A Brother Found
Johan Winsser, “A Brother Found: A Clue to the Ancestry of Mary [Barrett] Dyer, the Quaker Martyr,” New England Historic and Genealogical Register, 158 (January 2004): 27-28.
The ancestry of Mary [Barrett] Dyer, who was hanged in Boston in 1660 for her defiance of the ministers and magistrates regarding matters of religion and civil authority, has been the subject of much wishful thinking and romantic fabrication. Perhaps the most glamorous and persistent assertion is that she was the secret daughter of Arbella Stuart and William Seymour, and thus both a cousin to King James I and a presumptive heir to the English throne. Even publication of the record of her marriage in 1633 to William Dyre at Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster (wherein her name is given as Maria Barrett) did little to quell the Arbella tale. In 1950 G. Andrews Moriarty vigorously dismantled the Arbella tale, yet predicted that it would persist. And so it has—both in a recent biography of Mary Dyer and in many places on the Internet.
It is now clear that Mary Dyer had a brother, a fact that adds further evidence to debunk the Arbella tale and provides a clue to her true ancestry. In 1634 the Prerogative Court of Canterbury recorded the probate administration of William Barret, in which it noted that the commission was granted jointly to William Dyer of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, fishmonger, and his wife Marie Dyer, otherwise Barret. (A probate administration is a brief, legal document issued by the probate court, which grants authority—usually to a next-of-kin, close friend, or creditor—to discharge the estate of a person who dies intestate [leaving no will]). Although a milliner and merchant, William Dyer served his apprenticeship in and was a member of London’s prestigious Fishmongers Company. Thus there can be no doubt that William Barret was the brother of Mary [Barrett] Dyer, who, in the following year, emigrated with her husband to Boston.
The administration tells us little more about William Barret—only that he was a bachelor and died in an unknown location, overseas—and nothing more about his family. Yet this is still a significant clue, for it tells us that if we are to qualify one of the many London, West Country, or other Barrett families as that of Mary [Barrett] Dyer, then that family must include two siblings named William and Mary, with the brother William remaining unmarried and with no record of his survival after 1633. Moreover, given the uncommon decree that William Barret’s estate was to be administered by his sister and her husband, one might also speculate that William Barret had no other close living male relatives (father, brothers) to administer his estate and that Mary may have been either the only surviving sister or the eldest of William Barret’s sisters.
The administration appears under the heading “January 1633” and the date of the month is provided in the text of the administration. The date is according to the old style English calendar (wherein the new year did not begin until March 25) and thus is by current reckoning, 18 January 1634.
William Barret’s administration, written in Latin, is provided below in both transcription and translation:
Will[el]mus Barret Decimo octavo die emanavit com[m]issio }
Willi[el]mo Dyer parochie S[an]c[t]e Martini in } in partibus deced
campis in com[itatu] Midd’ piscenario Necnon Marie }
Dyer al[ia]s Barret eius uxori soror n[atu]rali et } Ascen’
l[egi]time Will[el]mi Barret nuper in partibus }
ultramarinis celebis defuncti h[ab]entis et c[etera] ad }
administrand’ bona iura et credita dicti def[uncti] }
De bene et c[etera] iurat’ } Blasij 1634
William Barret On the eighteenth day a commission was issued to William Dyer of the parish of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields in the county of Middlesex, fishmonger, and also to Marie Dyer otherwise Barret, his wife, the natural and lawful sister of William Barret, lately deceased in parts beyond the seas, unmarried, who was sworn etc., to administer the goods, rights, and credits of the said deceased, well, etc.
Right-hand margin notes:
In parts dece[ase]d
[Inventory to be exhibited by the feast] of the Ascension [that is, 40 days after Easter, which in 1634 was April 6].
[Account to be rendered by the feast] of Saint Blasius [3 February] 1634 [new style, 1635].
The author thanks Simon Neal for his assistance in deciphering and translating the most difficult Latin of the administration, and smoothing out the author’s rough translation.
Johan Winsser lives in West Cornwall, Connecticut, and has been tracing the ancestry of William Dyer and Mary Barrett for many years.