Shelter Island’s Voice

Written By: Pamela-Joan Clark

Shelter Island’s Voice by Pamela-Joan Clark They scourged us before we were allowed to flee to Shelter Island. I am Mary Dyer so I got the worst of it, for they think me a stubborn woman. I fled with my Quaker companions from the Puritans of New England to come to Shelter Island, sheltering as it does from the rough November winds, between the North and South Fork of Long Island. It was our shelter too, from those persecutors. Yes scourged me, a Godly Quaker woman and mother of six dear children and wife to a most loyal and steadfast husband. During that ordeal, so great were our wailing and groans as the whips cut into our flesh, even down to the bone, that some in our number fainted dead away. History also tells, even after my own death in 1660 at the hands of those Puritans, that thirty years later they were burning young girls at the stake in a place called Salem. Our wounds barely healing and in much pain, we made the journey southwards as best we could, on foot and mainly by boat, until our arrival at Shelter Island. We set ashore on the eastern side of the island where great banks of wild strawberries greeted us. I heard the soft lapping of the waves on the wooden pier, saw osprey flying in the sky above and felt a friendly hand in mine. I knew that I had at last found refuge. “Home at last.” I declared aloud to those blessed folk who took us in; Captain Nathaniel Sylvester and his winsome wife Brissel Brinley from England. She but barely 24 years old and he not so much more, yet risking everything for our sake. For sure though, they being a Quaker family themselves and so too their neighbors next door at the Rouse Farm, we knew ourselves to be safe with them. The Sylvester’s farm grew wondrous amounts of hay, maize and beans. The winters seemed mild to us and the summer long and bountiful. I helped the family gather in harvest and it was also my pleasure to help tend the wild young Sylvester sons, Giles and Nathaniel. Free as the air, the boys roamed the island, bringing back fat gray fish with strange stripes on them from the sea for me to cook. Indeed, though I say so myself, I know I was a favorite with those boys for oft I would make them special biscuits and scones and oft too, they would ask me to tell them of our night escape from the Puritans of Massachusetts. Come to this island, Shelter Island, where you will find my own name Mary Dyer on a memorial stone in the Quaker cemetery right close there dear Friend, to the very Sylvester Farm where I am staying. Yes, I am happy to know that my name is there, hundreds of years later, in this place so graced in nature. It is indeed, a ‘garden spot of earth.’ But tarry a while and let me tell you how this all this must end. For I see now that this peaceful refuge cannot be forever. I must leave now and go away from Shelter Island to face the Puritans again. Do you think me mad? I see myself as mad in moments of doubt. How hard to leave when every breeze off the Sound is sweet and warm, when even the dogwood bid me to stay. But it is right and proper that I set forth for you, as I did for the Sylvester family, my reasons for going from Shelter Island to face the Puritans once again. It is May 1660; their persecutions are at a peak; the time is now to confront and shame them with their own barbarity. Let me explain why they hate us so. It is our doctrine that drives them to this. For you see, know thee this; we believe in equality of all men and women before the Lord and that is something the Puritans will not abide. So, to show them they are in error, I a woman, need to die as bravely as any man. I must also let them know that I can make a mockery of their harsh and unjust laws. I must return from sweet and welcome exile here at Shelter Island, The enemy must see for themselves, that it is we, the Quakers, who are Godly, not they. It is they who have put their own laws and hierarchy above God’s natural respect and love for all living things. Fare thee well.