Anne Hutchinson: Preached Religious Freedom

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Anne Hutchinson on Trial

Anne Hutchinson on Trial (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The United States is a melting pot – a place where all races, cultures, and religions live together. Though the U.S. is not perfect, it is still a land of opportunity and freedom, a promise to its civilians stated in the Bill of Rights. Before the Bill of Rights separated Church from the State, some settlements used religion to control the settlers. Immigration to the United States began in the early 1600’s for three main reasons: punishment, job opportunities, and religious freedom. When Anne Hutchinson left England for America, she was expecting a place to practice religion freely. Instead, she would be punished for being a woman discussing religion.

Anne Hutchinson was born in 1591 to Bridget Dryden and clergyman Francis Marbury. Her parents homeschooled her because they realized that women could also be educated, a belief made possible by Queen Elizabeth. England was a place of religious war between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church, two churches that were equally corrupt. A group of Christians, called the Puritans, formed in order to “purify”religion. In 1612, Anne married a merchant named William Hutchinson and the couple became followers of minister John Cotton. Being a Puritan, Cotton was forced to leave the country so he followed other Puritans to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1634, the couple and their 15 children sailed to America.

Hutchinson hoped that she would be able to practice religion freely, but when she arrived in Massachusetts, she realized that she would not be able to. The Puritan leaders wanted an utopia where everyone had to follow the strict teachings of the bible. She quickly organized weekly meetings for Boston women to discuss sermons privately in her own house, but her meetings became popular with women and men. Hutchinson believed women could take on roles of religious leadership, a role that went against the Puritan belief that women served their husbands and like Eve, women would lead men to damnation if allowed to form an opinion. She also questioned the orthodox ministers in the colony and believed one had to have faith to get into heaven; this belief went against the Puritan’s who believed every action performed should be for religious reasons. When she was not discussing religion, she was working as a midwife and helping needy women and children. Though Cotton and Hutchinson’s brother-in-law John Wheelwright were both preachers, it was Hutchinson who was viewed as the main threat because she was a woman.

In 1635, future governor John Winthrop wrote in his diary that Hutchinson was “ an American Jezebel, who had gone a-whoring from God.” Once he became governor in 1637, all liberal preachers were tried in court or brandished from the colony. Hutchinson was charged with “slandering the ministers” and “troubling the peace of the churches.” Though she had never spoken publicly against the mainstream Puritan ideology, she was sentenced to house arrest at the house of Joseph Weld, a brother of Reverend Thomas Weld. The house was two miles away from Boston, meaning Hutchinson was separated from her children. Her visitors included ministers collecting evidence against her. After four months of house arrest, she was brought back to court in March, 1638 and sentence to leave the town. Hutchinson, her family, and her followers moved to Aquidneck Island (later called Rhode Island) until the Puritans threatened the island. The family moved into Dutch territory, not realizing the tension with the Natives caused by Dutch governor William Kieft’s treason. On September 1642, Mohican Indians attacked Hutchinson’s house, killing her and five of her children. When her enemies found out, they were happy since they believed it was God punishing her.

The Untied States is now a place where one can practice religion freely, but at one time, the government had the power to punish those that disagreed with its views. Hutchinson was deemed a threat not only because she preached religious freedom, but because she was a woman. She worried Winthrop as soon as she moved into the colony so as soon as he became governor, he made it his mission to punish her. Hutchinson is a hero to all Americans, because it was people like her who made it possibly for Americans to live in a country not governed by religion. Meanwhile, the Puritans would go on to hang women in the Salem Witch Trials decades later and be a reminder of why religion should be separated from government.

Sources:

Anne Hutchinson Biography

Anne Hutchinson 

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