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Anne Hutchinson

Massachusetts Religious Dissident

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Known for: Anne Hutchinson was a leader in religious dissent in early Massachusetts, nearly causing a major schism in the colony before she was expelled. She's considered a major figure in the history of religious freedom in America.

Anne Hutchinson Facts:

Occupation: religious leader and dissident
Dates: baptized July 20, 1591 (birth date unknown); died in August or September of 1643
Also known as: Anne Marbury, Anne Marbury Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson Biography:

Anne Hutchinson was born Anne Marbury in Alford, Lincolnshire. Her father, Francis Marbury, was a clergyman from the gentry, and was Cambridge-educated. He went to prison three times for his views, and lost his office for advocating, among other views, that the clergy be better educated. Her father was called by the Bishop of London, at one time, "an ass, an idiot and a fool."

Her mother, Bridget Dryden, was Marbury's second wife. Her father, John Dryden, was a friend of the humanist Erasmus and an ancestor of the poet John Dryden. When Francis Marbury died in 1611, Anne continued to live with her mother until she married William Hutchinson the next year.

Religious Influences

Lincolnshire had a tradition of women preachers, and there's some indication that Anne Hutchinson knew of the tradition, though not the specific women involved.

Anne and William Hutchinson, with their growing family -- eventually, fifteen children -- several times a year made the 25-mile journey to attend the church served by the minister John Cotton, a Puritan. Anne Hutchinson came to consider John Cotton her spiritual mentor. Anne Hutchinson may have begun holding women's prayer meetings at her home during these years in England.

Another mentor was John Wheelwright, a clergyman in Bilsby, near Alford, after 1623. Wheelwright in 1630 married William Hutchinson's sister Mary, bringing him even closer to the Hutchinson family.

Emigration to Massachusetts Bay

In 1633, Cotton's preaching was banned by the Established Church and he emigrated to America's Massachusetts Bay. The Hutchinsons' oldest son, Edward, was part of Cotton's initial emigrant group. That same year, Wheelwright was also banned. Anne Hutchinson wanted to go to Massachusetts, too, but pregnancy kept her from sailing in 1633. Instead, she and her husband and their other children left England for Massachusetts the next year.

Suspicions Begin

On the journey to America, Anne Hutchinson raised some suspicions about her religious ideas. The family spent several weeks with a minister in England, William Bartholomew, while waiting for their ship, and Anne Hutchinson shocked him with her claims of direct divine revelations. She claimed direct revelations again on board the Griffin, in talking to another minister, Zachariah Symmes.

Symmes and Bartholomew reported their concerns upon their arrival in Boston in September. The Hutchinsons tried to join Cotton's congregation on arrival and, while William Hutchinson's membership was approved quickly, the church examined the views of Anne Hutchinson before they admitted her to membership.

Challenging Authority

Highly intelligent, well-studied in the Bible from the education provided her by her father's mentorship and her own years of self-study, skilled in midwifery and medicinal herbs, and married to a successful merchant, Anne Hutchinson quickly became a leading member of the community. She began leading weekly discussion meetings. At first these explained Cotton's sermons to the participants. Eventually, Anne Hutchinson began reinterpreting the ideas preached in the church.

Anne Hutchinson's ideas were rooted in what was called by opponents Antinomianism (literally: anti-law). This system of thought challenged the doctrine of salvation by works, emphasizing the direct experience of a relationship with God, and focusing on salvation by grace. The doctrine, by relying on individual inspiration, tended to elevate the Holy Spirit above the Bible, and also challenged the authority of the clergy and of church (and government) laws over the individual. Her ideas were counterposed to the more orthodox emphasis on a balance of grace and works for salvation (Hutchinson's party thought they overemphasized works and accused them of Legalism) and ideas about clergy and church authority.

Anne Hutchinson's weekly meetings turned to twice a week, and soon fifty to eighty people were attending, both men and women.

Henry Vane, the colonial governor, supported Anne Hutchinson's views, and he was a regular at her meetings, as were many in the colony's leadership. Hutchinson still saw John Cotton as a supporter, as well as her brother-in-law John Wheelwright, but had few others among the clergy.

Roger Williams had been banished to Rhode Island in 1635 for his non-orthodox views. Anne Hutchinson's views, and their popularity, caused more of a religious rift. The challenge to authority was especially feared by the civil authorities and clergy when some adherents to Hutchinson's views refused to take up arms in the militia which was opposing the Pequots, with whom the colonists were in conflict in 1637.

Religious Conflict and Confrontation

In March of 1637, an attempt to bring the parties together was held, and Wheelwright was to preach a unifying sermon. However, he took the occasion to be confrontational, and was found guilty of sedition and contempt in a trial before the General Court.

In May, elections were moved so that fewer of the men in Anne Hutchinson's party voted, and Henry Vane lost the election to deputy governor and Hutchinson opponent John Winthrop. Another supporter of the orthodox faction, Thomas Dudley, was elected deputy governor. Henry Vane returned to England in August.

That same month, a synod was held in Massachusetts which identified the views held by Hutchinson as heretical. In November, 1637, Anne Hutchinson was tried before the General Court on charges of heresy and sedition.

The outcome of the trial was not in doubt: the prosecutors were also the judges, since her supporters had by that time been excluded (for their own theological dissent) from the General Court. The views she held had been declared heretical at the August synod, so the outcome was predetermined.

After the trial, she was put into the custody of Roxbury's marshal, Joseph Weld. She was brought to Cotton's home in Boston several times so that he and another minister could convince her of the error of her views. She recanted publicly but soon admitted that she still held her views.

Excommunication

In 1638, now accused of lying in her recantation, Anne Hutchinson was excommunicated by the Boston Church and moved with her family to Rhode Island to land purchased from the Narragansetts. They were invited by Roger Williams, who had founded the new colony as a democratic community with no enforced church doctrine. Among Anne Hutchinson's friends who also moved to Rhode Island was Mary Dyer.

In Rhode Island, William Hutchinson died in 1642. Anne Hutchinson, with her six youngest children, moved first to Long Island Sound and then to the New York (New Netherland) mainland.

There, in 1643, in August or September, Anne Hutchinson and all but one member of her household were killed by Native Americans in a local uprising. Her youngest daughter, Susanna, born in 1633, was kidnapped in that incident, but the Dutch ransomed her.

Some of the Hutchinsons' enemies among the Massachusetts clergy thought that her end was divine judgment against her theological ideas. In 1644, Thomas Weld, on hearing of the death of the Hutchinsons, declared "Thus the Lord heard our groans to heaven and freed us from this great and sore affliction."

Descendants

In 1651 Susanna married John Cole in Boston. Another daughter of Anne and William Hutchinson, Faith, married Thomas Savage, who commanded the Massachusetts forces in King Philip's War, a conflict between Native Americans and the English colonists.

Background, Family:

  • father: Francis Marbury, a clergyman in the Church of England
  • mother: Bridget Dryden

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: William Hutchinson (married 1612; well-to-do cloth merchant)
  • children: 15 in 23 years

Bibliography:

Helen Auguer. An American Jezebel: The Life of Anne Hutchinson. 1930.

Emery John Battis. Saints and Sectaries: Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 1962.

Thomas J. Bremer, editor. Anne Hutchinson: Troubler of the Puritan Zion. 1981.

Edith R. Curtis. Anne Hutchinson. 1930.

David D. Hall, editor. The Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1638. 1990, second edition. (Includes records from Hutchinson's trial.)

Winifred King Rugg. Unafraid: A Life of Anne Hutchinson. 1930.

N. Shore. Anne Hutchinson. 1988.

William H. Whitmore and William S. Appleton, editors. Hutchinson Papers. 1865.

Selma R. Williams. Divine Rebel: The Life of Anne Marbury Hutchinson. 1981.

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