November 9, 2015

Trailblazer: Anne Hutchison

"A woman of haughty and fierce carriage, of a nimble wit and active spirit, and a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man." - John Wintrop, talking about his neighbor Anne Hutchison

In the 1630s, a woman named Anne Hutchison found herself in something of a controversy. She was the daughter of a silenced* minister who was well versed in the Bible and a dedicated follower of the famous preacher John Cotton. She held meetings at her home to discuss John Cotton's sermons and engage in theological disucssions that attracted about sixty people, both men and women. She believed that other Puritan ministers were basically teaching that good works as evidence of faith was still a covenant of works and that only grace would lead to salvation. She believed that God communicated to her by reading the Bible which she interpreted on her own. This was in direct opposition to the idea that only authorized ministers could interpret and teach the Scriptures. She challenged the authority of the ministers and this could not be ignored. But this was Boston, Massachusetts, the Puritan ministers weren't just her spiritual authorities, there were also her governing authorities.

Twice she was called before the Puritan leaders of the community to answer for her beliefs. You can read the transcript of one of her trials here.

Ultimately, she was found guilty and sentenced to banishment - so she and her family had little choice but to find somewhere else to live. Fortunately for her, the settlement of Providence, Rhode Island had been established as a community that did not demand that it's residents subscribe to the religious beliefs of it's founder Roger Williams or the majority of it's residents, so it became a safe haven for her family and other free-thinkers and dissidents like herself who just didn't fit into other religious communities.. Eventually she relocated again, but her luck ran out. She and the rest of her family, save for one daughter, were killed when Native Americans attacked. Though it had nothing to do with her beliefs, others who heard the news considered it to be divine judgement for her actions.

Read more about the Antinomian Controversy and Anne Hutchison's role in it here.

*silenced ministers kept on appearing as I researched Anne Hutchison, nearest I can figure, it's a reference to non-conforming ministers who did not adhere to the Book of Common Prayer. In the 1660s some 2,500 nonconformists were ejected from the Church of England. In general, Puritans were nonconformists, but nonconformists weren't always Puritans, Baptists and Methodists were technically non-conformists as well. It seems to be considered a legal punishment, sort of like a disgraced minister who has been declared unfit to preach; hence being silenced. By the way, Anne Hutchison had fifteen children. 

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