Fisher, Mary (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


FISHER, MARY (fl. 1652–1697), quakeress, was born in a village near York about 1623. She joined the Friends before 1652, in which year she was admitted a quaker minister. Shortly afterwards she was imprisoned in York Castle for having addressed a congregation at Selby at the close of public worship. This imprisonment lasted for sixteen months, during which she wrote with four fellow-prisoners a tract called 'False Prophets and Teachers Described.' Immediately after her release she proceeded on a missionary journey to the south and east of England, in company with Elizabeth Williams, a quaker minister. At the close of 1653 they visited Cambridge, and, preaching in front of Sidney Sussex College, were stoned by the 'scholars,' whom Mary Fisher irritated by terming the college a cage of unclean birds. The Friends were apprehended as disorderly persons by the mayor of Cambridge, who ordered them to be whipped at the market cross 'until the blood ran down their bodies.' The sentence was executed with much barbarity. This is the first instance of quakers being publicly flogged. Shortly afterwards Mary Fisher 'felt called to declare the truth in the steeple-house at Pontefract,' and for so doing was imprisoned for six months in York Castle, at the completion of which term she was imprisoned for another period of three months, at the request of the mayor of Pontefract, for being unrepentant and refusing to give securities for good behaviour. In 1655, while travelling in the ministry in Buckinghamshire, she was also imprisoned for several months for 'giving Christian exhortation' to a congregation. Later in this year she 'felt moved' to visit the West Indies and New England. On her arrival, accompanied by Ann Austin, at Boston the authorities refused to allow them to land, and searched their baggage for books and papers, confiscating more than a hundred volumes, which were destroyed. The quakeresses then disembarked and were kept in close confinement in the common gaol, the master of the ship which brought them being compelled to pay for their support and to give a bond that he would remove them. During their imprisonment they were deprived of writing materials, and their beds and bibles were confiscated by the gaoler for his fees. They were stripped naked to see if they had witch-marks on their persons, and would have been starved if some inhabitants had not bribed the gaoler to be allowed to feed them. Mary Fisher returned to England in 1657, visiting the West Indies again at the end of that year. In 1660 she deemed it her duty to attempt to convert Mahomet IV, and for that purpose made a long and hazardous journey, largely on foot, to Smyrna, where she was ordered to return home by the English representative. She retraced her steps to Venice, and at length succeeded in reaching Adrianople, where the sultan lay encamped with his army. The grand vizier, hearing that an Englishwoman had arrived with a message from the 'Great God to the sultan,' kindly offered to procure her an interview with the sultan, which he did. Mary spoke through an interpreter, whom the sultan heard with much patience and gravity, and when she had concluded acknowledged the truth of what she said and offered her an escort of soldiers to Constantinople, which she declined. He then asked her what she thought of Mahomet, 'a pitfall she avoided by declaring that she knew him not.' She afterwards journeyed on foot to Constantinople, where she obtained passage in a ship to England. In 1662 she married William Bayley of Poole, a quaker minister and master mariner, who was drowned at sea in 1675, and by whom she is believed to have had issue. During his lifetime she appears to have chiefly exercised her ministry in Dorsetshire and the adjacent counties. Her 'testimony concerning her deceased husband' appears at the end of Bayley's collected writings in 1676. In 1678 she married John Cross, a quaker of London, in which town she resided until - when uncertain - they emigrated to America. In 1697 she was living at Charlestown, South Carolina, where she entertained Richard Barrow, a quaker, after he had been shipwrecked, and from a letter of Barrow's it appears she was for a second time a widow. No later particulars of her life are known. Mary Fisher was a devoted, untiring, and successful minister, and Croese describes; her as having considerable intellectual faculties, which were greatly adorned by the gravity of her deportment.

[Croese's Hist. of the Quakers, ii. 1 24; Besse's Sufferings, &c. i. 85, ii. 85, &c.; Manuscript Sufferings of the Friends; Manuscript Testimony of the Yearly Meeting (London); Neal's Hist. of New England, i. 292; Minutes of the Two Weeks' Meeting (London); Bowden's Hist. of the Friends in America, i. 35; Smith's Friends' Books, i. 220, 612; Sewel's Hist. of the Society of Friends, ed. 1853, i. 440, ii. 225; Bishop's New England Judged.]

A. C. B.