Anne Hutchinson, a rebellious religious leader and one of the founders of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, made her arrival in the American colonies on September 18, 1634, 382 years ago as of this weekend. In July of that year, Anne, with her husband William and their children, left England on the Griffin to follow the Puritan Minister John Cotton to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. By the time their ship arrived in Boston on September 18th, she had already had her first confrontation with the Puritan leadership of the new world, an experience that would become familiar to her leading up to her trial and eventual banishment from the colony.
The religious leader onboard the Griffin was the Reverend Zachariah Symmes, who regularly preached to the ship’s passengers, much to the displeasure of Hutchinson. She believed the themes of his teachings were erroneous, that he was preaching a covenant of works as though it were a way for people to reach salvation when only faith in the divine grace of God had that power. Hutchinson challenged him following his sermons; she confronted him on his ideas and demanded that he defend them. She held separate prayer meetings with female passengers, much like she had done in England and like she would eventually also do in the colonies. As a result, upon their arrival in Boston, the Reverend immediately questioned her orthodoxy to the Puritan leadership of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but John Cotton defended her and after a week of waiting, she was eventually granted membership to the First Church of Boston.
For the next couple of years, Anne Hutchinson worked as a midwife and occasional spiritual advisor to the women she saw. She began holding meetings at her home to discuss recent sermons and religious issues, as well as voice her own strong religious beliefs. Initially only women attended, but the popularity of these meetings grew to include men as well. They listened as Hutchinson began speaking out with more and more frequency against the way Puritan leaders were preaching. In October of 1636, a meeting of the Massachusetts colony’s ministers marked the beginning of the Antinomian Controversy, which centered on Anne Hutchinson’s ideas. In 1637 she was charged with sedition for inciting people to rebel against the authority of the ministers. By speaking out against the Puritan church leaders, she was also speaking out against the Puritan government, for the two were inseparable, thus the Antinomian Controversy had serious implications for the future of the authority of the Puritans in Massachusetts.
Anne Hutchinson on Trial
The civil trial of Anne Hutchinson began on November 7, 1637. She was accused of defying Puritan authority in speaking out against all of the religious leaders except Reverend Cotton and in holding her own religious meetings at her home. Hutchinson taught women and men in violation of the Puritan rule that women should not lead. During her trial, Hutchinson revealed that she had had a revelation from God that all who did not preach a covenant of grace over works were truly in the wrong. Her defiance and her dangerous claims decided her fate and she was sentenced to imprisonment through the winter until she could be banished in the following year.
Before Hutchinson left the Massachusetts Bay Colony, she had a final church trial in March of 1638, during which religious leaders tried to get her to at least repent for what she had done, but she refused and was excommunicated from the church. It was after this that Anne Hutchinson finally left Massachusetts and began the walk down to Rhode Island, accompanied by followers and family, on her way to join her husband and the rest of her followers at a settlement they had begun setting up in preparation at the top of Aquidneck Island. Many of them had been exiled around the time of Hutchinson’s trial and had left Massachusetts with the goal of finding a new home.
The settlement on Aquidneck Island, known originally as Pocasset and later renamed Portsmouth, was the home of Anne Hutchinson until the death of her husband in 1642. Life in Rhode Island had been marked by the occasional political conflict and the continued reminder of the presence of nearby Massachusetts Puritan leaders, so Hutchinson made the decision to leave Rhode Island with her children for the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in what is now present-day New York. This is where Anne Hutchinson’s story ended a year later in 1643, when she and her family were killed by a local Native American tribe who was engaged in a greater conflict that the Hutchinson family made the mistake of moving into.