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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