Anne Hutchinson - Puritan Dissenter

Anne Hutchinson - Puritan Dissenter

Born Anne Marbury in 1591, Anne Hutchinson was the daughter of an Anglican priest who was an advocate of church reform. During her childhood, the family moved to London, where she received an excellent education and became well grounded in the tenets of Puritanism. At 21, she married William Hutchinson, a prosperous London cloth merchant, and they settled in Alford, Lincolnshire, Anne’s birthplace.

She attended the church of John Cotton in nearby Boston, and when Cotton migrated to New England, Mrs. Hutchinson convinced her husband that the family should follow. They arrived in Boston sometime in the summer of 1634 and quickly became church members and her husband a community leader. She was skilled in the use of herbal medicine and soon developed a reputation for her medical advice.

She soon moved into religion. An extremely intelligent and thoughtful woman, well versed in theology, she took to expanding on Cotton’s sermons to an ever-increasing group of followers. Taking what she believed to be Cotton’s lead, she stressed a covenant of grace; in her view individuals gained salvation solely through God’s love, and unrelated to their actions, a covenant of works.

Her opponents labeled her an antinomian (against the law), for her doctrine implied the negation of clerical power and church discipline and had unacceptable implications for social order and the authority of the established government. This was of special concern in the Massachusetts Bay Colony; a new colony, isolated in the wilderness, and dedicated to defending its mission to establish a godly community.

Although Hutchinson originally had a large following, including some prominent merchants and even the colony’s governor, she came to be viewed as a threat to Massachusetts’s mission and was eventually banished from the colony and later excommunicated from her congregation.

Because her accusers were also her judges, her trial was unjust by modern standards, but typical of sedition trials at the time; a formal defense was not permitted. Perhaps most importantly, she guaranteed a guilty verdict when she asserted a direct communication with God, a position unacceptable to a society that believed God spoke through the Bible as interpreted by clergymen.

That she was a woman in a society in which women had no public power only made her ideas all the more threatening. Coupled with the challenges of Roger Williams and others, the Hutchinson affair prompted Massachusetts to ensure religious orthodoxy, at least among its clergy, by establishing Harvard College in 1636.

In the spring of 1638, Mrs. Hutchinson, her family, and a small number of followers moved to Rhode Island and settled at Aquidneck. After the death of her husband in 1642, she moved to Long Island and then to the New York mainland.

In the late summer of 1643, Indians attacked her home, killing all but one member of her household. Long viewed as a victim of Puritan intolerance and a champion of religious freedom, Anne Hutchinson is also recognized for her contribution to the struggle for women’s rights.