Mary Fisher (missionary)
Mary Fisher, also Mary Fisher Bayley Crosse, (c.1623 – 1698) was one of the first travelling Quaker ministers. She was one of the Valiant Sixty, the group of early itinerant Quaker preachers whose mission was to spread the spiritual message of the founder of the Quakers, George Fox.
Mary Fisher was born in north Yorkshire, possibly at Pontefract, England. As a young woman she worked as a housemaid for Richard and Elizabeth Tomlinson in their household at Selby where in late December 1651 she heard the ministry to the Tomlinson family and servants given by George Fox. His message and fellowship resonated profoundly with her and as a result she became an active Quaker.
Ministry and Persecution
In 1652, as a Quaker ‘Publisher of Truth’ Mary Fisher publicly rebuked the vicar of Selby church in an address to his congregation after worship. She was imprisoned in York Castle and later that year she was confined there again with five other Quakers and together they issued a pamphlet, ‘False Teachers and False Prophets Described’. In 1653 and 1654 she was further imprisoned at York for offences against the church in Pontefract.
In December 1653, accompanied by Elizabeth Williams, Fisher walked to Cambridge as part of the Quaker drive to proselytise the south of England. There they rebuked the student theologians at Sidney Sussex College as their Quaker aversion to organised religion also extended to the colleges where ministers were trained. On the order of the Mayor they were taken to the market cross under the pretext that they were vagabonds, stripped to the waist and flogged. They were the first Quakers to be publicly flogged for their ministry.
Mission to the New World
In 1655, Fisher and another Quaker preacher, Ann Austin, voyaged to the New World to spread the Quaker message there. They were subsidised in their mission from Quaker funds and first sailed to Barbados in the Caribbean where they were well received  and where they converted the Lieutenant Governor of the island to Quakerism.
On 11 July 1656 they became the first Quakers to visit the English North American colonies, arriving at Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the Swallow. There they met with fierce hostility from the Puritan population and the Deputy Governor of the colony, Richard Bellingham, as news of the heretical views of the Quakers had preceded them.
On arrival, they were taken ashore and imprisoned. They were forced to undress in public, and their bodies were intimately examined for signs of witchcraft, Ann reporting that one of the female searchers was ‘a man in womens apparel’. Their books and pamphlets were seized and burned by the Boston hangman. An innkeeper, Nicholas Upsall, offered to pay their fines if he were permitted to speak with them in prison but the magistrates, having ordered their prison window to be boarded up so as to isolate them refused his request, the intention being to starve them to death. Upsall then bribed their warder by paying him five shillings a week to allow him to bring food to the women and so saved their lives. Fisher and Austin were deported back to Barbados on the Swallow after five weeks' imprisonment, having been unable to share their faith with anyone except Upsall, who became the first North American Puritan convert to Quakerism.
Fisher and Austin returned to England in 1657.
Mission to the Ottoman Empire
In 1658 Fisher felt prompted to travel in a group of six Quakers to the Mediterranean and to visit the Ottoman Empire to expound her Quaker faith to the Sultan Mehmed IV. When their ship reached Smyrna, she asked the English Consul there how to contact the Sultan. He told her that to proceed would be unwise and tricked the party of Quakers into boarding a ship bound for Venice. Realising this when at sea, Fisher asked the captain to land her on the Morean coast of Greece and she then travelled alone and on foot across Macedonia and Thrace until she reached the Sultan who was encamped with his army at Adrianople. There she persuaded Ahmed Pasha, the Grand Vizier, to arrange an audience for her with the Sultan, describing herself as an ambassador of ‘The Most High God’. At the subsequent audience, according to her account, the Sultan received her ministry ‘testifying to the Universal Light’, attentively. Afterwards, declining his offer of an armed escort to protect her, she made her way alone to Constantinople and then back to England. Her experience in a Muslim country compared to her experiences in Christian countries left a deep impression on her. She wrote:
“Now returned into England ... have I 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... There is a royal seed amongst them which in time God will raise. 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 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.”
In 1662 Mary Fisher married William Bayley of Poole, Dorset, who died while on a sea voyage from Barbados in 1675. He was a seafarer and Quaker preacher and writer who had been converted to Quakerism by George Fox in 1655. She then married John Crosse at Southwark on 19 September 1678, with whom she and the three children of her first marriage emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina. John Crosse died in 1687 and she died in Charleston, sometime between August and November in 1698. Her remains were buried in the Quaker Burial Ground there which was removed in 1967. Some of the remains were relocated within the site but most were removed to Courthouse Square, Charleston.
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