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Anne Hutchinson ~ Boston, Massachusetts


When the ship "Griffin" arrived in the port of Boston, on the 18th day of September, 1634, that band of Puritan settlers who set forth from the embryo town to meet and welcome the newcomers would have been very much disturbed and astonished if they had known that there was one among that ship's company who was to bring great trouble to the feeble Colony and still greater calamity upon herself. Anne Hutchinson was to play the most conspicuous part in a great religious controversy; it was something more vital than a mere theological dispute; it was the first of many New England quickenings in the direction of social, intellectual and political development; in fact New England's earliest protest against formulas. Its leader was a woman whose name should be written large as one of the very few women who have really influenced the course of events in American history. It is indeed curious that at that time, when women held such an inferior position in the intellectual world, heads of councils of state and hoary-headed ministers should have allowed themselves to be involved in controversy in which their chief adversary was a woman.

Anne Hutchinson was born at Alford, in Lincolnshire, not far from Boston, England, on the 28th of July, 1591, so that she must have been forty-three years old when she came to Boston, though her comely figure and attractive face and engaging manners gave her a much more youthful appearance. Her father was a college man and her mother was a great-aunt of the poet Dryden, and was also related to the family from which descended the famous writer, Jonathan Swift, so Anne from both parents inherited intellect and force. Her marriage with William Hutchinson was the result of pure and dis-interested love, for he had no right to heraldic devices. Of this husband little need be said. He is described by contemporaries as a man of very mild temper and weak parts, and wholly guided by his wife. Perhaps this was fortunate, considering his wife's strong and dominant will.

Things might have gone well for Mistress Hutchinson in the Colony had she not fallen into some heated disputes on certain religious subjects with one of her fellow voyagers on board the "Griffin." This resulted in her adversary's, the Rev. Zechariah Symmes, gaining a deep and bitter animosity toward her. No sooner had they landed than he took occasion to denounce her as a prophetess, a dangerous accusation in those days. Regardless of her "Reverend" foe she immediately began to teach her new strange doctrines to those about her. And almost all of Puritan Boston fell under the spell of her eloquence and her magnetic charm. The women crowded her home to hear her read from the Scriptures and explain texts, and, it must be admitted, criticized the preachers, for this powerful woman was not afraid to express her opinion with dangerous candor. Boston was really at that period under a religious despotism. Looking back upon those times, it seems strange that the early Puritan settlers, beset as they were with bodily danger and physical hardship, should have spent so much of their time in splitting hairs upon theological subjects.

It was, nevertheless, significant of an intellectual unrest, which was to result in people doing their own thinking. This has always been a marked characteristic of the American, one of which we are justly particular, and it should be remembered that this young woman was its pioneer. Mistress Anne Hutchinson taught that the Gospel of Christ had superseded the law of Moses that no matter what sin overtook one who had received the gift of the "Crest of Love," he was still one of the elect; that the spirit of the Holy Ghost dwells in a "Justified Person," and other things that nobody understands and nobody is foolish enough to bother about in these days. In 1634, Mistress Hutchinson and her followers and the ministers of the Boston Church wrangled over these confusing and unnecessary doctrines until it is very likely they themselves became very much mixed up. It is what historians call the Antinomian Controversy. Antinomy being opposed to the law, Winthrop and Endicott considered it a very dangerous heresy. Mistress Anne was finally brought to trial for her teachings a thing she could hardly have failed to expect, for though she was a gentle and patient nurse to the sick, a fond wife and mother, and a Godly woman, still she was transgressing her right in openly setting up a new creed among the people with whom she had chosen to dwell. Among the ministers there were two of whom she earnestly approved, the Rev. Mr. Cotton and Joseph Wheelwright, her brother-in-law. But the preaching and teachings of all the others she earnestly condemned, which made these narrow-minded spiritual ministers her mortal enemies. In 1637, the Rev. John Cotton, who had appeared to share Anne Hutchinson's opinions to some extent, changed his course and the way was prepared for her accusation and trial This trial was before the Court of Magistrates, at Cambridge, November, 1637, and to quote from Jared Sparks, "It will be allowed by most readers to have been one of the most shameful proceedings recorded in the annals of Protestantism." The scene must have been an impressive one, the dignified Governor Winthrop, grave, strong, courteous, but already convinced of the culprit's guilt; Endicott, who, as Hawthorne says, "Would stand with his drawn sword at the Gate of Heaven and resist to the death all pilgrims thither except they traveled his own path"; Bradstreet, Nowell; Stoughton, Welde, all her judges and her enemies. As the biting north wind swept cold gusts through the bare room in which the assemblage sat on that November day, the defenseless woman must have felt that the cold gale that blew from the gloomy wilderness on the desolate shore was no more chilling than the hearts of her judges. She was ill and faint, but she was allowed neither food nor a seat during that long exhausting day, until she fell to the floor from weakness, while first one and then another of them plied her with questions. And, as Anne Hutchinson answered these questions clearly and sensibly, quoting passages from the Scriptures to prove that she had done nothing unlawful, nothing worthy of condemnation, perhaps she may have felt, even among her enemies and with no hand stretched out toward her, a thrill of pride in her heart that she, a woman without the influence of wealth or station, was pitting her intellect against that of the wisest men in the Colony. No matter what the issue should be the fact of her trial was an acknowledgment of her power and influence, a power and influence never before nor since equaled in this country.

Of an intensely spiritual nature and of rare elevation of purpose, Anne Hutchinson stood that day for the principle of liberty of speech, and the seed planted almost three hundred years ago has grown into the glorious religious and intellectual freedom of today.

At the conclusion of the trial, when she heard the verdict of banishment, Anne Hutchinson, turning to Winthrop said boldly, "I desire to know wherefore I am banished." He replied, with high-handed superciliousness, "Say no more, the court knows wherefore and is satisfied."

Joseph Welde was the brother of Rev. Thomas Welde, who had been her bitterest enemy, and he had called her the "American Jezebel," so she had little to expect in the way of consideration and comfort. But the banished woman had followers and the court found it expedient to issue an order that "All those whose names are under written shall upon warning give all such guns, pistols, swords, pewter shot and matches over to their custody upon penalty of 10 pounds.'' This shows that the magistrates feared violence from those who believed in Mistress Hutchinson and loved and revered their teacher.

Having been excommunicated from the Boston Church, and admonished for her grievous sins she was ordered to leave Massachusetts by the end of March. And on the twenty-eighth of that month Anne Hutchinson set forth upon her journey to Aquidneck, Rhode Island, where she hoped to commune with God and her fellow-beings according to the dictates of her conscience. Many Bostonians followed her and amid the forests of Rhode Island she found for a little while a peaceful life. But even here she was not spared from her old persecutors, who still feared that a new sect might arise in their neighborhood. Mrs. Hutchinson, whose husband had died, determined to go into the Dutch Colony of the New Netherlands where the magistrates did not care quite so much what the colonists believed, and eventually she planned her settlement in the solitude of what is now called Rochelle. A swamp in the vicinity of her cottage still bears the name of Hutchinson's river and we may imagine how as the evening shades closed in upon them the settlers would gather around their leader, who read from the Scriptures and exhorted them to continue steadfast in the faith she had delivered to them. As the candle-lights shone and flickered on her strong face with its lines of struggle and of sorrow and was reflected in the deep, dark eyes, she seemed a woman who had fled away to this remote spot divinely inspired.

But she had chosen a bad time to come to this part of the country, for while safe from the men of her own race, who had given her nothing but injustice and persecution, she was surrounded by dangers from the natives. Governor Kieft, the Dutch Governor, had by cruel treatment aroused the Indians to sullen resentment. Not long after the arrival of Anne Hutchinson and her little colony, savage hostilities broke out. Suddenly, when the New Netherlanders were unprepared, an army of fifteen hundred swarthy warriors swept over Long Island, killing, burning and torturing the settlers on Manhattan Island and carrying their savage warfare to the very gates of the fort.

Far out across the Harlem River, Anne Hutchinson's weak settlement of sixteen souls was at the mercy of the merciless Indians. The chief who had entered the land of this section according to tribal laws had sent to find out the strength and weakness of the colony. The messenger was treated with the hospitality which it was a part of Anne Hutchinson's religion to show to the "Stranger" who came within her gates. But the Indian spy was the messenger of death, for that night the colony was attacked and every one of that little settlement perished by clubs or tomahawks. Anne Hutchinson and her children with the exception of one, perished in the flames of her cottage, the cries of the massacred mingling in her dying ears with the savage shouts of the fiendish murderers. The little girl eight years old, who escaped was sent back by the Dutch to New England, where a good many of her descendants live.

It was the custom of the Indians to take the name of a person they had killed, and the chief who led this attack called himself after the massacre, "Anne's Hoeck," which is ground for the belief that the great chief himself was her murderer. The neck of land at Pelham, New York, bears to this day the name of Anne's Hoeck or Anne's Hook.

This brave woman's death was the end of the theological tragedy of early Boston, but it was the beginning of that religious freedom we enjoy today.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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