Photo courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections
An 1800s depiction of Anne Hutchinson during her trial in Massachusetts Bay.
By Jamie Wiggan
Banished from the fledgling town of Boston on charges of heresy in 1637 and later killed by an avenging band of Siwanoy warriors, Anne Hutchinson’s miserable demise suggested little inspiration for future history books.
Her critics seized on her death as divine approval of their judgments against her:
“I never heard that the Indians in those parts did ever before this commit the like outrage upon any one family,” said Rev. Thomas Weld. “And therefore God’s hand is the more apparently seen herein, to pick out this woeful woman, to make her and those belonging to her an… example of their cruelty above all others.”
Nearly 400 years later, Hutchinson’s courage and convictions are preserved in some of our most prominent institutions: Harvard University, the State of Rhode Island and even the U.S. Constitution. Through her ancestors, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, Hutchinson’s legacy has found voice in six presidential terms.
Born in Lincolnshire, England in 1591, Anne Marbury was the daughter of a non-conformist minister who spent several years in imprisonment for challenging religious authorities in the Church of England.
She married textile merchant Will Hutchinson in 1612. Growing increasingly dissatisfied with English ecclesiology, they sailed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony with their 11 children in 1634.
Their new home, Boston, was populated almost entirely by non-conformist protestants who sought freedom from the Anglican church. Founded on puritan convictions, the Massachusetts Bay Colony bore little resemblance to the later state of Massachusetts, with church and state commingled under a governor who wielded executive, legislative and judicial powers.
Historians are quick to point out the irony of religious intolerance in the New World.
“The early settlers were as likely to rebel against the authoritarianism of state and church here in New England as they had been in the Old,” according to Hutchinson’s biographer Eve LaPlante.
Against this backdrop, Hutchinson quickly stirred up trouble when she emerged as a prominent spiritual leader and critic of the congregational church, which forbad women from any sort of public role.
A practicing midwife with a keen intellect and firm theological convictions, Hutchinson gave religious support to puritan mothers who were taught to look for signs of God’s approval or judgment in the outcomes of their pregnancies.
“As naturally as the women of Boston sought protection from the cold of winter, they came to Anne to quiet their anxieties about salvation,” wrote LaPlante.
News of Hutchinson’s insight and eloquence eventually drew regular crowds that included prominent male leaders in the community.
Convinced of women’s mental and physical inferiority, the church majority summoned Hutchinson to a trial in 163.
For two days Gov. John Winthrop — acting as chief judge and prosecutor — and 40 magistrates grilled Hutchinson, trying to find a charge that would stick. She could not be accused of contempt against the state or sedition, because, as a woman, she could not be recognized as possessing a public role.
Winthrop was unable to build a case from the testimony of eight clergy called to witness against Hutchinson, who responded astutely.
Instead, she gave the prosecution an opening by launching into an unsolicited testimony, where she called upon the direct revelation of God as grounds for dismissing ordained church ministers.
“Now, if you condemn me for speaking what in my conscience I know to be truth, I must commit myself unto the lord,” she said.
The court took her at her word. Judging her revelations false, Winthrop declared Hutchinson “unfit for our society” and accordingly banished her.
Legacy of liberty
Hutchinson retained a loyal band of supporters, who accompanied her to Rhode Island after the trial. Determined to establish a settlement where they would truly be free of religious oversight, the exiles drafted a new constitution they called the Portsmouth Compact. Will Hutchinson was installed as the first governor.
The compact, backed up by a Royal Charter in 1663, is the first known civic document with provisions for religious freedom, holding:
“That a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained… with a full liberty in religious concernments and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty.”
Several later colonies followed this example, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1681. By the time of the Revolution War, the idea of religious liberty had become a foundational American value.
Meanwhile back in Boston, the governing officials of the Massachusetts Bay Colony sought to fend off further religious challenges by instilling a new generation of ministers with their particular brand of puritan doctrine. The result was Harvard University.
“As a result of her heresy, the colony determined to provide for the education of a new generation of ministers and theologians who would secure New England’s civil and theological peace against future seditious Mrs. Hutchinsons,” wrote Rev. Pete Gomes, a former Harvard academic.
After her husband died in 1643, Hutchinson and her children departed Rhode Island and settled near the Dutch community of New Amsterdam (now New York).
Despite warnings from her new neighbors to maintain vigilance against local Indian attacks (incited by aggressive Dutch policies) Hutchinson and her children neglected to take precautions, trusting their destiny to God. A searing critic of the Pequot War, Hutchinson showed a degree of respect and tolerance toward Native Americans rare among early English settlers.
When an alarm gave warning of a native raid, Hutchinson chose to remain in place while her neighbors fled. Surprised to find their home occupied, Siwanoy warriors scalped Hutchinson alongside six of her children, setting fire to the building and burning their bodies.
Nearly 350 years later, former governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis formally pardoned Hutchinson from the crimes laid on her by Winthrop.
• 1591: Anne Marbury is born in Lincolnshire, England.
• 1612: Marbury marries Will Hutchinson, an affluent textile merchant.
• 1630: Hutchinson children Susan and Elizabeth die of bubonic plague
• 1634: The Hutchinsons sail to American, settling in Boston.
• 1635: Anne establishes an informal teaching group attracting many prominent members of Boston society.
• 1637: John Winthrop is reelected governor, overthrowing Hutchinson supporter Henry Vane. Shortly after, Winthrop leads the prosecution of Anne Hutchinson, banishing her on grounds of heresy.
• 1638: Thirty families join the Hutchinsons in solidarity, adding their names to the Portsmouth Compact to form the Rhode Island settlement.
• 1642: Following the death of her husband and growing infighting among Rhode Island stakeholders, Hutchinson travels to New York, settling near the Dutch village of New Amsterdam (now New York).
• 1643: Hutchinson and six of her children are scalped and killed during a Siwanoy raid.
• 1681: William Penn obtains a land grant for a large tract of New World territory where non-conformists would be safe from religious laws.
• 1789: The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is signed into law, prohibiting state religion or religious persecution.
• 1987: Gov. Michael Dukakis formerly pardons Hutchinson, overturning Winthrop’s judgment against her.
Out picking wild berries, nine-year-old Susan Hutchinson survived the 1643 raid that killed her mother and siblings, and was cared for by members of the indigenous Siwanoy tribe for almost 10 years before her elder brother sought her out and returned her to Boston.
Despite the underlying narrative of warring between native peoples are European settlers, they often formed alliances against common enemies. Adoptions of Europeans by Indians were also common, as were mixed families.
Much of the geography in western Allegheny County is named after prominent figures who, through their parentage, were exposed to both languages and cultures.
Much of the geography in western Allegheny County is named after prominent figures who, through their parentage, were exposed to both languages and cultures. Their abilities as translators and negotiators made them highly prized in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, which were both waged through complex webs of alliances.
• Alexander McKee: Settled the land now incorporated as McKees Rocks. McKee was born around 1735 to an Irish settler and a Shawnee mother.
• Andrew Montour: Namesake of the Montour Run, the Montour School District and several other landmarks throughout the state. Montour was born in a Lenape Indian village around 1720.
• Pierre Chartier: Namesake of the Chartiers Creek, Chartiers Avenue and the Chartiers Valley School District. Chartier was born around 1690 to a French father and Shawnee mother.