October 4, 2009
The revolts of Native American Metacomet (also called King Philip), farmer Nathaniel Bacon, and Quaker Mary Dyer threatened specific groups in Colonial America. Metacomet led a military coup against the invading settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Alternately, Nathaniel Bacon led attacks against the Indians of Virginia, against orders of the Virginia Governor. In complete contrast Mary Dyer peacefully defied the Puritan law forbidding Quakers from entering the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Each of these individuals were causes of concern to particular groups in Colonial America, Metacomet presented a threat to the Massachusetts colonists, Nathaniel Bacon rose up against the English authorities, and Dyer challenged Puritan beliefs. However, Mary Dyer’s revolt stands apart from Metacomet and Nathaniel Bacon because the threat that she posed was one of ideas and this was the most frightening and the most challenging threat in colonial America.
Metacomet, a Pokanoket Indian in Massachusetts who, in 1675, attacked British settlements across the colony. Most towns were destroyed and “relative to the size of the population, King Philip’s War was the bloodiest in American History” (Digital American History). Metacomet’s revolt was against an enemy invasion, at least from the Native American perspective, of British settlers. While this may have led to a tremendous loss of life on both sides, battles have been and will be commonplace for settlers in the colonies. The revolt that King Philip led, while meaningful, certainly does not prevent settlers from continuing to move to the colonies nor does it have long-term ramifications for anyone except Native Americans. When this war was over in 1678 the power of Native Americans was diminished and thus, the threat to Colonial America.
Nathaniel Bacon’s revolt was in response to the Royal Governor of Virginia, who would not permit him to attack the Native Americans who inhabited land the settlers believe they should own. Bacon disobeys these orders, attacks them anyway, and nearly wipes out a tribe of Native Americans. He then proceeds towards Jamestown, burning it down as a symbol against Royal oppression. Bacon’s revolt fizzles upon his death and the several of his followers hang, in 1675. This is the one of the first revolts against Britain in the American colonies, and other will follow, but it is easily quashed. Whether this was because of Bacon’s death or Royal authority we may never know. We do know that the British did not appear threatened by this uprising, evident as they continued to build an increasing number of settlements throughout the colonies (Outline of American History).
In contrast to Metacomet and Bacon’s revolts for land, Mary Dyer revolted for religious freedom. Mary Dyer leaves Puritan Massachusetts for Rhode Island only to return, like many others, to convert people to her new found Quaker faith. In 1656, the Puritans passed a law, the Anti-Quaker Law, “according to the law, Quakers entering Massachusetts were to be whipped and jailed until they could be sent away” (Reasoning with Democratic Values). Many Quakers, including Dyer, were not deterred by such laws and continued to evangelize. The Puritans responded by enacting a stricter law, which was still not abided by and the Puritans declared that any Quaker who entered “after being banished would receive the death penalty” (Reasoning with Democratic Values). Mary Dyer was sentenced to death and spared as she stood at the gallows; her husband promised she would never return. However, Mary did return, knowing what the ramifications would be. This time she was hung. In response to her death, the British crown stated that now before anyone was put to death in the colonies, it first needed to go to trial in England. This response is the most profound and this case demonstrates the power that ideas can have and the power that they wield.
These three different revolts all posed threats for Colonial America. Metacomet and Bacon’s revolt was for land, though Metacomet fought to maintain his land while Bacon fought for more. Metacomet’s attacks on the colonist threatened their settlements in New England. Bacon’s attack also posed another threat by deliberately disobeying an order handed down from the Royal Governor. Whiles these events certainly did pose danger for Colonial America, but that is really all they did. The long-term ramifications were not great, both faded away into the history books. That is why it is surprising that Mary Dyer, a woman who rarely graces our history books, could have posed such a threat in Colonial America, specifically in Puritan Massachusetts. Her religious ideas caused changes in amendments of Puritan Laws and her eventual death was brought to the attention of the King of England and led to reform. Yes, it is true that the lives lost in the wars with King Philip and the uprising of Bacon were long felt, and Mary Dyer’s or other Quakers are rarely heard today. However, most certainly in her time, the threat she posed was greater than the death Colonists may face at the hands of battle. To the Puritans her ideas threatened the very existence of their society and the core of their religious beliefs, Puritans may have preferred to die at the hands of Indians than have their faith jeopardized or have felt a symbolic death by their lose of community. Therefore, her religious ideas posed a much greater danger to Colonial America, especially in Massachusetts, than either Metacomet or Bacon.
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