Chapter 1: Early American Literature to 1700
and Puritanism

Anne Hutchinson

Paul P. Reuben
  October 12, 2016

Page Links: | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

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(Source: PBS - The American Experience)


Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Bremer, Francis J. ed. Anne Hutchinson: Troubler of the Puritan Zion. Huntington, NY : Krieger, 1981. F67 .H92 A56

Heidish, Marcy. Witnesses: a novel. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1980. PS3558.E4514 W5 (subject: Anne Hutchinson).

Herzogenrath, Bernd. An American Body/Politic: A Deleuzian Approach. Hanover, NH: UP of New England, 2010.

Kaufmann, Michael W. Institutional Individualism: Conversion, Exile, and Nostalgia in Puritan New England. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1998.

Lang, Amy S. Prophetic Woman: Anne Hutchinson and the Problem of Dissent in the Literature of New England. Berkeley : U of California P, 1987.

LaPlante, Eve. American Jezebel : The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans. San Francisco: Harper, 2004

Pagnattaro, Marisa A. In Defiance of the Law: From Anne Hutchinson to Toni Morrison. NY: Peter Lang, 2001.

Anne Hutchinson: A Brief Biography
A Student Project by Monica Barber

Anne Hutchinson, was born Anne Marbury on July 20, 1591 and baptized in Alford, Lincolnshire, England. Anne's father, Reverend Francis Marbury, a deacon at Christ Church, Cambridge, had been imprisoned for preaching against the incompetence of English ministers (Crawford 11-15). Once he was imprisoned for a year for his outspoken criticism of certain Church of England ministers. His daughter was educated at home reading many of his religion and theology books. Anne grew up during the persecution of the Catholics and Separatists under Elizabeth and James I.

At the age of 21, Anne was courted by William Hucthinson, a London merchant. They were married shortly after on August 9, 1612 in London, and began to raise their eventual brood of 15 children.

She grew attached to the preaching and teachings of John Cotton, a Puritan minister who eventually left England for America (Crawford 26). Cotton's removal to New England had been "a great trouble to me...I could not be at rest but I must come hither." (Williams 16-22). In 1634, Anne and her family, like thousands of others, also left England to practice Puritanism freely in New England, following their inspiring role model, reverend John Cotton. They came to America with Reverend John Lothrop's group on the ship Griffin (Colket 27).

The religious climate in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was oppressive. In fact Boston was a "fairly severe place dominated by the Puritan Church" which saw the Bible as the source of all law. As the colony took hold, ministers emphasized everyone's pious duty to pray, fast and discipline oneself (Crawford 87).

In Massachusetts Bay Colony, Anne led the life of a trusted midwife, a housewife, and mother. Her charisma, her gentle nature and exceptional powers of mind drew others to her. She started a women's group that met in her home and she held weekly meetings in her home to discuss church sermons . At first the women discussed the previous Sunday's sermons given by Rev. Cotton or the Rev. John Wilson, but before long Anne began telling them of her own beliefs which differed from those of the Boston ministers. She spoke of her many and divergent theological opinions, stressing the individual's intuition over the observance of institutional beliefs and precepts as a means of reaching God. Brilliant, articulate and learned in the Bible and theology, she denied that conformity with the religious laws were a sign of godliness and insisted that true godliness came from inner experience of the Holy Spirit (Crawford 18). The nature of Anne's criticism of the church revolved around their idea of salvation by works or deeds. She believed in salvation by grace, and therefore that one could not prepare to be saved.

Initially, the majority of those who gathered in her house in Boston were women, though in later years as the groups got bigger and bigger, men came as well. Many men, including ministers and magistrates, among them was "Sir Henry Vane who became governor of the colony in 1636", became attracted to Hutchinson's gatherings (Williams 15-17). Though her meetings were merely intellectual conversations, women greatly enjoyed them because they were about topics women were never included in. Originally, Hutchinson held these meetings to pass time; she did not do it to compete with the men in any way, or to create problems. Soon though, Anne's weekly meetings took on a new importance as they transformed into heated discussions about the church and state. Mostly because Hutchinson believed they had begun to practice the Covenant of Works in the church (Faber 53). Anne further exacerbated the local elders by claiming that only two Boston ministers were "elect" or saved, John Cotton and her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright.

Anne's meetings soon became extremely controversial. She preached a doctrine of salvation realized through the intuition of God's in dwelling in grace. Appearing to eliminate the need for the externals of institutionalized belief and law, her teachings were considered an "attack on the rigid moral and legal codes of the Puritans" of New England, as well as the "authority of the Massachusetts clergy." (Faber 40). Because of this, she caused a great political controversy in the colony, and strong partisanship arose on both sides.

When Anne, with the aid of Governor Vane and John Cotton, attempted to have her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright installed as minister of the Boston church, most of the congregation supported her. But the pastor of the church, Reverend John Wilson, gave a speech on the "inevitable dangers of separation" caused by the religious dissensions, and joined with John Winthrop in opposing her (Henretta 145-146). Many of her supporters deserted her when the governor, Sir Henry Vane, who favored her cause, lost his office to her staunch opponent, the colonial leader John Winthrop . Governor John Winthrop was determined to have her stopped. But Wheelwright continued to preach and Anne now held her meetings twice a week.

What started as a religious point of difference grew into a schism that threatened the political stability of the colony. To her opponents, questioning the church meant questioning the State. Anne's ideas were branded as the heresy of "Antinomianism" (a belief that Christians are not bound by moral law), and her followers became known as "Antinomians." Intended to be derogatory, the term was erroneously applied to Anne's followers, who did not believe that the inner Holy Spirit released them from obligation to moral law.

In November, Winthop and his supporters filed charges against Anne and Wheelwright, who were then put on trial for heresy before a meeting of the General Court. Intending to prove that Anne's behavior was immoral, Winthrop described her meetings as "a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God, nor fitting for your sex," and accused her of breaking the Fifth Commandment by not honoring her father and mother (in this case, the magistrates of the colony) (Crawford 137). Thus, she was tried by the General Court of Massachusetts, presided over by Winthrop, on the charge of "traducing the ministers" (such ministers as the brilliant preacher John Cotton). Anne Hutchinson was charged with several charges, on the basis that she committed acts allegedly "not fitting for her sex." (Faber 391) Winthrop stacked the deck by appointing a jury which, in his mind, would undoubtedly convict Anne. At this trial, she parried all questions so well that Edmund S. Morgan, a biographer of Gov. John Winthrop, was led to comment that Anne Hutchinson was the governor's "intellectual superior in everything except political judgment; in everything except the sense of what was possible in this world." (Bailyn 92)

Answering deftly, Anne came close to clearing herself of all charges. But suddenly, she mentioned that she had had several revelations. The Lord revealed himself to her, she said, "upon a Throne of Justice, and all the world appearing before him, and though I must come to New England, yet I must not fear nor be dismayed," she said. "Therefore, take heed. For I know that for this that you goe about to doe unto me," she threatened, "God will ruin you and your posterity, and this whole State." Winthrop immediately replied, "I am persuaded that the revelation she brings forth is delusion." The court voted to banish her from the colony, "as being a woman not fit for our society." (Crawford 144-146)

Wheelwright was exiled and shortly left for New Hampshire while Anne was put under house arrest for the winter to await a church trial in the spring. On March 15, 1638, Anne was brought to trial before the elders of the church of Boston. When her sons and sons-in-law tried to speak on her behalf, John Cotton cautioned them against "hindering" the work of God in healing her soul (Crawford 98). To the women of the congregation he said to be careful in listening to her, "for you see she is but a woman and many unsound and dangerous Principles are held by her." (Crawford 133)

Once her friend, Cotton now turned full force against her, attacking her meetings as a "promiscuous and filthie coming together of men and women without Distinction of Relation of Marriage," and accused her of believing in free love. "Your opinions frett like a Gangrene and spread like a Leprosie, and will eate out the very Bowells of Religion." (Lemeul 266)

Then Reverend Wilson, whom she had once tried to evict from the Boston church, delivered her excommunication. "I doe cast you out and in the name of Christ I doe deliver you up to Satan, that you may learne no more to blaspheme, to seduce, and to lye."

"The Lord judgeth not as man judgeth," she retorted. "Better to be cast out of the church than to deny Christ." (Crawford 140-142)

The trial was a travesty of justice. After the heated trial in which she provided a great argument, Anne Hutchinson was found guilty, excommunicated, and banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony Church and exiled from the state of Massachusetts. Puritan authorities justified her banishment on theological grounds. "Proud Jezebel has at last been cast down," wrote the Puritan minister and Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop (Crawford 137).

Betrayed by her idol, reverend John Cotton and banished from Boston, Anne Hutchinson with her husband, 13 children and 60 followers settled in the land of Narragansetts, from whose chief, Miantonomah, they purchased the island of Aquidneck (Peaceable Island), now part of Rhode Island. In March, 1638 they founded the town of Pocasset, the Indian name for that locality; the name "Portsmouth" was given to the settlement in 1639 (Lemuel 345). Here they established that colony's first civil government. The group of banished Bostonians gathered on March 7, 1638, and agreed to the following Compact for their new colony:

"We whose names are underwritten do here solemnly in the presence of Jehovah he shall help, will submit our person, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and all those perfect and most absolute laws of his given us in his holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby."(Henretta 277)

In 1640 William Hutchinson was elected assistant to Governor Coddington of the Rhode Island Colony. After William's death in 1642, Anne took her children, except for her eldest son and daughter, to the Dutch colony, New Amsterdam, in New York (in what is now Pelham Bay, the Bronx, New York) near Long Island. In August, 1643 the Dutch had antagonized nearby Indians that year, the Indians rose up an attacked settlements beyond the walled protection of New Amsterdam (New York City). Anne's family was attacked by a group of Indians during a battle between the Mohegans and the Narragansetts. The Mohegans raided the Hutchinson house and slaughtered Anne and thirteen members of her family, except for one young daughter who was taken captive. The unharmed child was adopted by the Indians for a while (Faber 268).

Anne Hutchinson challenged the role of women in Puritan society; she stood up for her beliefs and was not intimidated by men as other women in the colony had been. She was extremely bold and strong and she broke the mold of the average woman during her time.

Some twentieth century observers credit Anne Hutchinson with being the first American woman to lead the public fight for religious diversity and female quality. In his 1971 biography, Eleanor and Franklin, Joseph P. Lash reported that Eleanor Roosevelt began her list of America's greatest women with Anne Hutchinson (Williams 131). Anne did indeed use her considerable influence as a woman to test the Massachusetts Bay Colony's religious tolerance which, ironically, had been the reason for the settlement.

Today this advocate of freedom of religion, the right to free assembly and women's rights is honored by the naming of the Hutchinson River and a major road, the Hutchinson River Parkway, in her honor.

In April 27, 1996, Anne Hutchinson was honored by the dedication of a plaque which was placed at Founders Brook Park on Aquidneck Island (Portsmouth), Rhode Island. The plaque is the work of the Anne Hutchinson Memorial Committee, a group of Aquidneck Island volunteers led by Valerie DeBrule of Newport, who raised funds to pay for the plaque and surrounding medicinal herb garden. She is worthy of being honored and the plaque being dedicated to her in fact, it is a little more than three hundred years overdue.

Works Cited

Bailyn, Bernard. The Peopling of British North America. New York: Random House, 1986.

Crawford, Deborah. Four Women in a Violent Time. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1970.

Faber, Doris. Anne Hutchinson. Champaign: Garrard Publishing,1970.

Henretta, James A., W. Elliot Brownlee, David Brody, and Susan Ware. America's History: Vol. 1. New York: Worth Publishers, 1993.

Williams, Selma R. Divine Rebel: The Life of Anne Marbury Hutchinson. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981.

Williams, Selma R. Demeter's Daughters, Women Who Founded America,1587-1787. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,1975.

Colket, Meredith B. The English Ancestry of Anne Marbury Hutchinson and Katherine Marbury Scott. Philadelphia: The Mager Press,1936

Lemuel, Joseph. The Hutchinson Family of England and New England, and its Connection with the Marburys and Drydens. NEHGR Vol. XX, Oct. 1866

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 1: Anne Hutchinson." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. WWW URL: (provide page date or date of your login).

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