Anne Hutchinson

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Anne Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson is a woman to be admired by any of us who believe in the rights of the individual to freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom to worship.

Real heroes are people who in the face of adversity, refuse to betray their ideals or ethics, no matter what the cost.

Anne Hutchinson was such a woman. It may be difficult for us to imagine exactly how it must have been like living under Puritan rule in the newly established American colonies, especially if you were a woman, as at this point in our history, women weren't even allowed to think for themselves.

Anne Hutchinson was a wife, mother, religious leader, and perhaps the first American feminist.

It is important to note that even though her views were construed as dissent by the rulers of the Puritan colony, Anne had never intended to offend anyone.  Her views were simply those of an educated individual with a healthy attitude towards a Church she wished to actively participate in and help flourish.  Anne's creed was simple, perhaps too simple, and this is what worried the leaders of the colony; after all, how could you control a flock which did not feel they had to abide by a strict set of rules to gain admittance to heaven?

This website covers the important events which defined the life of Anne Hutchinson

as well as her creed, and the infamous trial that ultimately sealed her fate. 

Anne Hutchinson stood trial alone, with no lawyer to defend her. She faced a panel of 49 powerful and well-educated men. She was accused of sedition, or trying to overthrow the government. And she faced banishment if convicted.

Hutchinson's "crime" was expressing religious beliefs that were different from the colony's rulers. In the year 1637, in Massachusetts Bay Colony, that was against the law--especially for a woman.

Hutchinson, a Puritan, came to America in search of a place where she could worship freely. But when she arrived, she found the Bay Colony's religious rules very intolerant. The ideas she brought with her from England quickly landed her in trouble.

Hutchinson believed that people could communicate directly with God--without the help of ministers or the Bible. This was in direct contradiction with the established religion. Local ministers taught that people could only find God by following the teachings of the Bible. And that only they could interpret the Bible correctly. At meetings she held in her Boston home, Hutchinson criticized the teachings of the colony's ministers.

In Massachusetts Bay, as was the custom at the time, all ministers were men. The Church controlled the political power. There was no Constitution or Bill of Rights. Only those who belonged to "approved" churches could vote. Magistrates, or government officials, used the Bible as their legal textbook. And people who broke the law could be punished severely--jailed, whipped, or even executed. Many considered Hutchinson's teachings illegal.

Anne Hutchinson's meetings deeply divided the colony--and caused alarm among the colony's leaders. Many people, including the governor, Henry Vane, supported Hutchinson. But others--including powerful religious leaders and the powerful former governor John Winthrop, opposed her. They believed that women should obey men at all times, and that women should be forbidden to teach about religion. And they feared that if people followed Anne Hutchinson, the ministers would lose their influence over the people. The colony might even dissolve into a civil war.

As Hutchinson's following grew, the leaders took action. They stopped William Wheelright, Hutchinson's brother-in-law, from becoming a minister. Then they banished him. In 1637, they reelected John Winthrop governor. Still Hutchinson refused to stop criticizing the ministers.

In August of 1637, the ministers called a conference, to discuss Hutchinson's teachings. They discovered some 82 "erroneous opinions" Hutchinson had made. The magistrates called other Hutchinson followers to trial, convicting and punishing those who stood by her. Then they tried Hutchinson herself.

The lead prosecutor was Governor John Winthrop. For nearly all of the first day, Winthrop was the only accuser who spoke. Hutchinson he said, held meetings that were "not tolerable" in the sight of God. In addition, she had stepped beyond the bounds of what was allowed for women.

As the trial continued, more men spoke against Hutchinson. But she used the Bible and the men's own words to skillfully defend herself. She stated that holding meetings in the home to discuss religion had been a common Puritan practice in England. She told the men that God had spoken to her directly, and that only God could be her judge. But in the end, the verdict was against her. She was banished from Massachusetts Bay.

Hutchinson left in spring of 1638. The religious persecutions continued. Quakers were singled out for very harsh punishment, partly because their religion forbid them from swearing oaths to the government or serving in the military. Just being a Quaker was punishable by whipping, mutilation, or death. Between 1658 and 1661, four Quakers were hanged.

But even amidst persecution, the idea of religious freedom grew. After the colonies won their freedom from Great Britain, the, new leaders of the United States of America put religious freedom in writing. Article VI of the Constitution declared that "no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to and Office or Public Trust under the United States." Amendment I stated that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

After she left Massachusetts Bay Colony, Anne Hutchinson lived out her years in exile, first in Aquidneck, Rhode Island and later on Long Island, where she died during an attack by Native Americans in September, 1643. Hutchinson had not succeeded in changing the laws of her time. But her courageous actions helped set the stage for an America in which religious freedom was a reality.

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