William Dyer (Dyre) was baptized in Kirkby Laythorpe, Lincolnshire, on 19 September 1609, the son of William Dyer. Kirkby Laythorpe is immediately adjacent to the market town of Sleaford. The elder Dyer was a yeoman and, for a year, churchwarden. However, since Dyer was an exceedingly rare name in Lincolnshire, William Dyre was not in all probability from a Lincolnshire family. A check of the International Genealogical Index (sometimes called the Mormon Index), the most comprehensive list of surviving birth and marriage records for Lincolnshire prior to 1850, identified only four or five Dyer families in Lincolnshire after 1578 and before 1630. Curiously, all but one of the identified families are closely grouped together in a short eight-year span. The Index gives only the baptismal information and two marriage records noted below.

Engraving of Sleaford, drawn by Wm Brand, about 1800.

Suzan, daughter of George Dyer of Authorpe 10 June 1604
Margarite, daughter of George Dyer of Authorpe 20 October 1606
Johane, daughter of George Dyer of Authorpe 6 April 1609
Mellawaye, son of George Dyer of Authorpe 12 June 1611
Roberte, son of George Dyer of Authorpe 15 August 1613

Nicholas, son of William Dyer of Kirkby La Thorp 19 February 1607
William, son of William Dyer of Kirkby La Thorp 19 September 1609
Margrett, daughter of William Dyer of Kirkby La Thorp 22 September 1610

Joannes Dyer and Anna Rook, married at Saint Swithin, Lincoln 21 September 1607
William Dyer, son of John Dyer of Timberland 13 April 1609

David, son of Wylliam Dyer of Scampton 6 May 1612
Jonathan, son of Wylliam Dyer of Scampton 6 May 1612

Margaret Dyer and John Bosewell, married at Gayton-le-Marsh 18 June 1629
Helen Dyer and John Williamson, married at Boston 1 June 1630

George Dyer was a dissident clergyman, originally from Pilton, Devon. Although the outlines of his life can be readily traced, there is nothing but the most broadly circumstantial evidence to connect him with the family of William Dyer.[1] The Dyers of Timberland and Scampton are both enigmas. Joannes Dyer of Lincoln might well be the same John Dyer of Timberland. Certainly the date of the marriage in 1607 and the arrival of a child in 1609 supports this possibility. Timberland is about nine miles northeast of Sleaford and John of Timberland and William, the churchwarden of Kirkby Laythorp, must have crossed paths on market days in Sleaford, Boston, and Lincoln. It is tempting to think they were related. It is strongly conjectured that the Kirkby Laythorpe Dyers were related to the Somerset Dyers and John was a popular name among the Somerset Dyers. However, nothing more is known of the Timberland Dyers.

The Scampton Dyers are intriguing because they also demonstrate a Somerset connection. In 1584 Edward Dyer (1543-1607), of Weston and Sharpham Park, Somerset, and later to be poet, courtier, sometime favorite of Queen Elizabeth, and knight, was a principal in a dispute over the Manor of Scampton.[2] Edward’s friends, Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, and Sir Henry Sidney, are mentioned in the same record. However, in the absence of further evidence, it cannot be said whether this connection is meaningful.

In his 1868 memoir, written when he was already an old man, Joseph Chesborough Dyer stated that his father, Captain Nathaniel Dyer, “descended from the Dyers of the West of England, who went out to America, in the early part of the Seventeenth Century, and settled on the eastern side of Naragansetts Bay.”[3]. The Dyers were an old Somerset family, who by the late Middle Ages rose to some wealth and prominence in the county. The earliest known progenitors probably made their fortunes as tax collectors—Richard in Bristol at the end of fourteenth century and his son Ralph later at Wincanton, in the adjoining county of Somerset. In 1459, Ralph’s son John Dyer secured a living from the Abbot of Glastonbury as rector of High Ham. John held that living for forty years, rebuilt the chancel out of his own funds, and was buried in the chancel floor.

By the early sixteenth century the Dyers were firmly established in the textile trade centered at Wincanton, surely with mercantile connections to Calais and Flanders. Dyers were established at Calais since at least 1514, and Adrian Dier was clerk of the council there from 1523 to 1527. In 1550 French and Walloon weavers, seeking freedom from persecution, were settled at nearby Glastonbury through the patronage of Edward Seymour (1506?-1552), Duke of Somerset; Sir William Cecil; and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. A year later, with the fall of Somerset, support for the weavers was neglected and their minister had to apply to the Council for relief. Here Edward VI appointed Sir Thomas Dyer, “a person of good religion and their cordial friend,”[4] one of the commissioners to oversee the continuation of support for the “strangers.”[5] Two years later, when the Catholic Queen Mary ascended the throne, the weavers were abruptly ordered to leave the country. although not before advancing the woolen trade in Glastonbury.

It was largely through the army, the law, and the performance of services to the crown that yeoman and some merchants advanced their estates. After early service as a soldier, Thomas Dyer was a steward of the King’s Chamber in 1532, one of the king’s Gentlemen Sewers in 1540, Member of Parliament for Bridgewater in 1544, 1553, and 1559, Chantry Commissioner in 1548, High Sheriff of Somerset in 1559,[6] patron of the parish at Long Sutton in 1563.[7] Through the years the Dyers continued to receive appointments to various court and county offices. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the Dyers were well-positioned to purchase large tracts of Catholic lands. Sir Thomas Dyer acquired Sharpham Park in 1539 from the former holdings of Glastonbury Abbey[8] and a few years later obtained the Manor of Street from the Duke of Somerset. He soon held other lands at Weston, Middlezoy, Othery, Glastonbury, Greinton, and elsewhere.[9] Sir Thomas’ cousin, Richard Dyer, purchased Roundhill Grange, which the family had long occupied as tenants of the Priory of Taunton. Between 1547 and 1557 Richard’s son John bought or leased lands in Wincanton, Charlton Musgrove, and Bratton Seymour from the Crown and attainted Catholics.[10] A related branch of the Dyer family moved northeast to Great Staughton, Huntingdonshire by 1525. As the Dyers assumed a greater economic and political role in Somerset and Huntingdonshire, they married into some of the leading families, became patrons of several livings, became entitled to bear a coat of arms, and produced several distinguished members. Most notable among these Dyers were Sir James Dyer, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and Sir Edward Dyer, the renowned Elizabethan poet and courtier.

In 1899 Louis Dyer sought to trace the ancestry of William Dyre of Rhode Island and, perhaps more through wishful thinking than any hard evidence, located him in Somerset as the eldest son of George Dyer of Bratton Seymour (Saint Maur), near Wincanton. George was the son of John Dyer the younger of Wincanton, the grandson of Richard Dyer (d. 1523) and Elizabeth Walton of Wincanton, the great-grandson of Richard Dyer, and the great-great-grandson of John Dyer of High Ham. This William of Bratton Seymour was born about 1587 and married Mary Long of the same parish. About 35 years later, William Allan Dyer used the London guild records to find the Dyer baptismal records in Kirkby Laythorpe and force a revision of the Dyer line. He then went on to suggest that William Dyer, the churchwarden of Saint Denys, was the son of John Dyer the younger and his second wife, Jane Ernley (Byfleet). This William was brother to the George Dyer of Bratton Seymour.[13] This is the line of descent most commonly presented.

But William Allan Dyer was also wrong. First, there is no direct evidence to identify William Dyer, the churchwarden of Kirkby Laythorpe, as the son of John and Jane Ernley Dyer. John and Jane did have a son named William, who is mentioned in several family wills and who was born sometime prior to the making of John’s will in 1558. However, William, the son of John and Jane, remained in Bratton Seymour well after the appearance of the senior William Dyer in Kirkby Laythorp in 1606. William of Bratton Seymour was elected churchwarden and signed the Bishops’ Transcripts for 1616 and 1623. Moreover, in 1617 and 1621 another William Dyer also signed the Bishops’ Transcripts for Bratton Seymour, in 1617 signing himself as “jun:” [junior]. This William was probably George’s son William and nephew to the elder William of Bratton Seymour. A comparison of signatures confirms that these three Williams were each different persons. Second, the name Dyer, and its variants, is a common English name, popular in the West Country. An examination of the IGI baptismal records for Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucester, and Wiltshire for the period 1560-1585 makes it clear that the West Country Dyers were prolific and that there is an abundance of William Dyers who might qualify as the churchwarden.


Despite the uncertainty of the identification of William Dyer, the churchwarden of Kirkby Laythorp, one connection between the West Country Dyers and Lincolnshire is particularly notable. On 11 October 1607, Anne Dyer became the second wife of Sir Edward Carre, the youngest son of Old Robert Carre of Sleaford, Lincolnshire. Anne was the daughter of Sir Richard Dyer of Great Staughton, Huntingdonshire and therein closely related to the Dyers of Somerset. The Huntingdonshire Dyers may have been introduced to the Lincolnshire Carres through the family of Fitzwilliam of Milton, Northamptonshire. The Fitzwilliams were a prominent family with extensive holdings in several counties. Anne’s mother, Mary, was the daughter of Sir William Fitzwilliam III of Northamptonshire, Lord Deputy of Ireland.[14] Earlier, Sir William Fitzwilliam III had been Commissioner of the Peace for Kesteven Hundred, Lincolnshire and his son, Sir William IV, held the same office in Somerset and several other counties.


The marriage of Anne Dyer and Sir Edward Carre looks very much like an arranged marriage, designed for some profit of the two families. When she married, Anne was not yet twenty-four years old and her husband, having already outlived his first wife, was about sixty-two. Certainly the marriage marks the onset of significant business between the Dyers, Fitzwilliams, and Carres. On 23 February 1608, Anne’s older brother, Sir William Dyer, and his wife Katherine signed an indenture with Sir William Fitzwilliam IV, Sir Edward Carre, and Sir William’s son, William Fitzwilliam.[15] Four years later this indenture seems to have soured and Sir William Dyer brought a chancery suit against his uncle, Sir William Fitzwilliam IV, Anne’s husband, Sir Edward Carre, and their cousin, William Fitzwilliam V, alleging the misuse of several leased manors in Huntingdonshire.[16]

The Carre estates were at their height during Sir Edward’s time and numbered manors, advowsons, and other property in 19 parishes in Lindsey, 24 parishes in Holland (that part of Lincolnshire), large holdings in the home Hundred of Kesteven, as well as old property in Northumberland, Yorkshire, and Huntingdonshire.[17] Sir Edward’s older brother Sir William Carre was the patron of the small parish church of Saint Denys in Kirkby Laythorpe until his death in 1611. If William Dyer, the future churchwarden of Kirkby Laythorpe, was indeed in this circle of Great Staughton Dyers, Anne might have invited him to come to Sleaford from Somerset or perhaps from Huntingdonshire. There William had three children and, with the support of Anne’s brother-in-law, he was elected churchwarden. Within a year of the death of Sir Edward in 1618, Anne married Sir Henry Cromwell of Hinchinbrooke, Huntingdonshire, first cousin to the future Lord Protector Oliver, and removed there. Anne Dyer bore three children by Sir Edward and eight by Sir Henry. She died in January 1640 and was buried at Ramsey. In further support of this scenario, it is notable that William Dyre of Rhode Island did very well for himself when he appeared before the Council of State during the reign of Cromwell. No record of the elder Dyer’s death has been found but the 1625 London apprenticeship record of the younger Dyre notes that he is the son of William Dyer of “Kerkbie in the countie of Lincolne,” this record lacking the adjective “late” or “deceased” seen in many similar records, thereby suggesting that the elder Dyer was still alive and living in Kirkby Laythorpe in 1625.[18] Nevertheless, a check of the Bishops’ Transcripts for Kirkby Laythorpe through 1630 shows no record of any Dyer after the birth of Margrett in 1610. Unfortunately, for this period, the parish records are missing and the Bishops’ Transcripts are quite incomplete.

Once again, it is the London guild records that provide a clue for where to look next for the Kirkby Laythorpe Dyer line. On 14 October 1633 William Dyer of the Fishmongers’ Company in London apprenticed Nicholas Grafton, the son of Edward Grafton, late of Alliston (Alveston), Gloucestershire, yeoman. The marriage of Nicholas’ parents in neighboring Olveston, Gloucestershire on 16 November 1612 notes that his mother was Joyce Dyer. She was the daughter of John Dyer of the hamlet of Woodhouse. [19] If one believes it probable that it was a family connection that brought Nicholas Grafton to serve an apprenticeship in London with William Dyer, then we have a new lead to follow. Can William Dyer, the churchwarden of Kirkby Laythorpe, be found among the Gloucestershire Dyers?

The search for William Dyer is immediately handicapped because the surviving Alveston parish records do not begin until 1674. The Olveston parish records survive from 1560 and record many Dyers, but only three Williams through 1641—with a baptism and marriage occurring too late and a death occurring to early to belong to the churchwarden of Kirkby Laythorpe. Records for the neighboring parish of Thornbury are also incomplete but do reveal a cluster of Dyers, from 1551 through 1636, including four Williams. Of these one William made a will on 1 January 1630, and describes himself as a yeoman from the hamlet of Kinton in the parish of Thornbury, with daughters Elizabeth, Deborah, and Jayne, but makes no mention of sons or a daughter Margrett. This William signs his will with his mark, indicating he is illiterate, and he is buried ten days later. Although this William would thus not be a good candidate for the churchwarden of Kirkby Laythorp, his will is signed by Edward Grafton, suggesting a family tie afterall. The will of William Dyer of Kinton dated 1631 (he was buried 6 September 1631) is most regrettably missing. [20]

Nicholas Grafton never completed his apprenticeship with William Dyer and never married, turning sick and dying in the parish of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields in 1637. His noncupative will leaves his estate to his widowed and re-married mother, Joyce Pickard.[21] Joyce Pickard’s 1645 probate shows that she died in the Parish of Saint Martin’s, but does not otherwise further our inquiry. No probate record has been found for his father, Edward.

The Dyer connection to Alveston is further enhanced by two curious but not necessarily meaningful associations. About 1654 Christopher Holder and Thomas Thurston were reportedly the first to preach Quakerism in the city of Gloucester. Holder was from Alveston, and Thurston from the neighboring parish of Thornbury. Both young men went on to preach the word in New England, and elsewhere in the American colonies. After spending some weeks in the Boston jail, Holder returned to Alveston where in August 1660 he married Mary Scott, the daughter of Richard Scott of Providence and granddaughter of Anne Hutchinson.[22] Thurston eventually settled in Maryland, where he followed the teachings of the Quaker schismatic, John Perrot. Thurston may also have been related to the Richard Thurston, master of the Johns Adventure, whose bill of sale William Dyre witnessed in 1650 and who had license from the Council of State the following year to go from England to Maryland.[23] Edward Thurston, of Newport and a fellow Quaker, may also have been from the Thornbury area, where the Thurstons were a prominent family and where one Edward Thurston was brother-in-law to the William Dier, whose will was probated in 1630.[24]

[1]Foster, Alumni Cantabrigienses, Vol. II.
[2] Feet of Fines, Lincolnshire, Final Concords 27 Eliz 16.
[3]JC Dyer, 1868, 1.
[4]Warner, 1826, 262.
[5]CSPD Ed. VI 13:37.
[6]PRO E.179/170/249.
[7]Weaver, 1889, 195.
[8]Proc. Somerset Arch. Soc. xlviii, ii, 1-10.
[9]Proc. Somerset Arch. Soc. xlviii, ii, 1-10; Calendar of Patent Rolls, Henry VIII.
[10] John Collinson, The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset, Bath: Printed by R. Cruttwell, 1791, 3:33. Mary Whitfeld, In Praise of Bratton St Maur, Edinburgh: Bratton Publishing, 1974, 44-45.
[13]Louis Dyer. “William Dyer: A Somerset Royalist in New England.” Notes and Queries for Somerset and Dorset. June, September, December 1899, 270; William Allan Dyer. “William Dyer: A Rhode Island Dissenter, From Lincoln or Somerset?” Rhode Island Historical Collections, Vol. XXX (1937), 9-26.
[14]Five Northamptonshire Families.
[15]E. H. Martin.
[16]PRO Chancery Proceedings, James I, D7.49.
[17]Moore, 17-18; LCC Wills [Edward Carr] 1618/ii/22v.
[18]Apprenticeship Records, Fishmongers’ Guild, MS 5578A/1, Guildhall Library, London.
[19] Olveston parish records, 16 November 1612 records the marriage of Edward Grafton and Joyce Dyer. Family History Library Catalog 1597108, item 10-13; baptisms, marriages, and burials 1560-1723. Gloucestershire Parish Registers: Marriages. Edited by W. P. W. Phillimore, Vol. 14, London, 1908, 78.
[20] Thornbury parish records, Family History Library, catalog 0414766. Gloucester Wills, William Dier, 1630, 998.
[21] Administration of Nicholas Grafton, bachelor, of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, to his mother, Joyce Pickard, alias Grafton. PCC Administrations 1631-1648, Index Library, Vol. ??. 22 November 1637 folio 123. Microfilm 0092138-9?
[22] Rhode Island Monthly Meeting. The Marriages of Friends in Road Island Coloney with some of Plimoth Coloney in Dartmuth, Being Collected in the yeare 1672 from the time Road island was first seatled by the English in the year 1638. By Peter Easton. Certificates of Friends in Road Island and other places. FHL 0022414. See also NEHGS Register, 1874, 62.?
[23] Richard Thurston, master of the John Adventure of New England by order of the Council of State, had license to go to Maryland with his ship, 9 June 1651. By another order, June 11, a petition from him was referred to the Committee of the Admiralty. State papers, Colonial Series.
[24] See Gloucester Wills, William Dier, 1630. FHL 009140?.