Anne Hutchinson (1590/91-1643) was the daughter of Francis Marbury, curate and schoolmaster of Alford, in Lincolnshire, England, a self-styled church reformer who in 1578 was imprisoned for his “Puritan” position on the role of the clergy. At the time of Anne’s birth, he had lost his preaching credentials for criticizing church authorities. In 1612, Anne married William Hutchinson, a wealthy sheep farmer and textile merchant from Alford. At the same time, the revered Puritan preacher John Cotton was just beginning his career at St. Botolph’s in the port city of Boston, Lincolnshire, some twenty-four miles to the north. The Hutchinsons, though only occasional visitors, soon came under the spell of Cotton’s teachings, which they saw as elevating the role of grace in the believer’s life as opposed to the mere fulfilling of the law (legalism). As conditions deteriorated for the Puritans in England under Archbishop Laud, Cotton and other notable divines were forced to flee to New England in 1633. Anne and her family followed in September 1634.

Anne was not long in New England before she revealed herself to be her father’s daughter. Just as Francis Marbury had faced ecclesiastical censure in England, so Anne would soon find herself at odds with both church and state authorities in New England. During her years in Alford, Anne not only embraced the Covenant of Grace as taught by Cotton but also took its implications much further than Cotton ever intended. Convinced that a sanctified life of good works (strict personal holiness and conformity to the law of God) was not the surest evidence of inward grace (as most Puritan divines contended), Anne believed that the “Witnesse of the Spirit itselfe” was the primary evidence for true grace and assurance of election.” To Hutchinson, such “grace” included the actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit within each believer, forming a union that was not dependent upon any external evidence. Such a union offered the believer the ability to receive revelations directly from God himself. One such revelation had commanded her to follow Cotton to New England; once there, she began holding meetings twice weekly in her home as a means of reviewing Cotton’s Sunday sermons as well as providing her own instruction on the finer points of the Covenant of Grace. As many as sixty to one hundred people, both men and women, including several prominent laymen in the congregation, regularly attended Anne’s meetings.

The civil and ecclesiastical authorities quickly became suspicious and critical. They not only saw her as overstepping the bounds of her “sex” by teaching in matters of theology, but they also saw her teachings as perilously close to familism and antinomianism (literally, “no law”). Her power was evident in the Boston community by 1636, both in the election that year and the subscription for the Pequot War (the Hutchinsonians generally opposed it). When two of her followers, Henry Vane and John Wheelwright, attained prominent positions that year, the former as governor, the latter as Cotton’s assistant pastor in the Boston church, many leaders, especially John Winthrop, the Rev. John Wilson of the Boston church, and Thomas Dudley (father of the poet, Anne Bradstreet), perceived both their positions of authority and the theological integrity of the Commonwealth to be in jeopardy. Hutchinson had criticized the clergy of New England (except for Cotton) as not being “able ministers” of the gospel because they did not fully preach a Covenant of Grace (she considered them “legalists” in their adherence to the importance of “works” as evidence of salvation). When her criticisms were joined to a sermon by her brother-in-law, Wheelwright, that espoused much the same sentiments, the ministers of New England in March 1637 took matters into their own hands, declaring Wheelwright’s sermon “seditious” and quickly ousted the antinomian Vane as governor in the May election.

That September at the synod, the rulers of both church and state in the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared an end to all antinomian teachings in the colony and the removal of any who remained loyal to its tenets. In November 1637, the General Court held a two-day trial to deal with the crisis at hand. Anne Hutchinson was charged with disturbing the public peace, casting disrepute upon the clergy and promoting false doctrines in her meetings. She defended herself admirably, but the verdict was known from the start of the trial. She was found guilty and banished from the colony, but not until the next spring. During the winter she was held under house arrest while enduring her sixteenth pregnancy; some sought her reclamation, but others held that she was fomenting worse opinions than before, even the materials heresy (in this doctrine, the soul dies with the body). In March 1638, she was tried once again, this time before the church authorities only: she was found guilty of heresy and excommunicated. By the end of that month, Anne had joined her husband and family in Rhode Island, where she survived a dangerous miscarriage at the age of forty-seven. In 1642, after the death of her husband, she moved her family to the Pelham Bay region of New Amsterdam, where in August 1643 she and her children were killed in an Indian raid, except for her youngest daughter, who was taken into captivity. Though Hutchinson was banished and excommunicated from Massachusetts for her beliefs, her statue now graces the grounds of the Massachusetts State Capitol, a monument to her stand for the primacy of individual conscience and freedom of religion for all people, especially women. Though not a published writer like Anne Bradstreet, Hutchinson deserves a rightful place in early American history as the first outspoken feminist of New England, challenging accepted beliefs and practices in a tightly-structured patriarchal society.