre the second daughter of William Dyre" £40 "when she cometh to the age of eighteen years."
On August 5, 1670, "William Dyre of Newport..., gent.," deeded to "my son William Dyre...my island...called Dyre's Island lying and being situated in Narrogansett Bay upon the northern side of Rhode Island over against Prudence Island."
William's wife, Mary, was hanged in Boston on June 1, 1660. About 1664, William married secondly, Katherine (____). William died sometime before December 24, 1677, on which date Governor Benedict Arnold in his will of this date mentions William Dyer, Sr., now late deceased.
His widow Katherine had her dower set off by order of Town Council in 1681, and she was alive six years later. As William's widow, Katherine Dyer and widow Anne Dyer, Samuel's relict [Samuel was William's son], went at it tooth and nail for three years in the courts over a "breach of covenant" before the justices saw fit to "cease the action." At the May 12, 1679 court, "upon indictment by the General Solicitor against Katherine Dyre of Newport for misbehavior she being in court called, appeared: pleads not guilty and refers for trial to God & the country. The Court upon serious consideration of the matter see cause to quash the bill." Katherine was not through, however, and went after her step-son Charles Dyer in 1682 in a £30 complaint of trespass, in which the jury found against her. These actions probably represent the attempts of William's widow to gain possession from the children of William Dyer's first wife of the estate that she felt belonged to her children with him.
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See lineage of Dyer Family
Read the Biography of William's grandfather, John Dyer
Read the Biography of William's father, William Dyer
Read the Biography of William's son, Samuel Dyer
Read the Biography of William's grandson, Henry Dyer
Read the Biography of William's famous Wife, Mary Barrett Dyer
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