Anne Hutchinson is one of the most famous Protestant religious leaders in early colonial America. Declared a radical by the ruling Puritan patriarchy, Hutchinson’s beliefs were at odds with that of mainstream New England, and would eventually lead to her downfall. This sample historical essay is one of the great features offered by Ultius.
Anne Hutchinson and the Puritan Ideal of Womanhood
Anne Hutchinson was a religious dissenter who led the way for religious freedom in Puritan New England. Some theorists say that Hutchinson was just a loving wife and mother misconstrued as a radical. The leaders of the day were patriarchal and strictly Puritan, true products of the Reformation in Europe. Whether she was a radical or not holds no consequence to her place in history as a leader of a religious tolerance, and as an advocate for women in general, but the historical motives shall be examined herein nonetheless.
Anne’s father, Francis Marbury
Hutchinson was born as Anne Marbury in 1591—Alford, England. Her father, Francis Marbury, who was a deacon at the Cambridge Christian Church, believed that many ministers for the Church of England were morally unfit. He was outspoken on this topic, often citing Lutheran ideals, which lead him to become imprisoned for such transgressions. Despite this, he kept voicing his opinions, radical as they were, including the idea that there was no rhyme or reason to the ways in which ministers were appointed or regulated. Anne Hutchinson’s father did eventually quiet down about his oppositions in order to preserve a life without unending arrests and troubles, but these early views espoused laid the groundwork that would later be Anne Hutchinson’s foundation. (Crawford, 11-15)
Hutchinson’s early Life
Anne was educated at home, reading the theology and religious texts that belonged to her father. Francis Marbury’s defiance was one of the things that Hutchinson admired about her father, and one of the things of his that she carried with her. Her defiant, independent streak, as well as her fascination with intellectual and theological quandaries would lead her to the live that awaited her in the future. At the age of 21, Anne Marbury was married to Will Hutchinson. She lived in the town of Alford in England and worked as a housewife and mother. She would attend the sermons of the minister John Cotton, which were very fiery so far as sermons go. Cotton’s work began as Protestant sermons, but soon became quite Puritanical. These sermons focused on church corruption and a need for change—which is right in line with normal Puritanical thinking.
Influence of John Cotton
John Cotton advocated a more ascetic approach and believed that the continuing influence of Catholicism in the Church of England was highly destructive, and that the freedom to flourish with the absence of these destructive issues existed in the far lands of America. (Crawford, 26) The Hutchinson family, totaling 17 members with all of the children, would often travel the long miles (on horseback) to hear reverend Cotton speak. And when Cotton went to New England twenty years later, the Hutchinson family followed there. The year was 1634. Anne felt the drive to go because she felt inhibited by the environment that the Church of England provided and considered there would be more opportunity to worship in her own way in America. (Lewis, 35) However, even though Anne found more freedoms in being Puritan in America, the Puritan Church of American New England was far more conservative than the Church of England.
Puritanism and the Church
During Anne’s youth, Protestantism was the official religion of England. Puritanism was relatively new—developed in the late 16th C during the Protestant split, where some members felt that a purer form of the church was further necessary. They insisted that worship should be simpler with less ritual and sacrament. This began the Puritan Revolution in England. Many Puritans moved to New England in order to seek a haven in which to practice freely. (Bailyn, 25-26) Anne Hutchinson existed directly within this time, with all of its violent changes and religious questioning.
Hutchinson builds upon Cotton’s teachings
Anne Hutchinson’s religious beliefs were mainly based on her own and John Cotton’s interpretation of the bible, which she gained through his preachings with a few added embellishments that she added on to make the doctrine she espoused her own. (Crawford, 18) One of Huchinson’s ideas was that if one’s faith was strong enough, that was good enough to be saved. This exclusion of the church, insofar as what what necessary for blissful spiritual eternity, minimized the church’s potency. (Handlin, 125) A famous quote of hers, in reference to the Puritan clergy, is as follows:
“A company of legall [sic] professors lie poring on the law which Christ hath established.” (Adams, 219) She also said, “I feel that nothing important ever happens that is not revealed to me beforehand.” (Crawford, 32-33)
This reveals her confidence in her relationship with the heavens.
Rejected by the Puritan church
Hutchinson did not proclaim these ideas to her community, however. Instead, she shared them privately in her home or with others after she was later excommunicated by the Puritan church. Even though Hutchinson disagreed with some of the Puritan doctrine, she considered herself a devout member of the Puritan faith, never openly defying the principles associated with the religion, and insisting on remaining an acknowledged member until her trial of excommunication. Even though she was eventually ousted for causing strife, she was actually trying to strengthen the church through positive changes toward a better, stronger application of the Lord’s will.
Hutchinson’s unusual stance on things didn’t really come to the surface until she travelled to America. She took part in a religious women’s group, but while in it she taught that every person could receive an answer from God if they would only listen. She was known as a radical, but she also became well known for her spot on predictions, for example: she predicted that they would land on September eighteenth and that was the exact date that they arrived. (Crawford, 43) Despite her seemingly being clairvoyant, she did not work to use this to her advantage, maintaining that her job as wife and mother superseded all else.
Trouble finding her place in America
When Anne arrived in America, due to her radical beliefs, she was not welcomed as much as she thought she would be by John Cotton. She asserted that God told her the things that made her seem psychic, but she was later forced into saying:
“I have been guilty of wrong thinking” in order to remain a part of the Puritan church in New England. She attributed this error of hers, not to religious doctrine, but to domestic impropriety” (Crawford, 90).
She maintained her relative silence on issued such as these in order to remain close religious affiliation to John Cotton.
Persecuted for upholding Puritanical ideals
There was really no set way of being Puritan, it was an amalgam of dissenters from the Church of England. Once these dissenters got what they wanted (freedom) the original purpose of Puritanism became altered and lost, becoming routine: a “problematic anachronism” (Bailyn, 91). There was no need to issue forth changes though, since the Puritan church was so exceedingly popular. This would change once newcomers to the church were harder to find. Anne Hutchinson took these matters to heart and stood up for what she believed in amid threats and controversy. The irony that existed in the Puritanical shunning of Hutchinson was completely missed by church leaders. John Cotton mentions this as such:
“Here members of the Church have suffered whippings for having a whim of their own” (Crawford, 88).
She was expressing her religious freedom, just as the Puritan church had done just previously (Andrews, 478). Thinking similar to Hutchinson’s would later re-emerge in the foundations of early American political ideologies. It was initially a purifying of the church from unnecessary structure and ritual, but then actually took on these oppressive forms within itself.
Hutchinson’s beliefs are hindered by the colony view of women
In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, women were not valued for their intellectual abilities. Because, in Genesis, Eve sinned first, women were disregarded as moral authorities. (Demos, 84-85) It was expected of a woman:
“to attain her ideas of God from the contemplation of her husband’s excellencies” (Andrews, 477).
Despite some legal privileges, American women were inferior, not even allowed to speak in church. (Demos, 85) Hutchinson lived a submissive life in the colony, not publicly airing opinion. She started a weekly women’s club to discuss the Bible. The women wanted to hear and discuss theological theory as they so very few other times received intellectual opportunities. A 1637 assembly was passed that stated that:
“women might meet (some few together) to pray and edify one another; yet such an assembly, (as was then the practice in Boston), where sixty or more did meet every week, and one woman (in a prophetical way, by resolving questions of doctrine, and expounding the scripture) took upon her the whole exercise, was agreed to be disorderly, and without rule.” (Holliday, 40)
This was what Hutchinson was first arrested, and later brought to trial for—her meetings were disorderly.
Heresy and sedition in New England
Hutchinson’s beliefs were denounced as heretical and seditious. She was excommunicated and banished. Though Anne was not a threat alone, the growing number of her followers were, and Hutchinson was made an example of in order to stem this danger. This was a worry even though all of her followers amounted to under two hundred out of approximately three thousand (Battis, 293). John Winthrop, deputy governor, wanted Hutchinson banished before any judgment was made upon her. She held an excellent defense, aside from claiming that God would save her from the trial makers, but even so, her crimes were not worthy of the steep punishments they heaped upon her.
Winthrop’s contribution to Hutchinson’s downfall
John Winthrop was the force behind Anne’s accusers. There is an entry in John Winthrop’s diary that expresses how biased the conviction against Hutchinson actually was: he claims she was willful and that her ways made her:
“go a-whoring from God. She is an American Jezebel. She shall be tried as a heretic.” (Crawford, 108.)
Winthrop hated women in general, holding a special pedestal of hatred open for Hutchinson, who so boldly spoke her mind and challenged male dominance. In response to all but one of the Hutchinson family being killed by Indian attack at a place called Hell’s Gate as a result of the banishment, John Winthrop gleefully proclaimed:
“God’s hand is apparently seen herein, to pick out this woful [sic] woman, to make her…an unheard-of heavy example…Appropriate that the massacre took place at this `Hell Gate.’ Proud Jezebel has at last been cast down” (Crawford, 137).
This comparison to Jezebel shows the blindness of both Winthrop and the patriarchy.
Hutchinson’s impact upon Puritanism
Anne was a loving wife and mother who served her community to the best of her mind and ability in the name of the Lord as she understood It—whether through midwiving, nursing, or more spiritual discussions, she was there. (Crawford, 91) She was greatly admired for this. C. Holliday notes that Hutchinson’s efforts might have initially failed, but in the end revealed the:
“emotional starvation of Puritan womanhood. Women, saddened by their hardships, depressed by their religion, denied an open love for beauty…flocked with eagerness to hear this feminine radical…[Hutchinson] understood the female heart far better than did John Cotton or any other male pastor of the settlements.” (45-46)
The fate of Hutchinson would set off a slackening of religious strictness, as well as a war between Puritans and Native Americans that would last for three years.
Because Hutchinson was such an advocate for religious freedom, sometimes it is glossed over that the main issue of contention that she dealt with was her being an outspoken female. Her death led those who had never investigated established codes to eventually question and demand freedom. Despite her eccentricity, Hutchinson used reason to consider God, and people agreed with her points (Chapin, 40-41). While she was disgraced during her life, her beliefs has returned grace to her memory. Hutchinson stood up for equal value of humanity and logic applied to leaders. She died to start the collective fire for freedom that would eventually spread from end to end of this nation across all creeds, colors, genders, and types.
Adams, Brooks. The Emancipation of Massachusetts. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1887. Print.
Andrews, Charles McLean. The Colonial Period of American History. New Haven: Yale UP, 1934. Print.
Bailyn, Bernard, and Barbara DeWolfe. The Peopling of British North America: Thoughts on a Central Theme in Early American History, a Working Paper. [S.l.]: Author, 1978. Print.
Barker-Benfield, G. J., and Catherine Clinton. Portraits of American Women. New York: St. Martin’s, 1991. Print.
Battis, Emery John. Saints and Secretaries; Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Va., by the University of North Carolina, 1962. Print.
Chapin, Bradley. Early America. New York: Free, 1968. Print.
Crawford, Deborah. Four Women in a Violent Time: Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) Mary Dyer (1591?-1660) Lady Deborah Moody (1600-1659) Penelope Stout (1622-1732). New York: Crown, 1970. Print.
Demos, John. A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
Handlin, Oscar, and Lilian Handlin. Liberty and Power. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1986. Print.
Holliday, Carl. Woman’s Life in Colonial Days. Williamstown, MA: Corner House, 1968. Print.