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.

Sources:

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

http://historyofmassachusetts.org/anne-hutchinson/

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