Anne Hutchinson -“Early American Heroes of Religious Liberty” (Pt 3/5)

Over 150 fifty years before the Bill of Rights, heroic men and women laid the foundation of religious freedom in America. These include Lord Baltimore Cecil Calvert, Roger Williams, William Penn, and Anne Hutchinson.

Anne was one of the first American woman heroes. She was intelligent, independent, and strong. Unfortunately, these qualities in a woman were not appreciated in the Puritan colony.

Preaching in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Anne Hutchinson (1591-1642), followed her clerical hero John Cotton from England to Boston and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Because of her compassion and insight, she attracted a following among both laymen and clergy to her “unorthodox” views.

In essence, she advocated redemption through faith and grace alone without regard to deeds or works. Her enemies feared that this “heresy” would lead to lawlessness and civic anarchy. She accused the local clergy of preaching a “covenant of works,” instead of a “covenant of grace.”

Anne claimed to receive personal revelation from God. She taught her followers that personal revelation from God was as authoritative in a person’s life as the Bible.  She also claimed that she could identify “the elect” among the colonists.  These claims were anathema to Puritan theology.

She started weekly Bible studies in her home. These meetings became very popular.  The ordained ministers complained that these “unauthorized” religious gatherings might “confuse” the faithful.

Inspired by Hutchinson, “free grace” advocates questioned the orthodox ministers in the colony.  This created a theological split in the colony and public discord. She also taught that each person could receive divine guidance and personal revelation directly from the Holy Spirit. 

Civil Trial

At the urging of Governor John Winthrop and local ministers, Anne Hutchinson was brought to trial in 1638.  She was charged with “slandering the ministers,” “sedition,” and “disturbing the peace.”  (Note: she was tried for civil crimes, not religious crimes, like apostasy, blasphemy or heresy.)

One of her accusers summarized the charges against her.  “You have stepped out of your place, you have rather been a husband than a wife, a preacher than a hearer, a magistrate than a subject.”

The trial lasted several days.  Anne would not be silenced or intimidated.  She spoke forcefully in her own defense.

She reaffirmed her beliefs.  She prophesied that God would send judgment upon the Massachusetts Bay Colony and would wipe it from existence. 

“You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm—for I am in the hands of the eternal Jehovah, my Savior, I am at his appointment, the bounds of my habitation are cast in heaven, no further do I esteem of any mortal man than creatures in his hand, I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things, and I do verily believe that he will deliver me out of your hands. Therefore, take heed how you proceed against me—for I know that, for this you go about to do to me, God will ruin you and your posterity and this whole state.”

Imprisonment and Banishment

Governor Winthrop called for and received a guilty verdict.  She was imprisoned for four months, and ordered banished from the colony. 

Church Tribunal

At the end of her incarceration she was tried by a church tribunal.  By this time she was sick and weary.  Her husband had already left the colony.

Excommunication and Banishment

The trial ministers concluded that Hutchinson’s erroneous beliefs outweighed any good she may have done.  She was deemed a danger to the spiritual welfare of the colony and excommunicated.

The sentence was pronounced by one of the ministers:  “You have highly transgressed and offended and troubled the church with errors and drawn away many a poor soul.“You have upheld your revelations, and you have made a lie.” “Therefore, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I do cast you out and deliver you up to Satan.”  I “account you from this time forth to be a Heathen and a Publican.”  “I command you in the name of Christ Jesus and of this Church as a leper to withdraw yourself out of the congregation.” 

Refuge in Rhode Island

In April, Anne and her children walked more than six days in the snow to get from Boston to Roger Williams’ settlement in Providence, Rhode Island. (Recall, Roger Williams, who had also been banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, after running afoul of Rev. John Cotton, established the colony of Rhode Island as a haven for religious freedom.)

Anne continued to share her “unorthodox” beliefs.  Many of her claims, including the belief that the Spirit of God spoke directly to her, were not well received. This resulted in contention.

Move to New York

After the death of her husband in 1641, she moved to New York.

Anne and Six Children Killed in Indian Uprising

In 1643, Anne and six of her youngest fifteen children who were living with her, were tomahawked to death during an Indian uprising. Her nine-year-old daughter was taken captive.

Anne Hutchinson is a key figure in the history of religious freedom in American.  She is a key figure in the history of women in the ministry, and an example of challenging the established religious authorities.

Posthumous Honors

The citizens of Massachusetts have erected a monument to Anne Hutchinson which stands in front of the state capital.    “In memory of Anne Marbury Hutchinson.  Baptized at Alford, Lincolnshire England, 20 July 1595.  Killed by the Indians at East Chester New York 1643.  Courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration.”

Anne Hutchinson is one of the earliest American woman heroes. She has been honored by having rivers, roads, schools, and dormitories named after her. In fact, February 5 is a Feast Day in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church honoring both Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson for their monumental impact on freedom of religion in American.

Anne is immortalized by historians as the most famous woman in colonial American history.

In 1987, the Massachusetts Governor pardoned Anne Hutchinson, revoking order of banishment by Governor Winthrop 350 years earlier.

 (Sources: Stokes and Pfeffer,  Church and State in the United States, pgs. 3-9 (1964). (This somewhat outdated book is the seminal text on church and state relations.) Kosmin and Lachman, One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society, pgs. 1-10 (1993); Brett London, Religion and law: Cases and Materials, pgs 5-7 (1998); Martin, Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion in America, (1984); Mead & Hill, Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 9th ed. (1990); Rosten, Religions of America: Ferment and Faith in an Age of Crisis, (1975); “Anne Hutchinson,” Wikipedia)  

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