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When Anne Hutchinson first arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634, she was admired by those around her as a devoted and intelligent wife, mother, midwife and citizen. Three years later she would be brought to trial as a heretic, be banished from the colony and be labeled by John Winthrop as an “American Jezebel”. In the process Anne Hutchinson would become a leading voice and advocate for religious liberty and tolerance in the New World.
This “American Jezebel” was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1591 to parents who encouraged their daughter to think and speak her mind; In fact, if advocating for religious liberty is learned, then Anne learned it well from her father, an Anglican minister with Puritan sympathies who was often jailed for what authorities called his “subversive leanings”. Much of his influence stayed with her and when Anne, her husband and their11 living children emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634, she took many of those beliefs with her.
Anne was by nature outspoken and forthright and it was during the Sunday evening discussion groups held in her home that her theories on “grace over works”, were first expressed and eventually viewed as radical and divisive. Anne also believed that God could and did reveal himself through personal revelation to individuals and that he could do so without the aid of the clergy. Anne’s discussion groups, which usually focused on the morning’s Sunday sermon, became highly popular among the colony’s citizens with upwards of 80 people attending. It was their popularity that finally brought Anne’s unconventional religious beliefs to the attention of John Winthrop and to John Cotton a Puritan minister who was once Anne’s religious mentor.
By 1637, these religious leaders had heard enough and Anne was brought to trial before the general colony court and found guilty of heresy. During the trial, Anne, who was five months pregnant, defended herself bravely. She again espoused the idea that salvation came through grace not works and spoke of the personal relationship between God and man. Despite her spirited defense, Anne was excommunicated and banished from the colony along with her husband, 13 children and some 60 followers.
But Anne Hutchinson’s story didn’t end with banishment. With her family and followers, Anne moved south and helped establish an area which would eventually be known as Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Following her husband’s death in 1642, Anne and six of her children moved to Long Island and then to the Pelham Bay area in present day Bronx. It was here in 1643 that Anne and five of her children were killed during an Indian raid. One daughter, Susanna, was taken captive and ransomed back four years later.
Anne Hutchinson left six surviving children and a legacy of religious tolerance and liberty which helped define the early colonies. Often viewed as an early feminist, she is more often remembered as a woman of great faith who believed that people could have a personal relationship with God. Today, a statue of Anne Hutchinson stands in front of the state house in Boston and the Hutchinson River in the Bronx is named after her, along with the Hutchinson River Parkway. In 1987, then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis pardoned Anne and revoked the order of banishment passed down on her in the name of religion, over 350 years earlier.