ANNE MARBURY was an English girl who lived in Lincolnshire, near the town of Boston. Her father was a Puritan minister, preaching there and in London. In Lincolnshire Anne passed her girlhood, doubtless hearing a great deal of theological controversy and religious discussion, for this was the time of the Puritan revolt in England, and of great religious excitement. Naturally intelligent and earnest, her mental powers were aroused and quickened.
At an early age she married William Hutchinson, "a very honest and peaceable man of good estate." And in 1634 with her husband and children she journeyed to America—the outcome of the Reverend John Cotton's leaving England because of his persecution by the bishops.
Anne Hutchinson had been one of his most ardent disciples in the church at old Boston, and was now to sit under him in the new Boston.
It was a pleasant voyage of seven weeks, in the good ship Griffen. There were over a hundred passengers, among them two ministers, so you may be sure there were sermons and prayers and religious discussions all during the crossing. Anne wanted to participate in these discussions, and indeed she did! She was so outspoken in her preaching that, when they landed, one of these ministers reported her to the governor as holding dangerous beliefs.
Though her husband was accepted at once, the colony leaders took a week's time to look into her liberal views, and then examined her rigorously before admitting her to membership in the church.
Massachusetts, you remember, was settled by Puritans who had met persecution in England, and had braved the dangers of the long voyage and the greater dangers of hunger and illness in a new land, in order to worship God in their own way.
In accomplishing this goal they became as intolerant as those from whom they had fled. Indeed there was a far closer relation of church and state in Massachusetts than in England. The only liberty the fathers allowed was the liberty to believe just as they believed. They were right, others were wrong, and on this theory they regulated everything, both religious and civil.
Until their own house could be built, Mistress Anne Hutchinson and some of the children lived at the Reverend Cotton's; and for the three years the family remained in Boston, their home was across the street from John Winthrop's. Almost immediately this house became the social center of the town and Anne Hutchinson had a leading place among the three hundred inhabitants and the fast friendship of the brilliant young Englishman, Sir Harry Vane, then serving a term as governor of the colony.
The women loved her for her goodness of heart, her cheerful neighborliness, her great skill in nursing. Both men and women welcomed her intellectual and magnetic personality. She had a vigorous mind, a dauntless courage, a natural gift for leadership; she was capable, energetic, amiable.
And there was another reason why the women liked her. The colonists had two church services on Sunday, with sermons sometimes three hours long; Thursday lectures, and a Saturday night meeting. There was also during the week religious discussion for the men.
Mrs. Hutchinson started meetings for women—a new departure, for never before had women met for independent thought and action. At first this won high approval. The women—forty, sixty, sometimes eighty of them, even a hundred, for they came from near-by towns as well as from Boston homes—were soon holding regular meetings to review the sermons of the Sunday before, with Mistress Anne's comment and interpretation.
"All the faithful embraced her conference," a contemporary record describes the gatherings, "and blessed God for her fruitful discourses."
But from a review of the sermons to discussion and criticism of them and the ministers as well was a short step. It soon began to be said that Anne Hutchinson cast reproaches on those who preached "a covenant by works" instead of the "covenant by grace" in which she fervently believed.
A Covenant by Works, according to some, promised life for obedience and death for disobedience, according to the Bible. A covenant by Grace, on the other hand, promises eternal blessing for all people who trust in the promises of God.
Such freedom of speech could not be tolerated by the good Puritans, and a theological dispute arose which threatened the very life of the colony. There were two parties, grace and works. Politics became a matter of Hutchinson opinions, for political lines and religious lines coincided exactly. Indeed there was no separation of church and state; the leaders of one controlled the policy of the other.
From the beginning of the colony the preachers had had an unlimited influence. Now they complained that "more resort to Mrs. Hutchinson for council about matters of conscience than to any minister in the country." Moreover this grace and works difficulty was carried into every phase of life. Some people turned their backs contemptuously and walked out of meeting when a preacher not under a covenant of grace entered the pulpit. Others interrupted the services with questions of controversy. Indeed it was carried so far that when the Pequot Indians became aggressive and dangerous and it was necessary to send troops against them, the Boston soldiers refused to be mustered into service, because the chaplain, drawn by lot, preached a covenant of works, and they disagreed with his Sunday sermon!
The whole town of Boston, the whole colony of Massachusetts, church and state, were set in commotion and turmoil. This theological quarrel was a stumbling block in the way of all progress.
The ministers so freely criticized were embittered and determined to call Mistress Hutchinson and her doctrines to account. So they summoned a meeting of all the clergymen and magistrates of Massachusetts, who met in Cambridge for full three weeks, discussing some eighty-two opinions which they condemned—some as dangerous, some blasphemous, some erroneous, and all unsafe.
The women's meetings were forbidden as "disorderly and without rule."
Forbidden to speak in public, Anne Hutchinson continued to hold meetings in her own house. Roger Williams, who was shortly to feel the full displeasure of the Puritan leaders, said that in view of her usefulness as a nurse and a neighbor, she ought to be allowed to speak when she chose and to say what she wished, "because if it be a lie, it will die of itself; and if it be truth, we ought to know it."
The authorities in Massachusetts were in constant dread of losing their charter, which was especially endangered by reports of disorderly proceedings. And certainly nothing had provoked so much disorder and sedition as the course taken by Mistress Anne.
Both politically and religiously they felt it a duty to suppress her party. So in October, 1637, she was brought to trial before the General Court of Massachusetts, sitting in the meeting house in Cambridge.
"Mrs. Hutchinson," said Winthrop, presiding, "you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches here. . . . You have maintained a meeting and an assembly in your house that hath been condemned by the general assembly as a thing not tolerable, nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex, and notwithstanding that was cried down you have continued the same.
Therefore we have thought good to send for you to understand how things are, that if you be in an erroneous way we may reduce you that so you may become a profitable member here among us, otherwise if you be obstinate in your course that then the court may take such course that you may trouble us no further."
This trial was at once a civil, judicial and religious process, lasting through two long weary days. Extremely tiring and exhausting must have been the examination, for the deputy governor complained that they would all be sick from fasting! The forty-three men who tried her were like an English court of High Commission, almost like the Inquisition. For Anne Hutchinson had no lawyer. They even kept her standing until she almost fell from fatigue, before they allowed her to answer seated.
Governor and deputy, magistrates and judges were arrayed against her. They examined and cross-examined her. They badgered and insulted and sneered at her. They browbeat and silenced her witnesses, in absolute disregard of fair play. Only one man of them all defended her, saying with spirit, "There is no law of God that she has broken, nor any law of the country, and she deserves no censure."
They found it no easy thing to make her trap herself. Their fine theological distinctions were familiar ground to her. She had a ready grasp of scriptural authority, and wonderful skill in using her intellectual power to prove her spiritual position. With the ability and clearness of a trained advocate she conducted her case, showing tact and judgment and self-reliance, and always with demeanor of a lady.
What Winthrop described as her "nimble wit and voluble tongue" never deserted her, though she was hard pressed by the keenest minds of the colony.
When they failed to prove her women's meetings were opposed to the Bible, they fell back on the argument of their authority and said, "We are your judges, and not you ours, and we must compel you to it."
When she answered to some of their questions, "That's matter of conscience, sir," stern Governor Winthrop replied, "Your conscience you must keep, or it must be kept for you."
It was the deputy-governor who summed the whole matter up:
"About three years ago we were all in peace. Mrs. Hutchinson from that time she came hath made a disturbance. . . . She hath vented divers of her strange opinions and hath made parties. . . . She in particular hath disparaged all our ministers. . . . Why this is not to be suffered, and therefore being driven to the foundation and it being found that Mrs. Hutchinson . . . bath been the cause of what is fallen out, why we must take away the foundation and the building will fall."
The result of the trial might have been announced before it opened. Read how the court record finishes:
"Governor Winthrop (Speaking): The Court hath already declared itself satisfied concerning the things you hear, and concerning the troublesomeness of her spirit, and the danger of her course amongst us, which is not to be suffered. Therefore if it be the mind of the Court that Mrs. Hutchinson, for these things that appear before us, is unfit for our society, and if it be the mind of the Court that she shall be banished out of our liberties, and imprisoned till she be sent away, let them hold up their hands."
All but three held up their hands.
"Governor Winthrop(Speaking): Mrs. Hutchinson, you hear the sentence of the Court. It is that you are banished from out our jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and you are to be imprisoned till the Court send you away.
"Mrs. Hutchinson (speaking): I desire to know wherefore I am banished.
"Governor Winthrop(Speaking): Say no more. The Court knows wherefore, and is satisfied."
Semi-imprisonment Mistress Anne had all that winter, in the house of a man in Roxbury whose brother was one of her most bitter enemies. She was sent up to Boston to be admonished by the elders of the church; and when she refused to sign an absolute retraction of her opinions, and would not promise to hold any more meetings, she was excommunicated.
The sentence of banishment was carried out in March of 1638. To the sorrow of many of the colonists, William Hutchinson went with his wife. He refused their invitations to remain, saying, "For I am more dearly tied to my wife than to the church. . . . And I do think her a saint and servant of God." With husband and children and seventy friends Mistress Anne went to Rhode Island where Roger Williams offered the party a friendly refuge.
From the Indians they bought an island, for ten coats, twenty hoes, and forty fathoms of white wampum; and lived there until 1642 when William Hutchinson died.
Hearing a rumor that Massachusetts was trying to extend her control over Rhode Island, the settlers left for a new site in the Dutch colony to the west. A year later a friendly Indian one morning visited Anne Hutchinson's house. Seeing that the family was defenseless he returned that night with others of his tribe, killed the sixteen members of the household and set fire to the buildings.
When Governor Winthrop heard of this massacre he declared that "the bare arm of God displayed itself in her death." Ministers in Massachusetts announced it a divine judgment supporting their verdict.
One of them wrote, "God's hand is more apparently seen herein to pick out this woeful woman to make her and those belonging to her an unheard-of heavy example above others."
But Mistress Anne's friends charged the guilt of her murder upon the colony and declared it was the judgment of the Lord on Massachusetts.
An able woman, clever, brilliant, possibly indiscreet in her criticism of the ministers, Anne Hutchinson's life was a strange mixture of consecration and conflict, of kindliness and contention, with a tragic end. She was fighting the first battle in a long series to be fought out in America —for religious toleration and for freedom of thought and speech, for liberty of conscience, for a true democracy in religion.
Activities for Anne Hutchinson
Although Anne was killed, along with many other people, by the Indians in the massacre in 1643, there was one survivor. Do some research on the internet and find out who this survivor was. Why did they spare this person’s life? What happened to the survivor after the massacre?
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