Tuesday, April 22, 2014

*Mary Dyer Illuminated* Kindle sale for limited time


SALE on the Kindle edition of Mary Dyer Illuminated. Please take advantage of the incremental sale April 25-29, 2014, and please SHARE on Facebook and Twitter.

Tell your friends and family, people at work, people at church (choir, ministers, members), people who enjoy history, genealogy, culture, England and New England, and stories about America's FIRST founders, the great-grandparents of the nation's founders.

See the image for info about the lowest prices and times, and the free Kindle reading app.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

William Dyer co-founds Newport, RI in 1639

And for the first time anywhere, learn who the 
FEMALE co-founders of Newport were!
© 2014 Christy K Robinson
William Dyer was 28 years old when he co-founded Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in 1638. (It was called by its native American name, Pocasset, at the time.) His name appears on the Portsmouth Compact with the other men who bought Aquidneck Island from the natives.

He was 29 years old on April 28, 1639, when he co-founded the city of Newport, Rhode Island and signed the Newport Compact. As clerk of the town, and later Secretary of the colony, it's almost surely William Dyer's handwriting that headed the compact that the founders signed.

Newport Compact -- click to enlarge
Battery Park in Newport, formerly Dyer's Point, is on land
where Mary and William Dyer had their farm.

After the town was legally incorporated came the distribution of community, home, and farm land parcels, and, of course, the streets and highways. William Dyer was one of the small commission that surveyed and apportioned the lots and boundaries. The following records are scanned from Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, Vol. 1, 1636-1663. (I added the modern dates.)
For a modern map of the city of Newport,
with labels for its harbor walk which would take you
along the western edge of 17th-century Dyer land,
click here.

Historical records mention only the men who attended assembly meetings, voted, held court, or signed documents, but the women should be remembered for their many sacrifices in moving the household, servants, small children, livestock, and possessions, and starting in a new, rugged place where they lived in wigwams while their first houses were being built. It was the Little Ice Age, and winters were longer and more severe than we experience now. They had just settled in Boston for a few months to four years when they were exiled and had to start again in the wilderness of Rhode Island. A year later, some of the settlers at Portsmouth began again at Newport.

Unidentified English family circa 1640.
Newport's female co-founders were:
William Coddington and Mary Mosely Coddington
Nicholas Easton  (widowed, 2 sons, married widow Christiana Beecher later in 1638)
John Coggeshall and Mary ___ Coggeshall, 7 children
William Brenton and Dorothy ____ Brenton
John Clarke and Elizabeth Harges Clarke
Jeremy Clarke and Frances Latham Dungan Clarke, 4 Dungan children
Thomas Hazard and Martha Potter Hazard, 5 children
Henry Bull and Elizabeth ___ Bull, 1 child
William Dyer and Mary Barrett Dyer, 1 child

******************* ******************* ******************* 

 Christy K Robinson is author of two biographical novels on William and Mary Dyer, and a collection of her nonfiction research on the Dyers. Key characters are Anne Hutchinson, Edward Hutchinson, John Winthrop, Katherine and Richard Scott, Roger Williams, Dr. John Clarke, Nicholas Easton, John Endecott, Henry Vane the Younger, and others.

The books (and Kindle versions) are available on Amazon. CLICK HERE for the links.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bronx street named after Dyer son, mayor of NYC

© 2014 Christy K Robinson 

In the borough of Bronx, New York, a street is named for Mary and William Dyer’s son, Maj. William Dyre (as his father and he spelled it), mayor of New York City in 1680-81. This William was born in Newport, Rhode Island, possibly about 1640, and died in the spring of 1688.

North-South streets in the area were named in honor of New York state governors and mayoralty, so William Dyre probably did not own land here. He owned several acres of property in the 1670s between Maiden Lane and Wall Street (the wall having much to do with his father, Capt. William Dyer!) on Manhattan Island for a few years. William also owned Dyer Island by deed from his father, and he purchased land in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and large tracts of land in the Delaware area.
Dyre Avenue in the borough of Bronx, New York, is marked with the A pin.
It's very close to the Hutchinson farm where Anne Marbury Hutchinson and her younger children
were murdered in 1643.

Dyre Avenue is half a mile from where Anne Hutchinson was murdered by Siwanoy Indians in 1643, near Split Rock at Pelham Bay. (The green land to the right of the A marker on this Google map.) One of the photos at this website shows that a train line runs on a Siwanoy Indian path. Surely there’s no connection between the Hutchinson farm site, the Hutchinson River Parkway, and the naming of Dyre Avenue at some point many years later. But from the comfort of our home computer chairs, it’s a fascinating coincidence to consider along with the deep connections between the Hutchinson and Dyer families.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The English fens in William Dyer’s blood

Plus a wonderful guest article, The Fenland Riots, by Dr. Ann Swinfen!

© 2014 Christy K Robinson

 Many of my readers do family history and genealogy. If you're from Pilgrim or Puritan stock, chances are great that you have ancestors who farmed, fished, hunted, and puddle-jumped in the English fens before emigrating to America. I learned that 10% of Boston, Lincolnshire population moved to Boston, Mass., following their minister, Rev. John Cotton. He had preached at St. Botolphs for about 20 years when King Charles I’s republication of The Book of Sports forced Puritan ministers to comply or be silenced. Rev. Cotton hid for about a year (avoiding prison), then sailed to the new Boston in 1633, where he had a standing offer of employment.

William Dyer was born in 1609 in Kirkby LaThorpe, a village between Sleaford and Boston in Lincolnshire. His father, William Dyer, was a yeoman farmer (owned his property, not a tenant) and church warden. 
Kirkby LaThorpe, Lincolnshire is built along
Church Lane. The Anglican church of St. Denis,
where William Dyer's father was church warden, is
the largest edifice, and is at the top left corner.
Some of the fields around the village would have
been fens before the draining corporations took over.
The ditches and banks may be from Saxon or early-medieval
house platforms, clay-lined drainage ditches, and pits.
There's no record of why or when his family moved out of the area, were taxed out of business by the king, or if they died there. If the Dyer clan remained in the area, William's siblings and nephews and nieces would have been affected by the events Ann Swinfen describes in her novel Flood.

In researching my novels, I read in 19th-century geographical surveys that the villages and farmlands around Kirkby LaThorpe were laid out in Ice Age alluvial strips of higher ground and the lower elevations were often seasonal marshes and wetlands called fens. A look at a Kirkby map bears this out. Church Lane, running north and south, is the only street, and the medieval church is at the highest elevation.

I drove through the region one Friday, from Norwich to Lincoln, and saw only a little of the area, because at the time, April, the fens were very wet. Side roads were closed because of flooding. The main highway (it’s called that because it’s elevated above the watery fields and ponds) was jammed with noontime weekend getaway traffic trying to get around a roadworks blockage. I was stuck for two hours with no escape. Isn’t that the way of construction? Arrgh!

The captivating scenery at Fosdyke,
where I was stuck in a miles-long traffic jam.
 Our William Dyer was sent to London in 1624 and apprenticed with a haberdasher/milliner under the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers. The Fishmongers had many alumni who were city leaders and London mayors. William only practiced as a milliner for a few years, emigrated to the new Boston, then became a farmer, trader, and held government court positions. Among his holdings were marshland at Chelsea, Mass., and Portsmouth, Rhode Island, some marsh on his Newport farm, and a small island in Narragansett Bay (Dyer Island). Both Chelsea and Dyer Island are water bird sanctuaries today, so you see the fens were in his blood and he was well aware of their value in agriculture, fishing, hunting, and ecological management.

Recently, I read Flood, a new novel by Dr. Ann Swinfen, set in the English fens in the 1640s, and was, um, "swept away" by her vivid and beautiful descriptions of the area and the occupations of our ancestors and their near relatives. Ann has graciously provided an article about the fens. I hope you’ll enjoy the article, and trot off to her website or to Amazon to buy her book (paperback or Kindle). I’m reviewing and rating it five stars for the subject matter and the high quality of the writing. See my blog, Editornado, for the review and an excerpt of Flood.

The Fenland Riots
Guest article © 2014 Ann Swinfen

Kirkby LaThorpe is west of Boston,
in the Lindsey Level.
 My new novel Flood takes place in the seventeenth century in a very distinctive area along the east coast of England, known as the Fens. Once a remote, slightly mysterious region of marshes and hidden villages, it attracted the attention of men greedy to get their hands on land by fair means or foul, never mind the consequences for the local inhabitants. They used the notorious method of ‘enclosure,’ but in the Fens they were up against a formidable people who could not easily be bullied into submitting. When I discovered their story, I knew I had to write about it. 

I had always known about enclosures, of course. From roughly Tudor times to the nineteenth century in England, land was stolen by large landowners or groups of speculators by semi-legal means. This stolen land was ‘common land’, that is, land held in common by a group of people, often the free villagers of a parish who were peasant farmers or yeomen. They had ancient rights to cultivate arable land on a shared basis, to graze their flocks and herds on local meadows, and to gather firewood and feed their pigs in neighbouring woods. 

The enclosers fenced off the commons, expelled the commoners – sometimes even seizing their animals – and took possession of the land for themselves. The local people rarely had any means of redress or compensation. If they went to law, almost invariably they lost their cases, at considerable financial cost, when opposed by those with influence and deep pockets. The result is that there are very few common lands left today. Port Meadow in Oxford still has common grazing for a few Freemen who can claim ancient rights granted by Alfred the Great. The New Forest has privileges for those who are eligible. 

This was a massive injustice, carried out under the guise of land improvement, or in order to create large wool-producing businesses. And in some cases it may have led to more efficient farming methods, but nevertheless it resulted in poverty, starvation and dispossession for many of its victims. The Highland Clearances in Scotland had a similar effect, although in their case small tenants were cleared off land already owned by a wealthy landowner in order to produce a larger income from sheep.

The Fens of East Anglia (stretching along the east coast of England from Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk to Lincolnshire) were from ancient times an area where land, water and marsh combined to form a rich tapestry with unique problems and rewards. The natural phenomenon of the area is the annual deposit by winter rains of rich silt from higher ground inland on to the lower arable fields of the fenlands. This produced some of the richest soil in England. Floods would cover these fields in winter, then drain away, leaving land ready for cultivation. Between these arable fields lay a network of ancient peat bogs and waterways – some natural, some man-made over the centuries by local people who understood their special environment and the behaviour of their annual floods. They lived by arable farming, stock-rearing, fishing and water-fowling. The peat bogs provided fuel as well as absorbing excess water, and the rushes and willows growing along the waterways furnished materials for everything from thatch to sheep hurdles and eel-traps.

Then, in the early seventeenth century, the ‘adventurers’ came – adventurers because they invested their money in a speculative venture. They would drain this boggy land, which they mistakenly believed to be poor and unprofitable, seize control of it, and install settlers from Holland and France as rent-paying small farmers. The return on their money would be phenomenal – it was a fool-proof investment. There were plenty of Protestant refugees from Catholic persecution on the Continent who would be only too glad of a chance to start a new life on the reclaimed lands. 

And what of the local people? Many held charters of ancient rights. These were ignored in the law courts. Some tried to obtain compensation, but often found themselves imprisoned or fined instead, for attempting to oppose the speculators. 

But they were a tough people, the fenlanders. They fought for their rights, destroying the drainage ditches and pumping mills, attacking the drainage workers and settlers. The unrest spread throughout the Fens and was one of the underlying causes of the English Civil War (1642-46 and 1648-51). The war itself brought a temporary halt to the drainage, but in the lull between the two phases of the war, it began again. And whereas the first period of drainage and enclosure had been financed by the aristocracy and the king, the new speculators were the men who had risen to power under the new government, and included Oliver Cromwell himself, who, in the past, had declared that he would protect the fenlanders.

I was drawn to the period and the events in the Fens by the persistent courage of the local people in defending their land and their customary way of life. I was also fascinated by discovering that the women fought alongside their men, some of them even being accused of being witches because of their unwomanly behaviour. Yes, this was the very period when the infamous ‘witch-finder general’, Matthew Hopkins (c.1620-1647), was roaming over this same area, instigating witch-hunts and hounding hundreds of innocent men and women to their deaths. Mostly women. But some men too. Because of the imposition of strict and unforgiving Puritan rules by Cromwell’s government, clergymen who continued to practice the established ceremonies of the Anglican church – such as baptism and church weddings – were attacked and in some cases tried and executed for witchcraft. 

The more I read about the Fenland Riots, as they came to be known, the more I wanted to tell the story of these persecuted people. In my novel Flood, Mercy Bennington and her family and friends provided the voices of those forgotten seventeenth century forebears of ours.

 And the irony of it all? Because the engineers brought in to drain the Fens did not understand the local terrain, their works resulted in uncontrollable floods. Water which would once have been absorbed by the marshland was pumped out into new ditches which overflowed and flooded villages and homes. Not until the nineteenth century was efficient drainage carried out, and it destroyed the peat bogs which by the present day have withered and shrunk, so that in many places the rivers are now higher than the surrounding lands, a dangerous and unsustainable situation. In recent years it has come to be realised that the marshes along the sea coast of the Fens in the past used to provide a buffer against that other source of floods – floods from the sea. As a result, some coastal farmlands are now being allowed to revert to salt marsh, to protect the land.

I wonder what Mercy Bennington would have had to say about that?

 Dr. Ann Swinfen (http://www.annswinfen.com) published three novels with Random House, but her three latest – The Testament of Mariam, Flood, and The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez – she has published herself under the imprint Shakenoak Press. Loving the whole independent publishing process, and the control it offers to authors, she thinks it unlikely she would ever return to conventional publishing. Some of her short stories which previously appeared in magazines and on BBC radio are now published on Kindle. She has also reissued her backlist titles as paperbacks and Kindles.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

1660 warrant to bring Mary Dyer from prison to trial


Image courtesy of Massachusetts Archive

The magistrates desire their brethren the deputies would plea[se]
give them a meeting about two hours hence & that mary dir[e]
be sent for out of prison to Appeare before the whole Court
Dated at Boston 31st of may 1660
p[er] Edward Rawson Secret[ary]
Consented to by the deputies
Wm Torrey Cleric 

[Thanks to Johan Winsser for the transcription]

© 2014 Christy K Robinson

The nearly illegible warrant was written by the court clerk, William Torrey. If the Secretary, Edward Rawson, had written more than just his flourishing signature, we would be able to decipher the words even now, 354 years later.

Mary Dyer had walked 44 miles from Providence, Rhode Island, and arrived in Boston on 21 May 1660, during the annual meeting of the General Court. She went to the prison to visit and encourage the captive Quakers, knowing she would be arrested. She intentionally provoked the members of the court, including Governor John Endecott, Deputy Gov. Richard Bellingham, Secretary Rawson, Rev. John Wilson, and many others, by arriving in Boston at a time when the colonial government met for annual elections, superior court, and regular business. The most important representatives and leaders had come from all around Massachusetts to attend to politics, make laws, punish lawbreakers, and appoint regulations and licenses for settlements.

Edward Rawson
Mary was arrested for violating her banishment-on-pain-of-death sentence. She was confined in the prison until the above warrant called her out to appear for her hearing and sentencing. She was one of many items on the court agenda that day: the organization of the town of Marlborough and another called Stony River, cutting back militia training days from six per year to four, and defining a freeman: the court declared that “no man whatsoever shall be admitted to the freedom of this body politic but such as are members of some church of Christ and in full communion, which they declare to be the true intent of the ancient law.” The latter is the blending of church and state, a major issue for anyone from Rhode Island, which formed the first democratic government in America, and separated ecclesiastic (church) and civil (state) functions.

At the hearing, Mary Dyer was sentenced to be hanged the next day, June 1, 1660.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

William Dyer and the Rhode Island state seal

William Dyer provides Rhode Island’s first seal

© 2014 Christy K Robinson

William Dyer (or Dyre, as he wrote it) was a man of many talents and abilities. Trained as a haberdasher/milliner, he arrived in America in 1635 and was soon a property owner. He was clerk of several commissions, and the “Portsmouth Compact” of 1638 is written in his hand. He was part of several trading missions to buy food from the Native American tribes, and he was a surveyor who laid out lots in Portsmouth, and roads and boundaries in Newport. He was the first Secretary of State to Rhode Island’s government, then General Recorder from 1648-1650. During this time, William must have studied law, for he was appointed Attorney General from 1650-53, and was first to hold that title in all of colonial America. He was appointed Commander-in-Chief-Upon-the-Seas by both the English Council of State and the United Colonies in 1652-53, was Rhode Island’s general solicitor in 1665-66 and 1668-69, and secretary to the council in 1669. During that time, he owned a farm which had horses, cattle, and sheep (as we see from various legal actions he filed), as well as tobacco and hay.

As Secretary of State and then General Recorder, William Dyer was responsible for writing the colonial assembly legal actions and records, property deeds, and vital records. See Found! More documents in William Dyer’s hand. He kept the documents in a chest, in a room with four locks. The four keys were kept in the four original towns of Rhode Island, and brought out for court sessions. The official seal of the colony would have been kept with the records.
Hand-drawn seal of
Rhode Island, 1647.

As William Dyer was
General Recorder, he probably
drew this image himself.

 It appears (from the book excerpted below) that William Dyer provided an ivory seal with the image of an anchor, and that the seal was used on official documents from 1648 to 1661, then copied for a new seal in 1664. From the description, it's impossible to know how the seal was made, but it's probable that the die of the seal was metal, and the handle of the stamp would have been ivory (walrus tusk from what Gov. John Winthrop called the sea horse). William Dyer was acquainted with Boston silversmith John Hull, who had been his neighbor until 1638, and who co-owned a ship that would be used by privateer Edward Hull in the first Anglo-Dutch war in 1653. John Hull would have the skill required to cast a die. (Has anyone noticed the pun between die and Dyer?) 

The Rhode Island seal’s image, an anchor, probably referred to Hebrews 6:18-19, because of their exile from Massachusetts Bay Colony over their dissidence to the theocratic government there. We have run to God for safety. Now his promises should greatly encourage us to take hold of the hope that is right in front of us. This hope is like a firm and steady anchor for our souls.”  Later versions of the seal have carried the word “hope” over the image of the anchor.

The anchor that kept their boats and ships from drifting or being shipwrecked symbolized safety and “home” to the people who had left first England and then Massachusetts over religious oppression. And it was perfect to represent Narragansett Bay, which Rhode Island territories surround, as the second-most important seaport in New England, after Boston.

Following are excerpts from  The seal, the arms and the flag of Rhode Island, by Howard M. Chapin, 1913 (not in copyright). William Dyer is mentioned several times.
In 1647 the four original towns [of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, including Newport, Portsmouth, Providence, and Warwick] uniting under the Charter, held the first General Assembly, then styled the General Court of Election, at Portsmouth, on the 19th, 20th and 21st of May. At this meeting the anchor was adopted as the official seal.

"18. It is ordered that the Seale of the Province shall be an Anchor." [A sketch of an anchor appears at the end of this entry in the original records.] (R. I. Col. Rec. orig. p. 163, pr. vol. i. p. 151-)

Mr. Rider says: "No suggestion has come down to us concerning the originator of the idea; but certain records exist in which it became necessary for Roger Williams to use an individual Seal, and the anchor was the device which he used."
Mmm, a chocolate seal! It's about
the right size stamp for the original
Rhode Island seal.

The record to which Rider refers was a deed signed by Roger Williams, 20 Dec, 1661, and sealed with an oval seal bearing an anchor. (Prov. Town Rec. pr. vol. 5, p. 309, orig. vol. 3, p. 454.)

The anchor was a comparatively common design on seals of the seventeenth century, both in England and in the Colonies.

In Colonial times seals were scarce, and it was not possible for each person to have his own seal and affix it when he signed a document. Instead, generally only one or two of the leading men in a town owned a seal, and these seals were used promiscuously opposite the signer's names.

The resolution of 1648, mentioning the ivory seal presented by William Dyre [William Dyer, husband of Mary Barrett Dyer].

At the meeting of the General Assembly at Providence, May 16th, 1648, "It is ord that the Seale of Ivory, presented by Wm. Dyre shall be the seale of the State for the present to Seale the writts originall and Judiciall or other records." (R. I. Col. Rec. orig. p. 194, pr. p. 213, and Prov. Town Papers, 01084.)

It appears from the wording of this resolution that for some reason, perhaps poor workmanship, this seal was not satisfactory.

It is probable that this was the first seal of the Colony of Rhode Island, as it is the first record referring to the actual seal, the design having been specified the preceding May. Doubtless William Dyre, who was at that time General Recorder of the Colony, assumed under the resolve of 1647, the duty of having the seal made, a duty naturally incumbent upon his office, and in his official capacity presented the new seal at the next meeting of the General Assembly, which occurred in May, 1648.

There is no impression of this seal now known [in 1913] to exist.

This seal apparently continued in use as the Colony seal until 1660, when a new seal, which John Clarke had had made in England, superseded it. At the meeting of the General Assembly (General Court of Commissioners), at Warwick, 18th of October, 1660, it was "Ordered, That the General Recorder is Authorized to demaund and Receive the Seale Sent by mr. John Clarke, of mr. Nicholas Easton." (R. I. Col. Rec. orig., p. 100, pr. p. 436.)

There is no impression of this second state seal now known to exist.

1664 official seal of Rhode Island.
Notice the shield shape inside the circle,
similar to the hand drawing of the 1647 seal.
At the meeting of the General Assembly, held at Newport March 1, 1664, it was "Ordered That for the presant, the old Seale that hath ben the Seale of the Collony, shall be the presant Seale of the Collony, to be fixed to any Commission that may be granted forth, or any matters of publicke Concearnment and that with what Convenient Speed that may bee, a new Seale be procured." (R. I. Col. Rec, orig p. 132, pr., v. 2, p. ^2.)

What the trouble was that caused the above resolution to be passed we do not know, but it seems safe to assume that there had been both a misuse of seals and a dissatisfaction with the design or workmanship of the [1660] seal then in use. The seal was presumably the second seal, the one that Clarke sent over from England. The expression "Old Seale," however may refer to the Dyre seal, in which case the purpose of the resolution may have been to reinstate the Dyre seal in place of the Clarke seal.

On May 4th, 1664, the General Assembly, sitting at Newport, "Ordered, That the Seale, with the mottoe Rhod Iland and providence plantations, with the word Hope over the head of the Anker, is the presant Seale of the Collony." (R. I. Col. Rec, crig. p. 134, pr. vol. 2, p. 41.) [See image.]

There are several impressions from this seal in the State Archives on papers in the volumes entitled "Proceedings of the General Assembly."

This seal is one and eleven-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. In the centre is an upright foul anchor, with the word "Hope" above it. Surrounding the whole, on a band is the inscription, "The Colnie of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." Mr, Rider believes that "The attachment of the cable to the anchor was doubtless the work of the designer." Certainly there is nothing in the acts of the General Assembly to warrant the use of the foul anchor.

The seal remained in use until November, 1687, when, according to Arnold's History of Rhode Island, it was broken by order of Sir Edmund Andros [royally-appointed governor of the New England colonies].
Current Rhode Island state seal
still uses anchor and "hope" in its imagery.

In December 1686, Sir Edmund Andros was sent by the English government to govern New England and bring the rebellious colonies into line with English law. Negating their royal charters and breaking their seals was one way of asserting his autocracy. He was overthrown in 1689.

Rhode Island returned to using their own seal in 1690.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Endecott’s memento mori death's-head

© 2014 Christy K Robinson

Gov. John Endecott, with signet ring
on his right little finger.
 John Endecott, first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, was a hot-headed, zealous Puritan who had a long history acting first and dealing with consequences later. His extreme religious beliefs led him to cut the cross out of the British flag (treason), to chop down a festive Maypole where some not-so-Puritan English settlers were observing centuries-old celebrations, to require Taliban-like sumptuary laws of Massachusetts women (clothing, jewelry, embroidery and lace, head coverings, and—if he could have—requiring face veils), and he’s particularly infamous for his intense hatred for and persecution of the Quakers. He was the governor who pronounced Mary Dyer’s death sentence.

Endecott wore a ring on his right pinkie finger, which he used as a signet to impress in the soft wax of a seal on letters or documents proving it was his own signature. Endecott’s ring had the image of a skull and crossbones, known as a memento mori, a reminder that all men must die.
Nazi SS death's-head ring from World War II

Today, everyone associates the skull and crossbones with pirate flags, and death by toxin. Latin cultures celebrate a Day of the Dead on November 1 and use a skull motif. Some remember that the death’s head was the emblem of the Nazi SS. Heinrich Himmler, who oversaw the systematic extermination of untold millions of Jews and Slavs, wore a death’s head on his belt buckle that said, “God with us.” The Nazi death-camp guards wore buttons with the death’s head.
Heinrich Himmler's belt buckle.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the memento mori became popular as mementoes of the dead, containing a lock of hair, a picture of an urn or skeleton, in a ring or pendant. The rings took several forms, sometimes a skull mounted on a slim gold ring, sometimes a circle with enamel over gold, or an inside inscription, and sometimes a disk that could be pressed as a seal. Endecott seems to have had the latter.

John Endecott’s letter to John Winthrop in 1643 was sealed with the death’s head in wax. This is a snippet from a “Memoir” written by his descendant, Charles Endicott, in 1847.
The letter is transcribed on page 68 of the book at  https://archive.org/stream/memoirjohnendec00endigoog/memoirjohnendec00endigoog_djvu.txt   
The letter ends with this salutation: 
“…The Lord our good God uphold and continue you amongest us to do yet further service to whose grace I committ you,
Yours ever trulie to serve,
Salem, 26th 6th mo., '43. [26 August 1643]
Jo: Endecott.”

The biographer, a seventh-generation descendant of Governor Endecott, wrote,
“The foregoing letter is transcribed from the original, now found among the papers of Gov. Endecott, in a very good state of preservation. The chirography is handsome, but difficult to read, the characters being those used at the beginning of the 17th century. Notwithstanding the lapse of two hundred years [1643-1847], the sealing wax still bears the perfect impression of the flesh of his thumb, where he pressed it down on account of its thickness. Its subscription is
To the right worshipfulle John Winthroppe, Esq., Governr. at Boston, Dl [deliver]."

He continued, “The seal is a death's head and cross bones, an apt emblem of the gloomy minds, and tastes of our Puritan fore-fathers. On the outer circle is the name of ‘John Garrad.’ This was an impression from a signet ring which he wore upon the little finger of his right hand.”  

John Garrad had been sheriff of Hertfordshire for about three years. He died in 1625; possibly, the ring belonged to Garrad and was given to Endecott at the funeral. This seems likely because Endecott would have had his own name or initials on a ring if he’d commissioned it for himself. Endecott sailed for Massachusetts in 1628, a recent convert to the Puritan beliefs, and a married man for the first time at age 40.

Footnote from 1847 biography of John Endecott
Endecott didn’t start his bloody reign of terror when the Quakers arrived in New England in 1656. He was one of the militia captains who slaughtered or enslaved hundreds of Pequot Indians (men, women, and children) in 1636-37. He was one of the magistrates who prosecuted Anne Hutchinson, inspected the deformed, stillborn fetus of Mary Dyer’s, hanged women as witches, and in 1651, was responsible for the near-fatal beating of the Baptist minister of Newport, Rhode Island, Obadiah Holmes, when he and two other Baptists went to Salem to encourage an elderly Baptist in his own home.

That prompted a letter exchange with Rev. Roger Williams, who lived at Providence, but had been friendly with Endecott in the early 1630s when he preached at Salem. Rev. Williams was not a man who was short on words, nor was he hesitant to use all the sharp, pointy arrows in his quiver! He said that those who sent a letter with the death’s-head seal were flying to the hole or pit of rottenness (a.k.a. hell). His letter was very long, and I’ve selected some excerpts for you.

The copy of a letter of Roger Williams, of Providence, in New England, to Major Endicott, Governor of the Massachusetts, upon occasion of the late persecution against Mr. Clarke and Obadiah Holmes, and others, at Boston, the chief town of the Massachusetts in New England.

August, 1651.

Sir,—Having done with our transitory earthly affairs (as touching the English and the Indians) which in companion of heavenly and eternal, you will say are but as dung and dross, &c. Let me now be humbly bold to remember that humanity and piety, which I and others have formerly observed in you, and in that hopeful remembrance to crave your gentle audience with patience and mildness, with ingenuity, equanimity and candor, to him that ever truly and deeply loved you and yours, and as in the awful presence of His holy eye, whose dreadful hand hath formed us to the praise of His mercy or justice to all eternity. 
Sir, while something of this nature I muse over your Death's head, I meet (in the entrance of your letter) with this passage, "Were I as free in my spirit as formerly I have been to write unto you, you should have received another manner of Salutation then now with a good Conscience I can Express; However God knoweth who are his, and what he is pleased to hide from sinful man in this life, shall in that great Day be manifested to All." 

Sir, it hath pleased the Father of Spirits at this present to smite my heart in the very breaking up of your letter, This Death's Head, tells that loving hand that sealed it, and mine that opens your letter, that our eyes, our hands, our tongues, our brains are flying hence to the hole or pit of rottenness : Why mould not therefore such our letters, such our speeches, such our actings be, as may become our last: minutes, our death-beds, &c. If so, how meek and humble, how plain and serious, how faithful and zealous, and yet how tender and loving mould the spirits and speeches be of dying and departing men? 
[In modern terms, Live as if each day is your last, and be tender and loving in spirit and in speech.]

Sir, will my honored and beloved friend not know me for fear of being disowned by his conscience? Shall the goodness and integrity of his conscience to God cause him to forget me? Oh how comes it then that I have heard so often, and heard it lately, and heard so much, that he that speaks so tenderly for his own, hath yet so little respect, mercy or pity to the like conscientious persuasions of other men? Are all the thousands of millions of millions of consciences, at home and abroad, fuel only for a prison, for a whip, for a stake, for a gallows? Are no consciences to breathe the air, but such as suit and sample his? May not the most High be pleased to hide from his as well as from the eyes of his fellow-servants, fellow-mankind, fellow-English? And if God hide from his, from any, who can discover? Who can shut when he will open? and who can open when he that hath the key of David will shut? All this and more (honored Sir) your words will warrant me to say, without any just offence or straining. 

Object. But what makes this to Heretics, Blasphemers, Seducers, to make them that sin against their conscience (as Mr. Cotton sayeth) after conviction? What makes this to stabbers of Kings and Princes, to blowers up of Parliaments out of conscience?

Oh Sir, you cannot forget what language and dialect this is, whether not the same unsavored, and ungodly, blasphemous and bloody, which the Gardiner's and Bonner's [Catholic bishops who tortured and killed Protestants in Bloody Mary’s reign] both former and latter used to all that bowed not to the State golden Image of what Conscience soever they were. And indeed, Sir, if the most High be pleased to awaken you to render unto his holy Majesty his due praises, in your truly broken-hearted Confessions and Supplications, you will then proclaim to all the world, that what profession soever you made of the Lamb, yet these expressions could not proceed from the Dragon's mouth. 
Sir, I must be humbly bold to say, that 'tis impossible for any man or men to maintain their Christ by their sword, and to worship a true Christ! to fight against all Consciences opposite to theirs, and not to fight against God in some of them, and to hunt after the precious life of the true Lord Jesus Christ. Oh remember whether your Principles and Consciences must in time and opportunity force you. 'Tis but worldly policy and compliance with men and times (God's mercy overruling) that holds your hands from murdering of thousands and ten thousands were your power and command as great as once the bloody Roman Emperors was. 
It hath been his way and course in all countries, in Germany, France and England, (especially) whatever their pretences have been against Heretics, Rebels, Schismatics, Blasphemers, Seducers, &c. How hath he left them to be their own Accusers, Judges, Executioners, some by hanging, some by stabbing, some by drowning and poisoning themselves, some by running mad, and some by drinking in the very same cup which they had filled to others?

Some may say, “Such persecutors hunted God and Christ, but I, but we, &c.” –

I answer, the Lord Jesus Christ foretold how wonderfully the wisest of the world, would be mistaken in the things of Christ, and a true visible Christ Jesus! When did we see thee naked, hungry, thirsty, sick, in prison, &c. 
Oh remember it is a dangerous combat for the potsherds of the earth to fight with their dreadful Potter. It is a dismal battle for poor naked feet to kick against the pricks; it is a dreadful voice from the King of kings, and Lord of lords, “Endecott, Endecott, why huntest thou me? why imprisonest thou me? why finest, why so bloodily whippest, why wouldest thou (did not I hold thy bloody hands) hang and burn me? 
First, On a moderation towards the Spirits and Consciences of all mankind, merely differing from or opposing yours with only Religious and Spiritual opposition.

Secondly, A deep and cordial resolution (in these wonderful searching, disputing and dissenting times) to search, to listen, to pray, to sail, and more fearfully, more tremblingly to enquire what the holy pleasure, and the holy mysteries of the most Holy are; in whom I humbly desire to be

Your poor fellow-servant, unfeignedly, respective and faithful,

Roger Williams.

I’ve found no response from Endecott to Williams. Perhaps the governor’s response was to ignore the sermon.
Memento mori ring of the same period as Endecott's,
from Norwich, England

Endecott served as governor or deputy governor for 14 more terms before he died in 1665. His descendant and biographer, writing in 1847, believed that he died peacefully at age 77. Some historians say that Endecott was ill or gangrenous and stank so terribly that servants refused to enter the room. Another writer says that Endecott was known to have a painful back condition, and her theory is that he had syphilis from his youth (when he fathered a bastard son), and the disease had affected his sanity and erupted as a sore, which would explain the foul odor. 

I mentioned Endecott's memento mori in both of my novels, Mary Dyer Illuminated, and Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This.  The first mention was when William Dyer was discussing Roger Williams' letter. The ring shows up again at Mary Dyer's death sentence. Tiny details like this require 20 or more hours of research, but they bring an authenticity to the scene.