Anne Hutchinson Trials: 1637 and 1638
Anne Hutchinson Trials: 1637 and 1638
Defendant: Anne Hutchinson
Crimes Charged: "Traducing the ministers and their ministry" and heresy
Chief Defense Lawyer: None
Chief Prosecutors: Civil trial: John Winthrop; religious trial: the Reverend John Davenport
Judges: Civil trial: John Winthrop and the Magistrates of Massachusetts; religious trial: John Wilson and the ministers of the Church of Boston
Places: Civil trial: Newtown (Cambridge); religious trial: Boston
Dates of trials: Civil trial: November 7-8, 1637; Religious trial: March 22, 1638
Sentences: Banishment from the colony and excommunication from the Church of Boston
SIGNIFICANCE: Anne Hutchinson was the defendant in the most famous of the trials intended to squelch religious dissent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony had been founded so that the Puritans might perfectly practice their own faith. Religious liberty for others—a concept Americans would later take for granted—was not part of the Puritans' plan. Instead, founding Governor John Winthrop envisioned a model "Citty [sic] upon a hill," an example of Christian unity and order. Not incidentally, women were expected to play a submissive and supporting role in this society.
Anne Hutchinson, a skilled midwife and herbal healer with her own interpretation of Puritan doctrine, challenged the leaders of this "wilderness theocracy," as Barbara Ritter Dailey describes it. She arrived in the colony in 1634 and began holding religious meetings in her home. She quickly drew crowds of 60 to 80 men and women on a weekly basis. An alarmed assembly of church elders agreed that "women might meet [some few together] to pray and edify one another" but, without naming Hutchinson, denounced "one woman … [who] took upon her the whole exercise … [as] disorderly, and without rule."
Hutchinson continued to outline her views. Puritan doctrine emphasized the performance of "good works," which might be interpreted as evidence, or justification, that an individual had been elected for salvation. Hutchinson's favorite minister, John Cotton, stressed a "covenant of grace"—the idea that one's own spiritual consciousness of God's election might also be justification. Hutchinson expanded this idea to include an in-dwelling Holy Ghost whose guidance replaced the self-will of the saved. She then denounced all of the colony's ministers except Cotton and her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright, for preaching only the "Covenant of Works."
General Court Summons Hutchinson
The General Court summoned Hutchinson in November 1637. She was put on trial for her theological views and for stepping outside the bounds assigned to women. Governor John Winthrop, acting as prosecutor, outlined the charges: "Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace … you have spoken of divers[e] things … very prejudicial to the honour of the churches and ministers thereof, and you have maintained a meeting … that hath been condemned … as a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex."
Hutchinson responded haughtily, "I am called here to answer before you, but I hear no things laid to my charge."
Winthrop said, "I have told you some already and more I can tell you."
Finally, exasperated by Hutchinson's "What have I said or done?" stance, Winthrop exclaimed, "Why for your doings, this you did harbour and countenance those that are parties in this faction that you have heard of." He was referring to the fact that Hutchinson had encouraged others to sign a petition in support of Wheelwright, who, found guilty of sedition and contempt, had been banished.
Hutchinson simply stated, "That's a matter of conscience, Sir."
Winthrop replied: "Your conscience you must keep or it must be kept for you.
He then denounced her support for Wheelwright and his sympathizers. "What breach of law is that, Sir?" Hutchinson inquired.
"Why dishonoring of parents," Winthrop immediately replied, placing the commonwealth's governor and magistrates in that role.
Hutchinson asked sarcastically, "But put the case Sir that I do fear the Lord and my parents, may I not entertain them that fear the Lord because my parents will not give me leave?"
After some further discussion of the theological point, Winthrop directed his line of questioning toward a woman's right to hold religious meetings.
Hutchinson demanded, "[C]an you find a warrant [permission] for yourself and condemn me for the same thing?" Denying that men had attended, she cited a "clear rule in Titus, that the elder women should instruct the younger."
Winthrop told her to "take it in this sense that elder women must instruct the younger about their business and to love their husbands and not make them to clash." When Hutchinson objected, saying "it is meant for some publick times," Winthrop criticized her for drawing her students away from their housework: "[I]t will not well stand with the commonwealth that families should be neglected for so many neighbours and dames and so much time spent, we see no rule of God for this … and so what hurt comes of this you will be guilty of and we for suffering you."
Seven ministers then testified in turn, as Winthrop summarized it, that Hutchinson "did say that they [the ministers] did preach a covenant of works and that they were not able ministers of the gospel." Shortly afterward, Hutchinson was ordered "to consider of it," and the court recessed until the following morning.
The next day, John Cotton's sympathetic testimony on theological points and the question of whether Hutchinson had "traduced the ministers" brought Hutchinson close to acquittal. Then, suddenly, she told the court that she knew through an immediate revelation from God that her inquisitors would be destroyed. This was proof enough of heresy, and Hutchinson was "banished from out of our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society." The sentence was modified, however, to permit Hutchinson to remain "confined" in the colony until spring.
Church of Boston Enters Fray
Hutchinson continued to spread her views. Finally, as Winthrop recorded, "the Elders of Boston … declared their readinesse to deale with Mistris Hutchinson in a Church way."
At this trial, Cotton opposed Hutchinson and emphasized the dangers he thought a dissenting woman courted: "[T]hough I have not herd, nayther do I thinke, you have bine unfaythful to your Husband in his Marriage Covenant, yet that will follow upon it." He turned to the women present in the church and instructed them to ignore Hutchinson's teachings, saying "[Y]ou see she [Hutchinsoni is but a Woman and many unsound and dayngerous principles are held by her."
The Reverend Thomas Shepard then testified that Hutchinson sought "to seduce and draw away many, Espetially simple Weomen of her owne sex." Her theological views were condemned, and the spiritual penalty of excommunication was then added to the earlier civil punishment of banishment. When the Reverend John Wilson ordered her "as a Leper to withdraw your selfe out of the Congregation," one woman—Mary Dyer—walked over to Hutchinson and joined hands with her. The two women walked together to the church door, where Hutchinson turned to deliver her own verdict to the ministers: "The Lord judgeth not as man judgeth, better to be cast out of the Church than to deny Christ."
The Aftermath: a Mixed Picture
Reaction to the trials was mixed. Hutchinson herself, as Winthrop recorded, "gloried in her sufferings, saying, that it [her excommunication] was the greatest happiness, next to Christ, that ever befel her." Hutchinson's husband William left the colony at her side; he later explained that "he was more nearly tied to his wife than to the church." Their son Francis later blasted the church as "a strumpet" and was excommunicated and fined 40 pounds. When he refused to pay the fine, he was jailed.
Finally, as Lyle Koehler points out, the church found it necessary to continue disciplining women for similar offenses, especially during the 18 months following Hutchinson's excommunication. Katherine Finch, for example, "spoke against the magistrates, against the Churches, and against the Elders" and was ordered whipped on October 10, 1638. Even after this punishment, Finch failed to conduct herself "dutifully to her husband." She was forced to make a public promise that she would, in the future, comply to his wishes. Phillip Hammond was excommunicated in 1639, in part for publicly declaring that "Mrs. Hutchinson neyther deserved the Censure which was putt upon her in the Church, nor in the Common Weale." In 1646, Sarah Keayne was excommunicated by the Boston church for holding her own mixed religious meetings and "irregular[ly] prophesying." Joan Hogg, found guilty of "disorderly singing and … saying she is commanded of Christ to do so," was also excommunicated.
To Hutchinson's detractors, however, the most stunning commentary on the controversy was when Mary Dyer and Anne Hutchinson became pregnant following Hutchinson's trials, and experienced what Boston clergy described as "monster births" and divine signs of guilt. (Hutchinson's modern diagnosis is of a hydatidiform mole.)
In 1643, when Hutchinson was killed by Indians in what would become New York state, the Reverend Peter Bulkeley delivered the ministers' final summation: "Let her damned heresies shee fell into … and the just vengeance of God, by which shee perished, terifie all her seduced followers from having any more to doe with her leaven."—
Suggestions for Further Reading
Battis, Emery. "Anne Hutchinson," Notable American Women, 1906-1950. Edited by Edward T. James, Janet Wilson James, and Paul S. Boyer. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.
Dailey, Barbara Ritter. "Anne Hutchinson," A Reader's Companion to American History. Edited by Eric Foner and John A. Garraty. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
Evans, Sara M. Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America. New York: The Free Press, A Division of Macmillan, Co. 1989.
Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1959.
Hutchinson, Thomas. The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay. Edited from Hutchinson's copy of Vols. I and II and his manuscript of Vol. III by Lawrence Shaw Mayo, 1936. Volume II, Appendix II, pp. 366-391, reprint in Nancy Cott, ed. Roots of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972.
Koehler, Lyle. "The Case of the American Jezebels: Anne Hutchinson and Female Agitation during the Years of the Antinomian Turmoil, 1636—1640." William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 31 (1974): 55-78, reprint in Linda K. Kerber and Jane DeHart Mathews, eds. Women's America: Refocusing the Past. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Morgan, Edmund S. The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1958.
Stanton, Elizabeth Cady, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds. History of Woman Suffrage, 1881. Reprint Salem, N.H.: Ayer Co., 1985.
Winthrop, John. Winthrop's Journal, "History of New England," 1630-1649 (2 vols.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908.
Anne Marbury Hutchinson
Anne Marbury Hutchinson
English-born Anne Marbury Hutchinson (1591-1643) was banished from the Massachusetts colony and excommunicated from its church for dissenting from the Puritan orthodoxy. Her "case" was one of several prefiguring the eventual separation of church and state in America.
Anne Marbury was born in Alford, Lincolnshire, the eldest daughter of a strong-willed Anglican priest who had been imprisoned and removed from office because of his demand for a better-educated clergy. In 1605 the family moved to London, where her father was reinstated to the clergy. He died in 1611, leaving his daughter a legacy of biblical scholarship and religious independence. The following year Anne returned to her birthplace as the bride of William Hutchinson, a prosperous cloth merchant. For the next 20 years she operated the household, acquired a knowledge of medicinal herbs, and cared for over a dozen children.
Her Early Puritanism
Hutchinson also continued her father's religious individualism. Adopting Puritanism, she often journeyed to St. Botolph's Church in Boston, England, to hear John Cotton, one of England's outstanding Puritan ministers. When the Anglican Church silenced him and he left for the colony of Massachusetts in America, Hutchinson became extremely distraught. She finally persuaded her husband to leave for America, so that she could follow her religious mentor.
The Hutchinson family was well received in Massachusetts. William Hutchinson was granted a desirable house lot in Boston, and both husband and wife quickly became church members. William Hutchinson resumed his career as a merchant, became a landowner, and was elected a town selectman and deputy to the General Court. Hutchinson's experience with medicinal herbs made her much in demand as a nurse, and she made many friends. When she was criticized for failing to attend weekly prayer meetings in the homes of parishioners, she responded by holding meetings in her own home. She began by reiterating and explaining the sermons of John Cotton but later added some of her own interpretations, a practice that was to be her undoing.
John Cotton was an intelligent and subtle theologian who had articulated an extremely fine balance between the value of God's grace and the value of good works in achieving salvation. While the Puritans believed that salvation was the result of God's grace, freely given to man, they also maintained that good works, or living the moral life, were important signs of that salvation and necessary preparation for the realization that one had received God's grace. But grace and works had to be kept in proper balance. To overemphasize works was to argue that man could be responsible for his own salvation and thus would deny God's power over man. On the other hand, to overemphasize grace was to assert a religious individualism that denied the necessity of moral living and by implication rejected clerical leadership, church discipline, and civil authority. While Cotton had maintained his balance in this most difficult of issues, Hutchinson did not, and she finally came to stress grace to the exclusion of works in determining salvation. The origin of her views is difficult to discover. Certainly Cotton had influenced her. She probably held her beliefs prior to her arrival in Boston, but she evidently did not advance them until the meetings in her home.
As her meetings became more popular, Hutchinson drew some of Boston's most influential citizens to her home. Many of these were town merchants and artisans who had been severely criticized for profiteering in prices and wages; they saw in Hutchinson's stress on grace a greater freedom regarding morality and therefore more certainty of their own salvation. But others came in search of a more meaningful and personal relationship with their God. As she attracted followers and defenders, the orthodox Puritans organized to oppose her doctrines and her advocates.
The issue of grace as opposed to works assumed political significance and ultimately divided Massachusetts into hostile camps. The orthodox Puritans called the Hutchinson group "Antinomians," or those who denied the applicability of moral law to the saved, and the Hutchinsonians referred to orthodox Puritans as "Legalists," or those who trusted only the observance of church laws as a sign of salvation. The orthodox Puritans, always a majority in the colony, came to demand repudiation of what seemed not only religious error but also potential social chaos. If Hutchinson's views predominated, they reasoned, individual conscience would replace clerical and civil authority as the standard for public conduct.
The Puritan orthodoxy began its assault on the dissenters in the May 1637 election. Henry Vane, a Hutchinson defender, was defeated for reelection to the governorship by John Winthrop, an opponent of her views. In the summer a synod was called in order that the "errors" of the Hutchinsonians could be identified and dealt with by the government. Following a special election in October, in which the orthodoxy increased its political strength, the government moved against individuals. Boston's pro-Hutchinson deputies were not permitted to take their seats in the General Court, and Hutchinson's brother-in-law John Wheelwright (previously convicted for sedition and contempt because of a sermon preached in defense of grace) was banished.
Anne Hutchinson Banished
The court then moved against Hutchinson. It was a difficult situation. As a woman, her words had not been public and she had not participated in the political maneuvers surrounding the controversy. Called before the court, she was accused of sedition and questioned extensively. She defended herself well, however, demonstrating both biblical knowledge and debating skill. She returned the next morning to be aided by John Cotton's testimony about her beliefs, which differed from the report of the clergymen who had spoken for the court. This conflicting evidence would have cleared her, but she brashly intervened and, before it was over, had declared herself the recipient of direct revelations from God, without aid of either Scripture or clergy. This assertion of direct communion with God was regarded as the vilest heresy by all, and it sealed her doom. She was banished as a woman "not fit for [Massachusetts] society."
While Hutchinson's trial was, by modern standards, a gross miscarriage of justice, it was not unjust according to the standards of 17th-century England, where, generally, in sedition cases a formal defense was not permitted and a jury was not used. Yet even by 17th-century standards, a mistrial occurred when the same men sat both as prosecution and judge, for her guilt had been thus "known" by the General Court long before she even presented herself to it.
After her sentencing, Hutchinson's importance waned. Her strongest supporters had either left Massachusetts or been banished, and her idol, John Cotton, had finally allied himself with the orthodoxy. The result of her investigation by the Boston congregation was a foregone conclusion. Her attempt to renounce her former errors was taken as incomplete by the clergy, and she was excommunicated for the sin of lying. Within a week she and her family departed for Rhode Island, where she was free to practice her religious views. In 1642 her husband died, and Hutchinson moved with her six youngest children to Long Island and then to the New Netherland (New York) mainland. In the late summer of 1643, Hutchinson and all but one of her children were killed in an Indian attack.
It was a sad end for an important religious figure. Hutchinson's emphasis on grace as the only requirement for salvation was an important step toward the achievement of religious freedom—that is, the ability to follow the dictates of one's own conscience in matters of belief—in America.
The best biography of Anne Hutchinson is Emery John Battis, Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1962). Other useful biographies are Helen Auguer, An American Jezebel: The Life of Anne Hutchinson (1930); Edith R. Curtis, Anne Hutchinson (1930); and Winnifred King Rugg, Unafraid: A Life of Anne Hutchinson (1930). Relevant documents dealing with the Antinomian controversy were published in David D. Hall, ed., The Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1638: A Documentary History (1968). Background material is in Charles F. Adams, Three Episodes of Massachusetts History: The Settlement of Boston Bay; the Antinomian Controversy; A Study of Church and Town Government (2 vols., 1892; 5th ed. 1896); James T. Adams, The Founding of New England (1921); Thomas J. Wertenbaker, The Puritan Oligarchy (1947); Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (1958); and Larzer Ziff, The Career of John Cotton: Puritanism and the American Experience (1962). □
HUTCHINSON, ANNE (1591–1643), was the central figure in the antinomian controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636–1637. A native of Alford, Lincolnshire, Anne Marbury married William Hutchinson, an affluent merchant of that town, and mothered a large family. Around 1630 she came under the religious influence of John Cotton, vicar of Saint Botolph's in nearby Boston, and four years later she and her family followed him to the newly settled town of Boston in New England.
The Puritans of the English Congregational churches had sought to leaven John Calvin's harsh predestination decree by incorporating a concrete assurance of election that would be contingent on the moral responsibility of the elect. They asserted that the hopeful believer could prepare his or her soul for the reception of God's saving grace through a life of purity that might offer evidence of salvation. John Cotton, however, warned that this innovation imperiled the basic Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. The believer must receive "witnesse of the Spirit itselfe," he wrote, before being able to advance his or her moral condition as evidence of a state of grace.
Anne Hutchinson incautiously distorted Cotton's doctrine by asserting that the gift of grace implied the actual indwelling of the spirit of the Lord, mystically uniting the elect to himself, thus rendering superfluous all other evidence of salvation. This conclusion verged perilously on the antinomian heresy, which held that Christians are freed from the moral law of the Old Testament by the new dispensation of grace proffered in the gospel.
Hutchinson communicated her beliefs in the guise of an informal exegesis of Cotton's weekly sermons. Large numbers of people attended these doctrinal discussions at her home in Boston, and a majority of the local congregation, including most of the town's political and mercantile leaders, became enthusiastic disciples. When, at last, she accused all the Massachusetts clergy except Cotton of preaching a covenant of works, she precipitated a factional division that aroused the colony. Soon the religious breach assumed political dimensions and threatened the public safety.
The orthodox leaders, seeing the future of the colony at stake, regained political ascendancy by enlisting the support of outlying agricultural communities. A clerical synod declared Hutchinson guilty of holding numerous erroneous opinions, most of them inferential extensions of her central doctrine. Arraigned before the General Court in November 1637, Hutchinson unguardedly boasted that she had received revelations from the Holy Spirit, a heretical claim that horrified all orthodox Puritans. Repudiated by Cotton, excommunicated from the Boston church, and banished from the colony, she fled with family and friends to neighboring Rhode Island. Further dissension prompted her removal to New Netherland where, in 1643, she and her younger children were massacred by Indians.
Hutchinson left behind neither a religious organization nor a fixed system of belief. Although a remarkably intelligent and courageous woman, she seems to have been intolerant of religious doctrines other than her own. But the struggle of such sectarians who sought freedom of conscience for themselves prompted a diversity of beliefs that paved the way to a general freedom of religion for later generations.
Basic documentation can be found in Antinomianism in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1636–1638 (1894; reprint, New York, 1967), edited by Charles Francis Adams, and in Winthrop's Journal, "History of New England," 1630–1649, 2 vols. (1908; reprint, New York, 1966), edited by James K. Hosmer. The most satisfactory brief account, although skeptical of the religious issues, is in Charles Francis Adams's Three Episodes of Massachusetts History, rev. ed., 2 vols. (1896; reprint, New York, 1965). My own book Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1962) is a more detailed study. Criticism of the modern tendency to see Hutchinson as a "prophet of liberalism" is made by Edmund S. Morgan in "The Case against Anne Hutchinson," New England Quarterly 10 (December 1937): 635–649. Essential to an understanding of the issues of the antinomian controversy are two works by Perry Miller: The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (New York, 1939) and Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, 1630–1650 (1933; reprint, Gloucester, Mass., 1965).
Emery J. Battis (1987)
Hutchinson, Anne Marbury (1591-1643)
Anne Marbury Hutchinson (1591-1643)
A Formidable Woman. Anne Marbury Hutchinson posed the greatest threat to the theology and society of Puritan New England. An astute, forceful, and committed Christian, she could explain Scriptures with such precision and follow theological principles to their logical conclusions with such clarity that she outshone all of the Puritan clergy who sought to squelch her voice. All we know of her was written by others, mainly those who wished to discredit her. Yet even John Winthrop, her most implacable enemy, complimented her as “a woman of ready wit and bold spirit.” The Antinomian Crisis that she precipitated nearly destroyed his beloved colony.
Making of a Radical. Anne Marbury was born in 1591, the daughter of the Reverend Francis Marbury, an outspoken Anglican pastor in Lincolnshire, England. Although not officially a Puritan, he rejected most of the Anglican dogma and focused on the essential doctrines of the Scriptures. These he taught to his daughter, who received an education far superior to most girls of her time. She married William Hutchinson in 1612 but looked to the Reverend John Cotton and her brother-in-law, the Reverend John Wheelwright, for spiritual guidance after her father died. Both employed an evangelical style of preaching that focused on the mystical elements of conversion. Lincolnshire was a hotbed of puritans and other reforming Anglicans who could not be accommodated within the formal churches. Thus laymen who felt that they had received grace gathered together informally to discuss sermons, debate passages of the Scriptures, and pray without the presence of ordained ministers. Women played a particularly active role in these assemblies, and it was here that Hutchinson honed her natural intellect and leadership skills in the pursuit of religious truth. When Cotton was forced out of his ministry in 1633, he departed for New England and accepted a position with the Boston Church. Hutchinson packed up her family and followed in 1634, with Wheelwright close behind.
Crisis. Hutchinson quickly made her mark in the spiritual life of the colony, holding informal weekday meetings in her home to clarify and expand on Cotton’s sermons to those who could not attend the services. Her audiences grew, and soon her followers comprised a majority in the Boston Church. She became increasingly bothered by the sermons of the copastor, John Wilson, who stressed moral activity as preparation for God’s grace. To Hutchinson this smacked of the heresy of Arminianism, which claimed that good works earned salvation. Cotton’s message deemphasized good works and stressed the incomprehensible grace of God in saving predestined individuals. Taken to its extremes, this bordered on the heresy of Antinomianism, which maintained that the mystical experience of grace bore no relationship to human conduct, either before or after salvation. Cotton and Wilson were both within the parameters of Puritan orthodoxy, which sought a balance: good works could not save, but the ability to perform them were the fruits of salvation, and all were obliged to lead the moral lives that glorified God’s creation. Hutchinson, however, discerned important differences and exaggerated them. Her growing number of followers petitioned to appoint Wheelwright as a teacher and spokesman for their doctrines. When this failed, they openly shunned Wilson, walking out in the middle of his sermons and enlisting the support of those outside the congregation. Anne’s skill as a midwife and healer endeared her to women who lined up behind her, joined by merchants who were undergoing criticism for their business practices and found solace in the view that their spiritual state was not dependent on their adherence to price and wage controls. Matters came to a head early in 1637 when Wheelwright urged the dissidents to separate from the Arminians. When summoned before the General Court, he refused to recant and was banished.
Trial. The General Court, however, knew that Wheelwright was not the main source of the conflict that was tearing their colony apart; they sent for his sister-in law. Hutchinson had played her cards so cleverly, however, that she could only be charged with the minor offense of having urged others to petition for the appointment of Wheelwright. The ensuing trial might have ignored the niceties of a proper judicial proceeding, but the court believed that it was fighting for the very existence of the colony. The written account of the proceedings records a defendant outshining her intellectually inferior accusers. Hutchinson deftly defended her actions on the basis of Scripture, contradicted her judges, poked holes in their reasoning, and generally displayed not a whit of the deference that she was supposed to pay to her superiors. In the final, stressful parry Anne blurted out that she had received a direct revelation from God for one of her statements. This was clearly a heretical claim for any Calvinist to make because it was believed that God spoke to humans only through the Bible. Even Cotton distanced himself from her extreme views and agreed to her banishment. Her husband and fifteen children plus over eighty families of supporters followed Hutchinson to Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.
Lingering Threat. Hutchinson’s beliefs, posture, and popularity threatened to unravel the entire fabric of this Puritan society and its covenant with God. If individuals could receive direct revelations from God, why bother with the Scriptures? If moral actions were totally unnecessary and no indication of salvation, then everyone was free to commit the most heinous crimes because, if they were predestined, they would be favored by God no matter what they did. What then would become of that moral society that collectively glorified God by its good works? By refusing to soften her extreme views which were causing untold conflict, Hutchinson was destroying the consensus that re-created the harmony of God’s creation. When she continually defied the authorities, stepping out of her prescribed role as a woman, she endangered all of the hierarchical systems so necessary for order and harmony. This also left her vulnerable to the temptations of Satan, who was ever ready to pounce on a defenseless individual, as Cotton had insinuated. In fact some secretly considered her to be a witch. When Anne and most of her household were killed in an Indian raid after she left Rhode Island, John Winthrop smugly concluded that God had finally struck her down.
William K. B. Stoever, “A Faire and Easie Way to Heaven”: Covenant Theology and Antinomianism in Early Massachusetts (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1978);
Selma Williams, Divine Rebel: The Life of Anne Marbury Hutchinson (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1981).
Anne Hutchinson was a member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1634 to 1637. She was an active community leader whose religious views differed from those of the leaders of the colony. After two trials, she was banished, or forced to leave, from the settlement. She and some of her followers founded a colony in the present area of Portsmouth, Rhode Island , where they could have religious freedom.
Anne Marbury Hutchinson was born in Alford, Lincolnshire, England. The date of her birth remains unknown, but she was baptized on July 20, 1591. Her father, Francis Marbury (1556–c. 1610), was a clergyman who was influenced by Puritan ideas. Puritans believed that the Anglican Church, the official church of England, should be simplified and cleansed of unnecessary rituals. Marbury got into trouble with the Anglican Church more than once for his beliefs. Hutchinson's mother, Bridget Dryden (1570–1644), was Marbury's second wife. In 1605, the family moved to London.
Anne Hutchinson received a better education from her father than most girls of the time. She was especially well educated in the scriptures of the Bible. In 1612, she married William Hutchinson (1586–1642), the son of a successful merchant. They resided in Alford, and over the course of their marriage, they had more than a dozen children.
The Hutchinsons participated in the religious meetings of the Puritan movement in Alford. They followed the teachings of Reverend John Cotton (1585–1652), who was forced out of his ministry in 1633 for his Puritan beliefs. He therefore left England to accept a position with the Boston Church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Anne and William Hutchinson decided to follow him there with their family in 1634.
Leadership and dissent
Anne Hutchinson quickly became a well-respected member of the community established in New England. Her intellect and kindness were well noted. As a woman, however, her activities were limited. She began hosting a weekly meeting for women at her home. The previous Sunday's sermon would be discussed. Her audience grew, and men began to attend meetings as well.
Eventually, Hutchinson moved beyond scriptural discussions and included discussions of religious philosophy. She embraced a religious view that was different than that of the church leaders. The Puritans generally believed in a covenant of works, which meant that a person had to obey church and scriptural guidance to gain access to heaven. Anne Hutchinson instead taught a covenant of grace. She believed that God's grace and love were revealed through personal intuition to those predestined to heaven. Her beliefs challenged the role of ministers and the church. According to her critics, Hutchinson's philosophies meant that no one had to act morally, so they felt that her teachings threatened the purity of the colony.
At first, Hutchinson enjoyed a large and supportive following. When one of her greatest critics, John Winthrop (1588–1649), was elected governor in 1637, much of that support was lost. The General Court, or government of the colony, banished one of her supporting ministers and sought to bring Hutchinson to trial. The charge related to misleading ministers and their ministry.
Anne defended herself against her accusers with strong arguments. Her confession, however, that she received direct revelations from God for one of her statements was heretical (against accepted beliefs). Puritans believed that God only spoke to humans through the Bible, so Anne Hutchinson was banished from the community. Refusing to take back her statements, she was formally excommunicated, or dismissed, from the church.
After the trials in 1638, Anne Hutchinson moved with her family to a new settlement in Rhode Island. William Hutchinson died in 1642, and Anne moved again. This time she settled with some of her family in the area of Pelham Bay, New York . In the late summer of 1643, Indians attacked. Hutchinson and all of her household, except one child, were killed. Many of her critics viewed the incident as proof of God's judgment against her teachings.