The End of One Road, the Beginning of Another


As I conclude this telling of Anne Hutchinson’s story, I am more driven to “Remember the Ladies…” Hutchinson’s life is but one in a vast and deep ocean of history, and has, with all admitted luck, been as well-preserved as any man’s. While she holds a special place of the hearts and minds of Americans, nearly 400 years after her demise, she is only the beginning of an ongoing timeline.

For religion in America, she represents tolerance, along with her contemporary, Roger Williams. For race relations, she represents peaceful coexistence, as evidenced by her good friendships with Indian tribes surrounding Rhode Island. For gender, she stood her ground in the face of rigid boundaries and limitations. For America, she helped forge a new settlement built on tolerance and equality. That settlement has not disappeared from the New World, and it has only expanded and strengthened from the steady march of time. Built on reason, progress, and honesty, we live in the legacy of the Puritans–and their dissenters.

Beyond appreciating or sympathizing with Anne Hutchinson, we must thank her. It is only because of her hardships that we may look back in dismay and horror at our complicated history, and know that we have made progress. We look to that rocky New England shore, that “city upon a hill,” even today, in an effort to find inspiration in our humble reverence of the past. We look to Hutchinson and others, too. So, I implore you, as we grow further and further from our historical roots as a nation and a culture, please “Remember the Ladies…”

A Sad and Abrupt End

massacre-of-anne-hutchinson-illustration-published-in-a-popular-history-of-the-united-states-circa-1878Anne Hutchinson, along with her children and servants, made their way south towards the New Netherlands. Settling in what would eventually become the Bronx borough of New York City, Hutchinson established a small settlement on Long Island Sound. Though solidly in Dutch territory, their new homes would prove to be vulnerable to Indians attacks, such as the raid by the Siwanoy in 1643 that would take the lives of nearly all members of the Hutchinson family. Until that point, however, Hutchinson and her family thrived, in what can truly be called a matriarchal configuration. She settled and controlled the small community, and though it would only last for a few months, a woman was in charge–a feat only possible in the New World, and at the edges of the society that continued to cling so desperately to rigid gender roles.

Driven by a false sense of security from good relationships with Indian tribes further north, Hutchinson did not heed the warning of the Siwanoy leader, Wampage, who threatened to burn every house and kill every man, woman, and child. Additionally, Hutchinson did, in fact, believe that it was God’s will that her family establish themselves in the area, and would thereafter be protected. This warning was largely a result of the ongoing conflict between the Siwanoys, Wappingers, and the governor of New Amsterdam. While some debate persists regarding who actually put Wampage up to the attack, it is likely that the Hutchinsons were caught in the middle of a turf war. Recent speculation has discussed John Winthrop as possibly being responsible for the attack, as he praised Hutchinson’s death highly. This is perhaps a more valid conclusion because Massachusetts would have still viewed Hutchinson as a threat to theirs and other colonies. Hutchinson’s fatal folly in not leaving would result in the deaths of all members of her family, except for her daughter Susanna, who would be raised among the Siwanoy until she was sold back to her family and returned to Rhode Island.

Hutchinson’s death marked a sort of victory in the mind of Winthrop and the other magistrates of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but rather than let her be forgotten, Wampage took her name as a sort of trophy, calling himself ‘Anne Hoeck’ thereafter.


Eyes In Every Corner of New England

The largest reason for Anne Hutchinson uprooting her family again, this time from Roger Williams’ Narragansett colony, was the encroachment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which had continued to contact Hutchinson in the years following her banishment from the Puritan haven. Again, some speculation may be made as to the role that her gender played in this matter.

In connecting this question to a previous post of mine, entitled “A Question of Treatment,” we may surmise that Hutchinson’s womanhood was again a driving force in her leaving the safety of Williams’ colony. The still-targeted woman understood that should the Puritan colony she had just fled acquired her new home, she would likely be thrown back in jail or exiled yet again–or worse. The occasional presence of Boston officials to check on her validated this fear, and was likely a move to simply push her further away. As the Massachusetts Bay Colony had plans to take over Aquidneck, it would be easier for Hutchinson to leave of her own accord, rather than be put on trial again, as she would undoubtedly begin ‘coed’ preaching again.

In the forever changed Massachusetts, divisions between the Puritan church and the adherents of Hutchinson still living in the colony continued. While their absentee leader had nothing to do with these sustained rifts, and probably did not have direct contact with those that she left behind, the magistrates likely felt that she was still responsible for them. Roger Williams, who had been disgraced within the colony and exiled just before Hutchinson, faced mostly political backlash from Boston and Plymouth. In fact, Williams and Hutchinson’s husband had been far more active in ‘working against’ Massachusetts bay than Anne herself, though she would be solely targeted until 1642. While the trailing of Hutchinson through the colonies might have ended there, a mystery persists around whether or not John Winthrop was responsible for Hutchinson’s death the next year.


Winship, Michael P., The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson: Puritans Divided, (2005)


Exile, Then Escape

Following the conclusion of her church trial for blasphemy in early 1638, Hutchinson and her family were banished, which carried the religiously ‘heavier’ punishment of being excommunicated from the church. After walking through Spring snow for days, Hutchinson and her children reached Providence Plantation, whose founder, Roger Williams, offered a safe haven for the now disgraced and imperiled woman.

While this fresh start would have provided an opportunity for a like minded and receptive audience, fractures appeared in the new colony within a year. Anne Hutchinson was not directly involved in the power struggle between a handful of men living on Aquidneck Island, however, her husband William would serve as governor of the settlement, and later as a magistrate. William Hutchinson gave up this last position at the persuasion of his wife, who again challenged the authority of governmental figures. This would be noted in the diary of Massachusetts Bay’s John Winthrop, who called Anne Hutchinson: “the beginner of all the former troubles in the country.”

Hutchinson’s husband would die in 1642, leaving his widow to face the continued wrath of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which continually sent representatives to harass her, some four years after her banishment. In order to escape this, and other political issues within Williams’ new colony, Hutchinson, her children, and a handful of slaves left the relative safety of Rhode Island, to settle just north of New Amsterdam. It would be in this new location that Hutchinson and her family met a savage end.



A Question of Treatment

Perhaps the most provocative question in regards to Hutchinson and her gender is that of ‘equal treatment.’ It is clear from the brief witchcraft accusations, and the overall charge of preaching in front of men and women, as a woman–though the official crime charged was speaking ill of the colony’s ministers–that her womanhood is what made her the largest target in the ‘Antinomian Controversy.’

This line of questioning is not entirely counterfactual, as John Cotton, whom we may call Hutchinson’s personal hero, had preached the same theology, which was a driving force in both figures leaving England for the New World. Cotton would also put the final nail in Hutchinson’s coffin in the fall of 1637, when he could no longer defend her, and please the magistrates and the ministry at the same time, lest he cast suspicion on his own interest in the matter.

While the situations for these two figures were slightly different, I would argue that a man in her position would likely face a different ‘punishment.’ Roger Williams, who had then-recently established Rhode Island, simply left the colony, rather than be sent back to England on the orders of the colony’s magistrates, whereas Hutchinson, following her civil and church trials, was immediately exiled.

We will never know exactly what those men and women were thinking, but we may simply interpret patterns and make of them what we will.


Winship, Michael P., The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson: Puritans Divided, (2005)


The Meaning of the Trial


While the witchcraft accusations failed to directly lead to Hutchinson’s blasphemy convictions, they did drive the point that they believed an external, irreligious force was guiding the hand of this Puritan woman in the “city upon a hill.”

As Hutchinson dove deeper into her Christian faith to defend herself, she found herself in greater trouble. Running contrary to the traditional teachings of the Puritan church, she declared that she, and not the ministers in Boston, could tell who had received divine grace and who had not. It is interesting to see that the more Anne Hutchinson claimed a direct, intimate relationship with God, the more she was decried as a heretic, rather than held up as an inspirational figure or, in some sense, a prophet.

More than just a formal legal indictment of preaching publicly as a woman, Hutchinson’s trial could be characterized as an overall attack on her crossing of boundaries, and blurring the line between the spheres of men and women, which would take their true form in the next century. As in Virginia during the same period, women worked alongside men in various endeavors of necessity, including farming and other manual-type labor. Far ahead of her time, Hutchinson created a female social sphere through her two very gendered occupations: midwifery and preaching. Even while she entered the man’s world of preaching, she also created a space for women, who would follow her teachings over those of the ministers in town.


Brown, Kathleen M., Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, & Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia, (1996).

Karlsen, Carol F., The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England, (1998).


The Devil’s Hand: An Explanation For Anne Hutchinson and Subversion

Though the Salem Witch trials would not come until the 1690s, Anne Hutchinson was linked to the practice of dark arts and conspiring with the devil in 1637. What had the potential to turn into an outright execution ended in only excommunication and exile, and would be largely inconsequential if not for the fact that it gives insight into the minds of the Puritan leaders whom Hutchinson was challenging.

It was during her trial for sedition and blasphemy charges that the relevant issues of the worldly and divine realms nearly converged into one. While she had displeased the magistrates of the colony for preaching and teaching men, her actions as midwife, and some of her allies, were charged with witchcraft, which was brought forward as an overall explanation for the court’s charges.

Midwives were an essential occupation in the 17th-century, and offered life-saving knowledge and assistance to mothers and children. Some practices did, however, appear to some as being akin to witchcraft. Potions and various medicinal concoctions were highly suspect, especially in the charges against Mary Dyer and Jane Hawkins, two of Hutchinson’s close allies, who also worked as midwives. In the eyes of the magistrate, however, Hutchinson’s and Dyer’s gruesome loss of children–a spontaneous abortion in the case of the former, and crippling deformities in the latter–were explicit signs of witchcraft. Thus, these pieces of evidence simply targeted these women for the sake of silencing them for unrelated reasons, and effectively damning them for doing something rather commonplace.

The charges of witchcraft and God’s wrath upon her unborn were not the undoing of Anne Hutchinson in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but they did show that the men in charge of maintaining Puritan rule in the face of subversion were either unable or unwilling to understand Hutchinson’s actions and beliefs, to the point that they believed that there was a supernatural, even divine reason for her undermining of doctrinal beliefs and social norms.


Karlsen, Carol F., The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England, (1998).

Birth of an Unlikely Leader

Anne Hutchinson and her husband arrived in Massachusetts in September of 1634, settling down quickly. The fiery spirit that marked her stand against the Puritan leaders in the colony had not yet erupted, but rather continued to simmer, as she and her husband established themselves in a two-story house in what would become present-day downtown Boston.

Having been trained as a midwife in England, Hutchinson continued the practice in the America, becoming a respected figure in the community amongst the colony’s women. While still constrained by the pressures and rules of the day, she was able to establish a base of followers whom she and Minister John Cotton preached the “Covenant of Grace,” which would spark what is the called the Antinomian Controversy, the first schism within Puritan New England, one which threatened to undermine the power of both the church and government in the infant society.

An easy target, due to a disregard of social mores and overall womanhood, Hutchinson found herself at the center of a legal quandary. She had preached publicly, wholly unacceptable for a Puritan woman, and had questioned the doctrine taught by the church, claiming that the “Covenant of Works” espoused by Massachusetts’ ministers led followers to believe they could simply do good and get into Heaven, apart from finding personal salvation.

Within two years of moving to Boston, Hutchinson faced an uphill battle against the the colony’s magistrates. Any man would have been intimidated, but Hutchinson went head-to-head with the most powerful men in the hemisphere.


The Creation Story


Anne Hutchinson’s life straddled a defining period in European and later, American, history. Born in Alford, England in 1591, her lifetime saw the founding of the New World in Virginia, Puritan separatists in New England, and further fracturing of the mother country as a result of religious and socioeconomic turmoil.

The daughter of ‘radical’ Puritans, who fought to cleanse the Church of England of all practices not outlined in the Bible, including many Catholic traditions. Hutchinson was well-educated at a young age, able to read, write, and recite the Bible at will. While her father, Francis Marbury, softened his approach to the Crown and the Church of England throughout his adult life, his daughter, Anne, continued a hard-line attitude. She married a fellow puritan, William Hutchinson, in 1612. Quite unusually for the time, Hutchinson, according to available accounts, publicly and privately interacted with his wife without ‘paternalistic’ friction of any sort, especially given her stature as the more powerful figure of the pair.

It was in the early years of Anne Marbury’s marriage to Hutchinson that the two found an admiration for the famous preacher, John Cotton, who was posted as a minister in the nearby town of Boston. Cotton fled England for Massachusetts in 1633, threatened with jail time for his preaching. Hutchinson, receiving messages from God, sailed to Boston the next year with her family. Even on the journey to the new colony, she argued with one of her fellow passengers, a reverend, on the nature of being saved spiritually. Unheard of for the time, Hutchinson began to overstep gender boundaries before she even set foot in the New World.


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Winship, Michael P., The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson: Puritans Divided, (2005)


Anne Hutchinson: American Badass

164529-004-8f2776f0    Anne Hutchinson is one of few women from the early colonial period that we are taught about in school, at least in the case of my education. Her unusual story has given her a special place in history, as it is one of both familiar themes and unthinkable details. Hutchinson has a special place within the context of American history, too, as she represents the rebellious spirit that has driven our nation since the Pilgrims and Jamestown settlers washed ashore in the 17th-century.

My job in creating this “Remember the Ladies…” project will be to interpret not only Anne Hutchinson’s life and the time in which she lived, but also her place in the story of the United States, and why she is still as relevant today as she was in the 1630s. Hutchinson’s stand against the overwhelming entity that was the Puritan church is timeless, and is luckily still taught in high school history lessons (again, in my experience). The fact that she is a woman is reason enough to delve into her story of disobedience, as no other woman in Puritan society from that time has left as large an impression as she has, apart from the fictional Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850).

Given that gender is the most important and interesting component of Hutchinson’s stand against the Puritan church’s unchanging divine beliefs, blog posts subsequent to this will interpret those relevant events through the lens of her position as a woman in 17th-century Boston, so soon after the unsteady founding of the religion-based colonies in that region. From her origins in England to her slaughter in the New Netherlands, I will do my best to honor Anne Hutchinson as I may, and hopefully add a new angle to how historians view this truly incredible woman.