Anne Hutchinson has long been seen as a strong religious dissenter who paved the way for religious freedom in the strictly Puritan environment of New England. Another interpretation of the controversy surrounding Anne Hutchinson asserts that she was simply a loving wife and mother whose charisma and personal ideas were misconstrued to be a radical religious movement. Since this alleged religious movement was led by a woman, it was quickly dealt with by the Puritan fathers as a real threat.
Whatever her motives, she was clearly a great leader in the cause of religious toleration in America and the advancement of women in society. Although Anne Hutchinson is historically documented to have been banished as a religious dissenter, the real motive for her persecution was that she challenged the traditional subordinate role of women in Puritan society by expressing her own religious convictions. Anne Hutchinson was born Anne Marbury in Alford, England, in 1591. Anne’s father was a deacon at Christ Church, Cambridge.
Francis Marbury spoke out earnestly about his convictions that many of the ordained ministers in the Church of England were unfit to guide people’s souls. For this act of defiance, he was put in jail for one year. Undaunted, Francis Marbury continued to voice his radical opinions, including that many ministers were appointed haphazardly by high church officials to preach in any manner they wanted. Eventually, Anne’s father did restrain his verbal attacks on the Church of England, choosing conformity with an imperfect church over constant arrests and inquisitions.
Being educated at home, Anne read many of her father’s books on theology and religion. Much of Anne’s later independence and willingness to speak out was due to her father’s example. Anne admired her father for his defiance of traditional church principles. She was always fascinated with theological questions such as the fate of the Indians who had no knowledge of Jesus Christ or salvation. Her childhood was a definite factor in the development of the strong, self-assured woman she grew up to be.
Anne Hutchinson lived in Alford, England as a housewife and mother after she was married at the age of twenty-one to a man named Will Hutchinson. Anne was drawn to a certain minister named John Cotton who preached fiery sermons that were originally Protestant in nature, but gradually became more akin to Puritan doctrines in that he preached purification of the church and focused on the corruption of the current establishment. Puritans were a form of Protestants in the sense that they rebelled against the Catholic Church, but they also believed the current system still needed more change.
Cotton’s two main beliefs were the destructiveness of continuing Catholic influence in the Church of England, and the opportunities for success and religious freedom in America. (D. Crawford, p. 26. ) The Hutchinson family, which eventually consisted of 15 children, took the long drive from Alford to Boston (England) often on Sundays to hear Reverend Cotton preach. After 20 years of village life in Alford, the Hutchinsons decided to follow their minister to New England in 1634. One main reason for this move was because Anne wanted to feel free to express her increasingly Puritan views under the leadership of John Cotton.
Unfortunately, Massachusetts turned out to be more religiously constrictive than England for Anne, even as a member of the Puritan church. At the time of Anne’s youth in England, the official religion was Protestantism under the Church of England. Puritanism developed in the late Sixteenth Century from the split in Protestantism between those who were satisfied with traditional methods and those who thought the way of worship needed purification.
This second group, the Puritans, thought that worship needed to be simpler with fewer sacraments and rites. The battle lines were drawn, and the Puritan Revolution in England began. In the twelve years before 1642, 21,000 Puritans moved to New England (B. Bailyn, The Peopling of British North America, pps. 25-26. ) for the purpose of establishing a haven for them to practice Puritanism together. Anne Hutchinson lived in this violent and changing time when the established religion was often questioned, and groups of people came to their own conclusions on points of doctrine.
For the first time, people like Anne learned to think for themselves instead of blindly believing what was taught to them by the clergy. Anne was drawn by the excitement of this religious struggle and based her opinions on the study of the Bible. (D. Crawford, p. 18. ) Her religious beliefs were mainly derived from John Cotton’s preaching which she embellished to produce her own doctrine. Essentially, Anne concluded that faith alone was adequate for salvation. This view weakened the church as an instrument of discipline and minimized the clergy’s role in the process. (O. and L. Handlin, Liberty and Power, p. 5. ) She once referred to the Puritan clergy saying, “A company of legall [sic] professors lie poring on the law which Christ hath established. ” (As quoted in B. Adams, The Emancipation of Massachusetts, p. 219. ) She was confident in her communication with God, saying, “I feel that nothing important ever happens that is not revealed to me beforehand. ” (D. Crawford, pps. 32-33. ) These ideas of Anne’s, as well as the extended list of the principles of Anne Hutchinson found in the Appendix, (not included in this hypertext version) were not loudly proclaimed by her to the community at large.
She expressed them in the privacy of her own home or after she was excommunicated from the Puritan church. She was never in open defiance of the Puritan principles and wished to remain a member of the church until her trial. Although in some areas, she did disagree with Puritan doctrine, she was still a devoted member of the church and agreed with the majority of the Puritan principles. Her purpose in expressing her opinions was not to break down the church but rather to make positive change in those areas where the church was in error in her opinion.
Anne’s unorthodox views did not begin to surface visibly until the voyage to America. Anne met with a group of women to discuss religion and she taught them that every person could ask and receive an answer from God if they would listen. She became a radical in the eyes of those around her, claiming knowledge of the day of their arrival. Amazingly, she predicted that they would land on September eighteenth and that was the exact date that they arrived. (D. Crawford, p. 43. ) This is just one example of several of the things that Anne predicted would happen.
Anne was obviously a devout and unselfish woman for the simple reason that she did not take advantage of the accident or power that allowed her to predict the future. She never entertained ambitions of power; she was simply content in her role as a wife and mother. Upon her arrival with her family, Anne was not welcomed as warmly by John Cotton as in the past because of her increasingly unorthodox views. Reverend Cotton advised Anne, “Here it be tactful to hold one’s tongue. ” (D. Crawford, p. 87.
Due to her assertions that God had revealed to her the day of their arrival, Anne was forced to say, “I have been guilty of wrong thinking” to be accepted in to the Puritan church there. Anne justified doing this in her own mind by referring privately to mistakes in small domestic decisions, not her religious convictions. (D. Crawford, p. 90. ) She was willing to compromise in this so she could be a member of the Puritan church. Much of this desire was due to her admiration of John Cotton and her wish to again be part of his congregation.
Anne Hutchinson had originally had high expectations for finally having the freedom to express her beliefs, away from the confines of the established church in England. However, there was no religious freedom at all in the Massachusetts Bay Colony except to agree with the doctrines set forth by the Puritan church there. This denial of freedom of religion to others by the Puritans was ironic in light of the fact that dissenters were merely declining to conform to the Puritans, as the Puritans had declined to conform to the Church of England.
However, at this point the Puritans were so popular that they didn’t need to relax any of the principles in order to draw in new members to the church. This did change later in the Seventeenth Century, when the original foundation of Puritanism was worn away by church leaders hoping to attract newcomers to their congregation by decreasing the harshness of Puritan law. Puritanism was never very unified or defined in principle.
Dissenters and radicals from the Church of England were essentially just other groups of Puritans. After the religious fervor of the first couple of generations died down, Puritanism became routine, a “problematic anachronism. ” (B. Bailyn, p. 91. ) Bernard Bailyn is implying in his wording that the Puritan cause soon became dated and unwieldy, representing the views born of the religious and political situation in England several decades previously. Puritanism soon lost its original purpose, which was to purify and make holy the Church of England.
It became another oppressive, structured form of Christianity that kept its followers from drawing conclusions of their own about issues such as predestination or visible saints. John Cotton graphically illustrates this oppression in his evaluation of the situation: “Here members of the Church have suffered whippings for having a whim of their own. ” (As quoted in D. Crawford, p. 88. ) It clearly took a woman of great courage like Anne Hutchinson to stand up for her principles amidst controversy and threats. It must be said, however, that the Puritans believed they had a covenant with God to establish a holy colony, an example for others.
They didn’t care if Quakers, Catholics, or Jews settled nearby in Rhode Island but desired to establish Massachusetts Bay Colony for the specific purpose of creating a community of devout Puritans. John Winthrop wanted to build “a Citty [sic] upon a Hill,” a place where the Puritan religion would be exclusively followed with utmost devotion. (As quoted in C. Bridenbaugh, Early Americans, p. 87. ) Obviously, this was not a colony with a high tolerance level for dissension from the established guidelines of the faith.
Their view of liberty was freely choosing the Puritan religion and then following through on the commitments that came with that. Anne Hutchinson was a convert to Puritanism who had too much of a mind of her own to be tolerated by the Puritan fathers, even though she had no wish to leave the church. In this light, it really is her fault that she was banished from Massachusetts Bay because she knew her beliefs did not always coincide with those of the Puritans. She was aware of the way women were treated and had to be prepared for the inevitable.
Women were completely repressed and disregarded for intellectual value by the Puritan church in Massachusetts. The accepted belief was that intelligence and understanding was given to men, not women, so her chief duty as a wife was to her husband and children. (C. M. Andrews, p. 477. ) Women were considered morally weak because Eve was the first to sin in the Garden of Eden. (J. Demos, A Little Commonwealth, p. 84-85. ) According to the dicta of the day, a woman was supposed to derive her “ideas of God from the contemplation of her husband’s excellencies. ” (C. M. Andrews, p. 477.
Women were not allowed to speak in church, judged openly as inferior creatures. Even though this sounds tyrannical in our day and age, American women actually had more rights than did women in England. Though the basic perception of women as inferior was common to both America and England, in America, a woman could own property if her husband died and she could sometimes own her own property. (J. Demos, p. 85. ) However, these issues were mere technicalities that hardly improved the forced submission of women to men that is a common trend evident throughout the written history of the world.
This famous quotation from the journal of John Winthrop is often used to encapsulate the male attitude toward women in early America. A young woman had lost “her understanding and reason” because she had given “herself wholly to reading and writing, and written many books. ” If she had kept her place, Winthrop said, if she had attended to household affairs, and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, etc. , she had kept her wits, and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her. D. F. Hawke, Everyday Life in Early America, pps. 62-63. )
In light of this mindset, it is hardly surprising that Anne’s ideas and intelligence were met with hostility and rejection. Anne actually lived a relatively submissive life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She never publicly gave her own opinions on religious issues, but only in the privacy of a home among other women. She started another women’s club in her home to discuss the sermon and the Bible each week. The attendance at these meetings increased with the controversy over the banishment of Roger Williams.
The women were attracted to Anne and wanted to hear her opinions. This was often the lone intellectual stimulation they received in their restricted lives. John Winthrop, one of Anne’s chief opposers, reported a resolution passed by the assembly in 1637 as saying, That though 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. As quoted in C. Holliday, Woman’s Life in Colonial Days, p. 40. ) This was the legal action that the Massachusetts Bay colony first took against her. She was arrested and brought to trial because her meetings were said to be disorderly.
The Puritans denounced Anne’s beliefs as heresy and sedition, justifying her subsequent excommunication and banishment. John Winthrop summed it up in this way: “The two capital errors with which she was charged were these: That the Holy Ghost dwells personally in a justified person; and that nothing of sanctification can help to evidence to believers their justification. As quoted in C. Holliday, p. 44. ) Fiske, an American historian, justified the Puritans’ harsh treatment of Anne Hutchinson and her followers as a necessary move to protect the unity of the colony: When the Pequots threatened Massachusetts colony a few men in Boston refused to serve. These were the Antinomians, followers of Anne Hutchinson, who suspected their chaplain of being under a ” Covenant of works,” whereas their doctrine was one should live under a “Covenant of grace. ” This is one of the great reasons why they were banished. It was the very life of the colony that they should have conformity…
Therefore this religious doctrine was working rebellion and sedition, and endangering the very existence of the state. (As quoted in C. Holliday, pps. 44-45. ) Alone, Anne was not a threat to the Puritan establishment in Massachusetts Bay. However, as a woman leading a growing number of men as well as women, she was a threat to their authority and had to be stopped. Fiske’s assertion that the Antinomians who protested killing the Indians would affect the outcome of the war is probably exaggerated since all of her followers numbered less than two hundred out of about three thousand. (E. Battis, Saints and Sectaries, p. 293. )
Eventually, Anne was brought to trial for her continued actions by the Puritans. Samuel Eliot Morrison sums up the series of events that followed in this way: It was on a small scale a state trial of the sort then common in England, where no legal safeguards were observed… the result was foregone conclusion. Yet the clever and witty woman conducted her case admirably… Anne’s unruly member gave her away. She declared, even boasted, of her personal revelations from the Almighty; and that was to confess the worst. For in this the Puritan agreed with historical Christianity, that divine revelation closed with the book of Revelation.
Convicted out of her own mouth, Anne Hutchinson was sentenced to banishment from Massachusetts Bay “as being a woman not fit for our society. ” (As quoted in E. D. Baltzell, Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, p. 136. ) John Winthrop, who was at that time the deputy governor, wanted Anne Hutchinson banished even before she was found guilty of anything. Her trial was by no means fair or just. She defended herself very well with her knowledge of scripture to support her positions. She might have been let off with a reprimand except that she blurted out that God had said he would save her from them.
Even if she hadn’t been banished at that trial, it is most likely she would have continued in her teachings, unsilenced by Puritan threats and been banished at a later trial. John Winthrop was the driving force behind Anne’s banishment. He had very strong feelings about the place of women and he had enough power to do something about it when Anne violated them. William Coddington, a secret Quaker at the time, expressed his hope that “this trial will help break through the crust of formalism hardening over religion, and allow the springs of natural piety to well to the surface and refresh the arid theology of these times. As quoted in D. Crawford, p. 112. )
His wish was far from coming true in the rigid environment of New England. The Puritan religion was growing more and more stiff, forcing people to break out if they wanted any mind of their own. This same inflexibility that started with those such as Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson ultimately led to the downfall and loss of respect for the Puritan church. It may have been permitted for a preacher such as Anne’s own John Cotton to be slightly more liberal in his doctrine, but it was an affront to the proper place of women in society coming from a housewife such as Anne Hutchinson.