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The Trial of Anne Hutchinson at Newton (1637)

THE TRIAL OF ANNE HUTCHINSON AT NEWTON (1637)


Anne Hutchinson was born in 1591 in England into the large family of a freethinking Anglican clergyman. She was intelligent and consumed with religious issues. After marrying merchant William Hutchinson, Anne bore twelve children. While living at Alford, England, she came under the influence of the Reverend John Cotton, a Puritan minister who believed in a "covenant of grace" rather than a "covenant of works," which went against the standards of outward behavior then advocated by the Church of England. When Rev. Cotton was forced to leave England for the new Puritan colony at Massachusetts Bay, Anne convinced her husband and family that they must follow him to America. The family settled in Boston, where Anne began to promote and lecture on Rev. Cotton's beliefs to local women. The "covenant of grace" she espoused appealed to so many men and women that she was soon leader of a religious movement, which brought her to the attention of the Massachusetts Bay authorities.

John Winthrop, the most respected citizen of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was its governor in 1637. The Massachusetts Puritans sought to build their religious commonwealth on order and conformity. Anne taught that the covenant that an individual had with God had little outward manifestation; rather it was an inward conversion, a wholly individual experience. There was very little room for duty, order, and power in such a belief. As a consequence of her teachings, Anne was put on trial for going beyond her domestic sphere to become an unlawful spiritual leader who could destroy the order and hierarchy of Puritan society and government.

During the trial Winthrop's attempts to prevail upon Anne to abandon her quest to change the religious standards of the colony fell on deaf ears. She refused to budge. Her claim that her conscience was law threatened disorder and anarchy. Citing the letters of the Apostle Paul, Anne also claimed her right to counsel women in religion, which threatened the male hierarchy of the colony.

After being sentenced to exile, Anne Hutchinson and children joined her husband at a new settlement in Rhode Island. After her husband's death, she moved to New Netherland, where Indians killed her in 1643.

RussellLawson,
Bacone College

See also General Court, Colonial ; Massachusetts Bay Colony ; Puritans and Puritanism .

mr. winthrop governor. Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches here; you are known to be a woman that hath had a great share in the promoting and divulging of those opinions that are causes of this trouble, and to be nearly joined not only in affinity and affection with some of those the court had taken notice of and passed upon, but you have spoken divers things as we have been informed very prejudicial to the honour of the churches and ministers thereof, and you have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex, and notwithstanding that was cried down you have continued the same, therefore we have thought good to send for you to understand how things are, that if you be in an erroneous way we may reduce you that so you may become a profitable member here among us, otherwise if you be obstinate in your course that then the court may take such course that you may trouble us no further, therefore I would entreat you to express whether you do not assent and hold in practice to those opinions and factions that have been handled in court already, that is to say, whether you do not justify Mr. Wheelright's sermon and the petition.

mrs. hutchinson. I am called here to answer before you but I hear no things laid to my charge.

gov. I have told you some already and more I can tell you. (Mrs. H.) Name one Sir.

gov. Have I not named some already?

mrs. h. What have I said or done?

gov. Why for your doings, this you did harbour and countenance those that are parties in this faction that you have heard of. (Mrs. H.) That's matter of conscience, Sir.

gov. Your conscience you must keep or it must be kept for you.

mrs. h. Must not I then entertain the saints because I must keep my conscience.…

gov. You have joined with them in the faction.

mrs. h. In what faction have I joined with them?

gov. In presenting the petition.

mrs. h. Suppose I had set my hand to the petition what then? (Gov.) You saw that case tried before.

mrs. h. But I had not my hand to the petition.

gov. You have councelled them. (Mr H.) Wherein?

gov. Why in entertaining them.

mrs. h. What breach of law is that Sir?

gov. Why dishonouring of parents.

mrs. h. But put the case Sir that I do fear the Lord and my parents may not I entertain them that fear the Lord because my parents will not give me leave?

gov. If they be the fathers of the commonwealth, and they of another religion, if you entertain them then you dishonour your parents and are justly punishable. …

gov. Why do you keep such a meeting at your house as you do every week upon a set day?

mrs. h. It is lawful for me so to do, as it is all your practices and can you find a warrant for yourself and condemn me for the same thing? The ground of my taking it up was, when I first came to this land because I did not go to such meetings as those were, it was presently reported that I did not allow of such meetings but held them unlawful and therefore in that regard they said I was proud and did despise all ordinances, upon that a friend came unto me and told me of it and I to prevent such aspersions took it up, but it was in practice before I came therefore I was not the first.…

mrs. h. I conceive their lyes a clear rule in Titus, that the elder women should instruct the younger and then I must have a time wherein I must do it.

gov. All this I grant you, I grant you a time for it, but what is this to the purpose that you Mrs. Hutchinson must call a company together from their callings to come to be taught of you?

mrs. h. Will it please you to answer me this and to give me a rule for then I will willingly submit to any truth. If any come to my house to be instructed in the ways of God what rule have I to put them away? …

mrs. h. … Do you think it not lawful for me to teach women and why do you call me to teach the court?

gov. We do not call you to teach the court but to lay open yourself.

mrs. h. I desire you that you would then set me down a rule by which I may put them away that come unto me and so have peace in so doing.

gov. You must shew your rule to receive them.

mrs. h. I have done it.

gov. I deny it because I have brought more arguments than you have.

mrs. h. I say, to me it is a rule.

mr. endicot. You say there are some rules unto you. I think there is a contradiction in your own words. What rule for your practice do you bring, only a custom in Boston.

mrs. h. No Sir that was no rule to me but if you look upon the rule in Titus it is a rule to me. If you convince me that it is no rule I shall yield.

gov. You know that there is no rule that crosses another, but rule crosses that in the Corinthians. But you must take it in this sense that elder women must instruct the younger about their business and to love their husbands and not to make them to clash.

mrs. h. I do not conceive but that it is meant for some publick times.…

gov. Well, we see how it is we must therefore put it away from you or restrain you from maintai[n]ing this course.

mrs. h. If you have a rule for it from God's word you may.

gov. We are your judges, and not you ours and we must compel you to it.…

dep. gov. I would go a little higher with Mrs. Hutchinson.

About three years ago we were all in peace. Mrs. Hutchinson from that time she came hath made a disturbance, and some that came oyer with her in the ship did inform me what she was as soon as she was landed. I being then in place dealt with the pastor and teacher of Boston and desired them to enquire of her, and then I was satisfied that she held nothing different from us, but within half a year after, she had vented divers of her strange opinions and had made parties in the country, and at length it comes that Mr. Cotton and Mr. Vane were of her judgment, but Mr. Cotton hath cleared himself that he was not of that mind, but now it appears by this woman's meeting that Mrs. Hutchinson hath so forestalled the minds of many by their resort to her meeting that now she hath a potent party in the country. Now if all these things have endangered us as from that foundation and if she in particular hath disparaged all our ministers in the land that they have preached a covenant of works, and only Mr. Cotton a covenant of grace, why this is not to be suffered, and therefore being driven to the foundation and it being found that Mrs. Hutchinson is she that hath depraved all the ministers and hath been the cause of what is fallen out, why we must take away the foundation and the building will fall.

mrs. h. I pray Sir prove it that I said they preached nothing but a covenant of works.

dep. gov. Nothing but a covenant of works, why a Jesuit may preach truth sometimes.

mrs. h. Did I ever say they preached a covenant of works then?

dep. gov. If they do not preach a covenant of grace clearly, then they preach a covenant of works.

mrs. h. No Sir, one may preach a covenant of grace more clearly than another, so I said.

d. gov. We are not upon that now but upon position.

mrs. h. Prove this then Sir that you say I said.

d. gov. When they do preach a covenant of works do they preach truth?

mrs. h. Yes Sir, but when they preach a covenant of works for salvation, that is not truth.…

d. gov. Likewise I will prove this that you said the gospel in the letter and words holds forth nothing but a covenant of works and that all that do not hold as you do are in a covenant of works.

mrs. h. I deny this for if I should so say, I should speak against my own judgment.

mr. endicot. I desire to speak seeing Mrs. Hutchinson seems to lay something against them that are to witness against her.

gover. Only I would add this. It is well discerned to the court that Mrs. Hutchinson can tell when to speak and when to hold her tongue. Upon the answering of a question which we desire her to tell her thoughts of she desires to be pardoned.

mrs. h. It is one thing for me to come before a public magistracy and there to speak what they would have me to speak and another when a man comes to me in a way of friendship privately there is difference in that.…

dep. gov. I called these witnesses and you deny them. You see they have proved this and you deny this, but it is clear. You said they preached a covenant of works and that they were not able ministers of the new testament; now there are two other things that you did affirm which were that the scriptures in the letter of them held forth nothing but a covenant of works and likewise that those that were under a covenant of works cannot be saved.

mrs. h. (Gov.) Did you say so?

mrs. h. Prove that I said so.

gov. Did you say so? No Sir it is your conclusion.…

gov. What say you to this, though nothing be directly proved yet you hear it may be.

mrs. h. I acknowledge using the words of the apostle to the Corinthians unto him, that they that were ministers of the letter and not the spirit did preach a covenant of works. Upon his saying there was such scripture, then I fetched the bible and shewed him this place 2 Cor. iii. 6. He said that was the letter of the law. No said I it is the letter of the gospel.

gov. You have spoken this more than once then.

mrs. h. Then upon further discourse about proving a good and holding it out by the manifestation of the spirit he did acknowledge that to be the nearest way, but yet said he, will you not acknowledge that which we hold forth to be a way too wherein we may have hope; no truly if that be a way it is a way to hell.

gov. Mrs. Hutchinson, the court you see hath laboured to bring you to acknowledge the error of your way that so you might be reduced, the time now grows late, we shall therefore give you a little more time to consider of it and therefore desire that you attend the court again in the morning.…


SOURCE: Hutchinson, Thomas. The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay… Boston: 1767.

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