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Author Mary Dyer

Joined: Dec 2005
Dec 03, 2005 08:25

Is it true that Mary Dyer and other Quakers were actually hanged on the Boston Common? If so, this would be very ironical since the Commons has come to represent freedom of speech.

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Joined: Feb 2005
Dec 04, 2005 08:37   modified on Dec 04, 2005 08:39

Most hangings in colonial-era Boston took place on the Common. In 1769, the "hanging tree" was replaced by a wooden gallows; the gallows stood on the Common until 1817.

Many sources repeat the claim that Mary Dyer's hanging took place on the Common. However, in the book Rambles Around Old Boston by Edwin M. Bacon (Little, Brown, & Co., 1921), Bacon notes that this claim cannot be proven. Bacon adds interesting details on early executions on and around the Common: "Of the colonial tragedies of the Common we could point to no definite landmarks. Just where the "witches" were hanged, and the Quakers, cannot to-day be told. Even that the Quakers were hanged anywhere on the Common is now a question. Mr. M. J. Canavan, one of the most thorough of latter-day delvers into the truths of Boston's history, and whose dictum on any nice point is accepted as authoritative, has thrown the Dry-as-dusts into dismay with the assertion that the four Quakers were hanged on Boston Neck, and seemingly proving it. Till Canavan spoke, the Dry-as-dusts were as sure that the Common was the place of their hanging as that they were hanged. Nor can we fix exactly the spot where the Indian, son of Matoonas, was hanged for murder in 1671, and where 'a part of his body was to be seen upon a gibbet for five years after.' Nor precisely the place of the execution by shooting, in 1676, of brave old Matoonas himself, for his participation in King Philip's War, betrayed into the authorities' hands by tribal enemies, who were permitted to be his executioners. It can only be said that these, and the many other spectacular executions of men and women in the grim old days on this fair Green, were performed generally, if not invariably, on its western side. At first, it appears, the gallows was at or about the solitary 'Great Elm,' and afterward was placed nearer the bottom of the Common, where the victims were hastily buried in the loose gravel of the beach there. We may imagine the scene of the hanging of the 'witches' in 1648 and 1656, from gallows on the knoll neighboring the 'Old Elm', the site of which we find occupied by a descendant, and marked by a tablet. . . Perhaps it was at the solitary 'Great Elm' that Matoonas was shot, for we read that he was 'tied to a tree.' Maybe the holiday Ancient and Honorable warriors perform their evolutions on the parade ground on Artillery Election day, the first Monday of June, over the graves of the executed band of Indian prisoners, some thirty of them, of King Philip's War. Or again, maybe they march and countermarch over the place where fell the British grenadier shot for desertion in 1768, the two British regiments then quartered in Boston 'being present under arms.' On the parade ground, too, may have been the spectacle, after the Province had become the Commonwealth, of the hanging of Rachel Whall for highway robbery, which consisted in the snatching of a bonnet from the hand of another woman and running off with it."

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