Who Was Anne Hutchinson?
Anne Hutchinson was born in Alford, England. Growing up, she learned from her deacon father to question the religious teachings of the Church of England. In 1634, Hutchinson and her husband followed Protestant Minister John Cotton to Massachusetts Bay Colony. There, she shared her own interpretations of Cotton’s teachings, against the precepts of the governing ministers. Tried by the General Court and interrogated by Governor John Winthrop, Hutchinson was found guilty of heresy and banished. She was later killed in 1643 in a massacre by Native Americans.
Hutchinson was born Anne Marbury in Alford, Lincolnshire, England, in 1591. The exact date is not known, but records indicate she was baptized on July 20, 1591. The daughter of a discredited Anglican clergyman, Francis Marbury, she grew up in an atmosphere of learning and was taught to question authority. Her father instilled her with independent thinking and her mother, Bridget, taught her about herbal medicines. In 1612, she married William Hutchinson, a merchant, and the couple became followers of Anglican minister John Cotton.
Finding Religion in North America
Like many Puritans of his time, Cotton was suppressed for his religious views in the Protestant-led Church of England. In 1633, he migrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and a year later Hutchinson and her husband followed. The colony’s formation was predicated on the idea of religious freedom, however, once the colony was settled, its founding governor, John Winthrop envisioned a “city upon a hill” which practiced Christian unity and order. Everyone was to follow the direction of the elders, and women, in particular, were to play a submissive and supporting role.
After settling in Boston, Hutchinson served as a midwife and herbalist. She conducted weekly meetings in her home to discuss the ministers’ sermons, sometimes gathering 60 to 80 people. Hutchinson spoke of a spirit-centered theology which held that God’s grace could be directly bestowed through faith. This went against the Puritan ministers’ orthodox view, which dictated that people must live according to the Bible’s precepts by performing deeds. Concerned about maintaining order in their community and protecting their exclusive position as sole interpreters of the Bible, the magistrates quickly confronted any deviance from their strict doctrine. The growing tensions of the era became known as the Antinomian Controversy.
Conflict and Trial
As Hutchinson’s following grew, the magistrates determined she was dangerous to the community, and Governor John Winthrop charged her sedition and heresy. At her trial in November 1637, Hutchinson was personally interrogated by Winthrop, who claimed that she had defamed the ministers by questioning their Bible teaching. She challenged Winthrop to prove his claim, defiantly answering his questions with challenging ones of her own. Winthrop resented Hutchinson's insolence and condemned her teaching men in public as “not fitting for your sex.” She defended herself in biblical terms, quoting Titus that it was up to the older women to teach the younger. Then Hutchinson made a statement that sealed her fate: she claimed that her revelations came directly from God, which was a clear case of heresy in Puritan Massachusetts. The magistrates seized on the moment and quickly banished her from the community.
Final Years and Death
Hutchinson was excommunicated from the Church of Boston on March 22, 1638, and banished. With her husband, she joined a colony in what is now Portsmouth, Rhode Island, joining Roger Williams. Her husband died in 1642, and Hutchinson moved to Long Island Sound, which was held under Dutch jurisdiction, to flee the continued persecution from the Massachusetts colony. The local Native American tribespeople, the Siwanoy, were angered by the new settlers, and in 1643, Hutchinson and most of her children and servants were killed. The reaction in Massachusetts was predictably harsh, and many considered Hutchinson's demise divine judgment.
Though often viewed by today’s standards as an advocate for freedom of religion and women’s rights, Hutchinson was neither. Within the social/political restrictions of her time, she was a courageous woman who spoke her mind and followed her conscience.
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