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Friday, September 30, 2005

Finale- American history week- Mary Fisher c.1623-98

Mary Fisher became a Quaker whilst working as a servant in Selby. In 1652 she was imprisoned in York castle for sixteen months after going up to a minister at the end of a church service and shouting:
Come downe, come downe, thou painted beast, come downe. Thou art but a hireling, and deluder of the people with thy lyes
After her release she went on a missionary tour of East Anglia and the south of England with Elizabeth Williams, an older unmarried woman. The pair were stoned by scholars after Fisher called them 'unclean birds' when preaching in front of Sidney Sussex college in Cambridge. The mayor ordered that they be stripped to the waist and whipped at the market cross. It was noted that they were treated with particular harshness. Following this experience Fisher was imprisoned twice in York castle for reprimanding a Pontefract priest and refusing to give securities for good behaviour.

Fisher's story became part of American history when in 1655 she went to the West Indies and New England with married mother of five, Ann Austin. In 1656 they arrived in Boston where the deputy governor and council confiscated more than a hundred books and ordered them to be burnt by the common hangman. Austin and Fisher were imprisoned and stripped naked to be searched for marks that would show they were witches. (Have you spotted the motif yet?) After five weeks they were banished to the West Indies and then returned to England.

In 1657 Fisher set off for the Mediterranean with a group of other Quakers. They visited the Ionian island of Zante before Fisher and three others reached the Ottoman coastal city of Smyrna. They were forced out of Turkey in 1659 after the English representative there thought that their activities were bringing England into disrepute. Fisher, then accompanied by a woman called Beatrice Beckley, went to visit the Sultan in Adrianople. He listened to their views and received them with kindness. She finally returned to England in 1659 and in 1662 married the prominent Dorset Quaker William Bayly. In that same year she was arrested and roughly treated in London despite being pregnant.

Bayly lost his life at sea in 1675 and in 1678 Fisher married John Cross, a London Quaker. They emigrated to America where Cross died in 1687. Fisher herself passed away in Charlestown, South Carolina in 1698. She left a rich Quaker legacy in the form of her grandaughter Sophia Hume, who became a prominent minister and writer. (source: DNB article by Stefano Villani)


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