Boston resident Mary Dyer gave birth to a stillborn girl in October 1637, with a badly deformed head, spine and limbs. The grieving parents buried her quietly.
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A deeply religious woman, Dyer believed anyone could read and interpret the Bible. Trying to maintain order in a harsh new world, the Puritans deemed this the antinomian heresy, and suspected her of hobnobbing with Satan.
To find evidence, Governor John Winthrop had the infant’s corpse disinterred. He described the monster as “a woman child, a fish, a beast, and a fowl all woven together in one, and without an head.” She had “upon each foot three claws, like a young fowl,” and most damning of all, “four horns” where her forehead should have been.
Dyer was banished. She later became a Quaker preacher, and to protest the harsh treatment of the Friends at the hands of the Puritans, she returned to Boston.
On June 1, 1660, magistrates hanged her from a tree on Boston Common and buried her in an unmarked grave.
I spoke with Mark Fiege, author of “The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States,” on the following topics:
1. Iconic Moments
2. Puritan Witchcraft
3. Revolutionary Freedom
4. Lincoln’s Nature
5. Natural Limits
(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.