Do we overlook her because she was female? Do we overlook her because she stands for religious freedom? Either way, Anne Marbury Hutchinson gets the cold shoulder from most U.S. history texts used in high schools.
She was a woman to celebrate, and the Library of Congress explains why in detail:
Anne Marbury Hutchinson
Although her exact birth date is uncertain, on July 20, 1591, the infant Anne Marbury was baptized in Alford, Lincolnshire, England.1 The first female religious leader among North America’s early European settlers, Anne Marbury Hutchinson was the daughter of an outspoken clergyman silenced for criticizing the Church of England. Better educated than most men of the day, she spent her youth immersed in her father’s library.
At twenty-one, Anne Marbury married William Hutchinson and began bearing the first of their fourteen children. The Hutchinsons became adherents of the preaching and teachings of John Cotton, a Puritan minister who left England for America. In 1634, the Hutchinson family followed Cotton to New England, where religious and political authority overlapped.
The General Laws and Liberties of the Massachusetts Colony:
Revised and Reprinted,
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Samuel Green, 1672.
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Section I. Part 1
Many criminal laws in the early New England colonies were based on the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Often called “Bible Commonwealths,” the New England colonies sought guidance from the scriptures in regulating the lives of their citizens.
Serving as a skilled herbalist and midwife in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Anne Hutchinson began meeting with other women for prayer and religious discussion. Her charisma and intelligence soon also drew men, including ministers and magistrates, to her gatherings, where she developed an emphasis on the individual’s relationship with God, stressing personal revelation over institutionalized observances and absolute reliance on God’s grace rather than on good works as the means to salvation. Hutchinson’s views challenged religious orthodoxy, while her growing power as a female spiritual leader threatened established gender roles.
Mary Dyer Led to Execution on Boston Common,
Courtesy of The Granger Collection.
Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Section I. Part 2
Like Anne Hutchinson, Mary Dyer was banished from Massachusetts. Eventually, she was hanged for challenging Puritan orthodoxy.
Called for a civil trial before the General Court of Massachusetts in November 1637, Hutchinson ably defended herself against charges that she had defamed the colony’s ministers and as a woman had dared to teach men. Her extensive knowledge of Scripture, her eloquence, and her intelligence allowed Hutchinson to debate with more skill than her accusers. Yet because Hutchinson claimed direct revelation
from God and argued that “laws, commands, rules, and edicts are for those who have not the light which makes plain the pathway,” she was convicted and banished from the colony, a sentence confirmed along with formal excommunication in the ecclesiastical trial that followed.
Refusing to recant, Hutchinson accepted exile and in 1638 migrated with her family to Roger Williams’ new colony of Rhode Island, where she helped found the town of Portsmouth. After her husband died in 1642, Hutchinson moved to Dutch territory near Long Island Sound (an area now known as Co-op City, along New York’s Hutchinson River Parkway, which is named for Anne Hutchinson). There in 1643 Hutchinson and all but one of her younger children were killed by Siwanoy Indians, possibly with the encouragement of Puritan authorities. “Proud Jezebel has at last been cast down,” was the supposed comment of Hutchinson’s nemesis, Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop.
Learn more about early America in American Memory:
- Many British North American colonies were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women who fled Europe rather than compromise passionately-held religious convictions. See the Library of Congress’ online exhibition Religion and the Founding of the American Republic. The first section of the exhibition, America as a Religious Refuge: the Seventeenth Century, provides insight into the lives of the Puritans and others who created the “Bible Commonwealths.”
- American Treasures of the Library of Congress includes several items highlighting the early history of Massachusetts, including “America’s first book”, printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the first complete Bible printed in America, published in Cambridge in 1663; the “General Fundamentals” of the Plymouth Colony; and the eighteenth-century poetry of Phillis Wheatley.
- Read Today in History features on John Smith, William Penn, Roger Williams, and the Salem Witch trials for relevant background on the early American colonies.
- America’s First Individualist Anarchist (txwclp.org)
- Rhode Island, Roger Williams, and Religious Freedom (bltnotjustasandwich.com)
- Constitutional Scholar Marie Ashe on Religious Freedom and Women (religiondispatches.org)