Anne Hutchinson’s banishment from Boston in 1638 denotes the culmination of events dating to her and her husband William’s arrival in New England on September 18, 1634.Following her spiritual leader John Cotton ,
who had become teacher at the First Boston Church, she quickly rose to a theological leader in Boston threatening the principals upon which the Puritan Bay Area colony had been founded. Branded by their opponents as Antinomians who opposed the moral law of the colony, she and her followers including her brother in law John Wheelwright, Governor Henry Vane and in a rather loose alliance, John Cotton advanced as a formidable theological, political and economic force in the colony between 1636 and 1638. The Antinomian dogma denouncing justification through sanctification entrenched Boston and its surrounding towns in a bitter Controversy.
John Winthrop, founding father of the colony, and Governor throughout Anne Hutchinson’s trial, was the Antinomians political antagonist in conjunction with the clerical support from Boston First Church’s pastor John Wilson.
Following Anne Hutchinson’s admission to the First Boston Church, she began holding in-home meetings where she explained and expanded upon John Cotton’s teachings as well as criticized the sermons of Pastor John Wilson. The growing faction attending these meetings consisted of Boston’s financial and political elite such as the 1636 elected Governor Henry Vane and de facto established an informal rival church in Boston. The doctrine upon which Anne Hutchinson’s influence thrived was based on the principals of the covenant of grace, interpreted in its most fundamental form. While the Puritans rejected the Arminianist Covenant of Work ideology, which insisted on the good works of people as a sign of their salvation, they trusted the Bible and the interpretation of its content by the clergy, as a chance for men to discover God’s will. Acting upon Gods will created the possibility to recognize sanctification through justification, where justification offered evidence through men’s deeds whether God would save that person. The complexity of this theological approach transformed into an attempt of the Puritan clergy to walk a middle way between Antinomian doctrine and Arminianism.
Anne Hutchinson’s interpretation of the Covenant of Grace as a principle of divine omnipotence, completely excluding the human factor in the salvation process arguing that the Holy Spirit was placed into the person sought out by god and guided by that spirit there after. Following this argumentation, ministers and church would become dispensable, loosing their sole purpose of interpreting god’s word to those hoping for salvation. This novel interpretation of the Covenant of Grace jeopardized the very existence of the Puritan society, which claimed responsibility for the spiritual well being of its members. Claiming the presence of the Holy Spirit within a saved person made the Antinomian beliefs susceptible to heresy charges, since direct revelation was a fervent dissent from Puritan theology.
Anne Hutchinson’s fortunes turned when Antinomians attempted to establish John Wheelwright as an official Hutchinsonian representative within the First Boston Church in October 1636. The attempt failed mainly because of John Winthrop’s ability to unite sufficient opposition to John Wheelwright’s nomination as a religious leader within the church. Meanwhile the Antinomian resistance outside of Boston grew stronger, tipping the gubernatorial election in favor of John Winthrop taking back the governor seat from Henry Vane who eventually returned to England. Furthermore, John Wheelwright was convicted of sedition following a fuming outburst against the colony’s leadership. Anne Hutchinson’s key support was dwindling making John Cotton support ever more important.
This very support began to diminish with the Cambridge Synod, where ministers of Massachusetts and a Connecticut delegation compiled a list of erroneous beliefs, which could not be tolerated, giving way to punish Antinomians based on heresy. The list found the approval of John Cotton, and weakened Anne Hutchinson’s position in the colony.
With the political power in the hands of anti-Hutchinson Winthrop, the Puritan orthodoxy focused on dismantling the Antinomian threat. In October 1637, Anne Hutchinson was called upon to answer a list of charges drawn up against her. Numerous Antinomians had signed a petition on John Wheelwrights behalf during his trial earlier that year. The courts had utilized the list, to charge and sentence Hutchinsonians as supporters of sedition. Since Anne Hutchinson had not signed the petition, she could only be charged with encouraging Wheelwright’s supporters. Added to this charge was the accusation of holding meetings in her home not appropriate for her gender based on the fifth commandment. The third and most serious accusation in this civil trial was her alleged insult of ministers in the colony as preachers of the covenant of works.
Anne Hutchinson’s brilliant theological argumentation and cleverness allowed her to refute most charges brought against her. Additionally, John Cotton’s testimony on her behalf regarding the charges of insult against the ministers brought the civil case to the verge of collapse. With the trial coming to a favorable conclusion, Anne Hutchinson, for unknown and still debated reasons , announced that god’s direct revelation was the sole reason for her presence in New England and the bases for the Antinomian movement. Claiming direct revelation sealed her fait; Anne Hutchinson was convicted of heresy and was sentenced to banishment from Boston.
Awaiting her church trial for excommunication from the First Boston Church Anne Hutchinson was placed under house arrest for the following four months. In March 1638, after yet another round of questioning and her refusal to withdraw her voiced claim of direct revelation Anne Hutchinson was admonished from the church and departed at the end of the same month to Rhode Island.
In conclusion, Anne Hutchinson was the first historically acclaimed female-leader of the North American colonies. She attempted to change the secular and religious fabric of seventeenth century Puritan society, accepting the potential risk of defamation and banishment.
In a time when women were perceived as week, submissive and modest, unable of following a complex theological thought, Anne Hutchinson represented a major threat to the Puritan establishment. Not only had she succeeded in formulating and establishing a new theological dogma, her supporters were threatening the political and economic foundation of Boston. Recapturing the second charge of her civil trial is obvious that the tribunal was in part judging a female’s position in a male dominated Puritan society. More remarkable is Anne Hutchinson’s belief in the covenant of grace as a divine absolute, reserved for gods choosing and her courage to oppose the status quo of the Bay Colony. The Antinomian ideology, held a humanistic and egalitarian facet, regarding people as equal in the face of god unrestrained of their worldly existence nor gender.
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