Friday, April 13, 2012

Mary Fisher

There were a group of early Quakers, in the mid-1600's, who have come to be known as the "Valiant Sixty". They were mostly working-class men and women who fanned out across England to spread the Quaker message. Perhaps undertaking missionary work in England doesn't seem very daunting (compared with Africa or India), but for the Quakers in the 17th century it was extremely dangerous. Their message was not only counter-cultural but was considered by many in power to be blasphemous and seditious. Thousands of Quakers were imprisoned, some tortured, some executed. Others had their property confiscated by the government--effectively turning them into paupers.

The radical message they preached and lived--which brought so much persecution upon them (from a "Christian" culture!)--was that people could have direct access to God, that Jesus speaks to people directly, that everyone is equal in God's eyes, that war is incompatible with the Gospel, etc.

One of the most remarkable of the "Valiant Sixty" was Mary Fisher, a young uneducated housemaid from the north of England. She became a Quaker in her 20's and was shortly thereafter imprisoned for 16 months in York castle for preaching. Not long after her release she and another woman were stoned by students at Cambridge (for preaching) and then publically stripped to the waist and "whipped at the market cross until blood ran down their bodies" by the town officials. Not long after that she was imprisoned a second time at York for 6 months. In 1656 she and Ann Austin sailed to the Puritan colony of Boston, Massachusetts. Margaret Hope Bacon, in her book "The Quiet Rebels" describes what happened:

"On July 11, 1656, two women sailed into Boston Harbor aboard a small ship, the Swallow. Upon hearing of their arrival, the magistrates of the twenty-seven-year-old Massachusetts Bay Colony were shaken, according to a contemporary observer, "as if a formidable army had invaded their borders." Governor John Endicott being out of town, Deputy Governor Richard Bellingham took prompt, if frenzied, action. The women were held on shipboard while their boxes were searched for "blasphemous" documents. One hundred such books found in their possession were burned in the marketplace by the common hangman. The women were then transferred to prison, stripped naked and searched for tokens of witchcraft, and kept for five weeks without light or writing materials. The master of the Swallow was finally ordered to transport them to Barbados and to let no person in the American colonies speak to them en route."

In 1660, Mary Fisher, now in her mid-30's, felt that God told her to take the Gospel to Mehmed IV, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (what is now Turkey). She traveled alone and mostly on foot from England to northwestern Turkey, eventually making her way to Edirne (Adrianople) where the Sultan was at that time encamped with his army. When the Sultan heard that an Englishwoman had arrived with a message from God, he agreed to meet with her. She spoke through an interpreter and, although we don't know the exact content of her message, it was apparently graciously received by the Sultan. After delivering her message she departed--declining the Sultan's offer of an armed escort--and made her way back to England. She wrote in her diary: "Now returned into England ... I have borne my testimony for the Lord before the king unto whom I was sent, and he was very noble unto me and so were all that were about him ... they do dread the name of God, many of them...They are more near Truth than many nations; there is a love begot in me towards them which is endless, but this is my hope concerning them, that he who hath raised me to love them more than many others will also raise his seed [Quaker terminology for the awareness of God's presence] in them unto which my love is. Nevertheless, though they be called Turks, the seed of them is near unto God, and their kindness hath in some measure been shown towards his servants."

She later married and was widowed twice and finally settled in South Carolina, where she died of old age and is buried in a Quaker cemetary.


Post a Comment

<< Home