ANNE HUTCHINSON (1591 - 1643)
Anne Marbury Hutchinson who was born in Alford in 1591, first came to Boston when she was in her early twenties to hear the Rev John Cotton preach. She made many further visits over the next twenty years, often with her husband and children. Already admired for her Biblical teaching and her skill as a midwife, she became part of Cotton’s inner circle of believers where she gained a public voice; something that no woman of her day could expect to have. Cotton said of her: “Mistress Hutchinson had more [people] resort to her for counsel about matters of conscience, and clearing up men’s spiritual estates, than any minister.
In 1634, she and her large family followed Cotton to the New World where she joined his congregation and collaborated with him by running Scripture meetings in her home while he preached their shared theology at church. By 1636, her meetings were attracting large numbers of prominent men and women eager for social reform. However, many others began to feel threatened by her growing influence. In 1637 she was put on trial for her theological views and for stepping outside the bounds assigned to women, being charged by the governor John Winthrop with heresy and sedition.
At her trial the 46 year-old defended herself brilliantly, using Scripture to support her right to teach men and to preach in public, something colonial law barred women from doing. Cotton, who had long defended her rights, realizing that she would be convicted, abandoned her to save himself. The judges ordered that she should be banished for behaving in a manner “not fitting for [her] sex.”
Exiled, Anne and her family and followers moved to Rhode Island where she created a settlement dedicated to freedom of worship and speech. She became the only woman to co-found (with Roger Williams) an American colony. Her final move was to modern day New York where in 1642, after her husband’s death, she and her young family settled in the Bronx among the Dutch. A year later she and six of her children were mistaken for a Dutch family and killed in a Native American raid.
While most seventeenth-century women’s experiences are lost to us, Hutchinson persists as a stirring example of one who spoke her mind despite the consequences. In a time when women were not allowed to vote, speak in public, teach outside their home, or sign a legal document, Hutchinson stood up for her right to express her own beliefs and her fundamental equality with men. Her commitment to free speech and religious liberty inspired the Portsmouth Compact of 1638, one source of the religious-freedom clause in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The seeds of the ongoing struggle for women’s and human rights can be found in the dramatic story of this American founding mother